Pip's final saving realization, that wealth on its own should not be worshipped, and that hard work and earned money leads to true fulfillment, comes in Chapter 58:

"I sold all I had, and put aside as much as I could, for a composition with my creditors, — who gave me ample time to pay them in full, — and I went out and joined Herbert. [...]We were not in a grand way of business, but we had a good name, and worked for our profits, and did very well." [Place within the complete text of the novel]

Although not entirely subtle, this theme presents itself in an unstated way: Pip loses his fortune, begins to earn his keep, and seems fully content for the first time in the novel. In the next chapter, his relationship with Estella finally comes to a peaceful resolution, as the two walk away hand in hand (or, as in Dickens's original ending, they reach a mutually agreed-upon closure). Never does Dickens outright advise his readers to follow Pip's footsteps; he merely hopes they will recognize the theme and incorporate it into their lives without prompting.

Ruskin, on the other hand, feels no need to be indirect. In “Traffic," he blatantly instructs his audience to do exactly what Pip does at the end of Great Expectations:

Continue to make that forbidden deity your principal one, and soon no more art, no more science, no more pleasure will be possible. Catastrophe will come; or worse than catastrophe, slow mouldering and withering into Hades. But if you can fix some conception of a true human state of life to be striven for — life for all men as for yourselves — if you can determine some honest and simple order of existence; following those trodden ways of wisdom, which are pleasantness, and seeking her quiet and withdrawn paths, which are peace; — then, and so sanctifying wealth into “commonwealth," all your art, your literature, your daily labours, your domestic affection, and citizen's duty, will join and increase into one magnificent harmony. You will know then how to build, well enough; you will build with stone well, but with flesh better; temples not made with hands, but riveted of hearts; and that kind of marble, crimson-veined, is indeed eternal.

Not only does Ruskin detail the benefits of relinquishing obsession over material wealth ("all your art, your literature, your daily labours, your domestic affection, and citizen's duty, will join and increase into one magnificent harmony"), but he also describes — and in fact focuses more on — the negative consequences of refusing to let go: “catastrophe" and “slow mouldering and withering into Hades." Unlike Dickens, who draws attention to the positive benefits of working hard and rejecting wealth as a ticket to happiness, Ruskin, almost like a doomsayer or a God-fearing priest, focuses on the negative. When each work is read silently from text, Dickens's approach seems like it might be more likely to inspire its audience: it uplifts rather than antagonizes. It should be noted, though, that Ruskin originally delivered his lecture aloud, and it quite possibly proved very effective when vocalized in a public setting.

During the 1800s both Ruskin and Dickens published and presented their works in forms other than the ones they would take in later centuries. Today, for example, “Traffic" reads like an essay, but during his time Ruskin presented it as a lecture. Dickens originally published Great Expectations not as a one-volume novel, but piece by piece, in his own weekly literary magazine, All the Year Round. Both authors toured the country, reading their works aloud to large audiences (The Illustrated London News, No. 911 Vol XXXII).

This discrepancy between how the literary works were presented during their authors' lifetimes and how people read them today brings up the question of whether any text, even a celebrated classic like Great Expectations, can truly be considered timeless. Divorced from its historical context, can a piece of literature have the same effect it had when its original creator first wrote it, printed it, read it aloud, or — in the case of plays — performed it? As reproduction of artwork grows more and more uniform by the year, with films and photos being recorded on increasingly precise, hardy pieces of equipment, will art be able to better retain its historical context — in the bonus footage of a DVD, for example — or will the importance of historical context to literature somehow decline? Would the impact of Ruskin's message be enhanced at all if people today had access to a video recording of him saying “Traffic" aloud? Would Great Expectations read differently if a periodical decided to publish it in its original form, on a weekly basis, piece by piece?

Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 15 May 2009