Dickens, Charles - Great Expectations - Mapping

Seminar Paper, 2002
17 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)

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1. Introduction: Props or Protagonists?

2. Opposing Spaces - an Overview

3. The World in 2D: The Morphing Marshes

4. Satis House vs. The Village/Forge

5. The Dismal Universe: London
5.1.Jaggers’ Lair, Wemmick’s Castle, Pocket House and the Temple

6. The Gateways: The River Thames and Water in general

7. Empty Spaces: Australia and the Travel Routes

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography

1. Introduction: Props or Protagonists?

Are they merely backdrops, props on a stage that add some flavour to the events but are nonetheless negligible? Or are they in themselves protagonists, who work busily behind the scenes, crucial building blocks in the textual universe of ‘ Great Expectations ’? A reading of the novel focussing on the histoire could evoke the impression that the spaces are simply there, end of debate. The figures move across them because there has to be some kind of space for the plot to take place in, so why not a village as a quiet starting point and a city as backdrop for more turbulent events? The spaces lie at the periphery of the characters’ paths to be briefly looked at but soon forgotten in the face of the quickly unfolding events of passion and decline.

But are the presented landscape and setting really interchangeable, mute and altogether arbitrary? Is it not rather a deliberate world, carefully constructed to fit into the story, morph itself into the characters’ moods, portray them and thus play an important part? The locations, spaces and buildings in which the story takes place are defintely not inconspicuous; their diversity, extent and vividity makes them wield great power over the story.

They represent prototypes: who does not have actual pictures of marshes, great desolate spaces, houses huddled together in a harsh landscape, spooky houses and vast, morbid and 2 incomprehensible cities in mind when reading Dickens’ novel? The textual images and the pictures in the reader mingle to form an intricate universe of opposites.

I will attempt to prove the pervasiveness of the qualities of the locations and their significance for the understanding of the novel.

Wherever feasible I will employ close reading to highlight the deictic expressions that characterize the environment of the characters. I will show how the physical appearance of the surroundings is adapted to the events taking place. These thoughts are derived from Jurij M. Lotman’s observation that: ‘ The most common social, religious, political and moral models of the world by the help of which people of different epochs of cultural life perceive the life surrounding them are always furnished with spatial characteristics […]’1. This thought provides the theoretical starting point on which my discussion is based. I will furthermore attempt to ascertain why certain spaces are left without any description and thus appear as blanks. Starting from these reflections I will briefly analyse the lack of description of Australia from a New Historicist point of view.

Before doing all this however, it is necessary to establish an overview of the locations. I will group them into clusters based on similarities, which result either from topographical closeness or semantical similarities, and then form opposites. I will exempt certain spaces from closer scrutiny, such as ones that are only very briefly inhabited by a character or are otherwise insignificat to the plot, but so as not to fall prey to too much generalization, I will try to cover as many spaces as possible. The main focus will however lie on the locations that most of the plot takes place in.

2. Opposing Spaces - an overwiew

Merely to list the different locations in which the story takes place would not only be boring but also fruitless. In setting up oppositions one can gather distinctions that help to understand a part of the ‘skeleton structure’ on which the story rests. The two main opposing spaces that constitute the possible world of the text are the ‘village on the marshes’ and the city ‘London’. These locations can be translated into the abstract concept [ rural vs urban ]. They can each be subcategorized into distinct locations that as a whole then form the paradigms rural and urban. For this listing I will stick to the topographical positioning.

The rural paradigm consists of the areas village, marshes and Satis House2. The first two can again be subdivided. In later chapters I will of course examine them in more detail:

Village: - Joe’s forge

- the inn “The Jolly Bargemen”
- Mr. Pumplechook’s house

Marshes: - the church and graveyard

- the open space as a whole (I will explain this category later)
- the limekiln
- the hulks

The urban paradigm consists of:

- Barnard’s Inn, later the Temple
- Jaggers’ office
- Wemmick’s house in Walworth
- the Pocket household
- Jaggers’ household
- the River Thames

