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The Hermit IX Philip Pirrip


Philip Pirrip aka 'Pip'


Great Expectations

         9 is the last number in the decimal cycle. As such, it turns to look back over what has come before, encompassing what it knew and becoming itself something new. The Hermit of the Major Arcanum attempts to commune with the universe, unify the one with the all. By illuminating himself, he sheds light on the elusive soul; finding the outside within, he brings the inside out – not entirely unlike the solitary act of writing itself. Great Expectations is presented as an autobiography, but unlike the romantic rewriting and of the author's youth which David Copperfield had been, this late work is neither apologetic nor solipsistic for its own sake. Rather, it incorporates these in a unique synthesis of realism and metaphysics.


 The plot of Great Expectations begins with a plot. The narrator is looking at the churchyard gravestones of his family, dead and gone. From the words, written in stone, he can make out his name – Pirrip. A rip is something rough, torn apart, a worthless person, a ripple on the water. Pirrip is made even smaller, reduced to Pip – a small seed, a disease, something of high quality, a speck on a playing card. Both names are palindromes – the same forwards as back – mirroring how, with Pip, the inside is out and the outside in, and his future is engraved in the past.


 As the book begins, a heavy mist enshrouds everything. Just as his world is coming into focus, a figure of evil appears and, grabbing him, hangs him by his feet upside down. This not only turns Pip's newly forming world on its head, but alludes to the fact human babies see the world upside down when they are born and learn to mentally set it “right” over time. Later, as the frightened Pip runs through the marshes, he explains how “The mist was heavier yet when I got out on the marshes so that instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me.” The mist introduced at the beginning lifts just as Pip rescues Magwitch, and he sees sunlight hitting the surface of the water, reflecting “a million sparkles”. But the meaning of this clearing and multiplicity, Pip fails to see.


 His solipsism, however - in which Pip doesn't do things so much as things are done to him - continues. Over an unappetizing dinner, Pumblechook likens Pip to swine, “as if mentioning my Christian name”. Swine were companions to the Prodigal Son, barely fit to trick demons into and drive off a cliff. With Pumblechook pointing his fork repeatedly at Pip, the suggestion is everyone at the table is cutting up and ingesting him – including Pip himself – since it is pork they are all eating. Later, in a public house, Pip is visited by a mysterious convict acting as envoy for Magwitch. This secret messenger uses a file to stir his rum and water at Pip, and drinks his drink at Pip. Pip is the kernel from which everything he encounters in his world grows. Everything is done to Pip, is an imperative, and everything is a secret message directed at him. Just as Pip perceived Magwitch as malevolent, he perceives his envoy as malevolent too. Elsewhere, in Miss Havisham and Estella for instance, he perceives them as beneficent. In these cases - and arguably in all others - Pip perceives his secret messages wrongly; he turns them inside out and upside down.


 Pip, then, as writer, is also like the reader: everything which happens in the novel is done for, to, & at him - and you. Just as everything in the book is done by Dickens for, to, & at us. In so doing, Dickens reveals his inside, as by secret messenger, to the outside, by way of the book, and we, in turn, turn the outside book in. This is the core of Great Expectations and The Hermit card's hermeneutics.


 As Shakespeare used the play The Mousetrap within his play Hamlet to hold as 'twere, the mirror up to nature, so Dickens uses the theatre to perform a similar act of reflection. Mimicking Pip's adoption of the persona of a gentleman, the erstwhile church clerk Mr. Wopsle has reincarnated himself as the renown actor “Roscius”. When Pip attends a performance of Hamlet with his old friend in the star turn as the Prince of Denmark, the exact location of the stage is unclear. There seems to be Danes in the audience and some of the audience seem to live in Elsinore. During the To Be Or Not To Be speech, a debate breaks out among the audience as to which is nobler. Laertes and Hamlet wrestle on the brink of the orchestra and the grave. And throughout the entire play, Pip perceives Wopsle staring at him, as if in a stunned daze. It turns out, however, that Wopsle isn't looking at Pip, but behind and beyond him to what Pip cannot see – the ghostly apparition of the “other” convict, Meriwether Compeyson. In this theatre, where people come to see the players, this poor player sees the audience – the ghost of Fortinbras Senior to the ghost of Hamlet Senior, Pip's father-figure Magwitch. Later, when Magwitch has killed Compeyson and stands before a judge and jury in a court of law, sunlight shines into the room like limelight and Dickens describes the gallery as “a theatrical audience”.


