What is unusual about Wemmick’s wedding in Chapter 55 of "Great Expectations"?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wemmick's wedding is unusual because it is so nonchalant and seemingly unplanned.  Wemmick asks Pip to go for a walk with him on Monday, and Pip agrees.  On Monday morning, the two begin their walk, with Wemmick carrying a fishing pole over his shoulder, even though they are not going fishing.  On their walk they happen upon a church, and Wemmick suggests they go in.  He pulls out some gloves which they both don at his direction, and, coincidentally, it seems, the Aged then enters a side door escorting a lady.  Wemmick, feigning surprise, exclaims delightedly, "Halloa!...Here's Miss Skiffins!  Let's have a wedding!"  A clerk and clergyman appear, and Pip, taken completely unawares, finds himself acting "in the capacity of backer or best man" at Wemmick's seemingly spontaneous nuptials!

As they exit the church, Wemmick again shoulders his fishing rod, "triumphantly" exclaiming, "let me ask you whether anybody would suppose this to be a wedding-party!"  After "an excellent breakfast" to celebrate the new union, Wemmick quietly requests that Pip not let Jagger know about his marriage, saying, "this is altogether a Walworth sentiment, please", which Pip understands is "not to be mentioned in Little Britain".

The incident as presented works as brilliant comic relief after the intense events of Magwitch's recapture (Chapter 55).

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lit24 | Student

Dickens in a letter to his friend and biographer Forster informs  him that he  conceived "Great Expectations" as a tragi-comedy.

 Wemmick's wedding is a good example of juxtaposing a comic and a tragic incident. Magwitch has been arrested and is certain to be sentenced to death. Pip refers to this incident as "this dark time of my life," just when Herbert comes to inform him of his imminent departure to Cairo which itself is a blend of sadness and joy: "I took my leave of Herbert-full of bright hope, but sad and sorry to leave me."  Pip is completely dejected at this double blow and feels very lonely: "I had no home anywhere." It is then that he meets Wemmick who joyfully invites him to his wedding with Miss Skiffins on the follwing Monday. Pip officiates as the best man to Wemmick at the wedding which is meant to be a happy occasion but  is referred to in tragi-comic terms: "we were ranged in order at those fatal rails."  Pip finally bids adieu to the wedding party remarking that "he made himself as agreeable as I could."

It is the combination of the tragic and the comic elements that transform Wemmick's wedding into an unusual experience for Pip.

Read the study guide:
Great Expectations

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