Great Expectations: 52nd Installment
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By the time Charles Dickens put pen to paper to begin his 13th and penultimate completed novel there was indeed ample reason for Great Expectations.
Although he hadn’t pioneered the serialized novel, Dickens certainly popularized the form and his expectant audience now ranged far beyond the shores of his native Great Britain. The plot line he later called “a very fine, new and grotesque idea” centers around the dingy marshes of Kent and London in the early to mid-1800s but the novel’s themes of wealth and poverty, love and rejection and the eternal battle between good and evil relate to readers everywhere and ensured the book’s enduring popularity.
Seen through the eyes of an orphan named Pip, the world often seems a very scary place, bleak with convicts, prison ships and bloody violence. It’s not like the dark deeds creep up as a great surprise - the story famously opens in a grim graveyard where our hero barely escapes with his young life.
Along the way we meet colorful characters such as the eccentric Miss Havisham, Estella, the icy beauty and escaped convict Abel Magwitch who have long cemented themselves into popular culture. Pip’s wide-eyed observations ensure that he - and the reader - are never down for long.
The first installment of Great Expectations was published on December 1 1860 in Dickens’ weekly magazine All The Year Round and was serialized until August of the following year. The short chapters and the mathematical structure reflect the way it was published in stages to keep readers satisfied with complete stories within a story while thirsting for more. There are three key stages - Pip’s childhood and his dreams of escaping poverty, his life in London having received an inheritance through a mystery benefactor and his disillusionment at discovering the grand life he had sought was not all it was cracked up to be - and these in turn are further divided up into 12 parts or roughly equal length, making the novel’s structure “compactly perfect,” according to George Bernard Shaw.
The novel is a Bildungsroman, a coming of age story focusing on the moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood, a genre that encompasses such classics as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and much more recently, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
Dickens was persuaded to change his original ending to offer Pip a more hopeful future but literary critics and readers are split over the decision. In NoteStream’s new 21st Century serialization, Book Club members will get to choose which one they like best.
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Now that I was left wholly to myself, I gave notice of my intention to quit the chambers in the Temple as soon as my tenancy could legally determine, and in the meanwhile to underlet them. At once I put bills up in the windows; for, I was in debt, and had scarcely any money, and began to be seriously alarmed by the state of my affairs.
I ought rather to write that I should have been alarmed if I had had energy and concentration enough to help me to the clear perception of any truth beyond the fact that I was falling very ill. The late stress upon me had enabled me to put off illness, but not to put it away; I knew that it was coming on me now, and I knew very little else, and was even careless as to that.
Illustration by by Hubert Von Herkomer, 1891
For a day or two, I lay on the sofa, or on the floor,—anywhere, according as I happened to sink down,—with a heavy head and aching limbs, and no purpose, and no power. Then there came, one night which appeared of great duration, and which teemed with anxiety and horror; and when in the morning I tried to sit up in my bed and think of it, I found I could not do so.
Whether I really had been down in Garden Court in the dead of the night, groping about for the boat that I supposed to be there; whether I had two or three times come to myself on the staircase with great terror, not knowing how I had got out of bed; whether I had found myself lighting the lamp, possessed by the idea that he was coming up the stairs, and that the lights were blown out; whether I had been inexpressibly harassed by the distracted talking, laughing, and groaning of some one, and had half suspected those sounds to be of my own making; whether there had been a closed iron furnace in a dark corner of the room, and a voice had called out, over and over again, that Miss Havisham was consuming within it,—these were things that I tried to settle with myself and get into some order, as I lay that morning on my bed.
Illustration by F. W. Pailthorpe, 1885
But the vapor of a limekiln would come between me and them, disordering them all, and it was through the vapor at last that I saw two men looking at me.
“What do you want?” I asked, starting; “I don’t know you.”
“Well, sir,” returned one of them, bending down and touching me on the shoulder, “this is a matter that you’ll soon arrange, I dare say, but you’re arrested.”
“What is the debt?”
“Hundred and twenty-three pound, fifteen, six. Jeweller’s account, I think.”
