Recall the figure of Jaggers the lawyer from Dickens’ Great Expectations. Jaggers saved Molly, his housekeeper, from the gallows and installed her in his house, where she seemed entirely in thrall to him. Pip, Herbert, and Bentley Drummle (the lout who marries, then widows, Estella) witness Jaggers’ strange relationship with Molly at dinner in Jaggers’ house.
Choose a character, persona or speaker from ONE prescribed text that you have studied in Module C. Express the thought processes of this character, persona or speaker by exploring a moment of tension in the text from an alternative point of view. (I know it’s not a Mod C text, but it’s interesting nonetheless)
Terrible people, so they say, bring out the terrible parts in you. Jaggers was terrible. Not in the sense that he was a bad man, or any more immoral than a lawyer ever is, but terrible in the sense that God is: immense, remote, intractable. It is a mark of how terrible he was that I have never blamed him for the transformation that night effected on me. I realized that it would be almost impossible for anyone to wield the kind of power Jaggers did over men’s fates and perceptions and not to be altered by it.
I should also say that Jaggers’ effect on the woman, and those men whom he saved from the Fleet, or the gallows, or Botany Bay, was beneficial – or better than the alternative, of which Providence had resolved that there was only one. And of Providence’s effect on him I can only speculate. I did not know him before – I doubt anyone did – so the transformation from simple youth to a man full of shadows and strange proclivities is the product of my own imagination. Not that Bentley Drummle is known as imaginative; my wife would laugh at that as much as she castigates me for my lack of imagination. No, all I can address with any integrity, of which Estella tells me I have precious little, is Jaggers’ effect on me.
The genesis is easy enough to locate: the dinner, the only dinner, at his home in company with the tiresomely guileless Pirrip and the guilelessly tiresome Pocket. Why were they not transformed as I was? Because they were not prepared by life as I was. Like the parchment which is years in the preparation before the sharp quill incises upon it an inky impress it will carry ever after, we three came to that gloomy place on Gerrard Street in different states of stretching, scraping, being made ready.
He saw it in me, some essential weakness which went beyond youthful boasting. The struggle with drink which dogs me still and the unwholesome sourness that causes a mutual dislike of the world and the fools in it. That part of him which was alert to weakness sniffed it out in me, seized it and, like a fisherman toying with something muscular and essentially stupid, reeled me in.
She was barely there that night, but her fear, her dependence on his massy control, pervaded their half-empty house. Most of the rooms were not used, but he would have no lodgers, and liked the idea of the rooms above sitting in wait. Waiting for what, Pirrip asked, although I had already sensed that the answer involved waiting on his pleasure, a still, silent kingdom of rooms in which his will reigned.
If you thought of her as one more space made immanent with his wishes, she was a room more splendid than a mere housekeeper’s closet. She was a ballroom, a royal audience hall, a temple of subjection, entirely oriented to him like a lodestone to an iron rod, a steeplechaser’s mount to the crop-held hand. He was, in his way, an artist, a magician, in the delicacy with which he made the housekeeper twitch at his every move, unconnected by any wires that might explain this marionette act. Even as she set out the dishes, her eyes flickered to and from his mouth, his hands, the physical means of control and restraint which had seized her from the gallows and set about relentlessly, irresistible, shaping her world, her will, herself. I call that evening the beginning because I was aware of a double performance being promulgated in this scene of domestic propriety. For Pirrip and Pocket Jaggers put on a flattering demonstration of adult regard by a professional man and his servant. For me, there was a calculated revelation of those drives which I had only just begun to recognize and from which I sought refuge in wine and arrogance.
Jaggers danced the conversation around to our prowess on the river. Callow and jostling, we rolled back our sleeves to show our forearms – as if true strength were vested in that assemblage of flesh and sinew! I saw the laugher in Jaggers’ eyes, which dilated as he seized the woman’s arm and bared it before us, heedless of her pleas.
The scars of absolute despair on one wrist, his intimation of the murderous strength in the other, her whispered urgency, the perfume of her abasement, the flesh-on-flesh assertion of his dominance – in which she was saved, not damned – it all merged into a moment of exquisite pain and tension in which the man I am now was born. I looked around blurrily at Pocket and Pirrip and saw an echo of my own fascination, mixed with a faint embarrassment.
A door to my boyhood – that time of confusion and dissatisfaction and distance – had slammed resoundingly shut. I was newborn, in a Soho house, with my newly-recognized needs and barren proclivities bared to the world like a babe. Jaggers’ straight mouth twitched with a wholly internal laughter, and from somewhere deep within their complex and private game, I thought the woman laughed at me too.
Then he threw us out into the street, where the other two commenced a leisurely walk back to Pirrip’s rooms. I remained in Gerrard Street, staring in disbelief at the house in which I fear I had been brought to the surface and left quite alone, without air.