Meditating on the Low: A Darwinian Reading of Great Expectations

by Goldie Morgentaler
Meditating on the Low: A Darwinian Reading of Great Expectations
Goldie Morgentaler
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
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SEL 38 (1998)
ISSN 0039-3657

Meditating on the Low: A Darwinian Reading of Great Expectations


There have been surprisingly few Darwinian readings of the novels that Charles Dickens wrote after 1859, the year in which Charles Darwin published The Oripn of Species.l But while Dick- ens's last three novels-the ones best suited chronologically to support such a reading-have, for the most part, not been inter- preted in the light of evolutionary theory, Dickens's relationship to contemporary scientific knowledge and to Darwinism in particular has not been similarly neglected. Influential books by Gillian Beer and George Levine have traced important links between Dickens and the scientific theories of his time.*

However, the extent to which scientific ideas actually influ- enced Dickens's fiction has recently been questioned by K. J. Fielding. Writing of Darwinism, Fielding suggests in his article "Dickens and Science?" that Dickens's enthusiasm for the idea of evolution owed more to Robert Chambers's 1844 Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation than it did to Dar~in.~

Fielding argues that the only "hard evidence" for Darwin's influence on Dick- ens can be found in a single allusion to the "universal struggle," which occurs in the second paragraph of Great Expectations. The phrase appears to be taken directly from the third paragraph of the third chapter of The Origzn.

In what follows I intend to suggest that the Darwinian influ- ence on Great Expectations is greater than this, although the evidence is admittedly circumstantial rather than "hard." My

Goldie Morgentaler is assistant professor of English at the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta. Her book on Dickens and heredity has been accepted for publication by Macmillan.

primary argument for a Darwinian reading of Great Expectations rests on the fact that this novel marks the first time that Dick- ens jettisons heredity as a determining factor in the formation of the self. This is a major departure for Dickens, who for most of his career was a hereditary determinist. Oliver Twist, for example, inherits middle-class virtues from parents he has never known, and this hereditary endowment immunizes him against the corrupting effects of the workhouse and Fagin's gang.

Dickens's conception of how personality is formed changed over the years, expanding from the strict determinism of the early novels to a looser model of development in his middle period; but until Great Expectations, he never discarded heredity as a formative factor in human identity. It still plays a role in A Tale of Two Cities, the novel which precedes Great Expectations, where Charles Darnay's personal integrity is attributed to his mother, who is introduced solely to establish her credentials as a good person and the source of her son's positive qualities. But in Great Expectations heredity plays no role in the formation of Pip's personality. And while Estella physically resembles her murderess mother Molly, the text is unequivocal in asserting that her personality has been formed by Miss Havisham, who adopted her. It is my contention that this radical change in Dickens's understanding of the role that heredity plays in shaping human identity owes much to Darwin's book.

Darwin published The Origzn of Species by Means of Natural Selection on 24 November 1859. The first edition sold out on the day of publication and a second run of three thousand copies was printed in January 1860. Discussion of the book was intense during the year after its publication and was not confined to scientific circles. The Saturday Review noted that the contro- versy which the book aroused had "passed beyond the bounds of the study and lecture-room into the drawing-room and the public street." Thomas Huxley's review of Zhe Origzn in the Westminster Review of April 1860 made a similar point, while George Henry Lewes, writing in the Cornhill, asserted that "Darwin's book is in everybody's hand^."^ All of this makes clear that Dick- ens, who had many friends in scientific circles and was especially close to Richard Owen-an anti-Darwinist and key figure in the debate which followed on Zhe Origin's publication-could not have avoided hearing about Darwin's theories in the months before he began to write Great Expectations.

During this time, there also appeared in Dickens's journal All the Year Round two anonymous contributions on Darwinian themes. The first, "Species," was published on 2June 1860. It was followed by a favorable review of Darwin's book called "Natural Selection" on 7 July. References to The Oripn occur in the jour- nal several times subsequently. A copy of The Orign was found in Dickens's library after his death, although, of course, this does not mean he read it.

