In Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, Pip originally associates riches and “oncommon" people with beauty. Estella and Miss Havisham, the first characters to fully alert Pip to his low position in the world, are linked to picturesque landscapes in Pip's mind.
It was pleasant and quiet, out there with the sails on the river passing beyond the earthwork, and sometimes, when the tide was low, looking as if they belonged to sunken ships that were still sailing on at the bottom of the water. Whenever I watched the vessels standing out to sea with their white sails spread, I somehow thought of Miss Havisham and Estella; and whenever the light struck aslant, afar off, upon a cloud or sail or green hill-side or waterline, it was just the same.-Miss Havisham and Estella and the strange life appeared to have something to do with everything that was picturesque.
Once Pip learns of his great expectations, however, he travels to London and encounters the dirty atmosphere of the city rich. He finds Smithfield to be a “shameful place, being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam." When Pip enters Barnard's Inn, where he will live because of his new money, he says “dry rot and wet rot and all the silent rots that rot in neglected roof and cellar- rot of rat and mouse and bug and coaching-stables near at hand besides- addressed themselves faintly to my sense of smell and moaned, 'Try Barnard's Mixture'". He sees nothing while in London that could be described as beautiful or picturesque, and yet Pip links the class of gentlemen with Miss Havisham and Estella, with whom he also associates beauty.
It is interesting to note, however, that he never sees living beauty at Miss Havisham's house. He only sees stale beauty which has been rotting for years, such as Miss Havisham's cake and white gown, or beauty which is being corrupted, like Estella. Therefore, Pip has deluded himself concerning the appearance of riches and the upper classes.
1. Pip not only associates Miss Havisham and Estella with beauty, but with images of the water and sailing ships. Why does Pip specifically see the two ladies in “white sails spread" and light on the waterline? What does this signify?
2. Pip says upon arriving in London,
We Britons had at that time particularly settled, that it was treasonable to doubt our having and our being the best of everything: otherwise, while I was scared by the immensity of London, I think I might have had some faint doubts whether it was not rather ugly, crooked, narrow and dirty.
What sort of political statement is Dickens trying to make, especially considering that Pip then goes on to describe some of the more filthy London scenes?
3. Some of the most beautiful descriptions in Jane Eyre occur when Jane is wandering around as a beggar. For example, Jane says,
I touched the heath, it was dry, and yet warm with the beat of the summer day. I looked at the sky; it was pure: a kindly star twinkled just above the chasm ridge. The dew fell, but with propitious softness; no breeze whispered. Nature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was; and I, who from man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her with filial fondness.
Compare Brontë's contrast of beauty and riches with that of Dickens.
4. By the end of the novel, the reader discovers where Pip's money really comes from. How does the filth of London hint at the source of Pip's great expectations?
Last modified 18 February 2008