Pip at the Fingerpost: Nineteenth-Century Urban Conflict and the Regional Reception of Great Expectations
Mary Hammond, Tuesday 12 Apr 2016, CEIR Seminar Series
In The Country and the City (1973) Raymond Williams examines how rural and urban life has been depicted in English literature since the sixteenth century. Arriving at Cambridge University as an undergraduate from his hometown in the Welsh Black Mountains, Williams discovered that the way rural life (a life he knew very well) was represented in literature was nothing like the reality. In fact, Williams argued that rural life, as portrayed in the literary canon, was a construction that served the social order of the times. The country was Edenic, whilst the city was a thriving metropolis of capitalist production.
It is a binary that Dr Mary Hammond (University of Southampton) unpicked (or, at least reduced), in her recent paper at the Centre. Taking a highly nuanced approach, Mary used Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861) as a lens to think about cultural change during the novel’s initial reception context. Arguing that Victorianists often only refer to London-based media to understand a text’s immediate historical significance, Mary suggested that we begin to interrogate the rural press, as well, to enhance our understanding of how the novel signified to different audiences. Great Expectations is the perfect text to explore these reactions as the pivotal moment in the novel is when Pip leaves the Kent countryside of his childhood for London in order to become a Gentleman. (more…)