Dickens began work on Great Expectations in October 1860, eleven months after the publication of The Oripn. The first installments began to appear in December. He was still writing his novel well into 1861, when an African travel book by Paul du Chaillu first brought the existence of gorillas to the attention of the British public and so renewed interest in Darwin's "ape theory" in the popular press.j For all these reasons, including the fact that Great Expectations is the Dickens novel closest in time to Darwin's Origzn, it strikes me as likely that traces of Darwin- ism should lie beneath the surface of Dickens's text.

Dickens, however, did not react to Darwin as other writers did. The immediate effect of Darwin's theory on European and American literature of the late nineteenth century was to inten- sify interest in heredity as a literary theme. For writers of the Naturalist School, for Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Emile Zola, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Theodore Dreiser, among others, hereditary issues become a central and nearly obsessive concern. It is therefore ironic that Dickens's initial reaction to Darwin was to blot out heredity altogether from his conception of human development and to replace it with the formative effects of environment. Those aspects of evolutionary theory which Dickens does extract from The Origin reflect a new concern on his part to accommodate external factors within the developmental pattern of the individual. It is as if Darwin's theory allowed Dickens to shake off his earlier adherence to heredity as a way of explaining personality, and in this way to escape the determinism of his own earlier portrayals.

One reason for Dickens's slighting of the hereditary aspects of Darwin's theory may well have been that Darwin himself was so vague about how heredity worked. In The Oripn, Darwin admitted that "the laws governing heredity are for the most part ~nknown."~

Despite this acknowledgment, hereditary trans- mission is the sine qua non of evolutionary theory, represent- ing the mechanism by which successful variations are integrated into the developmental pattern of a species over time. Yet neither Darwin nor his contemporaries had any clear idea of how hereditary transmission worked. At first, Darwin was content to account for the causes of variation by ascribing them to chance or to unknown factors. Then in 1868 he published The Variations of Animals and Plants under Domestication in which he tried to fill the gap by reviving the ancient Greek idea of pangenesis.

Hippocrates had been the prima~y exponent of this theory in classical times, arguing that each part of the body of each parent sheds some aspect of itself into the blood. When these "pan- genes" are collected together, they form a kind of reproductive fluid or seed, blending the characteristics of the parents to construct the child. This is the theory that Aristotle rejected when he argued instead for a "single seed" model, in which the male provided the blueprint for the embryo, while the female provided the raw matter.7

Darwin's version of this theory posited that physical traits were carried by "gemmules," defined as granules or atoms, which issued from the cells of the body and mingled during sexual union. According to this theory all parts of the body manufacture and throw off particles, which then move through the bloodstream and conglomerate in the reproductive organs where they become the components of heredity in egg or sperm. Fertilization occurs when the gemmules of both sexes mix. Because each parent contributes gemmules for every physical characteristic, the result of their coming together is a blend of the characteristics of both parents, although there may be excep tions where the traits of one parent will predominate.

Darwin also accepted some other misconceptions of his time. He believed, for instance, that the entire mass of sperm consti- tuted the fertilizing agent and that the sex of the embryo and its resemblance to its father depended on the amount of sperm released. Furthermore, to substantiate his theory, Darwin pointed to telegony-the belief that the hereditary characteris- tics of a woman's first sexual partner are transmitted to the offspring of all her subsequent partners-citing the case of Lord Morton's mare to support his claim.8

Lord Morton's mare represented the most credible-and the most cited-evidence for the existence of telegony in the nine- teenth century, the more so since it had been accepted as a veri- fied instance of the phenomenon by the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1815, the mare had been bred with a quagga-a zebralike African animal, now extinct-and had given birth to a hybrid. The mare was then sold and mated by her new owner to an Arabian stallion. The offspring that she bore in 181'1, 1818, and 1823 all resembled the quagga rather than the stal- lion or the mare herself, thereby seeming to substantiate the belief that the mare's first partner, the quagga, had played a deci- sive role in the physical inheritance of all her subsequent offspring. Based on this example, Darwin theorized that some of the gemmules from the original partner remained dormant within the mother, thus affecting the hereditary make-up of all her future children, regardless of their subsequent ~aternity.~

