Week 26. Back Stories

Here we are, twenty- six weeks into the serial, and only now do we learn what brought Pip’s convict on to the marsh on that Christmas morning all those years ago.  It’s been half a year in real time for we the readers; for Pip, who is now twenty-three, it seems another life.   And if that weren’t enough for one instalment, at the end, we learn that Compeyson, the public school boy turned consummate fraudster, is the lover who abandoned Miss Havisham on the morning of her wedding day.  I have to confess that my readerly memory didn’t instantly connect the pathetic   Arthur, in the throes of delirium tremens, with Miss Havisham’s brother who, we were told earlier, had been in league with the man who had jilted her.   Compeyson was careful to cover that particular track by telling Magwitch that Arthur was not his Christian name but his surname. Continue reading “Week 26. Back Stories”


Week 25 — Provis finds ‘the Precious’

Dickens is a past master at describing the actions of a man under extreme mental pressure, in ways which both explain what might otherwise seem an odd series of decisions and recreate moments of suppression and denial. Here it seems to me he calls on this ability at a crucial moment. He has just tripped the trap wire of the whole elaborate device that has ensnared Pip, which readers are now aware he has built so elaborately for months (in periodical terms) and years (in Pip’s terms). It would have been so easy to dwell on this, and the whole ‘Misnar’s Pavilion’ allusion from the Tales of the Genii, or to have Pip indulge in suitable extravagant rhetorical reflection (‘Now I saw’ etc.): but I think the sensation artist in him understood that this would, however appropriate, have dropped the tension to near zero. Instead, in this installment, the gradual suspense of the benefactor mystery which has hung over Pip is switched for the much more urgent danger of his harbouring a condemned criminal. Continue reading “Week 25 — Provis finds ‘the Precious’”

Week 24: The Truth is Out


On the stairs

Reading this instalment I couldn’t help but feel a kind of sick anticipation―how much of this was the fact that I knew what was coming and how much is it the manner in which Dickens’ builds the tension, ever so slowly tightening the screws? I can’t recall on first reading whether I guessed the revelation beforehand or whether it came as a complete surprise but reading this instalment now, with full knowledge, the dramatic irony is excruciating. But then when is Pip’s behaviour not excruciating? Dickens only allows us brief moments of respite, usually Wemmick-based, before tossing us into the breach once more. Continue reading “Week 24: The Truth is Out”

Week 23: Agony!

Agony Into the Woods
‘Agony, beyond power of speech | When the one thing you want |
Is the only thing out of your reach’ – Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen sing through their pain in Into the Woods (2014)

At the start of this instalment, I wondered if Dickens was going to give us a classic ‘agonies of courtship’ chapter, in the vein of David Copperfield. Like David, Pip casts himself as an ‘unquiet spirit’, compelled to haunt places associated with his beloved. He is also wildly jealous of other potential suitors. Yet this is a much darker and sadder version of the courtship narrative, despite – or perhaps because of – Pip’s assumption that he will eventually marry Estella. While David Copperfield can look back and see the funny side of his infatuation with Dora, Pip finds little to laugh about in his situation. Last week Ben noted the perverse qualities of this relationship. Prior familiarity affords Pip certain privileges, such as the opportunity to act as escort and to address Estella by her first name. Yet this superficial intimacy places Pip at a hopeless disadvantage in terms of becoming her acknowledged lover. The ways in which Pip thinks about his connection with Estella are telling: Continue reading “Week 23: Agony!”