 But back here, with Wopsle as Hamlet, Pip is yet a mouse with only the conscience of a king. He has just begun to recognize the trap of subjectivity, the illusion of “otherness”, the theatre trick the ego plays on itself. Only at the end of Great Expectations will Pip come to see and know his singularity is not unique. Here, with something rotten in the state of Denmark, the secret message conveyed through the theatre of his privileged perspective is: all perception is illusion. The actors and the audience are one. The self is a shadow made up of an unknowable ensemble cast. And none of it is cast in stone, rather it is an endless series of stages.


 And to this mirror, Dickens holds up another: earlier, the would-be actor Wopsle reads out and reenacts a real-life murder scene from a local newspaper. Pip – whose guilt causes him to take everything personally – doesn't take Wopsle's violent impersonations as a personal accusation against his probity for which he has to answer, but as the simple theatrical exaggeration it is. The very act of acting out Pip's guilt, as in a ritual, dispels the subjective imperative in him. It exculpates and atones for Pip's guilty conscience in direct contradistinction to The Mousetrap's proposed raison d'etre.


 Though this be method, yet there is madness to it. Is Great Expectations simply analogous to Dickens' bi-polar personality, his manic either/or? The answer, of course, depends on one's perspective. Yet it is strikingly akin to the art of acting, where key information about a character is tacitly telegraphed to the audience through intonation, slight hesitation, and discreet action. These go “unseen” by the protagonist's fellow actors on stage – indeed, they are complicit in these actions - but these secret messages are assuredly directed for, at, & to us, the audience.


 Of Dickens 3 novels told in the 1st-person narrative, the mode of David Copperfield is reminiscent, Bleak House is divisive and schematic, and Great Expectations is heuristic. Pip's movement through it is lapidary, each step leading further toward his great expectations and further away from himself. By his own lights, he is embracing the whole wide world, whereas in actuality he is isolating himself, making himself more and more alone. As he leaves his home, young Pip rues not saying a proper goodbye to his loving surrogate father, Joe Gargery. He considers getting off the stage-coach when the horses are changed and returning to make a proper good-bye. When the time comes, Pip is undecided and so doesn't budge. But feeling worse now, he considers getting off at the next exchange, and the next, and the next, until it is far too late and impossible to do the proper thing. This is Pip in a nutshell. The selfishness of his dream, with its individualistic indifference to others, is in the end criminal. The guilt with which he goaded himself to his expectations was a self-fulfilling prophecy. His guilt-trip is one of self-alienation from the real world; a wild goose chase; a diversion from himself which leads circuitously back to himself – a self which in its brain fever dreams a new vision of itself as “a brick in the house wall... entreating to be released from the giddy place where the builder had set me.”


 Great Expectations is the most thorough and radical treatment of social class not only in Dickens, but in all Victoriana. Money and gentility, cash and culture, elitism and ostricization, civilization and criminality – they're all interdependent. Pip's mentor is a half-crazed, mean-spirited woman who shuts herself off from reality and growth. In his attempt to overcome the meaninglessness of his own contiguity – a meaninglessness he perceives to mean malevolence – he gives meaninglessness this very meaning. By evaluating it meanly, he makes meaning meaningless. And by misreading his own plot, Pip misses the meaning of Great Expectations - its secret machinations and true intentionality - that God speaks to us in the language of events. By having Pip guiltily and greedily swallow whole the lie of the outside world, Dickens reveals to us – and this is where the novel exceeds all expectation - the soul-destroying mechanism of the world from the inside out.


 In the end, Great Expectations demands a view of Pip and the events he describes in a manner somewhat other than the strict parameters systematically built up for us by his 1st-person narrative. As a subjective being, he is a fantasist, and exaggerator, and a negligent observer; not all is how he would have it seem. As Freud asserts in Beyond the Pleasure Principle: “If recollections are repressed, the source material becomes manifest in the present, as a reworking and repetition.” Pip's over-riding guilt, a guilt which seems to exist without cause, could simply be a condition, like nervousness, or diabetes. But whatever it is, it must in some ways be Dickens' guilt. If in Estella we see Ellen Ternan, a certain repeated cycle and source of repressed guilt can be seen.


 But diagnosis cannot end there. Great Expectations is Dickens at his most psychologically taut and perceptive, his narrative irreducibly focused, an eye for an I. Just as every consciousness has a sub-conscious, and ripples on the water obscure the depths below, so every action - insofar as it is conscious – also acts and is acted upon unconsciously. All throughout Great Expectations, as Abel Magwitch has his Cain in Meriwether Compeyson, so Pip has his shadow in Dolge Orlick. When Pip's nasty, near-abusive sister becomes almost too much to bear, Orlick beats her within an inch of her life and leaves her paralyzed. Orlick works away at Joe Gargery's forge which Pip becomes too good for. As Miss Havisham becomes Pip's mentor, Orlick becomes her gatekeeper. When Pip expresses tender, altruistic feelings for the kind-hearted Biddy, Orlick makes on her unsolicited, lecherous advances. And there are other suspicious incidents - when Pumblechook speaks lies about Pip, his premises are destroyed and his mouth stuffed with flowers; Estella treats Pip with contempt and is treated in turn cruelly by her husband; the moment Pip realizes Miss Havisham has caused him nothing but harm, she goes up in flames. Finally, as if reading Pip's mind regarding his ambivalent feelings for Magwitch, Orlick prevents Pip from saving the convict by luring him to the limekiln. There, like a bad conscience, Orlick overwhelms Pip with accusations. Calling him a wolf, and claiming responsibility for his own actions while also insisting Pip too is to blame, he attempts to kill Pip.