Darwin's theory of pangenesis was similar not only to Greek theories of the classical age but also to theories of generation which had circulated in the eighteenth century. Pangenesis allows for a form of Lamarckism-especially Lamarck's assump- tion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics-because when the parts of the body manufacture their own hereditary material, they become subject to changes in the structure of the organs from which they derive. These changes would be reflected in the gemmules budding off the individual body parts and would therefore become the stuff of heredity.

The difference between Darwin's theory and those of such earlier theorists as Lamarck lay in the fact that Darwin's espousal of pangenesis was an attempt to account for evolution, so that the emphasis was on the transmission of variation and not on the preservation of type. The emphasis on variation in Darwin's theory and the attempts to account for its existence suggest why most nineteenth-century inquiries into the nature of hered- ity fell so wide of the mark-they were an attempt to explain the exception without having determined the rule. This also explains why Gregor Mendel's discovery of the mathematical laws for hereditary transmission-published in 1866-was so widely ignored. Unlike Darwin, Mendel had set out to determine not the laws of variation, but the laws of resemblance. In other words, Mendel was looking for something which no one else at the time was interested in finding.

I have gone into some detail about Darwin's attempts to account for hereditary transmission in order to illustrate the confused state of knowledge on this subject during the mid- nineteenth century. Darwin's imperfect grasp of the mechanics of descent made it difficult for him to defend certain aspects of his theory, and this in turn accounted for the fact that, as Peter Morton suggests, in the years following the publication of The Origzn ofspecies no other biological issue-with the exception of evolution itself-was more fiercely debated than the mechanics of hereditary transmis~ion.~~

Dickens, whose early belief in the primacy of hereditary factors in the formation of human iden- tity weakened as he matured, took from Darwin's theory many things, but the centrality of heredity to human development was not one of them. Instead, Darwin's Oripn seems to have inspired Dickens to wonder what human development would look like if heredity were entirely discarded as a factor in the formation of the self. The result was a novel in which adoption, adaptation, and the vagaries of life experience play a far more crucial role in the development of personality than any inherited traits passed on by parent to child.

Great Expectations lends itself to a Darwinian reading because it contains three concepts with broad evolutionary implica- tions-the idea of the primitive or low and its relationship to "civilized" society; the idea of adaptation, of what is fit and not fit; and, finally, the conception of time as moving in one direc- tion only-into the future-rather than being a reanimation of the past.

The novel is essentially a Cinderella story in which the fairy godmother turns out to be a convict. The infusion of Magwitch's money into Pip's young life creates a relationship analogous to paternity. Jaggers refers to Magwitch as the foun- tainhead, the source of Pip's money, and therefore the gener- ating force behind his birth as a gentleman. Magwitch himself makes the point: "Look'ee here, Pip. I'm your second father. You're my son . . . I've put away money only for you to spend" (GE,p. 337)." In this father-son relationship, money substitutes for semen as the stuff out of which life is created. In the same way, money stands for both the biological and the material aspects of Pip's love for Estella. Pip writes that he cannot disso- ciate Estella from all his hankerings after money and gentility, nor yet separate her from "the innermost life of my life" (GE,

p. 257). Heredity has been discarded; money-that most equiv- ocal of external factors, and the one most commonly associated with metaphors of breeding-has taken its place as a determi- nant of human identity.'*

Great Expectations may appear to be a fairy tale, but it is a fairy tale turned inside-out. In fact, one of the novel's most obvious intentions is to overturn the fairy-tale plot of hidden identity. Traditionally, this plot depicts the lower-class hero as belonging biologically to a higher station than the one to which circum- stances have assigned him. This is, in fact, the plot of Dickens's early novel Oliver Twist. As Gillian Beer points out, the plot of hidden identity is fundamentally opposed to Darwinism, which insists on the opposite-that all human beings, no matter how advanced they may think themselves to be, share the same lowly animal origins.13

