Pip often pays close attention to the atmosphere of any environment he inhabits, particularly noting the peculiarities that catch his eye when he enters Jaggers's office. The two death masks of Jaggers's former clients especially grip Pip's imagination among the room's surroundings. Pip at first finds them “dreadful" and describes them as “peculiarly swollen, and twitchy about the nose," wondering if they might be relatives of Jaggers [chapter 20). When he again visits the room with Wemmick, he takes the opportunity to inquire on the eerie ornaments:

"Pray," said I, as the two odious casts with the twitchy leer upon them caught my sight again, “whose likenesses are those?"

"These?" said Wemmick, getting upon a chair, and blowing the dust off the horrible heads before bringing them down. “These are two celebrated ones. Famous clients of ours that got us a world of credit. This chap (why you must have come down in the night and been peeping into the inkstand, to get this blot upon your eyebrow, you old rascal!) murdered his master, and, considering that he wasn't brought up to evidence, didn't plan it badly."

"Is it like him?" I asked, recoiling from the brute, as Wemmick spat upon his eyebrow and gave it a rub with his sleeve.

"Like him? It's himself, you know. The cast was made in Newgate, directly after he was taken down. You had a particular fancy for me, hadn't you, Old Artful?" said Wemmick. He then explained this affectionate apostrophe, by touching his brooch representing the lady and the weeping willow at the tomb with the urn upon it, and saying, “Had it made for me, express!" [chapter 24, p.289; Place within the complete text of the novel]

Pip's fascination with the curious items does not end with an explanation of their origins. He encounters and makes note of them several times throughout the story, particularly in situations where he feels a strong emotion like anxiety. His discussion about debt with Jaggers makes perceive how the casts reflect his own thoughts:

"Take a chair, Mr. Pip," said my guardian.

As I sat down, and he preserved his attitude and bent his brows at his boots, I felt at a disadvantage, which reminded me of that old time when I had been put upon a tombstone. The two ghastly casts on the shelf were not far from him, and their expression was as if they were making a stupid apoplectic attempt to attend to the conversation. [chapter 36, p. 355]

Pip senses the uncomfortable situation before Jaggers launches into the specific matter. In his apprehension, he glances at the casts and finds that they look as confused as he feels. They appear as if they are trying to discern, rather anxiously, what Jaggers intends to bring up; the situation reminds Pip of the convict encounter years ago, and he expects nervously that something similarly unfortunate might occur.

Later in the meeting, Pip asks Jaggers whether me might soon learn his benefactor's identity:

As we looked full at one another, I felt my breath come quicker in my strong desire to get something out of him. And as I felt that it came quicker, and as I felt that he saw that it came quicker, I felt that I had less chance than ever of getting anything out of him.

"Do you suppose it will still be years hence, Mr. Jaggers?"

Mr. Jaggers shook his head, — not in negativing the question, but in altogether negativing the notion that he could anyhow be got to answer it, — and the two horrible casts of the twitched faces looked, when my eyes strayed up to them, as if they had come to a crisis in their suspended attention, and were going to sneeze. [chapter 36, p. 509]

Pip's eyes once again find the casts in a moment of anxiety. He frets that he might lose an opportunity to receive a direct answer from Jaggers while the masks appear to be panicking similarly. The casts themselves cannot obviously change their facial expressions, yet Pip feels that they empathize with his own emotions. He subconsciously projects his own thought processes onto the inanimate objects because of their human resemblance; with such evocative faces they can bring Pip's suppressed feelings into the open, tangible environment.

Questions

1. Unlike Anodos, who only uses pathetic fallacies when describing nature such as water and trees, Pip also empathizes with more worldly and manmade objects that still, however, relate to former living beings.. Why might these two characters project themselves onto other objects so differently? Also, can a character connect a pathetic fallacy with an object not related to nature?

2. Why did Dickens choose to have Pip empathize with the death masks of punished criminals (as opposed to family members of Jaggers, which he thinks the casts are at first)? Did he intend for this to symbolize anything related to Pip personally?

3. How do the other goods from former clients, such as Wemmick's brooch and rings, relate to the plaster casts? Why did Dickens include these other examples of “portable property" along with the masks?

4. For what effect does Dickens use Wemmick's apostrophes to the casts? What purpose do they serve?

5. Did many people make death masks for the deceased in Victorian times? How popular of a convention were they? Did custom restrict their use to certain sects of people?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 23 February 2008