What aspects of upperclass society might Dickens be satirizing in his portrayal of Camilla?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Miss Havisham calls for Pip to assist her in her walk around the macabre table with rats and a decaying wedding cake in Chapter XI of Great Expectations, Pip notices what he calls "toadies and humbugs" who sit nearby.  Pip describes Camilla,

They all had a listless and dreary air of waiting somebody's pleasure, and the most talkative of the ladies had to speak quite rigidly to repress a yawn. This lady, whose name was Camilla, very much reminded me of my sister, with the difference that she was older, and (as I found when I caught sight of her) of a blunter cast of features. Indeed, when I knew her better I began to think it was a mercy she had any features at all, so very blank and high was the dead wall of her face.

This description is part of Dickens's satire of what he considered a trivial upperclass that concerned itself only with superficialities and appearances.  Camilla Pocket is so vacuous and frivolous that she must suppress a yawn as she bores herself.  Dickens's facetiously has Pip observe that she reminds him of his sister--a remark that is, indeed, insulting to Camilla who prides herself upon being refined and aristocratic.  That her face is "a dead wall" connotes the overbreeding of these aristocrats; all the refinements have been lost.

Camilla voices her opinions about Matthew Pocket who did not keep up appearances when Tom's wife died and the children did not wear the "proper" attire.  Her derogating Matthew Pocket is a ploy to ingratiate herself better with Miss Havisham, who is believed to be out of favor with Matthew Pocket.  Then, in her "toady" way, she tells Miss Havisham that she has "habitually thought of you more in the night that I am quite equal to."  This servile remark which is ironically insulting, evinces a strong retort from Miss Havisham, "Then don't think of me." Servilely, Camilla cries that it is a weakness to be so affectionate, but she cannot help it. 

When there is no reaction from Miss Havisham, Camilla then recommences her rue about Matthew Pocket:

"There's Matthew!....Never mixing with any natural ties, never coming here to see how Miss Havisham is!"

This remark of Camilla's also backfires, for it causes Miss Havisham to abruptly stop and correct her.  She informs Camilla that Matthew will come to see her, and his place will be at the head of the table. Then, Miss Havisham orders them,

"Now you all know where to take your stations when you come to feast upon me.  And now go!"

Further, Dickens's satire is even more evident as Cousin Raymond, who is Camilla's husband, underscores the frivolousness of Camilla's speech.  For, when she complains about her leg pains that come from her anxiety of those she loves, Raymond says in a most consolatory and complimentary voice,

“Camilla, my dear, it is well known that your family feelings are gradually undermining you to the extent of making one of your legs shorter than the other.”


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Great Expectations

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