Thus, by overturning the plot of hidden identity, Great Expec- tations constitutes a reassessment of Oliver Tixist. But this reassess- ment goes beyond Pip's discovery that his sudden wealth allies him to the underworld rather than to the aristocracy. There is a concomitant reassessment of the very nature of that under- world and its relationship to the rest of society. Where Oliver Twist defines the genteel and the criminal spheres as distinct, contrary, and antithetical, Great Expectations maintains that the upper-class world of the gentleman is implicated in the crimi- nal domain of the underclass, and that the relationship between the two, far from being mutually exclusive, is redolent of complicity and interdependence.

This makes Great Expectations, among other things, a medita- tion on the low, because it bases its demonstration of the inher- ent kinship between human beings on the interrelationship between the criminal world and its noncriminal counterparts. This interrelationship results in a redefinition of the manner in which Dickens depicts the criminal class in this novel. That class is here presented as more important for the base position it occupies in society than for its anti-social behavior. Magwitch belongs to the underclass of the underworld, but the fortune he makes Down Under will support Pip at the topmost reaches of the social scale.

Because its emphasis is on the social position of the convict rather than on his criminality, Great Expectations neutralizes the moral dimension of crime. To be a convict in this novel is to occupy a position of shame, a shame which is primarily associ- ated with being outcast and reviled rather than with being a villain. Evil, which had previously been a major preoccupation in all of Dickens's fiction, is no longer simply black in this novel, nor is it exclusively associated with crime. In fact, the concept of criminality has here been generalized to include such flawed beings as Pip himself, who sin in their hearts rather than in their deeds. While the world of Great Expectations is not totally amoral, as is the natural world in The Origzn of Species, neither is it Manichaean to quite the same extent as in the earlier novels. Instead, the moral distinctions between categories of behavior have become blurred and overlapping.

Because it generalizes criminality by universalizing the concept of guilt, the stress in Great Expectations is on punishment rather than on crime.14 It is the convict-a passive figure victim- ized by chastisement-who stands at the symbolic heart of this novel, not the criminal, who is, by definition, a free agent. For this reason, the novel is replete with the symbols of retribution. These run the gamut from Tickler, which represents the corpo- ral punishment meted out to children, to the Hulks, prison-ships which foreshadow Magwitch's expulsion to Australia. The inner landscape of Pip's mind with its constant load of guilt is reflected in the larger landscape through which he moves.

So completely woven into the fabric of the novel is the under- world motif that the two poles of society-the gentleman and the convict-are consistently presented as linked. The lawyer Jaggers-who makes his living off the criminal class-serves as the mediator between them, acting simultaneously on behalf of Miss Havisham and on behalf of Magwitch, providing the proud chatelaine of Satis House with the offspring of a convicted felon to raise as a grand lady. In this way the threads of two apparently irreconcilable worlds are systematically woven together.

Dickens suggests that what is true of the connection between Miss Havisham and the criminal class, and between Magwitch and Pip, is true as well for society as a whole. He does this symbolically in the court scene when he describes a shaft of sunlight falling with what he calls "absolute equality" (GE, p. 467) on those who have just been condemned to death and on the judge who condemned them. The shaft of light wipes out distinctions between judge and judged, between the criminal and the righteous, the guilty and the innocent. It is a reminder that Nature is indifferent to moral categories, but functions according to her own imperatives. The shaft of light constitutes a reassertion of the Darwinian belief in the interdependence of all living things occurring in the midst of the apparent triumph of man-made morality. The courtroom is, after all, the perfect venue for demonstrating the superiority of Man over nature, because it defines human beings as seekers of justice, adjudi- cators of law, dispensers of retribution-moral concepts alien to the world of Nature. Dickens's equalizing shaft of light calls into question that smug distinction.