 Pip, it will be remembered, is saved from Orlick's furnace by Herbert Pocket. Pip's guilty, headlong flight into his great expectations, have, in Pocket, their antithesis. Where Pip's rejection of the truly good for the trappings of the good life was empty and delusional, Dickens shows in Pocket that there is yet an individual growth and humane advantage possible – and laudable - in cultivation. This is Dickens' concession to civilization, further seen in Pip's penance working as a clerk at the British trading post in Cairo. The money earned here by his sweat and toil legitimizes the money earned by Magwitch for Pip's erstwhile great expectations– even though it too was earned through honest labour. Pip also secretly funds Pocket's expectations – providing the money for his position with the firm in Cairo.


 These are the outward, worldly machinations of penitence and causation. Pip travels to Egypt as self-imposed exile from society as a whole and from innocence specifically – his own, which is gone for good, and which yet exists in the world, as exemplified by Joe Gargery and Biddy. As a final symbol of worldly cycle and redemption, Joe and Biddy name their newborn son Pip. The senior Pip cannot go back, he can only see the past clearly and perhaps help to light the way. Inwardly, the loss of innocence threatens a loss of faith. Yet the attempt to control and moderate the view of reality so that it does not overwhelm and defeat is tantamount to fear of fear itself – a loop of the ego, which itself overwhelms and defeats, like the paralyzing vision Pip has of Miss Havisham in Satis House, hanging in limbo. But seen another way, from the "other" side, the loss of expectations only threatens one with the truth, with what is, with something finally very much greater than expected.


 As Dickens' most mature work, Great Expectations is also his most modern. Coming at a problem from the inside, Dickens encompassed and illuminated the inner workings of his era, and in turn was able to transcend that era. In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, a unique and original writer, created something universal.



 After finishing the book, Dickens became singularly idle and unproductive for 3 years – something unheard of for him. These years, in which Dickens lived secretly with Nelly and fathered a son by her, were carefully blotted out from public view.


Notes for General Circulation : 


  • Traditionally the most simple card of the Major Arcana, The Hermit card of The Charles Dickens Tarot is, like the novel representing it - Great Expectations - deceptively simple but decidedly complex.

  • That which The Hermit is searching for, or from which he is trying to escape, is a matter of perspective, contingent on the position it holds within a formal pattern. 

  • As with the layers of an onion, or the concentric rings rippling on the water's surface, The Hermit's meaning is layered, requiring the reader to peel it back. It is affiliated astrologically with Saturn which governs limitations and fixed attitudes. The presence of The Hermit card calls on the reader to open up, allow others in, and let their true feelings out.

  • The sunlight on the card is on the left, or the past, whereas the future resides in darkness and night. Pip, in the card's centre, as the Major Arcanum who has made himself a minor card or pip, provides his own light. In the lantern of the Rider/Waite Hermit is a Star of David; here, we may wonder if it's not Estella [Latin: star]. As the alchemist Martin Ruland said: "Imagination is the star in man". The sun and moon are within Pip's lamp, suggestive of the lemniscate, and implying that he has brought the outside world in. It may also suggest that from within the furnace of his own soul he forges the outside world. The young Pip looks directly at us, but his arms seem to be those of an older man. 

  • The presence of The Hermit card in a formal pattern indicates a need for liberation, a call to recognize the mistakes of the past and eschew the illusions one toils under in order that the new, the future, may be embraced. The Hermit may suggest a search, but this is more likely an illusion, a disavowal of the truth, or a self-deception. More often it is a clear indication that the reader must alter their attitude, because - consciously or not - this attitude is blocking their spiritual progress. 

  • Sometimes, The Hermit implies social death, exile, a rejection of the mayic world of illusion. One may believe a retreat from the world is compensatory and corrective, but recall the trouble this caused the guilty, expectant Pip. In this sense, the card may indicate avarice, an unenquiring personality, the rejection of love, and misanthropy. Properly speaking, however, The Hermit indicates a balance of the demands of the outer world with those of the inner self, which achieves a transcendence to another plane.




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