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Commentaire anglais Great Expectations

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Par   •  15 Janvier 2023  •  Commentaire de texte  •  2 295 Mots (10 Pages)  •  229 Vues

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Khôlle Great Expectations

Richard Stang in his Theory of the Novel states that “mid Victorian realism defined itself against the excesses both stylistic and narrative of various kinds or romantic, exotic or sensational literatures”. Indeed, Great expectations works as a critic of the Victorian society of the early 1800’s where England was becoming a wealthy world power, where machines were making factories more productive, yet people lived in awful conditions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The excerpt under scrutiny drawn from Great expectations of Moby Dick foregrounds the meeting of the main character with Miss Havisham a wealthy woman and her daughter Estella. The main character is hired to entertain Miss Havisham, during his visit he discovers a decaying and “idle” place. Inside, the Satis House where all light is excluded, he meets Miss Havisham in a dressing room where the only light came from “her white dress, shoes, veil and hair”.  Miss Havisham is still wearing her old wearing dress in a House where the time seems to have stopped. During this visit, the main character is confronted to the contempt of two women from the upper class. Although, the description of the house seems to be the romantic perception of the main character of the upper class and also a model that he looks up to, if we trust the title of the novel Great Expectations, the little boy probably has great expectations following this visit. In reality, this extract exhibits trough an ironic description of Miss Havisham, the degeneration of the upper class and capitalism as a whole.  We shall demonstrate that this excerpt is a game, playing with literary genres where realism, theatrality and tragedy sheds light on the reality of the social orders. We shall first explore the gothic description through a fantastical world, then we will see the theatrality of Dickensian writing. We shall finally see this excerpt as a social caricature in favor of Pip.

I ) A gothic description through a fantastical world:

  1. The rise of suspense

The novel is written in the first-person narrative which means that we see what the main character sees. The reader is discovering the place the same way as the character sees it. We first see a “clean” L1 place but then the main character discovers that everything is abandoned.  The description of the place seems to be magical/fantastic where the “cold wind seemed to blow colder there than outside the gate” L4. Then we follow the steps of Pip inside the manor. Inside the manor, the emphasizes on the darkness participates to the gothic. Moreover, the progressive ocular discovery that is made of this mysterious house builds up the suspense of the passage (with the constant use of visionary verbs such as “looking” l6, “I noticed” l23, “I saw l44-45 46). Pip crosses different spaces reminiscent of the buttresses of the ruined castle of the gothic novel, but everything seems to have undergone a sublime and frightening deformation such as the wrinkled bride, the skeleton under the veil, the faded colors, and the faded flowers.  

  1. The interweaving of life and death

The description of the setting shifts from a locus amoenus where everything seems “bright” and “sparkling” L38 exposing all the symbols of wealth that Pip has always dreamed of to a locus horribilis where the clothing became “faded and yellow” L46, the place becomes a nightmarish dungeon where to queen is never allowed to leave.  The properties of the house and its owner are juxtaposed and Dickens intended this similarity when describing the two. The description of MS Havisham through Pip eyes emphasizes her inhuman features which correlates with her state of mind. The yellowish color corresponds to her mind that has been contaminated with evil and cold feelings and time has had an obvious effect on her both physically and mentally. However, this progressive decadence presages death, which is imminent as this quote suggests « the brightness of her sunken eyes. »L47.  In the mirror in which the old lady reflects, it is indeed an encounter with the portrait of death that the young Pip does. This scene is in reality a memento mori, which reminds the reader that despite the wealth and success of some, the finality of human existence is death.  

  1. A time-out as the only escape:

Time in this excerpt is also an essential notion that reinforces the gothic dimension. Indeed, time seems to have stopped since at first sight everything has remained the same, even the time is totally frozen “her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine” L59 which corresponds to the hour when her husband abandoned her. Thus, Miss Havisham is unable to move on and remains cloistered in this room as if to relive this tragic scene over and over again.  The room is totally closed, which suggests that there is no possible way out, no redemption. The only way out is death. Reigns in this room, a mysterious and secret atmosphere around the story of Miss Havisham and her marriage. The numerous “passages” L23 in the mansion are like a real labyrinth that loses the reader, the characters and reality.  The “passages” are the symbol of the mystery and the unknown that surrounds Miss Havisham

Thus, we have seen in a first part the gothic elements of this excerpt through a description of Sati House and MS Havisham. However, the interweaving of literary genres also confers to this excerpt elements of theatrality

II)   The theatricality of Dickensian writing

  1. A burlesque scene:  

The internal focalization, allows to spare the effects of surprise and the first-person narrative a posteriori allows a temporal shift that introduce an ironic distance. The narrator takes a step back from the scene as indicated by the litote, line 22, "less splendid than before", or the term "trinkets" which deconstructs the brilliance of "bright jewels". Moreover, instead of a monster or a ghost, it is an old lady who stands hidden deep in the dressing room. The old woman is mocked and compared to a "waxwork and skeleton" L51 which undermines the gothic dimension and the suspense falls immediately. Dickens describes the physical features of a character in such a grotesque way that it provokes laughter. This tragedy then becomes a comedy.


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