In Great Expectations the criminal element is eventually discov- ered to stand in some form of relation to nearly every charac- ter, a discovery which implies that criminality stands for whatever is universal in the elemental nature of Man. The criminal repre- sents the least developed aspect of human nature-the primitive, the emotional, the base. It is the fundamental material out of which-and away from which-all civilized behavior must evolve. Once the novel's design is revealed, it becomes clear that the only common denominator is the lowest.

In fact, at one point, the convicts in Great Expectations are liter- ally compared to "lower animals" (GE, p. 249). To further underline the degeneracy of the criminal class, we have the description of the lawyer Jaggers who feels compelled to wash his clients off, "as if he were a surgeon or a dentist" (GE,p. 233) and uses for this purpose a scented soap. The image is wonder- ful in its doubleness: on the literal level, it reinforces the view of the criminal world as scummy, pestilential, and noxious, so potentially infectious that it requires constant cleansing. But there is also a covert allusion to Pontius Pilate who washed his hands of the fate of Jesus. Jesus himself, after all, had suffered the fate of the criminal-execution at the hands of the author- ities. While the image of the criminal as Christ-figure is not stressed in Great Expectations, it nonetheless hovers in the back- ground, serving Dickens well as a symbolic backdrop against which to locate Magwitch, whose given name, Abel, suggests the extent to which he is to be considered as a symbolic victim. In Christian typology, Abel was one of several Old Testament figures who were thought to represent the type of Christ, and to prefigure his coming.

But the stress in Great Expectations is not on the exalted and spiritual; it is on the primitive and material. This highlighting of the elemental qualities in human nature constitutes a new depar- ture for Dickens, who had previously insisted on the essential godliness of the goodhearted. What is more, he had defined their transcendence as amenable to hereditary transmission from one generation to the next. In Great Expectations, heredity is no longer a force for the propagation of the good, and the emphasis on the ideal has given way to a demonstration of the omnipresence of the base. When Pip says of Magwitch, "there was Convict in the very grain of the man" ( GE, p. 352),the remark resonates beyond the individual to whom it is applied. The equation of essential nature with criminality applies equally to Pip himself: "I consumed the whole time in thinking how strange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint of prison and crime; that, in my childhood out on our lonely marshes on a winter evening I should have first encountered it; that, it should. . . pervade my fortune and advancement. . . I beat the prison dust off my feet as I sauntered to and fro, and I shook it out of my dress, and I exhaled its air from my lungs. So contaminated did I feel" (GE,

p. 284).Pip's feeling of self-hatred is built on the assumption that "convict" is as much a part of his grain as it is of Magwitch's, that it is born into him, arising out of the marshes of his childhood- the primordial slime-and pervades every aspect of his life. No amount of shaking and exhaling and beating will ever cleanse him of the despised, primitive, degenerate part of himself.

In ?'he O@n of Species, Darwin had deliberately eliminated Man from the argument, thereby implying the subservient stature of the human species when placed against the vast forces of nature. It is possible to argue, however, that what is really displaced in Darwin's book is God, not Man. Divine sanction for human superiority has been eliminated, but now the source of Man's preeminence is located within human nature itself. The result of dethroning God has been to put Man in His place.

Human beings are not only at the center of creation in Great Expectations, they also dominate the landscape, imposing a subjective and retributive dimension on nature's nonjudgmen- tal way. The environment of Pip's boyhood contains the primor- dial marshes, on which the only things that stand upright are a beacon and a gibbet, symbolic of human attainment at both its highest and its lowest.

Nature in Great Expectations has had the Romantic light bleached out of it. So, while Pip defines himself as the victim of his surroundings, the opposite is also true-that he imposes his own interpretation on what he sees around him. So much so that he even extends his own feelings of class consciousness to such natural phenomena as the stars: "The very stars to which I then raised my eyes, I am afraid I took to be but poor and humble stars for glittering on the rustic objects among which I had passed my life" (GE, p. 171). When he comes into his expecta- tions, the young Pip thinks that even the grazing cows have a more respectful air when they look at him, that they "face round, in order that they might stare as long as possible at the posses- sor of such great expectations" (GE, p. 174).

