Bedivere's description of how he threw Excalibur into the lake, which appears in both “Morte d'Arthur" and “The Passing of Arthur," illustrates, in part, the notion of relinquishing material goods before moving on to a better place, a better state of being. Arthur must return the miraculous sword before he may die peacefully and sail away into “the verge of dawn". Similarly, Bedivere, as a go-between, must resist the temptation of this dazzling hilt and throw it into the “mere" before he can establish his faith in what is good and prove his loyalty to Arthur. Pip (and Rochester), as a third (and fourth) example, must also lose his fortune before he can redeem himself:

I sold all I had, and put as much aside as I could...Many a year went round, before I was a partner in the house; but I lived happily with Herbert and his wife, and lived frugally, and paid my debts, and maintained a constant correspondence with Biddy and Joe. It was not until I became third in the firm that Claririker betrayed me to Herbert; but he then declared thta the secret of Herbert's partnership had been long enough upon his conscience, and he must tell it. So, he told it, and Herbert was as much moved as amazed, and the dear fellow and I were not the worse friends for the long concealment. I must not leave it to be supposed that we were ever in a great house, or that we made mints of money. We were not in a grand way of business, but we had a good name, and worked hard for our profits, and did very well. [p. 446]

This notion of doing what is right, of making sacrifices and of having true faith in yourself runs throughout both Tennyson's and Dicken's texts. This repetition of motif and reiteration of theme indicates the narrative style of fantasy and legend. Typically, the hero of such a work struggles with good and evil, and through his adventures must prove his worth and his belief. Great Expectations mixes fantasy with a Bildungsroman. Though Pip remains a so-called passive protagonist, he undeniably struggles with his conscience and eventually gains a considerable self-knowledge by the end of the novel, just like most of Tennyson's characters in hisIdylls of the King. Hence, perhaps the two are not so different as they would first appear.

A reader may find these character's inner battles of will: selfish motivation/greed/personal glory versus social responsibility/generosity/benevolence, reasonably comparable to the contention between capitalism and liberal democracy in Victorian England. On one hand, London had considerable international, economic and political potential, on the other, such “leadership in commerce and industry" led to neglect of domestic social problems. “It can be said that although most perceptive Victorians did share a sense of satisfaction in the industrial and political preeminence of England during the period, they also suffered from an anxious sense of something lost, a sense too of being displaced persons in a world made alien by technological changes that had been exploited too quickly for the adaptive powers of he human psyche." (Norton Anthology of English Literature, p. 892) This moral dilemma applies not only to England, or to individuals throughout history but to Dickens' and Tennyson's protagonists as well.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations Idylls of the King

Last modified 1996