Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Hands of Great Expectations

In his article, “Handling the Perceptual Politics of Identity in Great Expectations,” Peter J Capuano takes notice of all the numerous hand-related references throughout Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations. For example, Capuano points out that there are over 450 references to hands, both literally and figuratively, throughout the novel, and that these references create distinctions between characters and their relationship with identity politics. Capuano even goes as far to suggest that Dickens’ manipulates anatomy throughout the use of discourse to convey the pivotal development of Pip, Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, Joe, and Estella. One of the first claims Capuano makes about Dickens’ manipulation of anatomy is seen when Herbert calls Pip “Handel,” in his attempt to further elevate Pip’s reputation in bourgeois society. In addition, Capuano asserts that the hands of the aforementioned characters are indicative of their social class and position in society. For example, Capuano takes notice of the depiction of the female gesture at Satis House and the ways in which it works simultaneously as a combination of verbal and manual direction. We see this in Pip’s first interaction with Miss Havisham when he takes notice of the bright jewels displayed on her hands that display rich attributes and her bourgeois appearance. This shows Miss Havisham’s social class being portrayed by Dickens gestural use of hands. Furthermore, Dickens discusses the impatient movement of Miss Havisham’s fingers on her right hand when she commands Pip to play. This is indicative of the manual direction and her identity within aristocratic position in society that Capuano describes in his article. Capuano then brings up the idea of a Darwinian model of character development through Pip’s character while simultaneously adding to his notion of the portrayal of hands signifying his social, economical and even emotional values. In his transition from lower to upper class, we see Pip’s identity described through the use of his hands as “course” in Joe’s forge to “bejeweled” in London, which further represents his development as a bildungsroman character. Ultimately, Capuano establishes the interconnected ways Dickens use of hand imagery depicts societal and moral identities within the novel. 

Chapter 26:¶ 19  (talk of Molly’s wrist)

Chapter 8: ¶ 32, ¶ 50 (Miss Havisham)

Chapter 39: ¶ 70 – (Pips recoiled hands) 

Powerful Women in Great Expectations

After reading the final chapters of “Great Expectations”, I found many connections again between this novel and “Wuthering Heights”. Part of this is I think the time period they were written. Since both novels are from the Victorian Era, they both show signs of inequality, gender roles, and class statuses. My first post on “Great Expectations” was comparing Pip’s older sister to Catharine. After finishing the novel, I can also compare Catharine to Ms.Havisham, and Ms.Havisham to Pip’s older sister. All of these women are extremely confident and powerful in a certain sense. They are powerful in the way they manipulate men and others to get what they want, which is arguable the only way a woman could have any power in the Victorian Era.

Havisham and Heathcliff – The Spurned Lovers

After reading of Miss Havisham’s woeful backstory, I cannot help but be reminded of the other major relationship we’ve seen in a Victorian novel: that of Heathcliff and Cathy’s in Wuthering Heights. Havisham I find to be some sort of odd combination of mostly Heathcliff and Cathy as a character. As I noted in my blog post comment for Tuesday’s readings, Herbert notes that Havisham is like a Tartar – a racial minority. Similarly, Lockwood refers to Heathcliff as a “dark-skinned gipsy” in Chapter 1 of Wuthering Heights, and at several other points by others. Perhaps Havisham appears to be a normal, white English woman in appearance, but to the members of well-to-do English society, they are perceived in a similar light: as social others. Like Heathcliff, Havisham was spurned by a prospective lover, and left to simmer and fester in her own hate and apprehension. Both decided to concoct an elaborate plan to have their revenge (Heathcliff by taking ownership of both the estates, thereby wresting control of the entities used to harm him; Havisham by targeting men in general through plucking them out and deliberately trying to break their hearts like her’s was). Both are wealthy, with Heathcliff having acquired his wealth through manipulating Hindley and Havisham presumably having been born rich. Also, to bring in a comparison to Cathy, Havisham fell in love with a man of a lower social class — though unlike Cathy, seemingly she was unconcerned with how she was perceived by the populace as a whole.