These are obviously only the main locations that bear a crucial load of the plot. Other locations such as the house of Mathew Pocket’s fiancée or the theatre at which Mr. Wopsle has his memorable appearance shall be left out for pragmatic reasons. However, this rather basic topographical listing can be broken up into opposites. While the details of this kind of analysis can easily be disputed and different oppositions be proposed, the one given here should merely serve as a hypothetical basis for my further discussion:

urban vs. rural ; Australia vs. England

forge vs Satis House ; forge vs Pocket household ; Pocket household vs Barnard ’ s Inn ; Satis House vs Pocket household

marshes vs village/forge

Jaggers ’ office vs Wemmick ’ s ‘ castle ’ ; Jaggers ’ office vs Pocket household

These opposites can further be subdivided by looking at them from the viewpoint of the different characters (i.e.: only for Magwitch there is an opposition between hulks

(imprisonment) and marshes/London (temporary freedom)), but for reasons of economy I will have to concentrate on the more abstract level.

Pip’s constantly changing attitude to his surroundings makes this list even more inconsistent but I will nonetheless start from here in analysing the semantics of the spaces.

3. The World in 2D: The Morphing Marshes

The rural space marks the crucial stages in Pip’s childhood and adolescence. It is here where his earliest memories begin. The first scene takes place in the space ‘marshes’, which is described by the grown up narrator (from his ‘latest’ point of view, that is) as being “dark”, “flat” and “down by the river” (5). Darkness means absence of light that could illuminate spatial relationships and well defined contours. The word “down” implies a hierarchical concept. A horizontal axis is established without any articulated vertical partner: The marshes and with them the rural space as a whole lack the third dimension.

- As early as here one can’t help stumbling upon the ‘dual voice’ of the narrator: one part of it is performed by the young Pip but the main portion is taken up by the grown up Mr. Pirrip, narrating a considerable time after the actual events. For the discussion here I can only take notice of this fact but otherwise I will concentrate on the utterances given in the text and not bother about their duality, as this would lead me too far away from my issue. - Let us concentrate on the description of the marsh-country a little longer. As said above they are described as being flat, which means there is an absence of the third dimension. This impression is enhanced by another description a little later on: ‘ The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, [ … ] ’ (9) . This absence corresponds to the lack of sounds (34), apart from the cattle-noise.

The lack of distinct substance is compensated by semantic features: With its maze of dykes and ditches the marshland appears as a space that has a bleak, wild and menacing character. This impression is enhanced by the weather conditions that reflect the mood of events: when the soldiers set out to hunt for the convicts, the weather is bad, even ‘threatening’

(33). It is almost always dark or dusky when Pip ventures out onto the marshes, this further adds to the unreal and menacing quality of the place.

Nonetheless, Pip feels at home here, so much so that the space personifies his old life for him as much as the village does. So, he takes a last triumphant leave from it before going to London (137).

The overall negative connotations given to the marshes in the direct description of them is accompanied by the events taking place in them. In opposition to the relative safety of the forge, they are a space where life is easily put at stake: Pip feels severely threatened by Magwitch during their first encounter, and they are the scene of the life-to-death struggle of Magwitch and Compeyson and lastly, Pip comes very near to death himself when he is trapped by the vengeful Orlick. This figure is strongly rooted in the marshes: ‘ When we came near the churchyard […] There started up, from the the gate, or from the rushes, or from the ooze (which was quite his stagnant way), Old Orlick. ’(122). Here, a figure carries the traits of a space, a technique frequently used by Dickens later on. The passage of Pip’s approach to the limekiln, where his nemesis lurks, highlights and exemplifies the dangerous qualities vividly and shows how adaptable a space can be(384f ): it is dark, once again, a ‘melancholy wind’ blows and the marshes are ‘very dismal’ and ‘oppressive’. Pip leaves all landmarks behind him, his direction is only expressed in negatives: ‘ the direction that I took, was not […]’. The limekiln lies even beyond the battery that has so far been the furthest point in this space. The image of leaving everything behind on this trip is underlined by his not opening, but shutting gates on his way. This is definitely a border-crossing in the almost literary sense. In the end there isn’t even cattle left on the scene and he is completely alone. This emptiness forms an own, distinct quality of this space, thus putting it well apart from other ‘filled’ spaces.