“What is to be done?”
“You had better come to my house,” said the man. “I keep a very nice house.”
I made some attempt to get up and dress myself. When I next attended to them, they were standing a little off from the bed, looking at me. I still lay there.
“You see my state,” said I. “I would come with you if I could; but indeed I am quite unable. If you take me from here, I think I shall die by the way.”
Perhaps they replied, or argued the point, or tried to encourage me to believe that I was better than I thought. Forasmuch as they hang in my memory by only this one slender thread, I don’t know what they did, except that they forbore to remove me.
That I had a fever and was avoided, that I suffered greatly, that I often lost my reason, that the time seemed interminable, that I confounded impossible existences with my own identity; that I was a brick in the house-wall, and yet entreating to be released from the giddy place where the builders had set me; that I was a steel beam of a vast engine, clashing and whirling over a gulf, and yet that I implored in my own person to have the engine stopped, and my part in it hammered off; that I passed through these phases of disease, I know of my own remembrance, and did in some sort know at the time.
That I sometimes struggled with real people, in the belief that they were murderers, and that I would all at once comprehend that they meant to do me good, and would then sink exhausted in their arms, and suffer them to lay me down, I also knew at the time.
But, above all, I knew that there was a constant tendency in all these people,—who, when I was very ill, would present all kinds of extraordinary transformations of the human face, and would be much dilated in size,—above all, I say, I knew that there was an extraordinary tendency in all these people, sooner or later, to settle down into the likeness of Joe.
After I had turned the worst point of my illness, I began to notice that while all its other features changed, this one consistent feature did not change. Whoever came about me, still settled down into Joe. I opened my eyes in the night, and I saw, in the great chair at the bedside, Joe.
I opened my eyes in the day, and, sitting on the window-seat, smoking his pipe in the shaded open window, still I saw Joe. I asked for cooling drink, and the dear hand that gave it me was Joe’s. I sank back on my pillow after drinking, and the face that looked so hopefully and tenderly upon me was the face of Joe.
At last, one day, I took courage, and said, “Is it Joe?”
And the dear old home-voice answered, “Which it air, old chap.”
“O Joe, you break my heart! Look angry at me, Joe. Strike me, Joe. Tell me of my ingratitude. Don’t be so good to me!”
For Joe had actually laid his head down on the pillow at my side, and put his arm round my neck, in his joy that I knew him.
“Which dear old Pip, old chap,” said Joe, “you and me was ever friends. And when you’re well enough to go out for a ride—what larks!”
After which, Joe withdrew to the window, and stood with his back towards me, wiping his eyes. And as my extreme weakness prevented me from getting up and going to him, I lay there, penitently whispering, “O God bless him! O God bless this gentle Christian man!”
Joe’s eyes were red when I next found him beside me; but I was holding his hand, and we both felt happy.
“How long, dear Joe?”
“Which you meantersay, Pip, how long have your illness lasted, dear old chap?”
“It’s the end of May, Pip. To-morrow is the first of June.”
“And have you been here all that time, dear Joe?”
“Pretty nigh, old chap. For, as I says to Biddy when the news of your being ill were brought by letter, which it were brought by the post, and being formerly single he is now married though underpaid for a deal of walking and shoe-leather, but wealth were not a object on his part, and marriage were the great wish of his hart—”
“It is so delightful to hear you, Joe! But I interrupt you in what you said to Biddy.”
“Which it were,” said Joe, “that how you might be amongst strangers, and that how you and me having been ever friends, a wisit at such a moment might not prove unacceptabobble. And Biddy, her word were, ‘Go to him, without loss of time.’
That,” said Joe, summing up with his judicial air, “were the word of Biddy. ‘Go to him,’ Biddy say, ‘without loss of time.’ In short, I shouldn’t greatly deceive you,” Joe added, after a little grave reflection, “if I represented to you that the word of that young woman were, ‘without a minute’s loss of time.’”
