A feature common to Great Expectations, Waterland, and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is compulsive storytelling. They explore the themes of storytelling as analysis, justification, and unification and ultimately lead to a questioning of the texts themselves. The Ancient Mariner is forced by some sort of divinely imposed heartburn to recite his tale of terror to random listeners. The waylaid wedding-guest has no desire to hear the Mariner's tale, but he is held by the Mariner's glittering eye and "cannot choose but hear."
Pip similarly tells his tale in a fashion that shows he is very aware he is telling a story; in chapter 37 he speaks of giving a chapter to Estella — illuminating that the form of his story is very much on his mind. The reader is held by Pip's glittering eye — his distinctive point of view — and becomes a captive listener to Pip's tale he must tell in order to analyze his past. The Mariner's explanation of why he is telling his story is in response to a question from the wedding-guest: "What manner of man art thou — ?" Storytelling, say both Coleridge and Dickens, is a means of establishing identity. To use a concept from Waterland, man is the animal who tells stories.
These urges arise from a need to become responsible for past actions — the Mariner's killing of the albatross, Pip's folly in his rejection of Joe (among other things his bad infuence on Herbert, his snobbery to Biddy, etc.). Responsibility was a particularly important area of Victorian concern — the responsibility of man for himself and others gave birth the Dickens's urges to social reform in England.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000