The danger that waits inside the old sluice house seems to actively assert itself: there is a ‘ sluggish stifling smell ’ and the ‘ choking vapour of the kiln ’ creeps ‘ in a gh ostly way ’ towards him. From the above description of the space ‘marshes’ it becomes clear how the surrounding space is adapted to the mood and the impending events. Apart from the water spaces and to some degree London, the marshes are the only truly open space in the text, having no visible border.

The church and graveyard are the semantical centre of this space: here lie Pip’s parents, here he meets his fate in the form of Magwitch. The surrounding overgrown graves provide the gloomy setting from which the whole story unfolds.

The prison-ships are a sub-space (in the non-science-fictional sense). They lie on the periphery, separated from the land by water, which detaches them from civilisation, but they nonetheless serve an important symbolic function: They are never concretely described3 but stand for harsh imprisonment, occasionally emmitting monstrous sounds, and from them danger can emanate in the form of escapees. But more importantly they form the ‘portal’, through which Magwitch disappears and, as far as the plot is concerned, is transferred straight to the penal colony.

The space ‘marshes’ and its related spaces can be subsequentally described as the most adaptable space of the novel and along with Satis House and Jagger’s office forms the most sinister distinct space to be found.

4. Satis House vs. The Village/Forge

Situated on the far end of the village from the forge, thus keeping not only a semantical distance, Satis House is a forbidding sight:

Within a quarter of an hour we came to Miss Havisham ’ s house, which was of old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred. There was a court-yard in front, and that was barred [ … ] (52)

The frequency of the term ‘bar’ sets up a physical border between it and the outside world that can only be crossed with the permission of its owner Miss Havisham. But this border is not only physical: the place is strongly contrasted to the outside world by the absence of light (54). This quality points to the opposition light vs. dark => good/life vs evil/death. The space is arranged like the layers of an onion: The outmost layer is the gate, protecting it from the outside world. Within this the house and the derelict brewery lie (a symbol for long past, merry and intoxicated days). Similarly to the marshes, it derives its distinctiveness from the lack of objects - no pidgeons, no horses, no malt, no smell (60). The very quality of nature appears to be changed here: the wind seems to blow colder. Is this merely due to the mind of a frightened boy or is it a physical change? The impression of the space being out of place is deepened by the ship-image (53) and the ghostly appearances of Estella and Miss Havisham among the ruins (60f). These ‘physical’ qualities shape the semantical ones: an unreal, unsound impression is created and especially Pip’s ‘hallucinations’ make quite clear that ‘reality’ is deceptive here.

The next layer is the maze-like interior of the house, further separating the outside world from its centre which consists of Miss Havishams private chambers. The dark passages seem to lead into another world, a deep cave. Here, time itself has been killed: all the clocks have been stopped, placing the space deliberately beyond development. These rooms, her ‘dressing room’ and the banquet hall the abortive weeding should have taken place in, are the centre of the semantic distinctions that make up the whole space. Especially the banquet hall deserves closer inspection: The smoldering fire emits a ‘ reluctant smoke which hung in the room [that] seemed colder than the clearer air - like our own marsh mist. Certain wintry branches of candles on the high chimney-piece faintly lighted the chamber; ’ (79). The house is brought into explicit connection with that other dismal space, the marshes. The surroundings appear yet again to be modified by the sense of coldness (see the chapter on the adaptability of the marshes). Mice can be heard and blackbeetles be seen (79). The motive of nature returning pops up again after the description of the overgrown brewery-yard (53).

The nature motive is condensed within the bridal cake. This structure is the very core of the onion layers, situated in the centre of the banquet hall, symbolising Miss Havishams defeat and accusation. It is an organic structure that seems to have come to life, infested with spiders. Spiders are commonly viewed as a symbol for death and decay, but here in contrast have set up a thriving ‘community’(79) to the mind of the narrator.

