Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wherein I realize if I wasn't so distracted by farthingales I might pay more attention to the details of the plot. (Sundays With the Classics)

If I hadn't started re-reading Great Expectations this time around, I would not now know things like what pattens are.

There's a scene in Great Expectations where Estella comes to London and Pip is to meet her and they are to have tea before they take a coach up to Richmond.  Estella relays these instructions to Pip in a manner that lets him know that their actions are foreordained and Pip, while happy to spend a miserable time with her in the tearoom and on the coach, misunderstands her import: their actions are foreordained, sure, but not to have Estella end up with Pip. 

That scene, today, I noted, included a part where Pip, who is increasingly unlikeable and putting on airs (and getting deeply in debt, which kind of raises concerns because wasn't Jaggers supposed to draw him back when he slipped up?) says that one of the rooms in which he and Estella were to take tea was unsuitable because (in part) someone had left behind some pattens, and I was able to look up what pattens are, and they are this:



That's a type of overshoe, or, more aptly, undershoe worn to keep one's shoes or boots from getting wet in the muck that comprised the middle-ages' typical street.

See? I'm a better person for having read that.  I assume.

When Pip drops Estella off at the Richmond house, he notes that the house is old-fashioned: "a staid old house, where hoops and powder and patches,... had had their court days many a time," and I liked the description of the ringing-bell:

"an old voice-- which I dare say in its time had often said to the house, Here is the green farthingale, Here is the diamond-hilted sword, Here are the shoes with red heels and the blue solitaire."

When I read that, I wondered if those descriptions had any meaning to readers of Dickens' era, whether they would chuckle at the idea of the green farthingale calling at the Richmond-house, the way we might describe someone as "a Homer Simpson."  So I looked that up, too, and found the Stanford Victorian Reading project, which had a Discovering Dickens section about a decade ago, and it says that a farthingale is a kind of hoop skirt from the 16th century, while shoes with red heels were fashionable in the 1700s.  (Pip's in London in about 1820), and notes that swords were the only remnant of chivalric dress left over from when Queen Anne abolished that kind of clothing.  The solitaire, meanwhile, was worn in the court of Louis XV.

So I suppose the equivalent would be of us describing a house as though it had been visited by men in powdered wigs and flappers, with rebels in leather jackets beside them.  I'd expected it to be some kind of allusion to someone famous, though.

Through all of this looking stuff up, I also wondered this:  how many times did Pip actually see Estella when he was younger, and how old was he?  Pip first went to Miss Havisham's when he was like 10 or 11, I imagine, as he was seven when the novel opened.  He went there for a couple of years, I think, and he would have seen Estella a lot them; the novel kind of glosses over that period of time,  making it seem that Pip only goes to Havisham's a couple of times, but as I think about it, he would have seen her an awful lot.

Time is funny that way, in books and in movies.  I was commenting to Sweetie the other day that it seems remarkable to me that [SPOILER ALERT! JUST BECAUSE I KNOW THE ENDING DOESN'T MEAN YOU WANT TO] the people on Lost were only on the island for something like two months, total --  in part because so much happened and in part because the series took what, five years?  So it would make more sense to me if Jack and Sawyer and Kate and all were on there for five years, so that my time would jibe with their time.

Pip's kind of the opposite.  At the part of the book where I've just reached, he's come of age or soon will come of age, so the book's taken up about 12 years, and in my mind, that twelve years doesn't involve very much -- including very many contacts with Estella.  But I forget, as I'm reading it, that Pip glosses over the everyday details, focusing on the big events, so there are huge chunks of time where he was working as a blacksmith after Miss Havisham's, and huge chunks of time where he was visiting Miss Havisham and interacting with Estella.

So as I think about it, it's not so weird that Pip's head-over-heels in love with Estella, because he would have seen her a lot.  But as I read the book, it seemed strange because Pip only tells about 1 or 2 interactions with Estella when he's young, so as I'm reading the book, I'm continuously thinking "Man, he sees her like 2 times when he's young and he's hooked for life? Just how hot is this girl?"  Which threw me off a bit, until I sat down and mulled it over.

Also, at the end of my reading today, Pip's sister died, and he said it was the first time he'd had a grave open up in his life, or words to that effect, which made me immediately think No, your parents and siblings all died except for Mrs. Joe, but Pip was too young to remember them dying, of course.

And that made me think: remember that when you think that Mrs. Joe was mean:  she had her entire family die except for her and her  baby brother, who she then had to raise.  I mean, yeah, she could've been nicer, but there probably wasn't much in the way of grief counseling in those days -- beyond merely dressing the entire family up in swaddles of black, as Trabb was doing when I left off. 

2 comments:

Andrew Leon said...

You're making me want to read this again, and I just don't have time for that, right now.

And speaking of time issues, most people don't realize that months and months of time are supposed to have elapsed over the course of The Empire Strikes Back. People will talk about how it only took Yoda a few days to train Luke, but, really, he's supposed to have been there quite a while.

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