Setting in Dickens and Radcliffe
Judy Huang '91, English 32 (1988)
Dickens gives the physical setting a major role in the shaping of a character. Physical setting in the specific form of a landscape effectively echoes the emotions of a character. The first description of the landscape in the novel occurs just before the convict approaches the frightened Pip. Dickens' use of adjectives such as "raw," "bleak," "dark," and "savage" amplifies young Pip's fear as he wanders around the churchyard. Towards the close of the novel, when Pip elatedly returns to Joe and Biddy, the word-painting of the landscape differs to fit Pip's feelings of internal peace and soaring hopes for the future.
Radcliffe's use of word-painting in the passage from The Mysteries of Udolpho differs in diction from that of Dickens. Radcliffe does not just merely describe it. She bestows active rather than passive qualities upon the landscape. The passage depicts clouds, chasms, cliffs and mountains, to which movements and activity are not commonly attributed. Radcliffe's choice of words make the reader perceive the landscape in a state of flux. Nature exists as an active force. She achieves this effect with the following expressions: "the clouds . . . billowy surges rolling . . . closing . . .spreading . . . the torrent. . . astounding roar . . . tumbling down the rocky chasm." The landscape description appears calm on the surface, but the intense activity of the mountains and clouds may reflect feelings of turmoil within Emily. In Dickens, the tone of the landscape description accurately mirrors emotions such as fear and happiness in Pip. The reader does not sense that type of emotion in Emily. Radcliffe's concern lies with portraying the landscape. Emily observes her environment and exists within the context of it. In Great Expectations, the landscape is secondary to Pip; Dickens utilizes it to reinforce Pip's feelings.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000