Week 22: From Walworth to Rangoon

I think we might generously describe this week’s instalment as ‘filler’. The plot does not advance, and we find ourselves sharing Pip’s frustration at Jaggers’ (i.e. – Dickens’s) refusal to reveal more about the secret benefactor. In place of plot, we have some wry Dickensian comedy and Pip the narrator concludes with a teasing promise of some Estella next week. In comparison to Wemmick’s genteel romancing of Miss Skiffins, Pip’s relationship with Estella feels even more perverse. Perhaps the comic deafness of the Aged P hints at a similar infirmity of the senses in Pip.

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Week 21: Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Following on from last week’s instalment in which Pip was primarily an observer, this week’s chapters open with a rumination on the damaging effect of Pip’s expectations, on himself and others. At this point any vestiges of sympathy for Pip are fading fast, and it is the tone of self-reflection and humour that runs throughout that endeavours to keep us from hating Pip for his external actions – which are superficially performative at best, and cruel and self-congratulatory at worst. Though narrator-Pip is showing his understanding of the priggishness of his own behaviour, we are told at the time he had only “insensibly begun to notice” the effect of his newfound wealth on himself and others (a wonderfully paradoxical expression!). Continue reading “Week 21: Keeping the Home Fires Burning”

Week 20: Water Pip down

A few instalments ago, in week 17, we discussed Dickens’ technique of opening the instalment with a letter. Well he was obviously proud of it because three weeks later he’s at it again. But whereas last time we launched straight into the letter without warning, here Pip provides a preamble first, and it is a necessary one given that the letter itself is void of any introduction. Estella’s letter ‘had no set beginning, as Dear Mr Pip or Dear Pip, or Dear Sir, or Dear Anything’. Thus Pip himself acts to provide the introduction that Estella cannot be bothered to provide, ironically presenting a less abrupt introduction to this week’s instalment than that of week 17. Our dear Pip is overcompensating for Estella, providing a paragraph of introduction to cover for the lack, ironically, of ‘Dear Pip’. It’s a fitting opening for an instalment in which Pip is both there, and not there. Like the ‘nameless shadow’ he imagines seeing upon Estella’s face, we have a diluted, vanishing Pip this week, happier to narrate and observe more than he interacts.  Continue reading “Week 20: Water Pip down”

Week 19: Alas, poor Wopsle

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dickens’s famous ‘streaky bacon’ piece this week, and his commitment to the principle of layering comedy and tragedy within his writing. Following on from last week’s bumper single chapter and the dark psychological complexities of time spent at Miss Havisham’s, we return this week to a comparatively lighter, funnier, and ostensibly less plot-crucial instalment. And yet, just as in that famous declaration Dickens sees comedy and tragedy as inextricably bonded, part of the same essential form, so too was I struck this week by the ways in which the dark threads of the last instalment resurface in these more light-hearted interactions, and how even the funniest moments are not without their pangs of emotional pain.
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