The mariner in Coleridge's poem, we find, has been condemned to retell his story to anyone he can make listen. Constantly reciting this tale of sin is an "agony" which will not be relieved until the story has been completely told. Whether this penance was placed on him from within or from without is uncertain, but obvious is the fact that in order to purge the sin from his system, he felt compelled to tell his story.
This penance could very well be the same motivation for Pip's retelling of his childhood from the vantage point of a later stage in life. For Pip, the protagonist and narrator of Great Expectations experienced an event similar to the mariner's shooting of the Albatross — he left his rightful home with Joe for false expectations in the gentlemen's world of London. Indeed, a certain degree of guilt followed him throughout the book, which, although not explicitly stated, may have been relieved upon the termination of the final chapter, that is, in the form of the novel itself. In these ways, although their respective literary techniques are quite different (one a poem, the other a novel), the two works in question run parallel courses both in terms of subject matter and in form. Coleridge, like Wordsworth, felt a great loss with the "betrayal" of the revolutionaries in France and the Reign of Terror, and spoke of this metaphorically as a loss of the innocence of idealistic childhood. Dickens saw the despair around him in London among the poor and the corruption of the gentlemen's class and wondered what had happened to their innocence.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000