Background.

Great Expectations

Context.

This quotation is said by Pip in a conversation with Biddy. Pip is full of self-pity for his life, questioning his social class and prospects.

In Chapter 17 of Great Expectations, Pip has invited childhood friend Biddy for a summer Sunday afternoon walk along the local marshes. Pip is serving an apprenticeship at a Kent village forge with his brother-in-law blacksmith Joe Gargery. Biddy has moved into the forge, where Pip also lives, to help nurse his older sister Mrs. Joe after she was brutally attacked. Pip becomes ‘conscious of a change‘ in his childhood friend as Biddy matures into adulthood.

Pip has been making occasional visits to Satis House, the home of eccentric Miss Havisham. Pip has fallen for Miss Havisham’s beautiful ward Estella, although she has mocked him for his commonness.

Earlier in the chapter, Pip describes that he ‘continued at heart to hate my trade and to be ashamed of home‘. He confides to Biddy that he is unhappy with his life, telling her he wants ‘to be a gentleman‘. Biddy asks if this is to spite Estella, or so he can win her over and suggests that Estella may not be worth pursuing. Pip becomes teary at this advice, and at the realisation of something he himself ‘had thought, many times‘.

Magwitch suprises Pip in the churchyard.
Pip and Biddy, who are met by Orlick as they complete the Sunday afternoon walk along the marshes (Chapter 17).

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 17 of Great Expectations:

My sister was never left alone now; but Joe more than readily undertook the care of her on that Sunday afternoon, and Biddy and I went out together. It was summer-time, and lovely weather. When we had passed the village and the church and the churchyard, and were out on the marshes and began to see the sails of the ships as they sailed on, I began to combine Miss Havisham and Estella with the prospect, in my usual way. When we came to the river-side and sat down on the bank, with the water rippling at our feet, making it all more quiet than it would have been without that sound, I resolved that it was a good time and place for the admission of Biddy into my inner confidence.

“Biddy,” said I, after binding her to secrecy, “I want to be a gentleman.”

“O, I wouldn’t, if I was you!” she returned. “I don’t think it would answer.”

“Biddy,” said I, with some severity, “I have particular reasons for wanting to be a gentleman.”

“You know best, Pip; but don’t you think you are happier as you are?”

“Biddy,” I exclaimed, impatiently, “I am not at all happy as I am. I am disgusted with my calling and with my life. I have never taken to either, since I was bound. Don’t be absurd.”

“Was I absurd?” said Biddy, quietly raising her eyebrows; “I am sorry for that; I didn’t mean to be. I only want you to do well, and to be comfortable.”

“Well, then, understand once for all that I never shall or can be comfortable—or anything but miserable—there, Biddy!—unless I can lead a very different sort of life from the life I lead now.”

“That’s a pity!” said Biddy, shaking her head with a sorrowful air.

Now, I too had so often thought it a pity, that, in the singular kind of quarrel with myself which I was always carrying on, I was half inclined to shed tears of vexation and distress when Biddy gave utterance to her sentiment and my own. I told her she was right, and I knew it was much to be regretted, but still it was not to be helped.

“If I could have settled down,” I said to Biddy, plucking up the short grass within reach, much as I had once upon a time pulled my feelings out of my hair and kicked them into the brewery wall,—”if I could have settled down and been but half as fond of the forge as I was when I was little, I know it would have been much better for me. You and I and Joe would have wanted nothing then, and Joe and I would perhaps have gone partners when I was out of my time, and I might even have grown up to keep company with you, and we might have sat on this very bank on a fine Sunday, quite different people. I should have been good enough for you; shouldn’t I, Biddy?”

Biddy sighed as she looked at the ships sailing on, and returned for answer, “Yes; I am not over-particular.” It scarcely sounded flattering, but I knew she meant well.

“Instead of that,” said I, plucking up more grass and chewing a blade or two, “see how I am going on. Dissatisfied, and uncomfortable, and—what would it signify to me, being coarse and common, if nobody had told me so!

Biddy turned her face suddenly towards mine, and looked far more attentively at me than she had looked at the sailing ships.

“It was neither a very true nor a very polite thing to say,” she remarked, directing her eyes to the ships again. “Who said it?”

I was disconcerted, for I had broken away without quite seeing where I was going to. It was not to be shuffled off now, however, and I answered, “The beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham’s, and she’s more beautiful than anybody ever was, and I admire her dreadfully, and I want to be a gentleman on her account.” Having made this lunatic confession, I began to throw my torn-up grass into the river, as if I had some thoughts of following it.

“Do you want to be a gentleman, to spite her or to gain her over?” Biddy quietly asked me, after a pause.

“I don’t know,” I moodily answered.

“Because, if it is to spite her,” Biddy pursued, “I should think—but you know best—that might be better and more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should think—but you know best—she was not worth gaining over.”

Characters.

Philip Pirrip (Pip).

Philip Pirrip, called Pip, is the protagonist and narrator in Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations. He is amongst the most popular characters in English literature. Pip narrates his story many years after the events of the novel take place, starting as a young orphan boy being raised by his sister and brother-in-law in the marshes of north Kent. The novel follows Pip’s progress from childhood innocence to adulthood, where we see a financial and social rise. But these fortunes are offset by an emotional and moral deterioration, which forces Pip to recognise his negative expectations in a new self-awareness.

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

Opening lines of Great Expectations.
  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Pip has been played by such actors as Jack Pickford (1917 film), John Mills (1946 film), Michael York (1974 TV movie), and Ioan Gruffudd (1999 TV movie).

Biddy.

A kind and intelligent but poor young woman, Biddy is, like Pip and Estella, an orphan. Wopsle’s second cousin and roughly Pip’s age. Biddy teaches in the evening school at her grandmother’s home in Pip’s village. Pip wants to learn more, so he asks her to teach him all she can. After helping Mrs Joe after the attack, Biddy opens her own school. Orlick was attracted to her, but she did not want his attentions. Pip ignores her affections for him as he pursues Estella. Recovering from his own illness after the failed attempt to get Magwitch out of England, Pip returns to claim Biddy as his bride, arriving in the village just after she marries Joe Gargery. Biddy and Joe later have two children, one named after Pip.

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I am not at all happy as I am. I am disgusted with my calling and with my life.

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