Representation of the city in Great ExpectationsHi guys I am new here. I love and hate Dickens on equal measure but this assignment I have has me ripping my hair out in fury and Dickens isn't an...

Representation of the city in Great Expectations

Hi guys I am new here. I love and hate Dickens on equal measure but this assignment I have has me ripping my hair out in fury and Dickens isn't an idol at this moment in time.

We have to discuss representations of the city in England. How writers have responded to it and how they have chosen to represent it.

We also have Jekyll and Hyde and Brick Lane to play with. My question is how does a city become represented? I am not sure what the question is asking. Any help or pointing in some sort of direction would be greatly appreciated.

Asked on by prufrock

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Charles Dickens grew up in the countryside, and then moved to the city to pursue his own Great Expectations.  In many ways, this novel mirrors his life because he was unhappy in the city and moved back to the country.  The famous story goes that he pointed out a huge house on a hill to his father and said he would buy it some day.  Whether true or Dickens hyperbole, Dickens did buy the Gad's Hill Place mansion near his childhood home in Rochester.  He returned there in hopes of becoming happy.  In many ways, Dickens was happiest in the country.  Yet he always returned to the bustle of the city.

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ajmchugh | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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As accessteacher notes, Pip's "expectations" of London actually set him up for a huge let-down.  When he arrives there, he is afraid of the "immensity" of the city, and notes,

I think I might have had some faint doubts whether it was not rather ugly, crooked, narrow, and dirty.

Further, Jaggers's office is described as an exceedingly dismal place, and Pip feels uncomfortable there.  In Chapter 21, Pip asks Wemmick if London is a "very wicked place," and Wemmick tells Pip that

You may get cheated, robbed, and murdered in London.  But there are plenty of people anywhere who'll do that for you.

As is the case with other scenarios in the novel, Pip constructs a mental image of London before he gets there; the reality of the place, though, is much different from what he expected.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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mwestwood is right in identifying Bleak House as being key in terms of how the city is represented in the literature of Dickens. You will also want to think of novels such as Great Expectations and how the city is related to decadence, corruption, crime and above all the negative consequences of money. For example, key to this novel is Pip's "expectations" of London - he imagines it will be an amazingly grand city full of wealth. Instead, he is introduced to Little Britain - the realm of Jaggers and Wemmick who make their money off the back of criminals and their "portable property" - and then to Barnard's Inn, which is described as a dilapidated, dismal and dreary place. The city, then, can often be a backdrop to highlight important themes within the novel and can be used to explore how they link together.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In regular libraries, there are reference books such as Contemporary Literary Criticisms which have professional essays on renowned authors.  Also, if you will do some research on Charles Dickens himself, you may come across discussions of Dickens's attitudes on London etc.

Dickens's "Bleak House" is his greatest social criticism.  You may wish to read about this novel, as well. 

Hope this helps a little.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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For one thing, Dickens made many social commentaries through his themes.  His view of society as a person portrays people in his day  trapped in their socio-economic situations.  So, using the city as a microcosm of society--since it usually have all levels in it--you could discuss this motif of Dickens as represented in London.

Some examples of this motif are in "The Christmas Carol" as the various Ghosts take Scrooge to different parts of the city.  Remember the horrible rag pickers in the filthy shop and lowest section of the city?  The miserly Scrooge and the avaricious associates of his who have no concern for the poor?  Consider also the contrast of the city to country villages.  Pip in Great Expectations views the city as a place of superiority in its sophisticated areas.  He longs to be a gentleman and not merely "common."  Yet, the city office of Mr. Jaggers the lawyer is near the disease-ridden Newgate Prison.

Dickens is skilled in portraying the life of the common man in London, the plight of those who fall afoul of the law and the hypocrisy of the rich.  Since his parents had been in debtors' prison, Dickens had a passionate hatred of such institutions as courts and jail.  Look to A Tale of Two Cities" for some germane descriptions as well.

Regarding Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the dichotomy of the different sides of London town are certainly relevant.  For instance, you may wish to consider if the sordid side of the city allows for the crimes of Hyde, or whether the corruption of the wealthy side conducive to Jekyll's carrying his experiments too far.

A city can provide a wonderful tableau for an author, can it not?

Hope these ideas spark some for you!

prufrock's profile pic

prufrock | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Thanks for that, mwestwood. It's definitely a good starting place.

Just one more question, would anybody happen to know a good website or e-library or even a link for critiques of Dicken's work, especially with regards to the city?

That would be a huge help as I could encorporate that with my own thoughts.

Thanks in advance for anyone that can help, and thanks again mwestwood.

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