- ‘It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade‘ is a quotation from Great Expectations (Chapter 54).
This quotation sets the scene at the beginning of a cold March day in which Pip, Herbert, and Startop pick up Provis (the codename for Abel Magwitch) in order to aid his escape from England. They have planned for him to flee by boat, setting out from London’s Temple area and sailing through a crowded River Thames to pick up Magwitch at Mill Pond stairs, just east of the Tower of London, and thereon to the Kent estuary, where boats for the European continent depart.
Pip, as narrator, goes to lengths to describe the weather on this nervous day, including six references to the sun in the chapter. He goes on to describe that the sunshine was very cheering. Magwitch seems untroubled by the cold, even dipping his hand in the water as the boat moves along.
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. We had our pea-coats with us, and I took a bag. Of all my worldly possessions I took no more than the few necessaries that filled the bag. Where I might go, what I might do, or when I might return, were questions utterly unknown to me; nor did I vex my mind with them, for it was wholly set on Provis’s safety. I only wondered for the passing moment, as I stopped at the door and looked back, under what altered circumstances I should next see those rooms, if ever.
We loitered down to the Temple stairs, and stood loitering there, as if we were not quite decided to go upon the water at all. Of course, I had taken care that the boat should be ready and everything in order. After a little show of indecision, which there were none to see but the two or three amphibious creatures belonging to our Temple stairs, we went on board and cast off; Herbert in the bow, I steering. It was then about high-water,—half-past eight.
Like Pip, the convict Abel Magwitch is a character who follows a rags to riches story within Great Expectations. Originally incarcerated for his part in a plot to defraud Miss Havisham we first meet Magwitch after he escapes from a prison hulk and terrifies the young Pip whilst visiting the graves of his family in Kent churchyard. Magwitch is pursuing Compeyson, his accomplice in the fraud and who is treated more leniently. Pip aids Magwitch with food and tools, a gesture Magwitch will later handsomely repay. Magwitch is deported to Australia where he makes a fortune as a sheep farmer before returning, secretly, to England under the name Provis. In later life, Magwitch is revealed as a kinder man who has been helping Pip achieve his great expectations.
- In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Abel Magwitch has been played by such actors as James Mason (1974 TV movie), Anthony Hopkins (1989 TV mini-series), Bernard Hill (1999 TV movie) and Ralph Fiennes (2012 film).
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