Illustration by Harry Furniss, 1910
There Joe cut himself short, and informed me that I was to be talked to in great moderation, and that I was to take a little nourishment at stated frequent times, whether I felt inclined for it or not, and that I was to submit myself to all his orders. So I kissed his hand, and lay quiet, while he proceeded to indite a note to Biddy, with my love in it.
Evidently Biddy had taught Joe to write. As I lay in bed looking at him, it made me, in my weak state, cry again with pleasure to see the pride with which he set about his letter. My bedstead, divested of its curtains, had been removed, with me upon it, into the sitting-room, as the airiest and largest, and the carpet had been taken away, and the room kept always fresh and wholesome night and day.
At my own writing-table, pushed into a corner and cumbered with little bottles, Joe now sat down to his great work, first choosing a pen from the pen-tray as if it were a chest of large tools, and tucking up his sleeves as if he were going to wield a crow-bar or sledgehammer.
Illustration by John McLenan, 1861
It was necessary for Joe to hold on heavily to the table with his left elbow, and to get his right leg well out behind him, before he could begin; and when he did begin he made every downstroke so slowly that it might have been six feet long, while at every upstroke I could hear his pen spluttering extensively.
He had a curious idea that the inkstand was on the side of him where it was not, and constantly dipped his pen into space, and seemed quite satisfied with the result.
Occasionally, he was tripped up by some orthographical stumbling-block; but on the whole he got on very well indeed; and when he had signed his name, and had removed a finishing blot from the paper to the crown of his head with his two forefingers, he got up and hovered about the table, trying the effect of his performance from various points of view, as it lay there, with unbounded satisfaction.
Not to make Joe uneasy by talking too much, even if I had been able to talk much, I deferred asking him about Miss Havisham until next day.
He shook his head when I then asked him if she had recovered.
“Is she dead, Joe?”
“Why you see, old chap,” said Joe, in a tone of remonstrance, and by way of getting at it by degrees, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, for that’s a deal to say; but she ain’t—”
“That’s nigher where it is,” said Joe; “she ain’t living.”
“Did she linger long, Joe?”
“Arter you was took ill, pretty much about what you might call (if you was put to it) a week,” said Joe; still determined, on my account, to come at everything by degrees.
“Dear Joe, have you heard what becomes of her property?”
“Well, old chap,” said Joe, “it do appear that she had settled the most of it, which I meantersay tied it up, on Miss Estella. But she had wrote out a little coddleshell in her own hand a day or two afore the accident, leaving a cool four thousand to Mr. Matthew Pocket.
And why, do you suppose, above all things, Pip, she left that cool four thousand unto him? ‘Because of Pip’s account of him, the said Matthew.’ I am told by Biddy, that air the writing,” said Joe, repeating the legal turn as if it did him infinite good, “‘account of him the said Matthew.’ And a cool four thousand, Pip!”
I never discovered from whom Joe derived the conventional temperature of the four thousand pounds; but it appeared to make the sum of money more to him, and he had a manifest relish in insisting on its being cool.
This account gave me great joy, as it perfected the only good thing I had done. I asked Joe whether he had heard if any of the other relations had any legacies?
“Miss Sarah,” said Joe, “she have twenty-five pound perannium fur to buy pills, on account of being bilious. Miss Georgiana, she have twenty pound down. Mrs.—what’s the name of them wild beasts with humps, old chap?”
“Camels?” said I, wondering why he could possibly want to know.
Joe nodded. “Mrs. Camels,” by which I presently understood he meant Camilla, “she have five pound fur to buy rushlights to put her in spirits when she wake up in the night.”
The accuracy of these recitals was sufficiently obvious to me, to give me great confidence in Joe’s information. “And now,” said Joe, “you ain’t that strong yet, old chap, that you can take in more nor one additional shovelful to-day. Old Orlick he’s been a bustin’ open a dwelling-ouse.”
“Whose?” said I.
“Not, I grant you, but what his manners is given to blusterous,” said Joe, apologetically; “still, a Englishman’s ouse is his Castle, and castles must not be busted ‘cept when done in war time. And wotsume’er the failings on his part, he were a corn and seedsman in his hart.”
