Sunday, August 19, 2012

Great expectations

Dickens is often, rightly, accused of saying too much. No one can miss the over-determined denunciations of London, the sappy announcements of faith in barely-developed children. But every once in a while he speaks with an almost modernist reticence. He sometimes won't give us the baby with the bath water-- though mostly hell give us both with gusto.

Case in point: Great Expectations. Pip can't say enough about his distant, proud, disdainful Estella.

But here he says it all with one tiny verb, 'touched'.

'We played until nine o'clock, and then it was arranged that when Estella came to London I should be forewarned of her coming and should meet her at the coach; and then I took leave of her, and touched her and left her.'

'and touched her'! What was that touch? Dickens, or Pip, or whoever controls the story, won't tell. It is a barely physical touch, of course, and semiotically barely sentient. But it tells a whole history about this strained and tragic relationship.

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