9 of Water - John Wemmick
with the Aged P. & Miss Skiffins
The Aged Parent; John Wemmick;
John Wemmick is a bill collector for the inscrutable lawyer Mr. Jaggers. The job sees him dealing with people in dire straights, many of whom are awaiting trial at Newgate Prison or already condemned to die. The job requires a hard-hearted disdain for all sympathy and sentimentality, which Wemmick evinces with skill, an expressionless face, and seeming ease. Poorly paid himself, one of his main concerns is with ”Portable Property” - whatever small articles of any value whatsoever a client may be holding on their person.
Through their mutual relations with Mr. Jaggers, Wemmick comes to be on friendly terms with Pip. In his professional capacity, Wemmick advises Pip that he should acquire what Portable Property of his benefactor Magwitch he can, the convict's prospects at court being grim, since it is after-all what he wants for Pip. Instead, Pip takes what he considers to be the high road and sends back Magwitch's pocketbook, thereby forfeiting to the crown all the money Magwitch intended him to have. Pip is pleased with his actions, but Wemmick – declining to speculate on how much they owe to the young man's hubris – can only find Pip's actions needless and wasteful.
When Wemmick is not working, he spends all his time at a small house he owns in Walworth. There, his hard face softens as he delights in puttering around the house, fixing up the place, beautifying the yard. He has taken the idea that a man's home is his castle literally, installing sham gothic windows, a flagpole, a small canon, a short wooden drawbridge over a ditch out front, and castellated facades to the outside of the house. Wemmick's domestic personality is the complete opposite of his work persona – he is charming, generous, and totally at ease. Living alongside him in this domestic bliss is his father, whom Wemmick affectionately calls The Aged Parent, The Aged P., and sometimes just The Aged. The greatest joy in Wemmick's life, however, is Miss Skiffins. She is a shy, somewhat eccentric lady, in the habit of wearing loudly coloured dresses. When Pip meets her, he is amazed to observe Wemmick's demonstrative warmth and devotion to the woman, not to mention the sexual brio between two unexpected lovers – all of which Pip approves of wholeheartedly.
While it may be a stretch to consider John Wemmick's working life “the best”, he certainly has the most of both worlds. He is the personification of the Victorian ideal of Separate Spheres: the complete dedication and immersion in one's public and private life while maintaining at the same time their strict segregation, thereby creating, in aggregate, the Whole Man. And while Dickens is clearly satirizing societal demands for such a split in a human's psyche, John Wemmick is, as many critics have pointed out, one of the author's most modern characters.
Shorthand : Well-being – safe and sound – self-satisfied – self-contained – emotional quid pro quo – I'm alright, Jack – portable probity – comme il faut – possible sentimentality – indulgences – dissociation – protectionism on a personal scale - overlooking the faults in others – leads to an abuse of hospitality.