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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens
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What is the significance of Wemmick's museum in Great Expectations?

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In Great Expectations, as in many of his other novels, Charles Dickens delights in creating humorous and whimsical characters with odd names.  Wemmick is such a whimsical character, although at first he does not seem so as he is cryptic in the office of Mr. Jaggers as he speaks...

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In Great Expectations, as in many of his other novels, Charles Dickens delights in creating humorous and whimsical characters with odd names.  Wemmick is such a whimsical character, although at first he does not seem so as he is cryptic in the office of Mr. Jaggers as he speaks with his "post office" mouth that merely takes in information and sends it out without any of his own personality being revealed.

However, when Pip is invited by Wemmick to have supper at his home, this odd character created by Dickens serves as an example of the theme of Appearances vs. Reality.  For, unexpectedly, indeed, Pip is brought to a world that seems completely out of character with the nondescript, coldly-business-like clerk of Mr. Jaggers.  There, at his home, Wemmick exhibits warmth and love toward his "Aged Parent," as well as a creative spirit which entertains his old father.  The ritual of firing the canon, Wemmick tells Pip, helps to "sweep away the Newgate cobwebs."  So, after Pip visits the home of Wemmick, he gains a new perception of the man who becomes a valued friend.

Wemmick's little museum of mementos taken from criminals also points to the humanness of this dual character, and the differences between appearance and reality. When Wemmick conducts Pip through the prison where the criminals greet the clerk as a friend, Pip realizes that, although Wemmick seems wooden in the conduct of business in the office of Mr. Jaggers, he--unlike Jaggers--does not dismiss the criminals as mere matters of business, after all.   That he keeps things of these criminals points to Wemmick's having perceived them as individuals.

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When you mention his "museum," I assume that you are talking about his collection of mementos from various criminals.  Things like the locks of hair, razors, etc.

To me, you could argue that these are significant in two ways.

First, they seem to tell us something about Wemmick's character.  He is something of an eccentric when he is away from the office.  The museum and his "castle" show us this.

Second, I think it sort of hints at the source of Pip's new wealth.  It hints at the importance of crime to Pip -- the fact that all of his "great expectations" are coming from a criminal.

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Pip sees Wemmick as being “twin” people, at work and at home. The only real connection is that Wemmick’s “museum” has artifacts related to crime, with which he is concerned at work, even visiting Newgate prison. Otherwise, the museum and other aspects of Wemmick’s home or “castle” stand for his warm humanity and ability to distance himself from the cold law office environment: to brush the cobwebs away. As it includes objects that Wemmick and his father, the Aged Parent, have made, it also represents their positive relationship.

When Pip visits Wemmick at his home, he is amazed to see the number and kind of alterations that Wemmick has made on his tiny cottage, such as adding the features of a Gothic castle. He also has a large garden and keeps animals for food. It has taken him many years to achieve all this, and he is proud of owning the property.

"I am my own engineer, and my own carpenter, and my own plumber, and my own gardener, and my own Jack of all Trades," said Wemmick, in acknowledging my compliments. "Well; it's a good thing, you know. It brushes the Newgate cobwebs away, and pleases the Aged.

The “chamber” of the house that Pip calls the “museum” is a corner of the combined kitchen-sitting room. The items constitute “the proprietor’s… collection of curiosities,” a type of eclectic personal collection that was common among the elite, especially those who were scientifically inclined. Wemmick’s collection has a crime theme, with artifacts related to forgery or event violent crimes, including manuscripts and “a distinguished razor or two . . . ” Other items include china and glass works, and objects that Wemmick himself or his father have made.

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Wemmick keeps his home life very private from his work life.  He is cold and business like at work because that is how he is to be in such a setting.  What he introduces Pip to is his home life.  He has quite the set up of a miniature castle, a moat, a drawbridge, and even a canon.  This setting represents the personal life of Wemmick.  He is carefree, eccentric, and very proud of his home life and his "aged parent."  This is the part of his life where he can have fun and enjoy life.  He has no fun at work.  It is a job.  It is cold and straight forward.  There is no room for fun there.  So Wemmick is able to enjoy himself every night when he gets to garden, spend time with his father, and shoot the cannon to make his father happy.

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