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, and had that moment come to‘ 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.

Uncle Pumblechook arrives for Christmas dinner at the Gargery household, greeted by Pip and Mrs. Joe. Illustration by John McLenan for the original American publication of Great Expectations.
Uncle Pumblechook arrives for Christmas dinner at the Gargery household, greeted by Pip and Mrs. Joe, a scene from Chapter 4 of Great Expectations. Illustration produced by John McLenan for the original American publication of the novel.

Chapter Summary.

Great Expectations Chapter 4.

Chapter 3 of Great Expectations concluded with Pip slipping off from meeting the escaped prisoner on the marshes and delivering food and a file to him. Chapter 4 begins with Pip back at home, wracked with guilt, and expecting to find a constable waiting for him but no one appears to have noticed the ‘robbery‘. Mrs. Joe asks Pip where he has been and he tells her he went to hear Carols. Preparations are being made for the Christmas Day dinner, consisting of ‘pickled pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls‘, along with a ‘handsome mince-pie‘. Pip and Joe visit Church, where Pip feels even more guilt, returning to find the dinner table prepared. The Gargery’s are joined at the forge for Christmas dinner with Mr. Wopsle (the church clerk), Mr. Hubble (the wheelwright) and his wife, Mrs. Hubble, and Mr. Pumblechook (Joe’s uncle and local seed merchant). Pip humourously describes some of the eccentric appearances and mannerisms of the guests. Sat down to dinner at a cramped kitchen table, the guests turn on Pip with their moralistic conversation so much that he compares himself to ‘an unfortunate little bull in a Spanish arena‘. At the end of the main course, Mrs. Joe suggests Pumblechook has a brandy. Pip, with worry, watches as he drinks it before jumping up out of his seat, and the house, in a coughing fit before shouting out ‘Tar!‘. Pip tells the reader that he topped up the brandy he took (to the escaped convict) with tar water. Pumblechook dismisses Mrs. Joe’s worrying about how it got there, much to Pip’s relief. Mrs. Joe suggests that her guests taste a savoury pork-pie, given by Pumblechook. Pip (who took the pie) can’t bear his worry anymore and bolts for the door in fear of being discovered. As he does so, he runs right into a party of musket-carrying soldiers standing at the Gargery doorstep. Chapter 4 ends with one of the soldiers holding out a pair of handcuffs to a guilt-ridden Pip.

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 akin to Joe’s wife, Mrs. Joe, 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 recalls him as ‘a large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish‘. Pumblechook introduces Pip to Miss Havisham, and as such believes he is the original architect of Pip’s later 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.