These, of course, are instances of pathetic fallacy, but they are presented as instances to be mocked; and they are located firmly within the mind of Pip, and are not offered up uncritically by an omniscient narrator. There is, in such passages, a deter- mined intention of diminishing Nature to a figment of the mind of Man, who is himself no more than another manifesta- tion of Nature's amoral neutrality. By way of contrast with Dick- ens's earlier treatments of Nature, see the description of the tempest in David Copperfield, where the storm outside is made directly analogous to the turmoil in David's mind, in addition to functioning within the narrative as a natural instrument of retribution directed against the sinning Steerforth.

In Great Expectations, Dickens strips Nature of any inherent mystery by redefining it as a tabula rasa on which the human imagination paints the image of human concerns. By choosing guilt as one of the major motifs of his novel, Dickens dramatizes the extent to which human hubris consistently places Man at the center of creation. Nothing is so self-centered, nor so self- involved as guilt. When the boy Pip brings Magwitch the stolen pork pie, all of nature seems to accuse him. He says: "instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me . . . The gates and dykes and banks came bursting at me through the mist" (GE, p. 48). The landscape of the novel with its natural scenes consistently disturbed and dominated by the symbols of human chastisement echo this sense of a neutral nature rein- terpreted according to human concerns. As Harriet Ritvo suggests, Darwin may have redefined human beings as animals, but they are "top animals" and have in this way appropriated to themselves some of the attributes formerly reserved for the deity.15

Religious notions are in fact evoked in this novel only to be recategorized according to secular principles. Pip's encounters with Estella take place within a "rank garden" (GE, p. 93), a degenerate echo of that other garden in which the first man was undone by the first woman. It is in this garden, described as "overgrown with tangled weeds" (GE, p. 93) ,-which recalls the metaphor of the tangled bank with which Darwin ends The Oripn of Species-that Dickens sets the novel's final scene of the meeting between Pip and Estella.16 Around the garden now all the buildings have been torn down, as if the land were reclaim- ing its own. It is Estella who makes the point: "The ground belongs to me. It is the only possession I have not relinquished. Everything else has gone from me, little by little, but I have kept this" (GE, p. 492).

The notion of ground, its function as the natural repository of both life and death, and the extent to which it may be deemed a human possession is a theme which grows increasingly insis- tent in Dickens's final novels, expanding into a major motif in both Our Mutual Friend and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In the earlier Dombey and Son, Dickens had written in quasi-religious terms of "[t] he warm ground . . . where the ugly little seeds turn into beautiful flowers, and into grass, and corn . . . Where good people turn into bright angels, and fly away to Heaven" (DS, pp. 7'7-8). In Great Expectations, Dickens jettisons the metaphysi- cal-and rather odd-idea of bodies turning into angels under- ground. Instead, we find Pip meditating on beans and clover, and juxtaposing their growth with the memory of his sister's death-a restatement of the Darwinian concept that the extinc- tion of the individual occurs within the framework of the constant regeneration of life itself. This, taken together with Estella's claim that the ground is her only remaining possession, redefines the notion of ground in both secular and universal terms.

In another echo of Darwinism, Dickens introduces the notion of adaptation or fitness. Miss Havisham's crime, we are told, lies in her being against Nature, in her trying to shut out the sun and secluding herself "from a thousand natural and healing influences" (GE, p. 41 1 ). Her brooding solitary mind has grown diseased, Pip tells us, and this leads him to the conclusion that she has been punished by "her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed" (GE, p. 411). The idea of not fitting, of not having adapted to one's environment, and therefore cheating and distorting the next generation-as Miss Havisham does to Estella-owes something to Darwinism.

