The Gothic in Great Expectations
F W Pailthorpe's illustrations to Great Expectations
F W Pailthorpe's illustration of the first chapter of Great Expectations where Pip first encounters Magwitch in the graveyard, 1885.View images from this item (20)
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The imaginary student pursued by the misshapen creature he had impiously made, was not more wretched than I, pursued by the creature who had made me, and recoiling from him with a stronger repulsion, the more he admired me and the fonder he was of me. (ch. 40)
The ‘imaginary student pursued by the misshapen creature’ is of course Frankenstein, from Mary Shelley’s novel of 1818, who is a student when he first creates the monster. Pip at first seems to be comparing himself to the creator of the monster but in fact and much more sinisterly, he thinks of himself as someone ‘pursued by the creature that had made me’. He is like both Frankenstein and the monster, and – most troublingly of all – like a creature created by a monster: a kind of monster’s monster. This tiny gothic allusion, over in a sentence, tells us so much about Pip, his state of mind and his relationship with Magwitch.
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, 1831
The frontispiece illustrating the monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1831.View images from this item (7)
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dressed in rich materials -- satins, and lace, and silks -- all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about ... I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes ... Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if could. (ch. 8)
The eeriness and uncanniness of the passage stem a good deal from its repetitions, in which some simple words – hair, dress, bride, white, brightness, waxwork, skeleton – repeat over and again. It’s as if Pip can’t let go of what he sees, and that what he has seen is destined to return over and again, however hard he tries to escape it. His description resembles a strange incantation, suddenly punctuated by the simple words of his impossible exclamation: ‘I should have cried out, if could’.
Promotional photographs for the film adaptation of Great Expectations starring Jean Simmons, Martita Hunt and Anthony Wager
Miss Havisham, Pip and Estella from David Lean’s 1946 film version of Great Expectations.View images from this item (3)
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