- ‘My first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones‘ is a quotation from Great Expectations (Chapter 1).
- Great Expectations is Charles Dickens‘s thirteenth novel first published in All the Year Round, from December 1860 to August 1861. Set at the turn of the nineteenth century, the story depicts the personal growth and development of an orphan boy Philip Pirrip, nicknamed Pip.
Quotation said by the character Pip at the beginning of Great Expectations whilst visiting the graves of his family in the local churchyard. Pip is an orphan whose parents died whilst he was very young. Without any recollections of them, and at a time before photographs, Pip humourously forms his own impressions of them based on the shapes of letters on their tombstones. The shapes give Pip an impression that his father ‘was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair‘ and that his mother ‘was freckled and sickly‘.
The inspiration for this humourous association by Pip of interpreting the shape of letters almost certainly came from Dickens’s use of shorthand throughout his life. Around 1828/1829 (when he was around 16/17 years of age), Charles Dickens taught himself the Gurney system of shorthand (also known as brachygraphy) whilst employed as a junior clerk at a law firm. The system uses symbols to represent letters, words, or phrases. The skill would prove invaluable when he became a parliamentary reporter a few years later and was expected to write, verbatim, proceedings and debates. The Gurney system was difficult to learn, which Dickens reflected in his semi-autobiographical novel, David Copperfield, describing it as a ‘savage stenographic mystery’ (Chapter 43).
Dickens would go on to devise his own unique form of shorthand with some strange symbols. He would use it to write drafts and for jotting down notes throughout his writing career. Even today there are some of his manuscripts that have yet to be deciphered. The Dickens Code project has been set up by a group of academics for the public to try and crack those remaining.
Great Expectations Chapter 1.
Chapter 1 of Great Expectations introduces the protagonist and narrator of the story Philip Pirrip, but unable to pronounce his name I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. Pip is an orphan, who never knew his parents or any of his five brothers who died in infancy. He guesses what his parents might have looked like by the shape of the writing on the gravestones, writing my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. He lives with his sister, and her husband, Joe Gargery, a local blacksmith.
Great Expectations is written in the first person by an older Pip looking back on his childhood. Pip goes on to recall my first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, an incident when he was attacked in a churchyard as a young boy. It is a cold bleak day and Pip has visited an isolated churchyard set in an area of marshes. As he is paying respects at the graves of his parents and siblings late into the afternoon, Pip is suddenly startled by a fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg, who shouts at him to keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat! The man perches Pip on a gravestone and inverts him, disorientating the frightened boy as his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his. Pip is threatened with an unseen accomplice who will be watching him and ordered to return to a battery (fortified position) on the marshes the following morning, bringing with him some wittles (provisions) and a metal file.
- Later in the story, we learn that Pip was aged I think in my seventh year when the incident in the churchyard occurred, that it happened on a Christmas Eve in the early part of the nineteenth century, and that the man who terrorized him was an escaped convict named Abel Magwitch.
Taken from the following passage in Chapter 1 of Great Expectations:
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.
I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister,—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine,—who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle,—I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.
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), Ioan Gruffudd (1999 TV movie), and Jeremy Irvine (2012 film).
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