Nor is Miss Havisham the only character who is not well adapted to her surroundings. The same is also true ofJoe, Pip's brother-in-law, although in his case, it depends on the surround- ings. Joe is a natural in the sense that any form of behavior which forces him away from his essential nature is uncomfortable to him, and this includes all the conventions associated with "polite" society. Clothes provide the most obvious example of

Joe's inability to cope with civilization. He is uncomfortable in anything but his work clothes. And he is uncomfortable anywhere out of his natural element-the country and the forge. His boots are too big; he is clumsy on stairs; he learns to read only with difficulty. The city-that ultimate symbol of human civilization-is his nemesis. He says, "I'm wrong in these clothes. I'm wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th' meshes" (GE,

p. 246).

Yet Joe is not merely the novel's symbol of the natural man; he is also its embodiment of the affective ideal in human nature. It is he who recognizes Magwitch as a "poor miserable fellow- creatur" (GE, p. 71). In fact, Joe and Magwitch may legitimately be viewed as substitutes for one another, the more so since both are surrogate fathers to Pip. And Pip is ashamed to be connected to both of them. Both Joe and Magwitch are men who act with their hearts; and while this is generally defined as a good, there is also something to be said against such behavior. With Magwitch the ambivalence is built into the ambiguities of the plot-the man is a thief and a convict. Even the altruism of Magwitch's love for Pip is complicated by his wish to "own" a gentleman. Joe's love for Pip is more truly selfless, but it is also inept. It cannot save Pip from the harshness of his sister's upbringing, and it cannot serve Pip as a model for getting along in a world which is more complicated than mere goodness will allow for.

Thus, while Pip feels constant guilt for his neglect ofJoe and expiates that guilt through his reconciliation with Magwitch, there is also a sense in which his return to his former boyhood relationship with Joe would be regressive. Pip represents the evolution of the human species away from its primitive origins, whether the primitive be defined as the degenerate or the spon- taneously goodhearted. For better or for worse, Pip-and the rest of humanity with him-has been civilized. He has learned to adapt to the city, and he must learn to enjoy the benefits of civilization without succumbing to its corruptions.

Pip can never go home again. In its insistence on the finality of that proposition, Great Expectations breaks most dramatically with Dickens's earlier novels. Unlike David Copperfield, Pip does not get a second chance at life; he cannot make good on earlier mistakes. In fact, chapter 45 of Great Expectations is devoted to Pip's reaction to the injunction, "don't go home," a message which he receives from Wemmick on his return to London. The phrasing of this interdiction is subject to several constructions during the course of the chapter. For instance, there is Wemmick's query to Pip and Pip's response-signifi- cantly styled a "return": "'Halloa, Mr Pip!' said Wemmick. 'You did come home, then?' 'Yes,' I returned; 'but I didn't go home."' (GE, p. 381). The subtle distinction of nuance between "come home" and "go home," and the added confusion of "returned" to mean "replied" when the issue has to do with an actual return has been earlier adumbrated by Pip obsessively turning the injunction "don't go home" into an exercise in grammatical tenses, as if he were conjugating a Latin phrase: "Do not thou go home, let him not go home, let us not go home, do not ye or you go home . . . I may not and I cannot go home; and I might not, could not, would not, and should not go home" (GE, p. 381).

This playing with the tense of the message-to say nothing of the punning on "return" and the distinguishing between "go home" and "come homen-carries implications beyond the overt, since both the literal meaning of the message and Pip's mental manipulations address issues of time. Where once time in a Dickens novel was cyclical, in Great Expectations it is histori- cal. Pip cannot go home again. He cannot return to the time before he came into his expectations. He can never reestablish the easy camaraderie and affection that marked his earlier rela- tionship with Joe. He cannot marry Biddy. He cannot even expect to find her waiting for him as Agnes did for David. The past as it is presented in Great Expectations is past and must remain so.

To illustrate this new attitude toward time, Dickens evokes the metaphor of a chain: "That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imag- ine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flow- ers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day" (GE,p. 101). This is a state- ment of both randomness and inevitability. Here the past is equated with fate. A single chance day may unavoidably alter the course of a lifetime, and what occurs after that day will never resemble what went before. This is a decidedly different concep- tion of time from that which pertained, for instance, in A Tale of Two Cities, where so momentous a historical event as the French Revolution was described as essentially a roll-over, a substitution of one class by another, a reiteration and reenact- ment in other terms of previous injustices, without consequences for change in the future. What we have in Great Expectations is Darwinian time-the ceaseless and inevitable moving into the future without a glance back to the reassuring reanimation of the past.