This retaking of dead spaces by nature is a pervading process in Satis House: as its inhabitant withdraws from life, life comes back and gradually takes over. Whether this retaking is a sign of hope or a further signifier of decay is a point that remains ambiguous. Satis House is the ‘igniting’ space of the plot: Pip enters it and for the first time in his life is confronted with a different, aristocratic lifestyle and because he has fallen in love and wants to adapt brings the notion that he is ‘common’ with him back across the border. This process can be named, according to Jurij Lotman, as the ‘ Beuteholerschema4: An object, in this case a concept or a set of values, is transported across a distinct border, here a physical and social one, and thus initiates the chain of events that constitutes the main plot. Satis House thus represents an extension of the ‘London’ space into the rural one: its values can be seen as distinctly urban or ‘high-society’ (in the world of GE ‘real’ ‘high-society’ is only to be found in the afore mentioned spaces, Pumblechooks hopeless attempts only underline this). It is also in direct contrast to the forge in that it represents a higher social class with wealth as opposed to the lower class non-education and non-aspiration of the forge. Both spaces however share their opposition to the marshes: They form what can be described as ‘civilized’ space in contrast to the wildly lawless and danger-saturated marshes. This opposition [ civilized vs. uncivilized ] can be further translated into the concepts [ inner space/finite space vs. outer space/infinite space ]. Thus, one has won the basic paradigm that governs the rural space.

The village/town is a comparatively mute space: the pub ‘The Jolly Bargemen’ is the stage of the first official meeting with Jaggers and the overall centre of social life. As Pip feels more and more at a distance from this society he prefers to keep this distance also spatial: he stays well away from the place when he is in town.

The forge is a curious space: it is frequently invaded by the threatening outside (relatives, soldiers, Orlick) and is the realm of Pip’s monstrous sister. For him it is the space where his ‘commonness’ derives from and thus the object he attaches his hate to. But it is also the home of Joe, to whom he has a strong tie. The forge can be divided into Joe’s realm (consisting of the actual forge but not impenetrable for Mrs. Joe) and the rest of the house, which is dominated by the sister. It thus forms a melting pot of different ideologies. When Pip feels alienated to Joe, the forge becomes a synonym for all that is to be avoided, but at the times when Pip feels guilty and homesick it changes into a comparatively ideal home to which he feels bound (436)5.

In short, the rural area can be seen as the starting point, in which the seeds for the discontentment of the protagonist are laid (his harsh and poorly educated upbringing), where he is confronted with a different set of values from a space beyond a normally impenetrable border (London/urban) and is, for reasons unknown to him then, transferred across the border into an alien space. The rural space is also, however, the point he returns to after his experiences in the urban one. We thus arrive at a basic and preliminary ‘grammar’ of this chain of events, which could run as follows:

[fig. A in space a with values of a Î border-space b (Satis House) values of c Î A (adopts values c) Î enters opposing space c Î returns to space a]

5. The Dismal Universe: London

The urban area marks a distinct opposition to the rural space. The comparably distinct, clean cut and easy to overlook spaces in the country give way to a greater number of spaces lost amidst the chaos of the city. It thus forms the backdrop and mirror of Pip’s change in life. It too is shaped to fit into the events, but they are of a different nature than the ones inflicted to the rural space. Similar to its corresponding space ‘Satis House’ the main locations (Jaggers’ office, Wemmick’s castle and Barnard’s Inn) here mirror the nature of the figures inhabiting them. I will analyse this further on.

The first impression Pip has of the space is the ‘ gloomy ’ quality of the street in which Jaggers’ office is located (150): ‘ Dust and Grit lie thick on everything ’ (152). The place is ‘ overrated ’(160) and deformed to the eye of Pip, for he sees ‘ St Paul ’ s bulging at me from behind a grim stone building [ ]’(152). He bumps into Newgate Prison (!) almost first thing and immediately is informed that there are to be some executions soon. The concept of death is introduced into this space right from the start and it remains one of the main topics of the novel.

But instead of discussing the overall qualities of this area I should look at the main spaces in detail.

Barnard’s Inn can be seen as a representative of the ‘general’ state the space ‘London’ is in. It is ‘ the dingiest collection of shabby buildings […]’ and in the process of ‘ dusty decay ’ (159). The recurrence of the adjective ‘ dingy ’ and ‘ rot ’ is superseded by the dangerous nature of the place with its crumbling staircases and slicing windows. This is the setting in which Pip is said to receive his great expectations: the real nature of things isn’t what he had expected and this casts an outlook at the developments to come. However, the comical quality of loveable hopelessness is dominant here.

