Wemmick and his Marxist Castle

Of Great Expectations numerous Gothic haunts, Wemmick’s castle interests me the most. Unlike its spookier cousins, the castle is a light, almost carefree alternate reality that turns its gothic tropes into parody, and in doing so creates a kind of reverse haunting. 

Every aspect of the house which seems to point towards a spooky gothic setting, instead accomplishes the opposite effect. The title of castle is adorable in the context of Pip’s description of it as “a little wooden cottage…the smallest house [He] ever saw” (Dickens, XXV). Other gothic ornaments like the windows are described as queer and sham, and the gothic door is said to be “almost too small to get in at.” The moat is so small that Pip could leap across it, and the battery on top of the cottage is much more a treat for the aged P. than it is any kind of threat to intruders. 

All of these features, and Wemmick’s pride in them, make the man and his home precious to the reader, but that is not the only purpose they serve. As pip moves away from his home and from Joe, the castle is set up as a new positive and wholesome location which promotes manual labor and independence in opposition to the gentility and stasis of statis house. It Haunts Pip in the reverse, rather than reminding him of some trauma or mistake in his past, it provides and suggests to him an alternate, anti industrial and marxist path which, while reminiscent of the forge, is compatible with his new life and station. 

By turning his home into a castle, defended from the outside world and supplied by its own gardens and its lone pig, Wemmick subverts the capitalist industrial expectations placed on him by his work. Although he gives himself up to Mr. Jaggers’ business everyday, personality and all, he firmly defends his right to a private life and to control the means of production on his land, despite his bourgeois career. Pip feels the influence of these values and in fact some of the few times we see Pip not idle and engaging in real production, not pointless rowing or banking, are when he toasts sausage and bread in the castle. As small acts as these are, they are still meaningful foils to the complete inaction of Mrs. Havisham and the emptiness of the finches, the grange and the life of the gentleman. 

One thought on “Wemmick and his Marxist Castle”

  1. This is such an interesting post about Wemmick’s castle! As you discussed, it provides such a distinct contrast to Miss Havisham’s scary mansion, as well as initial portrayals of Magwitch, while still belonging to the same fantastical realm. Besides the well-done Marxists critique, the coexistence and care between Aged P and Wemmick might also provide a more wholesome model to contrast Pip’s own ignoring and shame towards Joe for a good bit of the novel. Perhaps the castle shows more possibility, and provides an alternative to the life of existential longing Pip initially seems (and perhaps is) destined for.

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