What action does Jaggers perform obsessively?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A character who is based upon a particularly unscrupulous lawyer with whom Charles Dickens was acquainted, Mr. Jaggers is introduced to the narrative when Pip first comes to Satis House.

His eyes were set very deep in his head, and were disagreeably sharp and suspicious.  He had a large watch chain, and strong black dots where his beard and whiskers would havebeen if he had let them...." I have a pretty large experience of boys, and you're a bad set of fellows.  Now mind! said he, biting the side of his great forefinger....

With these words he released me--which I was glad of, for his hand smelt of scented soap....

In chapter XXVI when Pip comes to Mr. Jaggers's office, he finds the lawyer busy with a preoccupation of his, 

I embrace this opportunity of remarking that he washed his clients off, as if it were a surgeon or a dentist. He had a closet in his room, fitted up for the purpose, which smelt of the scented soap like a perfumer's shop. It had an unusually large jack-towel on a roller inside the door, and he would wash his hands, and wipe them and dry them all over this towel, whenever he came in from a police-court or dismissed a client from his room. When I and my friends repaired to him at six o'clock next day, he seemed to have been engaged on a case of a darker complexion than usual, for, we found him with his head butted into this closet, not only washing his hands, but laving his face and gargling his throat.  And even when he had done all that, and had gone all round the jack-towel, he took out his penknife and scraped the case out of his nails before he put his coat on.

Much like Pontius Pilate, Mr. Jaggers tries to wash away the sordid business in which he is engaged.  Pip remarks, too, that with such a strong scent of soap, Mr. Jaggers deters some of the more seedy characters when they approach him.

In addition to his obsessive action of washing his hands, Mr. Jaggers also unfolds and folds his handkerchief before anyone he wishes to deter,

 I have seen him so terrify a client or a witness by ceremoniously unfolding this pocket-handkerchief as if he were immediately going to blow his nose, and then pausing, as if he knew he should not have time to do it, before such client or witness committed himself, that the self-committal has followed directly, quite as a matter of course. When I saw him in the room he had this expressive pocket-handkerchief in both hands, and was looking at us. On meeting my eye, he said plainly, by a momentary and silent pause in that attitude, “Indeed? Singular!” and then put the handkerchief to its right use with wonderful effect.

When Pip meets him again at Satis House in Chapter XXIX, the manipulation of the handerchief intimidates even Pip, who himself wrestles with feelings of guilt.


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Great Expectations

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