5.1. Jaggers’ Lair, Wemmicks Castle, Pocket House and the Temple

The lawyers office has strong similarities with Satis House, which is not at all surprising in view of the fact that the figure of Jaggers has strong ties to that house and he first meets Pip there. Furthermore, Jaggers’ ambiguous and darkly shrouded character corresponds to the atmosphere of Miss Havishams dwelling. Thus, an axis of corresponding spaces and characters is established.

Here too, Pip is drawn into a deeply secluded space, for he is ushered ‘ into an inner chamber at the back. ’(151). The cave-like atmosphere is underlined by the remoteness of a skylight ‘ eccentrically patched like a broken head and the distorted adjoining houses looking as if they had twisted themselves to peep down at me through it.6 (151). The pervading impression is that of death: the broken head resemblance of the skylight is fortified by the casts containing shrunken heads and Jaggers’ coffin-like chair. The narrator is so bent on this image that he even describes the chair as being made of ‘ deadly black horse-hair ’(151). To Pip’s mind fear is obviously a frequent emotion in this room, testified by the worn off walls the clients cringe against.

The room mirrors Jaggers’ coldness towards people and even puts him in the range of the devil. As he is the deliverer of the expectations this again raises the question as to the soundness of their source and the good they can do to Pip. Although it is not Jaggers’ home, it nonetheless represents his character traits vividly. However, his character can not be seen as overall negative: The office highlights the darker side of his traits.

Wemmick’s home couldn’t be more different. It is situated at the periphery in relation to the office, which is somewhere near the town centre7 and so is put well apart from the office topographically, too. This again sets up an opposition of [ inner space vs. outer space ]. It too mirrors the traits of its inhabitant: Wemmick’s office attidude corresponds to the lawyer’s office, cold and efficient. In his ‘private capacity’ he is represented by his totally opposite Walworth home. Thus, the two spaces mirror his split personality. With its mock battlements, drawbridge, cannon, moat and provisions it serves as a fantastic counterweight to the mechanistic setup of his working space. He has created his own little safe world which is separated from the outside (only symbolically) by the tiny moat. The Aged Parent, who is part of its furniture due to his immobility, gives the space a cheerfull, lively quality in comparison to the non-lively atmosphere of Jaggers’ place.

While Wemmick naturally enters his employers realm regularly and even goes to dine at Jaggers’ home (355) the Walworth castle is impenetrable for the lawyer by Wemmick’s strict policy to separate profession from privacy (192).

The two spaces thus represent two sides of the same thing: they show two different ways of dealing with the configurations of the outside world.

In these two spaces that form a very deliberate obvious contrast and opposition one can see the dependency of the overall novel-structure on its formation of spaces. They do this merely by the concrete descriptions of their appearance and the objects within them. Without even having met the figures, Pip and the reader could deduce what kind of person lives or works in these spaces.

The Pocket House is notable for its function as a counterweight to the oppressive methods of up-bringing utilized in the Forge and Satis House. It is furthermore notable for its almost total lack of spatial description, the layout of the house and its interior cannot be grasped as coherently as the other main spaces. One doesn’t get an ‘impression’ of the place, other than it must be a big, stately house. The focus is clearly on the description of the people inhabiting it. It is riddled with teeming life and this quality renders it a counter-space to Jaggers’ office. In the office people are too scared to even move and so it is a life oppressing environment in correspondence with Satis House and the forge of Mrs. Joe8.

It represents the other extreme: total carelessness wrought by the inability to cope with life. While Mrs.Joe and Mrs.Havisham pay close attention to the raising of their protegées (with different goals and degrees of reflection) the Pocket children are only superficially tended to by servants and frequently endanger themselves (172, 178). Mrs.Pocket is an ornament, incapable of dealing with even basic every-day situations (178).

The space is far from being perfect but nonetheless serves as an ‘alternative world’ to the above mentioned ones.

It is a good example for Dickens’ ability to shape a space that has no apparent physical form (only one the reader can fill out by himself), but is semanticized by the people only. Its values and methods along with the lack of physical description put it in loud opposition to many other spaces and it thus is further semanticized by this opposition.

Finally, the Temple deserves a closer inspection. It is the place Pip moves to after considering Barnard’s Inn as being too run down. Here, a ‘ Meta-Occurrence ’ (Meta- Ereigniss) in the almost classical sense takes place: Magwitch returns and turns not only Pip’s but also the readers assumptions upside down, thereby changing the fundamental structure and values of the described world. But these are not the only things that change, the weather and the description of the night the convict returns are shaped yet again to mirror the events.

