Selflessness and Love

I was really shocked to find out that Pip’s benefactor turned out to be the convict, Provis, and not Mrs. Havisham; I was also surprised by some of the things Provis said to Pip and his affection for Pip. In particular, what Provis tells Pip over breakfast in Chapter 40 caught my attention: “I’ve come to the old country fur to see my gentleman spend his money like a gentleman. That’ll be my pleasure. My pleasure ‘ull be fur to see (Pip) do it” (Dickens, chapter 40). What Provis tells Pip here reminded me of the conversation we had in class about selflessness and love in Wuthering Heights.

Specifically, I’m drawn to what Catherine II (Cathy) tells Nelly about her love for her father. When pondering over the idea of death and losing her father (Edgar), Cathy says: “‘I love (Edgar) better than myself, Ellen; and I know it by this: I pray every night that I may live after him; because I would rather be miserable than that he should be: that proves I love him better than myself’” (Bronte, chapter 22) Cathy here shows an amount of selflessness in her love for Edgar: “‘I love him better than myself.'” This statement interestingly contrasts deeply with one of the other statements made about love in the novel: Catherine I’s “Nelly, I am Heathcliff!” (Bronte, chapter 9). There’s something about wanting better for the person you love that seems a bit more selfless to me. Instead of being like Catherine, who views Heathcliff as being her and their experiences equal, Cathy wants better for her father. Provis’ feelings towards Pip remind me a lot of Cathy’s feelings towards her father; Provis says that it’ll be his “pleasure” to see Pip spend the money (that Provis earned) “like a gentleman.” And it’s not like Provis comes from an affluent background either; he had to work to get that money. He didn’t have to spend it on Pip, just like how he didn’t have to protect Pip and tell the officers he stole from Mrs. Joe in Chapter 5. Provis wants better for Pip than Provis wants for himself.

It’s interesting that Dickens portrays more than one way of love in the novel. We have selfless love such as Provis’ affection for Pip and even Pip’s affection for Herbert, for he anonymously funds Herbert’s career and tries to convince Mrs. Havisham to do the same. With Estella and Mrs. Havisham, we seem to have a more selfish love or perhaps a lack of love at all, for Estella says that Mrs. Havisham “made her” and taught her to have a “cold heart” (Dickens, chapter 38). This is similar to the complex portrayal of love within Wuthering Heights (“I love him better than myself” vs “I am Heathcliff). The presence of complex love in Victorian literature might reflect how love is complicated in real life. It might also indicate deeper things about love within the Victorian period such as the idea of love being tainted by other (social, economic, political) factors.

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