Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 1

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Great Expectationsd

Chapter I

My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.d

I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister,—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs),h my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana Wife of the Above," I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges,w each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine,—who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle,d—I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.

Ours was the marsh country,d down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of thingsd seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dikes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

"Hold your noise!" cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"d

A fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared, and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

"Oh! Don't cut my throat, sir," I pleaded in terror. "Pray don't do it, sir."

"Tell us your name!" said the man. "Quick!"

"Pip, sir."

"Once more," said the man, staring at me. "Give it mouth!"

"Pip. Pip, sir."

"Show us where you live," said the man. "Pint out the place!"

I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the alder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church.

X [d] Great Expectations

Writing & Reading

Charles Dickens's life was short—he died at fifty-eight—yet with a furious and restless energy he compressed several lives into one: a twenty-two-year marriage and ten children, followed by a public separation and his relationship with an actress, who is eighteen when it begins and he forty-five; fifteen novels, most very substantial; many Christmas stories and other novellas; two …

(read more)

X [d] My father's family name being Pirrip, and my …

Writing & Reading

First, a suggestion. Read aloud the entire first chapter, which is a brilliant piece of writing. Read it slowly enough to capture the inflections and to allow your imagination to visualize Dickens's description.

Many of his contemporary readers did read his fiction aloud, often doing so for the benefit of an audience (not everyone could afford even the cheal serialized numbers) or for oneself. Published serially in weekly (…

(read more)

X [h] their days were long before the days of photo…

Writing & Reading

Photography emerged in the late 1830s. Before then the vast majority of people had little or no notion of what their dead ancestors looked like.  

But "long before" is when? Pip's age at the novel's opening, we learn later, is seven, possibly six. From internal dating we know that Pip was born about the turn of the century. Anny Sadrin concludes in "A Chronology of …

(read more)

X [w] lozenges,

Diamond-shaped; there is some irony in that the lozenge was specifically associated with heraldry and coats of arms, a lozenge-shaped shield being one upon which the arms of a widow or spinster were displayed. 

X [d] trying to get a living, exceedingly early in …

Writing & Reading

Pip suffers survivor guilt. Nature is hostile to human life (see below), but through will, the same will that named himself, he succeeded at "getting a living in that universal struggle" (Darwin published The Origin of the Species in 1859) when his five male siblings failed and his parents were to weak to continue. …

(read more)

X [d] Ours was the marsh country,

Writing & Reading

By "Ours," he is including those in their graves.

The area mostly in Kent (with some of Essex) extending from Rochester-Chatham to Gravesend and extending eastward and including the Hoo Peninsula, the place of Pip's village—a flat, protoplasmic world girdling the mouths of two large rivers, the Thames and the Medway, as they empty into the North Sea. Small villages dot the Hoo Peni…

(read more)

X [d] My first most vivid and broad impression of t…

Writing & Reading

"My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things," as the world passes from a watery blur into identifiable being. 

The evening is "memorable" because it is the inception of Pip's memory, memory being coincident with consciousness. 

The beginnings of the Old and New Testaments converge on Pip, the latter beginning, "In the beginning was the word...." "Pip" is tha…

(read more)

X [d] I'll cut your throat!"

Writing & Reading

The timing could not be worse for such an apparition. Already prone to fright, aloneness, and guilt, Pip finds the feelings validated by what seems an avenging spirit rising from the graves. 

Like all young children, Pip is naturally literal and believes what he's told——his throat will be cut and he is a "devil." When demanded where his mother is, he responds, "There, sir!" causing the man to panic.