It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets. Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an eternity of cloud and wind. […] ;and gloomy accounts had come in from the coast, of shipwreck and death.

[…] Alterations have been made in that part of the Temple since that time, and it has not now so lonely a character as it had then, nor is it so exposed to the river. (287)

Bad weather almost conventionally forecasts strong emotions, this is nothing extraordinary. However, in this scene the outside conditions correspond almost literally to descriptions associated with Magwitch. Pip first meets him in the watery, muddy marshes: here, mud and water choke the streets, which are thus moved semantically closer to the marshland. The conditions herald the appearance of the figure thus lending it more effect. An almost physically existent being, the veil of rain, approaches London from the East. Now, this direction could be viewed as the most common direction storms usually come from. But considering the route Magwitch is most likely to take, coming from the Atlantic ocean, he and his ship would thus have met with strong resistance for several days, before reaching London. Thus, the weather conditions set up a barrier in addition to many others Magwitch would have had to cross on his way. The ‘gloomy accounts’ cast a dull shadow that will only mirror Pip’s spontaneous feelings towards the convict, later on these will change.

Everything is blurred and on the move: ‘[…] the coal fires on the barges on the river were being carried away before the wind like red-hot splashes in the rain. ’ (288), another sign that things are about to shift dramatically.

Occasionally, the smoke came rolling down the chimney as though it could not bear to go out into such a night […] and when I shaded my face with my hands and looked through the black windows (opening them ever so little, was out of the question in the teeth of such wind and rain) I saw […] (288)

Here, a strong opposition is being drawn between the closed inside and the open, hostile world outside, from which Magwitch is about to appear, separated by a barrier in the shape of a window pane.

The location of Pip’s lodging on the riverside places it near an element closely associated with Magwitch. He passes from water/ship onto land twice: from the hulks to the marshes, and from a ship from Australia to London. Thus, it seems that he has only to step out of his element into Pip’s life, situated conveniently nearby.

As one can see, the whole space and its environment appear to be configured to provide the suitable background for the revelations about to be made, and we have yet another adapted space.

6. The Gateways: The River Thames and Water in general

Water corresponds to distance. It is the link to remote places such as Australia and the Hulks. It pervades the marshes and draws them between the border land - water. In the marshes water itself also serves as a border between the prison ships and society. Its primary role, however, is to serve as a gateway to distant locations overseas. The watery marshes are the starting point of Pip’s tie with Magwitch and the river Thames marks the closing point: here, the convict’s fate is sealed. Thus, a circle is formed. Pip approaches the big river gradually, in steps. He goes rowing ostentaciously to cover up the plan to get Magwitch out of the country and begins to feel at home on the water. As early as the first outings the river reveals its unsteady nature: tides necessitate a meticulous planning and time-management and are responsible for the situation momentarily turning into a point of no return. Pip finds himself cut off from the way back because the low tide makes London Bridge unpassable (349). This almost casual remark on the characteristics of the space forms the paradigm for the climax: the river appears to be a gateway but turns out to be a trap.

The end-game is played out in the estuary near Gravesend. Here, the trees and hills merge into low, muddy banks (400). The landscape is bleak. This lack of contour clears the stage for the showdown between Magwitch and Compeyson. It could be seen as an ‘ Extremraum ’ in that it seems cut out for the action and focusses attention on the climax. One could even describe it as a ‘ deictic space ’.

It shares these characteristics with the marshes (and that chapter is hereby rounded up). Pip himself observes: ‘ It was like my own marsh country, flat and monotonous, and with a dim horizon; while the winding river turned and turned, and the great floating buoys upon it turned and turned, and everything else seemd stranded and still. ’ (400). This sentence tightly describes the function of the space. It marks a turning point in several ways: their travel route comes to an abrupt end and they are brought back forcefully, Magwitch’s escape fails and he is turned back and, finally, the whole Magwitch department of the story experiences a decisive turn for the worse. Thus, the Thames is a space where the structure of the story culminates.

