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But he also wanted to recognise the creativity that is shown in the inventive ways that people live out or transform their class identity.This is rarely a simple or untroubled thing, and performances of class often go wrong.When Pip becomes wealthy, for example, has to learn to perform a whole new identity, learning how to speak, dress, and even eat in ways that will be recognised by others as genteel.
is plotted in an extraordinary way, as the shocking revelation that the source of Pip’s wealth is not, as he believes, Miss Havisham but Magwitch the convict, radically undermines his whole sense of self -identity.
There are two possible plots that a lesser novelist than Dickens might have used: a romance plot, which would have led to marriage to Estella; or a plot more like gives us neither of those plots; instead, it ruins them.
But he also knew the kind of suffering and exploitation that goes with class difference and never underestimated or flinched away from the cruelty and degradation that go with a class-divided society.
In his charitable work and reforming journalism, he did everything he could to change things for the better, by helping the poor and trying to diminish class antagonisms.
The very title of this book indicates the confidence of conscious genius.
In a new aspirant for public favor, such a title might have been a good device to attract attention; but the most famous novelist of the day, watched by jealous rivals and critics, could hardly have selected it, had he not inwardly felt the capacity to meet all the expectations he raised. Dickens's previous works, as it appeared in installments, and can testify to the felicity with which expectation was excited and prolonged, and to the series of surprises which accompanied the unfolding of the plot of the story.Some of his contemporaries, such as Karl Marx, believed that the social classes were being increasingly driven apart, divided into the two opposing camps of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.Dickens, by contrast, is fascinated not by the similarity of people in a particular class, but by their differences.Pip has built up a fantasy of himself as someone destined to be a gentleman.When he suddenly learns the falsity of this, as his ‘criminal’ past appears in the present in the shape of Magwitch, he is almost destroyed by the discovery, and his whole sense of self is simultaneously tainted and emptied out.From the moment that Estella humiliates him as a little boy for being ‘coarse’ and common, there is no escape from the pains, desires and performance of class identity in There is little sense in the book that you can get pleasure from wealth or social status.Miss Havisham is very wealthy but it is power and revenge that matter to her, not pleasure or self-fulfilment.Class becomes something not given but created, a range or repertoire of performances and roles, each with different possibilities and dangers attached.Many of Dickens’s characters are performers who are unwilling simply to accept their given place in society but are determined to transform it into something different, better or more spectacular.He portrays in detail the extraordinary variety of ways, in small differences of clothing, accent and behaviour, by which people show and act out their class identities and aspirations.He is constantly drawn to characters who are at the margins, rather than the centre, of social classes: those clinging to the edges of gentility or respectability, and those who suddenly fall or rise in the uncertain world of the Victorian economy.