“Is it Pumblechook’s house that has been broken into, then?”
Detail from illustration by Harry Furniss, 1910
“That’s it, Pip,” said Joe; “and they took his till, and they took his cash-box, and they drinked his wine, and they partook of his wittles, and they slapped his face, and they pulled his nose, and they tied him up to his bedpust, and they giv’ him a dozen, and they stuffed his mouth full of flowering annuals to prewent his crying out. But he knowed Orlick, and Orlick’s in the county jail.”
By these approaches we arrived at unrestricted conversation. I was slow to gain strength, but I did slowly and surely become less weak, and Joe stayed with me, and I fancied I was little Pip again.
For the tenderness of Joe was so beautifully proportioned to my need, that I was like a child in his hands. He would sit and talk to me in the old confidence, and with the old simplicity, and in the old unassertive protecting way, so that I would half believe that all my life since the days of the old kitchen was one of the mental troubles of the fever that was gone. He did everything for me except the household work, for which he had engaged a very decent woman, after paying off the laundress on his first arrival.
“Which I do assure you, Pip,” he would often say, in explanation of that liberty; “I found her a tapping the spare bed, like a cask of beer, and drawing off the feathers in a bucket, for sale. Which she would have tapped yourn next, and draw’d it off with you a laying on it, and was then a carrying away the coals gradiwally in the soup-tureen and wegetable-dishes, and the wine and spirits in your Wellington boots.”
We looked forward to the day when I should go out for a ride, as we had once looked forward to the day of my apprenticeship.
And when the day came, and an open carriage was got into the Lane, Joe wrapped me up, took me in his arms, carried me down to it, and put me in, as if I were still the small helpless creature to whom he had so abundantly given of the wealth of his great nature.
And Joe got in beside me, and we drove away together into the country, where the rich summer growth was already on the trees and on the grass, and sweet summer scents filled all the air.
The day happened to be Sunday, and when I looked on the loveliness around me, and thought how it had grown and changed, and how the little wild-flowers had been forming, and the voices of the birds had been strengthening, by day and by night, under the sun and under the stars, while poor I lay burning and tossing on my bed, the mere remembrance of having burned and tossed there came like a check upon my peace.
But when I heard the Sunday bells, and looked around a little more upon the outspread beauty, I felt that I was not nearly thankful enough,—that I was too weak yet to be even that,—and I laid my head on Joe’s shoulder, as I had laid it long ago when he had taken me to the Fair or where not, and it was too much for my young senses.
More composure came to me after a while, and we talked as we used to talk, lying on the grass at the old Battery. There was no change whatever in Joe. Exactly what he had been in my eyes then, he was in my eyes still; just as simply faithful, and as simply right.
When we got back again, and he lifted me out, and carried me—so easily!—across the court and up the stairs, I thought of that eventful Christmas Day when he had carried me over the marshes. We had not yet made any allusion to my change of fortune, nor did I know how much of my late history he was acquainted with. I was so doubtful of myself now, and put so much trust in him, that I could not satisfy myself whether I ought to refer to it when he did not.
“Have you heard, Joe,” I asked him that evening, upon further consideration, as he smoked his pipe at the window, “who my patron was?”
“I heerd,” returned Joe, “as it were not Miss Havisham, old chap.”
“Did you hear who it was, Joe?”
“Well! I heerd as it were a person what sent the person what giv’ you the bank-notes at the Jolly Bargemen, Pip.”
“So it was.”
“Astonishing!” said Joe, in the placidest way.
“Did you hear that he was dead, Joe?” I presently asked, with increasing diffidence.
“Which? Him as sent the bank-notes, Pip?”
“I think,” said Joe, after meditating a long time, and looking rather evasively at the window-seat, “as I did hear tell that how he were something or another in a general way in that direction.”
“Did you hear anything of his circumstances, Joe?”
“Not partickler, Pip.”
“If you would like to hear, Joe—” I was beginning, when Joe got up and came to my sofa.
“Lookee here, old chap,” said Joe, bending over me. “Ever the best of friends; ain’t us, Pip?”