To what purpose do I bring up these comparisons, however? Sure it’s neat that there are parallels between the characters, but how does this tie into any further motifs established by either novel? Well, from Wuthering Heights we can read intense class critiques from Bronte. None of the unfortunate happenings of the novel would have happened if not for social pressures influencing the characters into acting against their own self interest. Heathcliff essentially becomes the very sort of person he despised in his path to destroy them. Perhaps we will see a more gendered commentary from Dickens regarding Havisham’s position, and of how women were more susceptible to the whims of men. Is Havisham perhaps a proto-feminist character? I’m interested to see how Havisham and Heathcliff’s paths diverge or remain the same as we continue reading.

Pip and Heathcliff: Men Who Will Do Anything for the Woman They Love

In chapter 22 of Great Expectations, Pip asks Herbert teach him how to be a proper gentlemen. Pip is desperate to impress Estella, even though the two had always played together and enjoy each other’s company, Estella has always looked down on Pip.  This reminded me of Heathcliff and Catherine’s story in Wuthering Heights. When Catherine and Heathcliff were young, they would often play together and loved being together but ultimately when faced with the decision to marry Heathcliff or Edgar Linton, Catherine chooses Edgar. She feels as though by marrying Edgar he will be able to help her more, both financially and socially. This is what ultimately pushes Heathcliff to leave home and become the gentleman that Catherine is looking for to show her he can change. In Pip’s case, he is aware of his low social status and hopes that by educating himself on becoming a proper gentleman, he will be able to make Estella love him. Both Heathcliff and Pip want to change who they are for love but that’s not always a good thing. People should love you for who you are, and if they can’t then that doesn’t mean you should change to fit someone’s ‘ideal’ image. Personally, I think Heathcliff and Pip are very similar in the fact that they are really struggling with who they are and who they want to be. For both these men, it’s easy to change themselves into a different person for a woman. 

Time Cannot Heal A Broken Heart: As Exemplified Through Heathcliff, Tennyson, and Miss Havisham

There’s a common saying that almost everyone hears at some point in their life and it goes like this: “Only time can heal a broken heart.” Based on the texts we have read so far, like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam or Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, this cliche is continuously proven wrong. Time cannot, in fact, heal a broken heart. Initially we see this with Heathcliff’s erratic behaviour and his obsession to be reunited with Catherine I. His pain is evident in his infamous plea when he learns of Catherine’s death: “Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!  Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life!  I cannot live without my soul!” (XVI). Heathcliff lives the remainder of his life in hopes of this reunion, because as Tennyson eloquently puts it: “More years had made me love thee more” (82.8).  I personally appreciated reading Wuthering Heights and then In Memoriam prior to Great Expectations because it enables me to empathise with Miss Havisham and her heartbreak. Like Heathcliff and Tennyson, Miss Havisham also ruminates in her grief as time passes by. While Heathcliff yearns for Catherine eighteen years after her death, and Tennyson, takes seventeen years to complete his tribute to Hallam, Miss Havisham exceeds almost twenty-five years of living in remorse. Her heartbreak and grief makes it seem as though the world around her has stopped moving, and all that she ever loved and cared for is placed out of her reach. Miss Havisham adopts the same coping mechanism as Heathcliff, and also resorts to revenge. While it may not seem directed on one particular person or family, she wants men to feel her to feel her pain, she wants their hearts to break, and uses Estella to carry out her revenge. In both Heathcliff and Miss Havisham’s grief, they become bitter and vengeful because they have spent all their time obsessing over their pain. Therefore it’s safe to assume that based on their circumstances, time does not heal the emotional wounds of Miss Havisham, Heathcliff, or Tennyson but rather, consumes their every thought and serves as an obsession to see who can hold onto their pain, and lost loved ones, the longest.

