Dickens's Great Expectations

Dickens's Great Expectations: Misnar's Pavilion versus Cinderella

Jerome Meckier
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Dickens's Great Expectations
    Book Description:

    Dickens scholar Jerome Meckier's acclaimedHidden Rivalries in Victorian Fictionexamined fierce literary competition between leading novelists who tried to establish their credentials as realists by rewriting Dickens's novels. Here, Meckier argues that inGreat Expectations, Dickens not only updatedDavid Copperfieldbut also rewrote novels by Lever, Thackeray, Collins, Shelley, and Charlotte and Emily Brontë. He periodically revised his competitors' themes, characters, and incidents to discredit their novels as unrealistic fairy tales imbued with Cinderella motifs. Dickens darkened his fairy tale perspective by replacing Cinderella with the story of Misnar's collapsible pavilion fromThe Tales of the Genii(a popular, pseudo-oriental collection). The Misnar analogue supplied a corrective for the era's Cinderella complex, a warning to both Haves and Have-nots, and a basis for Dickens's tragicomic view of the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5914-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Abbreviations for Works Cited
    (pp. viii-xvii)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 Misnar versus Cinderella
    (pp. 1-40)

    Several of Dickens’s primary reasons for authoringGreat Expectationshave gone unobserved; these motivations determined the mood and manner in which he wrote his thirteenth novel and offer reliable clues as to what it is about and how it should be read.¹ Although these reasons constantly overlap, they may be listed in ascending order:

    1. To repay Charles Lever for hamperingAll the Year Roundwith an unpopular serial that Dickens came to consider unrealistic. A prime example of a Victorian novel written to push aside an allegedly inferior composition, Dickens’s study of a snob’s inner workings, a case history intended...

  6. Chapter 2 Lever
    (pp. 41-75)

    Thanks to Charles Lever’s unpopular serial, circulation ofAll the Year Rounddeclined significantly for the only time during Dickens’s life. His new periodical in jeopardy, the novelist had to rescue the editor by writingGreat Expectations, which reversed the slump in sales. Consequently,A Day’s Ride: A Life’s Romanceis chiefly remembered as the reason Dickens’s thirteenth novel appeared in weekly installments instead of monthly parts as originally planned. But Lever’s disaster sheds light on the nature of Dickens’s countermeasure, not just its genesis; it helps to explain what Dickens wrote as well as when and why.

    The consensus...

  7. Chapter 3 Thackeray
    (pp. 76-96)

    G.K. Chesterton mistookGreat Expectationsfor a paean to Thackeray: “Thackerayan” throughout, it should be read as “an extra chapter toThe Book of Snobs” (GKC, 197). Dickens, Chesterton maintained, tried to become Thackeray—“a quiet, a detached, even a cynical observer of human life” (GKC, 201).Great Expectationsimpressed Chesterton as the only “one of [Dickens’s] works in which he understands Thackeray” (GKC, 200).

    Were this estimation acceptable, Dickens’s thirteenth novel would offer the curious spectacle of the era’s foremost novelist attempting to emulate his closest rival: “After 1847,” Sutherland has noted, Thackeray “was, simply, the second greatest novelist...

  8. Chapter 4 David Copperfield
    (pp. 97-122)

    LikePendennis, Michael Lund has noted,David Copperfieldis a lengthy bildungsroman whose hero survives youthful infatuation to become a successful writer with an angelic wife (ML, 77). Both novels, Carol Hanberry MacKay agrees, “detail the growth into maturity of young men who become writers”; they “‘develop’ through a series of romantic interests, and each finally gets a second chance at marital happiness with a sister-figure” (CHM, 242).

    In Victorian fictions, however, apparent similarity can mask revaluations that reach to the core. Mark Cronin has argued thatDavid Copperfieldis a “response” toPendennisin which Dickens “corrects” Thackeray’s portrait...

  9. Chapter 5 Collins
    (pp. 123-154)

    “Undermining the traditional bourgeois ethic of self-help,” it has been argued, was Wilkie Collins’s goal inThe Woman in White(NR, 47).¹ Actually, this was Dickens’s job, and he accused Collins of complicating it. In Dickens’s opinion, his younger rival sensationalizedCinderella, devising plots to steepen her fall and intensify her sufferings in order to accentuate each step of her arduous, often vengeful, recovery. Madonna’s loss of hearing (Hide and Seek), Laura Fairlie’s of identity (The Woman in White), Magdalen Vanstone’s of legitimacy (No Name)—these are just three instances of sudden misfortunes that exacerbate Cinderella’s tumble from father’s darling...

  10. Chapter 6 Mary Shelley
    (pp. 155-179)

    Besides trying to obliterate Walter Hartright’s encounter with the woman in white, Dickens’s sensational opening aimed to discredit chapter 16 ofFrankenstein, in which the creature tells his creator how he strangled the latter’s younger brother.Great Expectationscommences by reworking Mary Shelley’s child-snatching scene. When Magwitch grabs Pip, Dickens seizes control of Shelley’s novel, promoting a fleeting incident into a seminal one. Incompetent as a monster-maker, the implied argument goes, Shelley could hardly be expected to foresee a social system that regularly turns people from all classes into monstrosities.

    Time and place matter little in chapter 16, Dickens complained....

  11. Chapter 7 Charlotte Brontë
    (pp. 180-205)

    Of all the allegedly unrealistic novelists whomGreat Expectationsridicules, none was targeted with more vim than Charlotte Brontë. Dickens’s “great revisionary novel,”¹ his most versatile revaluative parody, reserves much of its severest scorn for scenes, ideas, and characters fromJane Eyre. Although Dickens detested the Brontës as a duo,² he held Charlotte’s autobiographical bildungsroman chiefly responsible for establishing the Cinderella complex in Victorian fiction. Jane’s story corroborates the cinder girl’s rise more reverently thanOliver TwistvindicatesThe Pilgrim’s Progress.³ “Both Jane as narrator andJane Eyreas text appear untroubled by [Brontë’s] reliance on a version of the...

  12. Chapter 8 Emily Brontë
    (pp. 206-227)

    Dickens shared the distaste some of Emily Brontë’s contemporaries expressed for her fascination with devilish behavior, which supposedly leaves a “moral taint” onWuthering Heights.¹ “Appropos of Miss Hogarth saying that [Jane Eyre] was an unhealthy book,” Dickens declared that he “had not read” Emily’s novel either because “he disapproved of the whole school.”² Practitioners of the Gothic mode were ineffective socially—in Dickens’s opinion, incapable of bringing about desirable change. Although Dickens’s novel is as sensational as Emily’s and Charlotte’s, both of which he doubtless read, he considered Magwitch and Miss Havisham, not to mention Orlick, more urgent manifestations...

  13. Synopsis A: Summary of the Tale of Misnar’s Pavilion
    (pp. 228-231)
  14. Synopsis B: Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of A Day’s Ride
    (pp. 232-235)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 236-267)
  16. Index
    (pp. 268-278)