I was ashamed to answer him.
“Wery good, then,” said Joe, as if I had answered; “that’s all right; that’s agreed upon. Then why go into subjects, old chap, which as betwixt two sech must be for ever onnecessary? There’s subjects enough as betwixt two sech, without onnecessary ones. Lord! To think of your poor sister and her Rampages! And don’t you remember Tickler?”
“I do indeed, Joe.”
“Lookee here, old chap,” said Joe. “I done what I could to keep you and Tickler in sunders, but my power were not always fully equal to my inclinations.
For when your poor sister had a mind to drop into you, it were not so much,” said Joe, in his favorite argumentative way, “that she dropped into me too, if I put myself in opposition to her, but that she dropped into you always heavier for it. I noticed that. It ain’t a grab at a man’s whisker, not yet a shake or two of a man (to which your sister was quite welcome), that ‘ud put a man off from getting a little child out of punishment.
But when that little child is dropped into heavier for that grab of whisker or shaking, then that man naterally up and says to himself, ‘Where is the good as you are a doing? I grant you I see the ‘arm,’ says the man, ‘but I don’t see the good. I call upon you, sir, therefore, to pint out the good.’”
“The man says?” I observed, as Joe waited for me to speak.
“The man says,” Joe assented. “Is he right, that man?”
“Dear Joe, he is always right.”
“Well, old chap,” said Joe, “then abide by your words. If he’s always right (which in general he’s more likely wrong), he’s right when he says this: Supposing ever you kep any little matter to yourself, when you was a little child, you kep it mostly because you know’d as J. Gargery’s power to part you and Tickler in sunders were not fully equal to his inclinations.
Theerfore, think no more of it as betwixt two sech, and do not let us pass remarks upon onnecessary subjects. Biddy giv’ herself a deal o’ trouble with me afore I left (for I am almost awful dull), as I should view it in this light, and, viewing it in this light, as I should so put it.
Both of which,” said Joe, quite charmed with his logical arrangement, “being done, now this to you a true friend, say. Namely. You mustn’t go a overdoing on it, but you must have your supper and your wine and water, and you must be put betwixt the sheets.”
Artist: Alfred Walter Bayes (1831-1909), Engraver: the Dalziels
The delicacy with which Joe dismissed this theme, and the sweet tact and kindness with which Biddy—who with her woman’s wit had found me out so soon—had prepared him for it, made a deep impression on my mind. But whether Joe knew how poor I was, and how my great expectations had all dissolved, like our own marsh mists before the sun, I could not understand.
Another thing in Joe that I could not understand when it first began to develop itself, but which I soon arrived at a sorrowful comprehension of, was this: As I became stronger and better, Joe became a little less easy with me.
In my weakness and entire dependence on him, the dear fellow had fallen into the old tone, and called me by the old names, the dear “old Pip, old chap,” that now were music in my ears. I too had fallen into the old ways, only happy and thankful that he let me.
But, imperceptibly, though I held by them fast, Joe’s hold upon them began to slacken; and whereas I wondered at this, at first, I soon began to understand that the cause of it was in me, and that the fault of it was all mine.
Ah! Had I given Joe no reason to doubt my constancy, and to think that in prosperity I should grow cold to him and cast him off? Had I given Joe’s innocent heart no cause to feel instinctively that as I got stronger, his hold upon me would be weaker, and that he had better loosen it in time and let me go, before I plucked myself away?
It was on the third or fourth occasion of my going out walking in the Temple Gardens leaning on Joe’s arm, that I saw this change in him very plainly. We had been sitting in the bright warm sunlight, looking at the river, and I chanced to say as we got up,—
“See, Joe! I can walk quite strongly. Now, you shall see me walk back by myself.”
“Which do not overdo it, Pip,” said Joe; “but I shall be happy fur to see you able, sir.”
The last word grated on me; but how could I remonstrate! I walked no further than the gate of the gardens, and then pretended to be weaker than I was, and asked Joe for his arm. Joe gave it me, but was thoughtful.
