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Clarriker, Pocket, and Pirrip: The Original Tale of Dickens's Clerk

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Abstract:

This essay offers another look at the original ending of Great Expectations. Rather than accept the false opposition between “unhappy” “happy” versions, I consider the evidence that exists about the novel's origin, development, and composition. From the moment of its inception to the composition of its final words, Dickens planned, designed, and executed a story told by an older narrator who looked back on his life not with regret but with understanding. So sure of his intention, with two-thirds of the work completed and with the final third waiting to be “ground off,” Dickens outlined in a letter to John Forster his belief that the import of Pip's story, in its working out and winding up, would be away from “all such things as they conventionally go.” These targets, I suggest, are two prevailing fictional conventions, the use of weddings to signal narrative closure, and the extended use of sensational elements to add pace to the telling. Had Dickens stuck to his original design, the novel that has come down to us would have been read in a different way. We would have paid attention to the fact that Pip is a much older narrator than readers generally concede, that he's a man who has sought and obtained understanding about the events that shaped his life, and that, in the course of telling his story, he has achieved a degree of peace. In reacting to Bulwer's “objections,” however, two consequences follow: (1) Dickens undercut his original design; and (2) he introduced a narrative flaw which relies on a chronological scheme incompatible with that design and with the actual telling. A close reading of various data—the events of the main thread of Pip's story, the historical setting of those events, and the dating of the actual telling time, taken together, support the case that Dickens weakened his book and broke the integrity of an original and flawless narrative.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7756/dsa.042.013.275-294

Publication date: June 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • Founded in 1970, the centennial anniversary of Dickens's death, DSA has been published since 1980 by AMS Press in cooperation with the Ph.D. program in English of the City University of New York and in association with the Graduate Center, CUNY and Queens College, CUNY. Besides presenting articles exploring the wide range of Dickens''s interests and talents, DSA also includes essays on other mid- and late- nineteenth-century authors and on the history and aesthetics of the period's fiction. In addition, each volume contains a substantial review article examining a prior year's scholarship on Dickens, and DSA occasionally publishes surveys of work on other Victorian writers, as well as review essays considering specialized studies of subjects in Victorian fiction. The editors seek to offer essays of "the most diverse kinds," those employing innovative as well as traditional approaches.
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