Group 5 context: On Dickens

Much like Pip, Charles Dickens led a life that closely resembled the narrative of ‘rags to riches.’ However, unlike Pip, Dickens was raised by his two birth parents, and led a life of relative gentility. This gentility was sporadic though because Dickens’ father led a life far beyond the means of the family and was thrown into debtor’s jail. Dickens’ witnessing his father being jailed marked a major turn in his life as he was taken out of school and thrust into a London comprised of long and laborious days in the factory, with his free time spent wandering the streets. Regarding Dickens’ rise as a social critic, this is of great importance, but it also figures heavily in the charity work that Dickens would take up once he gained eminence as an author. Herein comes Arlene Bowers Andrews article, “Charles Dickens, Social Worker in His Time,” which notes that Dickens devoted ten years of his time to help create and operate a transition home for impoverished and abused women. This is all to add depth to Dickens as not just an author who wrote on the social issues of the time, but as an activist and practitioner against the ills he saw apparent in Victorian society. He was supported over 43 different charity organizations, among which were the Poor Man’s Guardian Society, and the Metropolitan Sanitary Organization. Dickens sympathized so greatly with the lower class that his book Oliver Twist was actually written as a response to a particularly nasty piece of legislation known as the New Poor Law, which was an attempt by the Parliament to reduce the cost of looking after the poor and take beggars off the streets by commissioning workhouses where poor men, women, and children would work under harsh conditions for many hours a day in order to receive the benefits and help offered by the poor law, like housing, schooling, and food. No able-bodied person who did not work in a workhouse could receive any of the aforementioned benefits. Dickens was so disgusted by this, that he wrote Oliver Twist to show the plight of an innocent child raised in the conditions of the workhouse, where no fault could be attributed to Oliver in any way to justify the neglect, mistreatment, and starvation that he and some of the other boys in the book endure.

Life in the Victorian Ere

After reading chapters 20-29 of Great Expectations this week, it reminded me of our class discussions and research on England during this time period. The short poems England in 1819 and The Chimney Sweeper and Wuthering Heights gave us insight on the setting of house and work life during the Victorian Era. Cities were over crowded and diseases were spreading like wild fire. Dickens talks about how displeased Pip was when Jaggers takes him to London because of the stench and crowds. He mentions “an exceedingly dirty and partially drunk minister of justiceI” and says “this was horrible, and gave me a sickening idea of London”. I have a hard enough time visiting New York City in today’s age, I can’t imagine what it was like at this time.

The Similarities and Differences Between the Childhood to Adult Relationships seen in Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations

A comparison that I noticed was the striking similarities between Heathcliff’s relationship with Catherine and Pip’s relationship with Estella. Both relationships revolve around two individuals with strong class rivalries. Pip, for example, comes from poor or working class roots like Heathcliff, and is able to obtain finances in an attempt to be ‘good enough’ for his significant other just like him. Nevertheless, however much money they gain, neither men are able to acquire the love of their crushes in the longterm.

The main difference between the two is the emotions of their significant others. Estella, for example, is depicted as heartless, and does not feel anything for him, even though he is now a wealthy man. She says, ““Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt,” said Estella, “and of course if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no—sympathy—sentiment—nonsense” (Chapter 29 Paragraph 70). Even though he has gained money, he is not “old money” and is therefore still below her. The same can be seen in Wuthering Heights, where Catherine, who feels passionate emotions for Heathcliff, also feels like Edgar Linton is the safer, more socially acceptable match. Catherine’s strong emotions are even seen at the height of her illness, and main similarity between her passionate love for Heathcliff and Estella and Pip’s story is that they end up apart. Even though both relationships started in childhood, it seems like Pip’s relationship is a lot more one-sided than Heathcliff’s feelings for Catherine.


