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Fictional style and the beginning of great expectations: another view.


In a recent special issue of this journal, commemorating a conference to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Leech and Short's Style in Fiction (1981), the inaugural paper--appropriately a paper by Geoffrey Leech, the senior author of Style in Fiction d dealt with "the analysis of a small piece of prose writing, an example of the 'practical stylistics' that was a prominent feature of Style in Fiction" (Leech, "Style in Fiction Revisited" 119). (1) The passage chosen is the opening "of Dickens's Great Expectations, focusing especially on the third paragraph" (119). Leech's paper is notable for bringing a positive and informed stance to its synoptic review of significant stages in the development of stylistically focussed analysis of fiction (a development apparently always onward and upward, and now at a point of "considerable maturity"--117) that have emerged in the years since the publication of Style in Fiction--itself now in a new celebratory and expanded second edition (Leech & Short).

Some of the developments surveyed by Leech reflect the influence of pragmatics and discourse analysis from linguistics, and of narratology and conceptual blending and mental modelling from poetics and cognitive psychology. These many (and many-sided) tendencies have seen to it that an exclusive (or close) concentration on the text itself(characteristic of the period when Style in Fiction first appeared) has been diffused, or at least qualified to some extent; but Leech, even as he acknowledges the value of, and various gains from, coalition and heterogeneity, is still rightly drawn to claim that the stylistic analysis of fictional text must "achieve a balance between what is observed on the page of text and what is represented in the mind"--so that, willy-nilly, "emphasis on the mind does not mean ... that stylistics has no need to relate the cognitive world to the formal features of texts" (118).

Clearly, Leech's survey has an important function, and one particularly appropriate to an anniversary conference--at once retrospective, summative, and laudatory; the tone of the paper is very much--and justifiably--a case of 'three cheers for 25 years of innovative work on the stylistics of fictional prose.' But it is notable that, for Leech, "One reason for attempting this piece of practical analysis is to illustrate what I hope are the strengths of a now somewhat neglected method, found in Style in Fiction, of focussing stylistic analysis first and foremost on the formal features of the text, letting these develop into a springboard for interpretation" (120). This is an important reiteration of a method and approach whose partial neglect has inevitably come about under the pressure of, and perforce as background to, the innovations whose value and liveliness Leech readily and generously acknowledges.

In addition, alongside its recollection of an approach that has to be seen as still being at the heart of stylistics, Leech's paper has another reminiscent attraction, since it brings relevantly to mind one of the two or three best short definitions of stylistics that I have seen, and one that chimes with a focus on textual analysis as the basis for interpretation--namely Leech's own almost-perfect formulation at that notorious Strathclyde conference of 1986: "... stylistics is the study of style (particularly in literary texts, and more particularly, with a view to explicating the relation between the form of the text and its potential for interpretation)" (Leech, "Stylistics and functionalism," 76, emphasis added). Indeed, to complete Leech's definition (whose only shortcoming is that it parenthesises its main point), we only have to supplement it with an observation made by his colleague and co-author, Mick Short, which from its date of publication (1994) can almost be seen to be cognitive avant la lettre: "The main aim of stylistic analysis is to try to explain how, when we read, we get from the structure of the text in front of us to the meaning 'inside our heads'" (170).

All in all, and at its heart, Leech's paper offers the kind of exercise that stylistics can only benefit from being reminded of. Of course, stylistics (although perhaps under-theorised, if not impossible to theorise) has become--and goes on being--a form of analysis that allows many over-lapping approaches and emphases; it still remains the case that stylistics is fundamentally about linking features of textual form to the interpretation and understanding of that very text. But given all that, Leech's paper--even as it brings back to attention just the very kind of analysis that sought to make textual form a springboard for interpretation--seems only to tantalise and to disconcert; the analysis is fine but there isn't enough of it, and because there isn't enough of it (mainly because only part of a self-contained stretch of text is attended to in any detail), the capacity of that piece of analysis to support an interpretation is itself, and in turn, limited and incomplete.


