Background.

Great Expectations
  • What would it signify to me, being coarse and common, if nobody had told me so!‘ is a quotation from Great Expectations (Chapter 17).

Context.

This quotation is said by Pip in a conversation with Biddy.

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:

“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?”

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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What would it signify to me, being coarse and common, if nobody had told me so!

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