I, for my part, was thoughtful too; for, how best to check this growing change in Joe was a great perplexity to my remorseful thoughts. That I was ashamed to tell him exactly how I was placed, and what I had come down to, I do not seek to conceal; but I hope my reluctance was not quite an unworthy one.
He would want to help me out of his little savings, I knew, and I knew that he ought not to help me, and that I must not suffer him to do it.
It was a thoughtful evening with both of us. But, before we went to bed, I had resolved that I would wait over to-morrow,—to-morrow being Sunday,—and would begin my new course with the new week.
On Monday morning I would speak to Joe about this change, I would lay aside this last vestige of reserve, I would tell him what I had in my thoughts (that Secondly, not yet arrived at), and why I had not decided to go out to Herbert, and then the change would be conquered for ever. As I cleared, Joe cleared, and it seemed as though he had sympathetically arrived at a resolution too.
We had a quiet day on the Sunday, and we rode out into the country, and then walked in the fields.
“I feel thankful that I have been ill, Joe,” I said.
“Dear old Pip, old chap, you’re a’most come round, sir.”
“It has been a memorable time for me, Joe.”
“Likeways for myself, sir,” Joe returned.
“We have had a time together, Joe, that I can never forget. There were days once, I know, that I did for a while forget; but I never shall forget these.”
“Pip,” said Joe, appearing a little hurried and troubled, “there has been larks. And, dear sir, what have been betwixt us—have been.”
At night, when I had gone to bed, Joe came into my room, as he had done all through my recovery. He asked me if I felt sure that I was as well as in the morning?
“Yes, dear Joe, quite.”
“And are always a getting stronger, old chap?”
“Yes, dear Joe, steadily.”
Joe patted the coverlet on my shoulder with his great good hand, and said, in what I thought a husky voice, “Good night!”
When I got up in the morning, refreshed and stronger yet, I was full of my resolution to tell Joe all, without delay.
Portrait of a Young Man, Margaret Sarah Carpenter, 1845
I would tell him before breakfast. I would dress at once and go to his room and surprise him; for, it was the first day I had been up early. I went to his room, and he was not there. Not only was he not there, but his box was gone.
I hurried then to the breakfast-table, and on it found a letter. These were its brief contents:—
“Not wishful to intrude I have departured fur you are well again dear Pip and will do better without JO.
“P.S. Ever the best of friends.”
Enclosed in the letter was a receipt for the debt and costs on which I had been arrested.
Down to that moment, I had vainly supposed that my creditor had withdrawn, or suspended proceedings until I should be quite recovered. I had never dreamed of Joe’s having paid the money; but Joe had paid it, and the receipt was in his name.
What remained for me now, but to follow him to the dear old forge, and there to have out my disclosure to him, and my penitent remonstrance with him, and there to relieve my mind and heart of that reserved Secondly, which had begun as a vague something lingering in my thoughts, and had formed into a settled purpose?
The purpose was, that I would go to Biddy, that I would show her how humbled and repentant I came back, that I would tell her how I had lost all I once hoped for, that I would remind her of our old confidences in my first unhappy time.
Then I would say to her, “Biddy, I think you once liked me very well, when my errant heart, even while it strayed away from you, was quieter and better with you than it ever has been since.
If you can like me only half as well once more, if you can take me with all my faults and disappointments on my head, if you can receive me like a forgiven child (and indeed I am as sorry, Biddy, and have as much need of a hushing voice and a soothing hand), I hope I am a little worthier of you that I was,—not much, but a little.
And, Biddy, it shall rest with you to say whether I shall work at the forge with Joe, or whether I shall try for any different occupation down in this country, or whether we shall go away to a distant place where an opportunity awaits me which I set aside, when it was offered, until I knew your answer.
And now, dear Biddy, if you can tell me that you will go through the world with me, you will surely make it a better world for me, and me a better man for it, and I will try hard to make it a better world for you.”
Such was my purpose. After three days more of recovery, I went down to the old place to put it in execution. And how I sped in it is all I have left to tell.