Leech focuses on the opening of Great Expectations. The whole of the opening three paragraphs (clearly recognizable as a self-contained section) is quoted, plus the short focus-changing (and action-initiating, and obviously separate) fourth paragraph; but only the third paragraph is attended to at all closely (apart from a couple of side-lined allusions in support of arguments) when it come to analysis. This is the first limitation in Leech's discussion: In the three self-contained paragraphs of the opening of Great Expectations there are so many textual interactions that all three paragraphs (perhaps individually as well as together, but certainly all three together) need to be considered; focusing too closely on just one is too exclusive a limitation.
   To begin with, here are the opening three paragraphs of Great

   My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip,
   my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more
   explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called

      I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his
   tombstone and my sister--Mrs Joe Gargery, who married the
   blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw
   any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the
   days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were
   like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of
   the letters on my father's, gave me an odd idea that he was a
   square, stout, dark man with curly black hair. From the character
   and turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana Wife of the Above," I
   drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.
   To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long,
   which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were
   sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine--who gave up
   trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal
   struggle--I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that
   they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their
   trouser-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of

      Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the
   river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad
   impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been
   gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time
   I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with
   nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this
   parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buffed;
   and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant
   children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the
   dark fiat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes
   and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the
   marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond, was the fiver; and
   that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was
   the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it
   all and beginning to cry, was Pip. (Dickens 9-10)

Leech quite rightly defends his choice of an opening section for analysis--such a text is, for instance, free from any previously established contextualization. But in choosing to focus particularly on the third paragraph in the extract above, Leech is already risking dependence on earlier context and co-text, namely things established or understood from a reading of paragraphs one and two. Accordingly, his analysis of a recurrent feature of paragraph three, correct and pertinent though its observations certainly are, has to be seen as an incomplete and potentially skewed analysis. In discussing the third paragraph, Leech's analysis attends to what is salient in that paragraph--patterns of prominence and foregrounding that depart from normal grammatico-rhetorical expectations "involving the twin principles (or maxims) of end-focus and end-weight" (121). End-focus has to do with the placing of what is contextually already given ahead of what is informatively new, while end-weight has to do with complex or 'heavy' grammatical constituents coming later than simpler or 'lighter' ones.

Drawing on these principles, Leech's analysis of Pip's third paragraph identifies effects of prominence or foregrounding where positional syntax is affected by some rhetorical or textual or (other) structural process so that ordinary principles of end-focus and end-weight are contravened (resulting in marked clausal structures, whose use prompts a search for the conceptual or narratological context that licences these forms as appropriate). Leech additionally notes that the principles of end-weight and end-focus generally work together, and so tend to be contravened together, and he identifies just such an egregious dual contravention ("Scarcely anything could be so inappropriate, by the standards of end-focus and end-weight, as this"--122) in Pip's final clause (the last of an extended series of conjoined subordinate content clauses):
   (... and that) the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all
   and beginning to cry, was Pip.

Leech concludes that "a much more appropriate piece of writing,..., would be" (122):
   Pip was the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and
   beginning to cry.

And Leech further notes, "This is by no means the only part of the [third] paragraph that violates end-focus and end-weight. It happens to be the last part of a very long sentence indeed,..., which contains a parallel set of similar violations ... [where] the same pattern of contravening end-weight (and to some extent, apparently, endfocus) is repeated seven times in this one sentence" (122-23).

These seven instances as cited by Leech (but presented here with the subject noun phrases underlined, and each predicative complement italicized) are:
   ... that his bleak lace overgrown with nettles was the churchyard:
   and that Phili Pirri late of this parish and also Georgiana wife of
      the above, were
   dead and buried;
   and that Alexander, Bartholomew Abraham, and Roger infant children
      of the
   aforesaid, were also dead and buried;
   and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard intersected
      with dykes and mounds
   and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes;
   and that the low leaden line beyond, was the river;
   and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing,
      was the sea;
   and that the small bundle of shiver growing afraid of it all and
      beginning to cry, was