'One such reading is Howard W. Fulweiler's "'A Dismal Swamp': Darwin, Design, and Evolution in Our Mutual Friend," NCF49, 1 (June 1994): 50-74.

2Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionarj Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (London: Routledge, 1983); and George Levine, Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988). A seminal early essay on Dickens's relationship to science was Ann Y. Wilkinson's "Bleak House: From Faraday to Judgment Day," EI,H 34, 2 (Tune 1967): 225-47.

%.J. ~ieidin~,

"Dickens and Science?" DQu 13,4 (December 1996): 200-16, 201-3.

4All quotations are from Alvar Ellegard, Darwin and the General Reader: The Reception ofDarwin's Theory of Evolution in the British Periodical Press, 1859-1872 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 40-1.

5For more on how Paul du Chaillu's book renewed interest in Darwin's theory, see Ellegard, p. 43. 6Charles Darwin, The Origin ofspecies by Means ofNatural Selection, 6th edn. (London: Watts and Co., 1929), p. 10.

'Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990), p. 255 n. 36.

8Telegony is an ancient concept, going back to biblical times. The levirate marriages described in Deut. 25: 5-6, in which a man's brother or father is required to marry his widow if the man dies without issue, is an example of this belief. The firstborn of such a marriage is considered to be the child of the deceased husband.

yFor more on Lord Morton's mare, see Richard W.Burkhardt, "Closing the Door on Lord Morton's Mare: The Rise and Fall of Telegony," Studies in the History ofBiology 3 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1979): pp. 1-21; and Marvin Carlson, "Ibsen, Strindberg, and Telegony," PMLA 100, 5 (October 1985): 774-82, 780.

"'Peter Morton, The Vital Science: Biology and the Literary Imagination, 1860-1 900 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985), p. 150. "All references to Dickens's novels are to the Penguin editions and will be cited parenthetically in the text.

I2Aristotle's condemnation of usury in his Politics as unnatural breeding "because the offspring resembles the parent," quoted in Bernard Grebanier, The Truth About Shylock (New York: Random House, 1962), p. 79, is probably the most famous and influential conflation of biological notions with finan- cial ones. Another example of this kind of conflation can be found in the Victo- rian euphemism for orgasm, "spending."

'"eer, p. 63.

141t has become a critical commonplace to identify guilt as the crux of Great Expectations. Dorothy Van Ghent's essay "On Great Expectations" in The English Novel: Form and Function (New York: Rinehart, 1953) articulated one of the most influential views on this theme. Van Ghent argued that Magwitch functions in the novel as the objective correlative for Pip's sense of guilt. Since then, other principals in the novel have been identified as alter egos for Pip. Julian Moyna- han nominates Orlick for this role in "The Hero's Guilt: The Case of Great Expectations," EIC 10, 1 (January 1960): 60-79. In "Dickens's Great Expecta- tions: The Motive for Moral Masochism," in Modern Critical Views: Charles Dick- ens, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), pp. 263-81, Shuli Barrilai suggests Estella. Such interpretations are primarily psychological and symbolic in nature and tend to slight the novel's explicit criticism of religion as the source for Pip's overwhelming sense of guilt. They also tend to down- play the broader significance of the figure of the convict as the embodiment of a universalized, internalized culpability.

I5Harriet Ritvo, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Iricton'an Age (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987), p. 40.

'"or another reading of the garden imagery in Great Expectations, see Alan Fischler, "Love in the Garden: Maud, Great Expectations, and LV. S. Gilbert's Sweethearts," SEL 37, 4 (Autumn 1997): 763-83. Fischler interprets Dickens's use of the garden in Great Expectations as drawing on Christian tradition, but suggests that the Christian elements have been undermined by Darwinian influences.

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