Background.

Great Expectations
  • A large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as if he had just been all but choked‘ is a quotation from Great Expectations (Chapter 4).

Context.

This quotation is a description of Uncle Pumblechook, seed merchant and shop-owner, and the uncle of Joe Gargery, as observed by Pip, as narrator, of the novel Great Expectations.

Pumblechook has come to the Gargery household for Christmas dinner, joined by the church clerk, Mr. Wopsle, the wheelwright Mr. Hubble and his wife. The young Pip, as narrator, describes several humourous animal-like characteristics of characters early on in the novel, such as this one of Pumblechook, viewed from his childhood perspective.

Pip Does Not Enjoy His Christmas Dinner by Harry Furniss.
Illustration of Pip being berated by guests at the Christmas dinner (drawn by the illustrator Harry Furniss from the early part of the 20th century).

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 4 of Great Expectations:

I opened the door to the company,—making believe that it was a habit of ours to open that door,—and I opened it first to Mr. Wopsle, next to Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, and last of all to Uncle Pumblechook. N.B. I was not allowed to call him uncle, under the severest penalties.

“Mrs. Joe,” said Uncle Pumblechook, a large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as if he had just been all but choked, and had that moment come to, “I have brought you as the compliments of the season—I have brought you, Mum, a bottle of sherry wine—and I have brought you, Mum, a bottle of port wine.”

Every Christmas Day he presented himself, as a profound novelty, with exactly the same words, and carrying the two bottles like dumb-bells. Every Christmas Day, Mrs. Joe replied, as she now replied, “O, Un—cle Pum-ble—chook! This is kind!” Every Christmas Day, he retorted, as he now retorted, “It’s no more than your merits. And now are you all bobbish, and how’s Sixpennorth of halfpence?” meaning me.

We dined on these occasions in the kitchen, and adjourned, for the nuts and oranges and apples to the parlor; which was a change very like Joe’s change from his working-clothes to his Sunday dress. My sister was uncommonly lively on the present occasion, and indeed was generally more gracious in the society of Mrs. Hubble than in other company. I remember Mrs. Hubble as a little curly sharp-edged person in sky-blue, who held a conventionally juvenile position, because she had married Mr. Hubble,—I don’t know at what remote period,—when she was much younger than he. I remember Mr Hubble as a tough, high-shouldered, stooping old man, of a sawdusty fragrance, with his legs extraordinarily wide apart: so that in my short days I always saw some miles of open country between them when I met him coming up the lane.

Characters.

Uncle Pumblechook.

Uncle Pumblechook is a seed merchant and shop-owner. He is Joe Gargery’s uncle, although his personality is more akind to Joe’s wife, Mrs Gargery, whom he calls ‘wife’. His rather pompous name is reflective of his sanctimonious, overbearing and self-serving nature. Pumblechook is introduced to Pip at a christmas dinner (Chapter 4), where Pip describes him as ‘a large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish‘. Pumblechook later introduces Pip to Miss Havisham, and as such believes he is the original architect of Pip’s fortune and keen to take credit for it wherever possible.

  • A multi-player card game called Pumblechook was created by an entrepreneurial Victorian games maker following the publication of Great Expectations.
  • In a 2012 screen adaptation of Great Expectations, directed by Mike Newell, the character of Uncle Pumblechook was played by the comedian, actor, and writer, David Walliams.

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A large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as if he had just been all but choked, and had that moment come to.
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