Leech, seeking to explain why "Dickens indulge[s] in this 'improper' style of writing" (123), points relevantly to the frequent occurrence of the definite article the (or equivalently, of the demonstrative this, or names referring to definite individuals) in the highlighted expressions above. All the underlined subjects are definite, and all of the five italicised noun phrase complements are definite, and indeed seemingly generic. Leech suggests that the clause-initial subjects (lengthy and seemingly contravening end-weight) are definite because, "although these things are new information for the reader who has just picked up Dickens's novel, it is implied that they are not new, they are familiar territory--to the narrator or focalizer. Surely in this case to Pip himself?" (123). And lengthy and seemingly contravening end-weight though they are, the placing of the subject noun phrases has to do with the fact that they "are old information for Pip, but new information for us, the readers" (124).

A related explanation is offered for "the short complements," which involve their own equivalent paradox, in that they are definite and "yet are presented as if they are important, new information, both for the reader, and presumably for Pip, the lonely boy on the marshes. But why are these generic and definite features of his environment presented as new information for Pip?" (124). Leech considers two explanations, one which he dismisses--"this makes little sense"--at once, and perhaps too readily; indeed, it is one to which we will return, arguing that, with just a degree of judicious finessing, it offers at least as good an explanation as the one Leech prefers. The essence of this rejected explanation "is that Pip has just learned the names of those landscape features" so that "we interpret the marshes and similar phrases as if enclosed in quotation marks:
   ... that the dark flat wilderness beyond the church
   yard ... was 'the marshes.'

But this makes little sense ..." (124).

The explanation that Leech does opt for is that
   this [third] paragraph captures the stage of concept formation in
   Pip's childish development, when he conceptualizes these familiar
   melancholy experiences; grasping them as categories of meaning. He
   has heard his foster-parents and his community talk before of 'the
   churchyard,' "the river,' and "the marshes,' but now he learns how
   to link his own vivid sensory and emotive experiences to these
   categories. Last but not least in the list, he becomes conscious of
   his own identity against the background of his environment. (124)

Leech then involves "this new level of explanation, concerned with the cognitive development of Pip" with "two recurrent themes of prose stylistics: viewpoint and mind style" (124-25). Such a move is quite in keeping with the kind of 'close-to-the-text' stylistics that Leech's paper seeks to re-visit; even at its most formal and analytic, stylistics-as-was was always concerned to investigate and justify the text's "potential for interpretation"--its capacity for prompting and licensing connections going beyond words and syntax towards a grasp of multivariate connections of understanding and conceptualization surrounding (and indeed demanded by) these self-same words and syntax.

For Leech, complexities of viewpoint are prominent: "There are three people's viewpoints to bear in mind ... which blend together in an overall experience of the fiction" (125). These "three people" (perhaps better understood--in terms Leech introduces just a page later (126)--as a "threefold conceptual network") are (bold original):

(a) ... the reader, who knows nothing about Pip and his environment at the beginning of the novel ... (b) ... the "I-person" narrator, adult Pip, remembering and recounting his early life ... in adult language far beyond the range of young Pip ... (c) ... the localizer, young Pip, experiencing the terrors and discoveries of childhood, and whose intense learning experiences we are invited to share ... (125)

With the subsequent presentation of further argument, all bearing on his interpretative case, and having to do with deixis, mental spaces, and the textual presentation of speech, writing and thought, Leech moves to a summative conclusion:
   Triggered by foregrounded features in the reading process, the
   reader's mind constructs a conceptual integration network
   incorporating the three chief mental spaces associated with reader,
   narrator (adult Pip), and localizer (young Pip). The blending
   process is complex, and what comes out of it is a multi-faceted
   emergent structure ...: a reader's cognition of an interrelation
   between the three viewpoints of reader, narrator and focalizer,...