A common theme I see in both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations is identity. In Wuthering Heights Heathcliff is an orphan with no identity and seeks it out in Catherine, and in Great Expectations Pip is being raised by his sister and seeks out his identity after being introduced to Estella. Pip is confused about his own life he does not understand his expectations or who he is. He is uncertain where he came from and where he is going much like Heathcliff and his self-discovery journey. Estella made Pip want to become a different man. He realized that his social status made him fall far below Estella, which is something he went out to change, much like Heathcliff did for Catherine. Both boys are abused by the people who raise them and feel betrayed by the world, they seek out the greater things in life like money, love, and identity but both are met with people who require them to change completely. They have very elite women in their lives that shape their identities.

Great Expectations for Catherine and Pip

In both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations, the audience sees the novels’ respective protagonists, Catherine and Pip, rise from “obscurity” and “coarseness” to higher social stations. For Catherine, this advancement in social standing occurs as a result of her marriage to Linton, a man she does not truly love. Catherine recognizes that as Mrs. Linton she will be rich, proud of her husband, and “the greatest woman of the neighborhood.” These reasons display the more selfish aspects of Catherine’s characterization and perhaps demonstrate the inherent selfishness of desiring to rise in society’s ranks in the name of pride and pride only. However, Catherine later reveals that her motive for marrying Linton is not entirely selfish, as her decision is not merely informed by her pridefulness and desire to be wealthy and highly esteemed. Rather, in marrying Linton, Catherine endeavors to raise not only herself from her coarse and disenfranchised situation at Wuthering Heights but seeks to lift Heathcliff from the same conditions, as well. Indeed, Catherine tells Nelly that her marriage with Linton will free Heathcliff from her “brother’s power” and that, if she were to marry Heathcliff instead of Linton, they would be beggars. Catherine has great expectations, for herself and Heathcliff, and is willing to sacrifice her own happiness and integrity in order to ensure that the two will eventually meet the great expectations she establishes for them. Upon the novel’s close, it appears that Catherine’s great expectations have been met, though the reader must wonder: at what cost? While Catherine was able to experience an ephemeral moment as “the greatest woman of the neighborhood” and while Heathcliff rose out from under Hindley’s thumb, the two ultimately die tragically. However, they are reunited in death and freed from the societal constricts and plots that initially separated them.

Pip also creates great expectations for himself, though he believes that these great expectations have been assigned to him. While Pip is assigned a guardian and an anonymous sponsor who supports his transformation into a gentleman, Pip truly begins this transformation far earlier in the novel, when Estella first chastises him for his coarseness and thick boots. After this moment, Pip begins to resent his humble upbringing and seeks to become a gentleman, instead of a blacksmith, despite being apprenticed to Joe. Thus, Pip sets great expectations for himself and begins to distance himself emotionally from those he perceives as unrefined, such as Joe and Biddy, who nevertheless love him fiercely. Pip ultimately, through the prodding of his guardianship and sponsorship, sets off for London to formally begin his training as a gentleman. Since the novel is told from the perspective of an older Pip, there is a fair amount of reflection embedded within the novel, thus, the reader is privy to some of Pip’s regrets regarding his behavior and his establishment and pursuit of his great expectations. Indeed, there is a sense of regret imbued within each of these reflections, particularly those surrounding Pip’s treatment of Joe and Biddy.

Thus, both Catherine and Pip illustrate the danger of great expectations. Though both characters sought to improve their social situations, their motives were in part selfish, and while one might consider their desire to raise their social standings as a byproduct of an unjust, hierarchical society, the benefits of their social improvement are ultimately offset by the loss, however temporary, of loved ones that Catherine and Pip both experience. Indeed, Catherine, in marrying Linton, inadvertently sends Heathcliff away for many years and sacrifices what might have been a happy, albeit poor, life with her soulmate for a brief, though comfortable one with Linton. While I have not yet completed Great Expectations and cannot know how Pip’s relationships with Joe and Biddy will turn out, I know that Pip does not intend to visit either during his time home, choosing to spend the entire trip with Estella, instead. Perhaps Pip will succeed where Catherine failed and recognize that true love reaps more benefits than the great expectations of rising in a flimsy society, itself built on unjust principles.