To this, she returned: “Don’t be ridiculous, boy; I am not going in.” And scornfully walked away, and—what was worse—took the candle with her.
This was very uncomfortable, and I was half afraid. However, the only thing to be done being to knock at the door, I knocked, and was told from within to enter. I entered, therefore, and found myself in a pretty large room, well lighted with wax candles. No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it. It was a dressing-room, as I supposed from the furniture, though much of it was of forms and uses then quite unknown to me. But prominent in it was a draped table with a gilded looking-glass, and that I made out at first sight to be a fine lady’s dressing-table.
Whether I should have made out this object so soon, if there had been no fine lady sitting at it, I cannot say. In an arm-chair, with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.
Great Expectations Chapter 8.
Pip’s first meeting with Miss Havisham takes place in her decaying mansion, ironically titled ‘Satis House,’ which means ‘enough’.The novel explores the irony that having ‘enough’ is more about human endurance than personal satisfaction and fulfillment.
In the passage above Pip is left without a candle by the haughty, beautiful Estella whose initial disdain for the ‘common’ labouring boy Pip, sets the tone for the rest of their relationship. Indeed Estella’s removal of light from Pip( remember her name relates to stars!) and her cruel abandonment of him to the literal and metaphorical darkness of Miss Havisham’s landing, acts as a symbolic and most ambivalent summary of their future friendship.
However what strikes me as being particularly interesting about this threshold event, is the casual admission by Pip as the first person narrator, that he felt only ‘half afraid’ outside Miss Havisham’s door. ‘Half’ implies that there are some other emotions going on- and that these emotion/s may be alternative to fear.
Human beings often feel competing emotions, and Dickens is psychologically astute enough here to leave the guess work to the reader. A writer’s need to convey simultaneous feeling in order to make a character ‘real’ is here most succinctly achieved by Dickens.
When we think of Pip’s home life as represented up to this point of the novel, it is one of daily anxiety wrought by the cruel ‘hand’ of Mrs Joe, and he has of course already encountered the terrifying figure of the convict Magwitch in the graveyard where his parents and siblings are all buried. So perhaps being ‘half afraid’ is all very relative when we remember what he has to live with!
Pip’s life is also monotonous as the first chapter suggests in terms of geographical confinement. Pip is stuck at the forge.And he lacks the power to change. His future, as an apprentice, is also about being confined to the forge.His horizons end at the marshes. Maybe the ‘half afraid’ therefore evokes a child’s natural sense of curiosity and wonder at being unexpectedly transported to a new, economically more desirable world…however decaying and psychologically twisted! It’s all about perspective and breaking habits…
For we can wonder about the weight of this admission ‘half afraid’ when we remember that the narrative is retrospective. So as we read Pip’s adventure at Satis House, we recognize that the adult Pip is recreating his younger self’s experiences. Therefore he knows what the lasting implications of knocking at Miss Havisham’s door will prove to be., because he knows his ‘ending’ just like Jane Eyre! Miss Havisham is a human vampire bent on extracting pain from the vulnerable because she herself suffered by being jilted at the altar. Her grief defines her as Carol Ann Duffy’s later poem Havisham suggests.
Hence ‘half afraid’ embraces a recognition of his immediate and lasting infatuation with Estella and that he is about to encounter a new figure whose distortion of reality through her bizarre relationship to time, Pip attempts to heal (imaginatively) through recreating her as his fairy godmother.
I do admire the imaginative ‘space’ Dickens allows the reader to create our own reading of Pip’s state of mind. this space is particularly suited to the eccentric setting and experience as we fill in what we believe to be true with our own feelings.
Pip is us! ”Pip c’est moi!”
( I did enjoy Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Miss Havisham; her decaying beauty and ‘mothy’ voice conveyed a sneaking creepiness: half way between aged femme fatale and breathy maniac! Can see how she re-translated her into Blanche Du Bois!)
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald.
“I’m thirty,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honour.”
She didn’t answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.
Listen to the perfect rhythm of Nick Carraway’s internal declaration that he is ‘angry, half in love with her and tremendously sorry, I turned away.’ Here the reader is deliciously ‘fed’ Nick’s feelings and they are competing, but they are also declared. Consequently the reader does not have to make up or attempt to imagine what they might be. Nick is performing his feeling in his head, hearing the syntactically perfect rhythm of his dissected emotions; half emotions! Nick is never a tumult of feeling..unlike Pip of course who is a truly Romantic suffering figure..
For even when Nick is supposedly ‘half in love’ the tone sounds the same as when he is ‘sorry’ and ‘angry.’ We doubt the depth of Nick in his relationship to Jordan Baker. It seems on the same level as yet another cigarette.
If he ever has a love, it is surely Gatsby himself. After all , Nick creates Gatsby through his narrative. He makes him ‘Great Gatsby’. The novel is an elegy to his lost love.
Back to the ‘half in love’…In this way the novel does not give the read the imaginative ‘space’ of Great Expectations and instead we recognize that Carraway’s voice is heavily stylized, very much aware of emotional compartments and surfaces and that the profound appeal of Pip even when he is most wrong, is that he is emotionally alive to his own vulnerability .
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