decorated initial 'S'ure, we all know that Dickens tells us in Great Expectations that Miss Havisham's being jilted turned her into the grotesque, pathetic, scheming character we encounter in the book. Jasper Fforde has another explanation. The Well of Lost Plots, his often hysterically funny novel about an alternative universe where people take reading really seriously and characters have their own reality, explains things differently: Miss Havisham was, you see, too . . . short. As she tells the heroine of The Well of Lost Plots (who in another Fforde novel changed the original ending of Jane Eyre to the one we know),

I remember when I was in the Well, when they were building Great Expectations. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world when they told me I would be working with Charles Dickens. Top of my class at Generic College and, without seeming immodest, something ot a beauty. I thought I would make an admirable young Estella — both refined and beautiful, haughty and proud, yet ultimately overcoming the overbearing crabbiness of her cantankerous benefactor to find true love."

"So . . . what happened?"

"I wasn't tall enough."

'Tall enough? For a book? Isn't that like having the wrong hair color for the wireless [i.e. radio]?"

"They gave the part to a little strumpet who was on salvage from a demolished Thackeray. Little cow. It's no wonder I treat her so rotten — the part should have been mine!" [68-69]

She fell into silence.

Fforde, who elsewhere provides a brilliant history of the relation of storytelling to information technologies, has a serious point, one shared by literary theorists, such as the Russian formalists, and students of folklore and comedy: all characters in fiction clearly relate to a fairly small number of stock types, even those in so-called realistic fiction.

How closely do Pip, Joe, Mrs. Joe, and Estalla conform to stock types?

Have you seen versions of them in other novels you've read?

Could Estella be a retread from a novel by Thackeray? If you think so, which one?

Related Materials

References

Fforde, Jasper. The Well of Lost Plots. Penguin, 2003. 68-69..


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 19 January 2006