7. Empty Spaces: Australia and the Travel Routes

Pip does a great deal of traveling to and fro from his home-town to London. No less than twelve times does he take the road between the village and the city. And yet, nothing much happens on his journeys: he once travels with some convicts (208-212) and the odd word is used to describe the landscape or the weather conditions, but nothing particularly relevant. The travel route is an empty space, but it is nonetheless a space: Pip can’t simply pop over to his old surroundings but must stay where he is. A trip to the other space must always be a fairly big operation. Its extent is necessary to put a considerable distance between the rural and the urban space thus additionally widening the already big semantical gap.

The actual distance remains undefined, nor is the time mentioned it takes to cross it. This gives the space an obscure quality in contrast to the other spaces that are mostly well defined. It is a closed space in the sense that it has defined ends.

There is, however, a far more important ‘empty’9 space: The penal colony of Australia. It is the space in which Pip’s gentlemanhood is prepared by Magwitch. Here, he earns his riches he then sends to his protegée. It could thus be called a basic space for the structure of the plot. Its obscurity is very convenient: The reader is not allowed to see how Magwitch goes about his earnings but must believe. He can project his fantasy into this space, make it appear brutal or even peaceful. Here, ‘cultural knowledge’ comes to bear: the modern reader to some extent and even more so the reader of Dickens’ times will be able to attach certain diverse attributes to the space. The great distance between Britain and Australia facilitates a great freedom of speculation: anything is possible in this space. This impression and the lack of description of the space in the novel make it impossible for the reader to doubt Magwitch’s story, which ostentatiously lacks any concrete description of the place he lived in for many years.

The only direct reference to life ‘over there’ is given by the convict while on the rowing- boat on the Thames: ‘ Everybody knowed Magwitch and Magwitch could come, and Magwitch could go, and nobody ’ s head would be troubled by him. They ain ’ t so easy concerning me here, dear boy - wouldn ’ t be, leastwise, if they knowed where I was. ’ (399). Even this short description can’t be given without a comparison with England and in its isolation it highlights the deliberate narrow focus of the plot. The impression evoked here is one of freedom and peaceful business, but also of carelessness: A person such as Magwitch may be very well suited with the neglection by his fellow convicts, but Pip and the majority of the readers would feel very lonely there. Magwitch is so England centred that even this benefit can’t outweigh the pull of his home-soil. This utterance reveals the deep tear going through his person: wherever he is, he is in danger. He is in danger of loosing his roots or in danger of being hanged.

This brief stint at character-analysis and -interpretation serves my purpose of defining the oppositions of spaces set up in this novel. The Magwitch figure serves as a catalyzer for the setup of the opposition [ England vs. Penal Colony ]. His return could simply be seen as a flight from bad living conditions and a bleak life. However, I suspect a deeper set of values underlying this structure of events: Nothing less than an assertion that England is, for all its faults and shortcomings amply described in the book, still the better of the two worlds is attempted here. This may seem obvious: What can one expect from a remote land Britain sent the bottom line of its society to and was not inclined to pay much attention to?

However, my point is that beyond all the criticizing of the legal system and society in general Dickens’ so loudly exercises the text he produced is still colonial at heart. It sets up the strong opposition between the homeland and its colony described above by simply withdrawing the colony from almost every description.

The convict spends all his money to rear a creature that is exceedingly adapted to a society thousands of miles away. He risks his life to come back to see the progress this creature has made and thus gratify himself. He has no real hope of staying in England for any longer period of time but takes the gruelling trip just to see. Both Dickens’ and Magwitch are deeply rooted in the British society, but unlike Dickens’ text, his figure Magwitch makes no attempt to hide his sentiments.

Whether this thought is too speculative and demands the impossible for that time, i.e. that a person should totally detach his values from the society that shaped him when he is as respected as the author, is a point to be disputed and possibly irrelevant for this discussion of spaces. Furthermore, it could be argued that a characterization of an author through his work is not a sound method. I agree with this and would divert the attention away from Dickens to the ‘set of values’ that shaped the text. From a New Historicist viewpoint, sharing all the benefits of hind-sight and the ‘experience’ of ‘globalization’, the matter of values in respect to colonizing country and colony seems to me to be worth thinking about. Aside from this from a structuralist viewpoint the opposition is set up purely by the actions of figures in England and the paradigms attributed to England. England is described throughout the text as being riddled with faults and hipocrisy. If England is in such a bad social state, what must Australia be like if an outcast like Magwitch still feels himself attached to the Kingdom. The decisive benefit England has is that it means ‘home’ and this attribute I think holds the key to both the text’s and Magwitch’s sentiments. Thus, we have a basic opposition between England and Australia: [ home/proximity vs. foreign country/distance ].

