Pip Watches Wemmick and Miss Skiffins by Harry Furniss. 1910. 9 cm by 13.6 cm (3 ½ by 5 ⅜ inches), framed. Dickens's Great Expectations, Charles Dickens Library Edition. Original caption: During the whole time of the Aged's reading, Wemmick's arm was straying from the path of virtue and being recalled to it by Miss Skiffins. Whenever he put his arm around her waist, she neatly stopped him, and unwound it as if it were an article of dress. — p. 283.

Passage Illustrated: The Romance of a Postbox Mouth at Walworth

As Wemmick and Miss Skiffins sat side by side, and as I sat in a shadowy corner, I observed a slow and gradual elongation of Mr. Wemmick’s mouth, powerfully suggestive of his slowly and gradually stealing his arm round Miss Skiffins’s waist. In course of time I saw his hand appear on the other side of Miss Skiffins; but at that moment Miss Skiffins neatly stopped him with the green glove, unwound his arm again as if it were an article of dress, and with the greatest deliberation laid it on the table before her. Miss Skiffins’s composure while she did this was one of the most remarkable sights I have ever seen, and if I could have thought the act consistent with abstraction of mind, I should have deemed that Miss Skiffins performed it mechanically.

By and by, I noticed Wemmick’s arm beginning to disappear again, and gradually fading out of view. Shortly afterwards, his mouth began to widen again. After an interval of suspense on my part that was quite enthralling and almost painful, I saw his hand appear on the other side of Miss Skiffins. Instantly, Miss Skiffins stopped it with the neatness of a placid boxer, took off that girdle or cestus as before, and laid it on the table. Taking the table to represent the path of virtue, I am justified in stating that during the whole time of the Aged’s reading, Wemmick’s arm was straying from the path of virtue and being recalled to it by Miss Skiffins.

At last, the Aged read himself into a light slumber. [Chapter XXXVII, 283]

Commentary: Romance facilitated by the Reading the Newspaper

Pip visits the Wemmicks and Miss Skiffins, John Wemmick's fiancée, at the Castle in Walworth one Sunday afternoon in winter, and stays for tea and toast. Afterward, the couple take advantage of the old man's being distracted by reading the newspaper aloud, and snuggle up together opposite him. An appreciative Pip observes all. His Walworth mission, however, is much more targeted, for he has approached Wemmick with a request to help him do something financially for his best friend, Herbert Pocket, whom he fears Miss Havisham may have passed over as she prepares Pip to become a gentleman worthy of marrying Estella. Coincidentally, remarks Wemmick, Miss Skiffins' brother is an accountant, and may therefore be of use of devising a scheme to see that Herbert gets an annuity of one hundred pounds and possibly a business partnership.

Here, Wemmick and a youthful-looking Miss Skiffins advance their romantic relationship while Pip observes everything, and the Aged P. sees nothing but his newspaper. Furniss realizes the well-appointed parlour, surprisingly conventional for the main entertaining room of Wemmick's Walworth "Castle." Pip is very much at his ease as observer of middle-aged romance; although we cannot see his expression, his posture suggests casual comfort. Perilously but strategically located beside the Aged P. is his reading candle, about which his son has concerns that repeatedly prompt his timely intervention lest the old man immolate himself - perhaps ac subtle foreshadowing of the fate of Miss Havisham. The painting of a an elderly woman in Regency garb is likely that of the old man's wife, John Wemmick, Jr.'s mother, about whom Dickens is silent. The miniatures and furnishings in general betoken solid, upper-middle-class ease, which the Aged P., a former warehouseman, fully appreciates. Clearly Miss Skiffins is a little concerned about engaging in any intimacy in the presence of her would-be father-in-law and her fiancé's young guest.

Other Artists' Renderings of Wemmick's Aged P., 1867 to 1916

Left: F. W. Pailthorpe's Robson & Kerslake Edition illustration of the congenial Sunday afternoon scene at Wemmick's castle: "Now, Aged Parent, tip us the Paper" (1885). Centre: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s Diamond Edition version, a dual portrait of the father with toasting fork and amiable son: Wemmick and "The Aged" (1867). Right: H. M. Brock's revision of the same scene: "Well, aged parent." said Wemmick, "how am you?", in the Hodder and Stoughton Edition (1916).

Left: In the first American serialisation, periodical illustrator John McLenan emphasizes the cozziness of Mr. Wemmick, Sr.'s rooms in The responsible duty of making the toast was delegated to the Aged for the 27 April 1861 number of Harper's Weekly. Right: F. A. Fraser's Household Edition version of the same scene: We found the aged heating the poker, with expectant eyes (1876).

Related Material

Other Artists’ Illustrations for Dickens's Great Expectations

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose, as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Illustrated by John McLenan. [The First American Edition]. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Vols. IV: 740 through V: 495 (24 November 1860-3 August 1861).

______. ("Boz."). Great Expectations. With thirty-four illustrations from original designs by John McLenan. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson (by agreement with Harper & Bros., New York), 1861.

______. Great Expectations. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. The Illustrated Library Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. Rpt. in The Nonesuch Dickens, Great Expectations and Hard Times. London: Nonesuch, 1937; Overlook and Worth Presses, 2005.

______. A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. Illustrated by Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

______. Great Expectations. Volume 6 of the Household Edition. Illustrated by F. A. Fraser. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876.

______. Great Expectations. The Gadshill Edition. Illustrated by Charles Green. London: Chapman and Hall, 1898.

______. Great Expectations. The Grande Luxe Edition, ed. Richard Garnett. Illustrated by Clayton J. Clarke ('Kyd'). London: Merrill and Baker, 1900.

______. Great Expectations. Illustrated by H. M. Brock. Imperial Edition. 16 vols. London: Gresham Publishing Company [34 Southampton Street, The Strand, London], 1901-3.

______. Great Expectations. "With 28 Original Plates by Harry Furniss." Volume 14 of the Charles Dickens Library Edition. London: Educational Book Co., 1910.

Paroissien, David. The Companion to "Great Expectations." Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.

Created 7 March 2004

Last updated 18 October 2021