Cooling Church, Kent
Ernest William Haslehust (1866-1949), RI, RWA
Water colour painting
16.5 x 11 cm framed
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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The flat levels that stretch away from beyond Higham towards the estuary of the Thames are more akin to the characteristics of Essex than of Kent. The hop gardens are dwarfed and stunted, and presently hops, corn [i. e., wheat] and pasture give place to fields of turnips, which show up like masses of jade on the chocolate-coloured soil. The bleak churchyard of Cooling, overgrown with nettles, lies amongst these desolate reaches, which resound at evening with the shrill, unearthly notes of sea-gulls, plovers, and herons. Beyond the churchyard are the marshes, "a dark, flat wilderness," as Dickens describes it in Great Expectations, "intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it"; still farther away is the "low, leaden line" of the river, and the "distant, savage lair," from which the wind comes rushing, is the sea. It was in this churchyard that the conception of the story sprang into life, and there are actually not five but ten little stone lozenges in one row, with three more at the back of them. . . . [Nicklin, 28]
Although the graves of the children in the opening chapter of Great Expectations correspond with those in the churchyard of St. James's, Cooling, the "spire" to which Pip alludes does not belong to that Kentish church, but rather to St. Mary's, Lower Higham, about three miles east:
The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down, and emptied my pockets. There was nothing in them but a piece of bread. When the church came to itself — for he was so sudden and strong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet — when the church came to itself, I say, I was seated on a high tombstone, trembling, while he ate the bread ravenously. [Chapter 1]
Although Great Expectations is not usually classified as a "regional" novel in the sense that, for example, Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Hardy's The Return of the Native (1878) are invested with a sense of place (urban and rural Dorset), the opening chapters may well have led readers in the 1860s to conceive of the 1861 Dickens novel as such, for a number of passages and particularly the opening are laden with rich local detail derived from Dickens's having returned to Kent after the sale of Tavistock House in London. Sometimes referred to as the provincial novel (George Eliot's Middlemarch being a pertinent example from the period preceding the advent of Hardy's Wessex Novels of the last three decades of the nineteenth century), this type of novel emphasizes "local colour" — that is, the dialects, occupations, customs, history, architecture, and landscapes of a definite locale such as the Medway and lower reaches of the Thames here. Whereas the "Waverley" novels of Sir Walter Scott, the Yorkshire novels of the Brontës, and the Anglo-Irish novels of Charles Lever and of Maria Edgeworth are firmly grounded in particular regions of the British Isles and rarely move out of the initial setting, in contrast Great Expectations is only distinctly "regional" in the first third of Pip's growing up narrative as, at the beginning of the second stage of his "Expectations," the setting shifts abruptly to London and its environs. However, Pip occasionally returns to his village roots, and several significant scenes in the latter part of the story — notably the death of Miss Havisham and the reunion of the mature lovers in the ruined garden of Satis House — occur in the marsh region.
- He seized me by the chin
- Rochester and Chatham in the Early Nineteenth Century: The Real "Dickensland"
Lynch, Tony. Dickens England: An A to Z Tour of the Real and Imagined Locations. A Traveller 's Companion. London: Batsford, 2012.
Nicklin, J. A. Dickens-land. Il. E. W. Haslehust. Beautiful England series. Glasgow & London: Blackie & Son, 1911.
Paroissien, David. The Companion to Great Expectations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.
Last modified 26 February 2014