The richness in the description of the English society and the lack of such descriptions for the Australian space correspond to the abscence of contour in the marshes and the Thames, thus creating yet another, rough opposition:

[ contour of any kind=positive/life vs undefinedness=negative/death ]. This basic setup could be seen as too simplistic in view of the many social criticisms displayed that partially semanticise the contour negatively. However, as I have shown above this paradigm prevails throughout decisive spaces and is a very optimistic outlook, really.

8. Conclusion

As I have shown so far, the spaces are not only closely related with the story by their topographical nature (thus being mere props), but also by their semantical values. They hereby constitute a fundamental ingredient to the structure of the plot.

The spaces in the created world all appear to be rooted in the ‘real world’. Thus, an intricate system of interrelations between the knowledge of the reader and their modification by the text is established. One must not forget that the described spaces in the text bear resemblance to their counterparts in ‘reality’ but are not mirror images of empirical topography. Because they are modified one must ask: ‘why and how?’, and this is what I have tried to do.

As mentioned in the Introduction the spaces are used to translate non-physical connotations into physical, perceivable ones10 (e.g. danger =>mist, darkness => death, emptiness => lawlessness). The fact that these translations partly take place in the mind of the narrator11 adds another twist to the configuration. Since the accounts the narrator gives us are all we’ve got we have to accept his descriptions.

I have built up many oppositions and corresponding to these defined many borders that set up the text along certain axis. The most basic ones are grouped around fundamental concepts, such as [ rural vs. urban ; description vs. abscence ; ‘ high society ’ vs. ‘ low society ’ ]. These and their more finely tuned companions help to grasp the set of values that lie beneath the surface of the text.

While an analysis of the characters and their actions would surely prove more fundamental for the understanding of the text, its spaces nonetheless provide a vital tuning. A purely realistically created world (if there can be such a thing) would not employ the modifications described above but would concentrate even more on the plot and try to use the spaces without employing an ideology (in theory!). That this is clearly not the case with ‘ Great Expectations ’ has become evident, I hope.

Without too much mystification one can justly speak of an intricate, dark, funny, bewildering and in places mildly fantastic world created here.


- Krah, Hans: Räume, Grenzen, Grenzüberschreitungen in: KODIKAS / CODE: 22, Tübingen 1999
- Lotman, Jurij M.: Die Struktur des künstlerischen Textes, Frankfurt am Main 1973
- Titzmann, Michael: Strukturale Textanalyse, Munich 1977


1 Lotman: Die Struktur des künstlerischen Textes, 1973 (358) 3

2 Whereby Satis House has a set of semantic features that put it well apart from the urban setting and move it closer to the urban paradigm, but it is nonetheless situated within the village. More about that later on.

3 except by the simile ‘wicked’ and by the notion that they too are held captive (39). 6

4 see Lotmann 1972: 339

5 this passage is notable for its description of the surroundings by the returning Pip: his positive feelings are tranferred onto the space which takes them on

6 The image of warped surroundings bears resemblances to later expressionistic imagery, see ,for example, the film ‘ Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari ’ (1929)

7 one can deduce this from its situation in the vicinity of St. Pauls Cathedal (152) 11

8 Here, another axis of corresponding spaces is set up that runs across the border between the urban and the rural spaces.

9 empty in the sense of not being concretely described

10 see Krah 1999 (4)

11 there is a difference between the two perceptions when Pip ‘imagines’ the air blowing colder in the brewery yard and when he describes the concrete appearance of, say, Wemmick’s castle

17 of 17 pages


Dickens, Charles - Great Expectations - Mapping
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
The Victorian Novel
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Dickens, Charles, Great, Expectations, Mapping, Victorian, Novel
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Daniel Schäbler (Author), 2002, Dickens, Charles - Great Expectations - Mapping, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/106312


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