Great Expectations to Edwin Drood

  • Robert Golding
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Victorian Literature book series (MSVL)


Great Expectations,1 basically a tragi-comic Victorian morality oscillating between the realistic and the fantastic and including, typically, fairy-tale elements, is above all a masterpiece of construction. Neatly divided into three parts, it depicts the innocent childhood, fall and regeneration of a person subject to the corrupting influence of money. The blossoming of the author’s personal style — his ‘new’ style — is taken a whole stage further from the startlingly vivid developments revealed in the descriptive passages of A Tale of Two Cities.2 Now there is a perfect ease, grace and restraint in what Graham Greene has called ‘Dickens’s secret prose’3 with its ‘delicate and exact poetic cadences, the music of memory, that so influenced Proust’.4


Great Expectation Private Speech Chronological Development Speech Manner Verbal Reflex 
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  1. 1.
    Great Expectations, for which Dickens was once more forced to turn to weekly numbers, was brought out between December 1860 and August 1861.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. Sylvere Monod, ‘Some Stylistic Devices in A Tale of Two Cities’, in DtC, pp. 165–86.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    I certainly do not feel that the defects of the book arise ‘because Dickens was losing his faculty for writing serious comedy’ (Robert Barnard, ‘The Choral Symphony: Our Mutual Friend’, REL, II, 3 (July, 1961) p. 93). The novel, in fact, abounds with comedy, though now in a less wildly exotic, more subtle or ironic vein. One need only mention the comments on and language of ‘Podsnappery’ (cf. 128–43).Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Since writing these lines, I have had the opportunity to read Michael Slater’s extremely comprehensive, illuminating and stimulating book Dickens and Women (London, 1983) in which he rejects the general tendency ‘to see in Bella a portrait of Ellen’ (p. 196). After clearly pointing out that she (Bella) ‘is no more a “portrait” of any individual than any other of Dickens’s major female chapters’ (ibid.), Dr Slater submits the view that the author’s favourite daughter ‘Katey was, to some extent, [the] model for his wilful young heroine’ (p. 197), concluding that ‘As Bella Wilfer is … the most fascinating and attractive young woman that Dickens ever created, so Katey is surely the most remarkable and attractive of all the women in his life who were privileged to know him intimately’ (p. 200). So much for Ellen Ternan!Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Robert Morse, ‘Our Mutual Friend (1949)’, in DMJ, p. 266.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Jack Lindsay, CharlesDickens (London, 1950) p. 380.Google Scholar
  7. 17.
    Barbara Hardy, ‘Dickens: the Later Novels’, WTW (London, 1968) p. 39.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    It was not until after he had started The Mystery of Edwin Drood that Dickens finished his last and most intense series of public readings, a series which, physically, had taken serious toll of him (cf. Philip Collins, Charles Dickens: The Public Readings, Oxford University Press, 1976).Google Scholar

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© Robert Golding 1985

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  • Robert Golding

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