Here, I will suggest that, for at least the self-contained opening section of Great Expectations, a relevant blending of viewpoints includes not, or not only, the real world reader (alongside narrator and localizer), but requires, instead or additionally, a special--and indeed familiar or intimate--addressee, and it is to this figure (this narratee, if you like) that Pip's opening paragraphs are addressed. (2) These suggestions depend upon these three paragraphs being considered together, and involve a recognition that the specifying identifications of Pip's third paragraph are indeed to be read (contra Leech) as showing, in effect, "that Pip has just learned the names of those landscape features" (124); in effect, when Pip tells us of these features, We have to interpret his various specifying clauses (following the suggestion raised by Leech, only to be immediately discounted) as if each complement noun phrase is enclosed in quotation marks, or much more plausibly, as if the equative copula was has the force of 'was called,' or 'was indeed,' or equivalently that the final predicate phrase of each clause is marked with emphatic prominence--something hinted at by the fact that, in all but the first of Pip's clauses, the governing verb was and the final complement noun phrase are together separated from the preceding descriptive subject phrase by an optional comma.

The essence of the view taken here of the opening paragraphs of Great Expectations is that Pip is indeed to be understood as informing an addressee of his discovery (or realization, or identification) of the names of the things he mentions--and moreover an as-it-were-familiar addressee, who knows Pip and who already knew the things that Pip finally came to know as well. This addressee is of course neither you, nor me, nor any other real-world reader; indeed, at best real-world readers of the text at this point belong to the second of the three kinds of listeners identified by Erving Goffman--those "who are ratified participants but are not specifically addressed by the speaker" (9).

Bearing in mind that the opening three paragraphs of Great Expectations can be shown, in these and other terms, to stand somewhat apart from the text that they initiate, and that literary criticism has sometimes suggested this, one can make sense of the single ground by which Leech dismisses the possibility he briefly considers of
   interpret[ing] the marshes and similar phrases as if enclosed in
   quotation marks:

   ... that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard ... was
   "the marshes." But this makes--le sense, especially when we reach
   the end of the sentence, and have to interpret 'Pip' as if Pip were
   learning his own name for the first time. (124)

In fact, there is no need for such an interpretation if one can allow that there is something special and textually salient about the first three paragraphs of Great Expectations. And indeed, there have been readings that allow that this may indeed be the case. In a brief summary, which occurs in one section of the comprehensive supporting material found in his Norton Critical Edition, Edgar Rosenberg alludes to "The argument that Pip didn't to all intents 'exist' before Magwitch kicked him into life," and he refers synoptically to "critics who argue that Pip is as it were born into existence by his meeting with Magwitch, and that before the encounter in the churchyard--that is, before the book starts--Dickens kept him afloat in a sort of pre-natal gill-slit" (442).

The opening short paragraph of Great Expectations involves important signals of the nature of the narrative that it opens. There is not only an emphatic, rhythmic insistence on the name of the hero/narrator guaranteeing that, from here on, readers will always refer to him as 'Pip'--more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip; there is also the careful precision and order of the details of his personal naming. Where normally one is formally given a name, and in due time comes to call oneself that, in Pip's case things seems to happen imaginatively the other way round; haphazard and childish attempts at giving oneself a name come ahead of public acknowledgement of one's given name, and indeed oust acceptance of the socially chosen name (and seemingly cancel obvious connection with the paternal "Philip Pirrip"). At the start of Great Expectations, there is, in effect, a reversal of the roles of ego and others in relation to the individual's identification and naming. Subverting the customary order, and by his way of things, Pip comes up with his own name and then others call him that. There are other, consequent effects. Straightaway, the reader knows Pip by a name which is unofficial and private (rather than given and public), and which also substitutes for--and, because it reduces and equates them both, cancels the distinction between--the familiar and the formal.

It is worth noting (in advance of later argument which this point links with) that naming and coming to know names is also a prominent issue in the third paragraph. And just as can be shown to be the case there, what is also being explained or established here at the very start is not--or not only--the identity of the narrator but also the familiarity, recognizability, and privacy (or intimacy) of the name 'Pip'--after all, what is primarily being explained is not only what the narrator is called but how he came to be called that. What is at least as prominent as the fact that he is called 'Pip'--that factor is virtually treated as a given for the addressee--is the explanation of how the narrator came on the name 'Pip.' At the very start, it seems as if the addressee knows (or is expected to know)just who Pip is--what is offered with at least equal prominence is the business of how Pip came to be called 'Pip.' The relation between narrator and addressee, especially at the very start of a novel, here goes against custom and expectation; it is not that the addressee is being told things he does not and cannot know--instead, the addressee seems to be offered background and explanation for things that are presumed to be already very familiar. There is an odd intermingling of the roles normally expected between narrator and addressee at the start of a novel; it is not that one knows things that the other (the addressee) doesn't but that one (the narrator) has an informed and explanatory perspective on things already taken to be known and shared between narrator and addressee. The narrator isn't informing the addressee of basic facts and details, but filling out background and explanatory details for an addressee who is already assumed to be basically 'in the picture.' From the very start, the narrative of Great Expectations seems to confuse and elide the usual roles (or at least, the usual relationship) of narrator and addressee.

