Miss Havisham is, probably, the worst thing in human fiction

‘Cassandra’ was a nickname of RLS’s father for his daughter-in-law, Fanny.The scheme of a play to be founded on Dickens’s Great Expectations was one of a hundred formed in these days and afterwards given up.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1077.]

To his Father [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 126-128]

Hôtel des Îles d’Or, but my address will be

Chalet la Solitude, Hyères-les-Palmiers,

Var, France,

March 17, 1883.

Dear Sir,

Your undated favour from Eastbourne came to hand in course of post, and I now hasten to acknowledge its receipt.

William H. Borrow, Eastbourne, East Sussex, 1882 [http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/]

1910. [www.eastbourneheritagecentre.co.uk/]

We must ask you in future, for the convenience of our business arrangements, to struggle with and tread below your feet this most unsatisfactory and uncommercial habit. Our Mr. Cassandra is better; our Mr. Wogg expresses himself dissatisfied with our new place of business; when left alone in the front shop, he bawled like a parrot; it is supposed the offices are haunted.

RLS with his black Skye terrier Wogg and (left to right) Fanny, Thomas Stevenson, Lloyd (Fanny’s son) and Margaret Stevenson, 1883.

To turn to the matter of your letter, your remarks on Great Expectations are very good. We have both re-read it this winter, and I, in a manner, twice.

Ch. Dickens, Great Expectations, 1861 [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) [www.londonita.com/]

 The object being a play; the play, in its rough outline, I now see: and it is extraordinary how much of Dickens had to be discarded as unhuman, impossible, and ineffective: all that really remains is the loan of a file (but from a grown-up young man who knows what he was doing, and to a convict who, although he does not know it is his father – the father knows it is his son), and the fact of the convict-father’s return and disclosure of himself to the son whom he has made rich. Everything else has been thrown aside; and the position has had to be explained by a prologue which is pretty strong. I have great hopes of this piece, which is very amiable and, in places, very strong indeed: but it was curious how Dickens had to be rolled away; he had made his story turn on such improbabilities, such fantastic trifles, not on a good human basis, such as I recognised. You are right about the casts, they were a capital idea; a good description of them at first, and then afterwards, say second, for the lawyer to have illustrated points out of the history of the originals, dusting the particular bust – that was all the development the thing would bear. Dickens killed them. The only really well executed scenes are the riverside ones; the escape in particular is excellent; and I may add, the capture of the two convicts at the beginning […].

Diagram (in French) of the structure of Dickens’s Great Expectations [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

The River Medway, SW England, was home to a varying number of convict hulks. These floating prisons had appeared during the Napoleonic Wars, and were then adapted to imprison British convicts. These convict hulks would have been an unmissable feature of the Medway landscape while the Dickens family were in Chatham [https://ourswasthemarshcountry.files.wordpress.com/]

 Miss Havisham is, probably, the worst thing in human fiction.

Great Expectations, 1901 ed.: Miss Havisham with Estella and Pip. Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster who wears an old wedding dress and lives in the dilapidated Satis House, asks Pip’s Uncle Pumblechook (who is Joe’s uncle) to find a boy to visit [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

 But Wemmick I like;

Wemmick shows a murderer’s head to Pip in Jagger’s office. John Wemmick, Jaggers’s clerk, is Pip’s chief go-between with Jaggers and looks after Pip in London [https://upload.wikimedia.org/]

and I like Trabb’s boy;

Trabb’s boy is the local bully and rebel. He’s Mr. Trabb the tailor’s son, and he likes to make fun of Pip for being too-cool-for-school. In other words, he’s just saying what everyone else is thinking. Or, sometimes, acting out what everyone is thinking [www.victorianweb.org/]

and Mr. Wopsle as Hamlet is splendid.

Mr. Wopsle, clerk of the church in Pip’s village. He later gives up the church work and moves to London to pursue his ambition to be an actor, adopting the stage name Mr. Waldengarver [www.victorianweb.org/]

The weather here is greatly improved, and I hope in three days to be in the chalet. That is, if I get some money to float me there.

I hope you are all right again, and will keep better. The month of March is past its mid career; it must soon begin to turn toward the lamb; here it has already begun to do so; and I hope milder weather will pick you up. Wogg has eaten a forpet of rice and milk, his beard is streaming, his eyes wild. […]

A ‘forpet’ (Scots) amounts to 134 cubic inches, the fourth part of a peck [http://i.ytimg.com/]

I am besieged by demands of work from America.

The £50 has just arrived; many thanks; I am now at ease. Ever your affectionate son, pro Cassandra, Wogg and Co.,


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