Great Expectations is being shown over Christmas. It’s a new version with Gillian Anderson playing Miss Havisham. I was struck by a comment about Ms Anderson’s portrayal, made in a Telegraph article about the new series. The article suggested that Anderson’s more youthful Miss Havisham , delivered her lines in a slightly delayed way to suggest an estranged relation to reality.
”She tends to keep her lines back, count a beat, then deliver them as her connection to the real world grows ever more remote.’
This delayed manner of speaking suggests a desire for control over her listeners. Unsurprisngly too, if underlines her malignant connivance and death driven urges. She speaks in a spectral way. It is as if she is guarding her words because they are buried within her, buried deeply within her past experience.
She is daring her listeners to wait, and she can do this because no matter how odd she maybe, she is wealthy and her economic status gives her power. Her audience may feel they can no longer anticipate speech in any conventional manner , so that communication becomes a psychological battlefield; a place where paranoia is confirmed and then actualised. When we communicate we generally anticipate others’ speech, even if we are not always exactly right. The same goes I suppose for reading. If we feel uncertain about our ability to do this, then we lose power in the relationship, in the interaction and no rapport can be enjoyed.
And the point about the ‘beat’ is interesting too as it reminds me of Carol Ann Duffy’s technique in many of her dramatic monologues, where she alters the ‘pulse’ of the speaker’s speech, in order to suggest internal drama.
‘Where I lived-winter and hard earth…'( Demeter)
‘Gone home. Gutted the place. Slept in a single cot..’ ( Mrs Lazarus)
‘Beloved Sweetheart Bastard'( Havisham)
The delivery should suggest the processing of the thoughts. The breath is taken differently in order to emphasise certain parts of the thought, as the thought is experienced and felt. It is as though the speaker is either discovering or uncovering their relationship to reality through the visceral effects of the sounds of the words. Our words are heavily sensory and thus construct our worlds and what strange and cold citadels they can be!
But to return to Miss Havisham once again-or Anderson’s chosen interpretation of Miss Havisham.
She has broken any stable relationship with time and this instability is reflected in her speech. Imagine the effect of such ruptured syntax. Anyone attempting to communicate with Miss Havisham will feel disconcerted; partly because they may feel ignored; partly because they may feel alienated from something they took for granted. This could induce a state of numbed trance over any proceeedings with this strange woman and Chapter 8 of Great Expectations does seem rather dream like. Yet the dream like aspect of Chapter 8 is foreshadowed in Chapter I, by Pip’s nightmarish encounter in the graveyard (where his family are all buried) with the escaped convict figure of Magwitch . This meeting is framed by the setting, and this graveyard setting ironises any attempt a budding ‘Pip’ may try in order to govern his destiny. He is naming himself in a landscape of death. Such an attempt we feel must be doomed. He is anchored to the buried past in the first chapter and this becomes a metaphor for the novel’s movement.
Stones are everywhere in Chapter 1 and I am sure that Duffy as a Dickens’ fan, has absorbed his predilection for their bleak power and suggestiveness. They reflect blankly back at Pip and the reader – opaque mirrors, revealing the nullity of our existence as we find ourselves disappeared. The transience of the human is set against the ancient longevity of stone. Time weathers away human words, erasing any claim we attempt to testimony. The coldness of stone is hardly a comfort to anyone seeking spirtitual reassurance.
More to come
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.
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), 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, 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 – 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, 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 things, 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 dykes 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.
The Woman in Black
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