And this sense is continued, or at least continues to be implied across the next two paragraphs of this sell-contained section of the first chapter of Great Expectations. Across paragraphs two and three there are features which also depend on, or indeed reveal, something amounting almost to a reversal of roles between narrator and addressee in terms of their familiarity with the protagonist at the start of a first-person narrative. Continuous though the argument relating to these two paragraphs is, it has to be approached one paragraph by another; accordingly, we will first of all look at the second paragraph.

In the second paragraph, Pip speaks of his ignorant, childish fancies concerning his lost father, mother, and family--and in a significant way. Pip says what he says in such a way as to imply that there is knowledge already held on the part of the addressee that goes beyond what Pip talks about, and which will directly enable the addressee to arrive at a perspective for what Pip says. Pip's wording also implies that this knowledge is not only in the addressee's possession but was so even before Pip got hold of it. Evidence supporting this suggestion derives from the sequence of sentences that complete paragraph two as Pip dismissively tells us of his childish reconstruction of the physical appearance of members of his family from characteristics of their gravestones. In considering these sentences, we can draw on some ideas from linguistic semantics having to do with relationships between (i) a speaker's beliefs and assumptions, (ii) the nature of predicates occurring in the main clauses of sentences and utterances, and (iii) the status--as to true or false--of any subordinate content clause.

Within this already complex triangulation, distinctions can be drawn between three classes of main clause predicators, according to whether the predication involved is (a) factive, (b) non-factive, or (c) neg-factive (or, sometimes, contra-factive). Factive predicators (for instance, know, realise, discover) commit a speaker to presupposing the truth of a subordinate (or content) that-clause; non-factive predicators (for instance, think, believe, presume) do not involve a speaker's commitment, either way, to the truth of the associated that-clause; and neg-factive predicators (for instance, pretend, let on, imagine) involve a presupposition of the non-truth of the proposition of the subordinate that-clause. In Pip's narrative, in a series of sentences in the second paragraph (already anticipated as involving fancies ... unreasonably derived), in three successive predicators, the addition of a belittling adjective or adverbial guarantees that a predicator, which otherwise would be non-factive and therefore neutral as to speaker commitment, becomes neg-factive and accordingly involved with a speaker commitment to the non-truth of the associated that-clause; and so we encounter in sequence--gave me the odd idea, drew a childish conclusion, a belief I religiously entertained (emphasis added).

The first of the relevant sentences that occur in sequence in paragraph two is:
   The shape of the letters on nay lather's gave me the odd idea that
   he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. (Dickens

There are two things to notice about this sentence. One is a semantic-syntactic feature, namely that the predication of the main clause (gave me the odd idea) is a neg-factive form. That is, it is a main predicate which commits the speaker (or here, narrator) to the falsity of the proposition embodied in the associated subordinate clause (that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair). The second is a pragmatic factor--namely, that the whole statement is delivered, as a statement of Pip's false idea, on the assumption that the falseness of this idea will be understood by the addressee not only because its obvious falsity is explicitly commented on but also because the addressee will recognise (and corroborate) its falsity by comparing it with already possessed knowledge of what the truth was. That is, while Pip feels a need to explain to the addressee what his false or mistaken view was, he feels no need (,not even for the as-it-were benefit of an overhearing real-world reader) to tell what the truth of the matter was--presumably, on the assumption that the addressee already knows about Pip's father, and will draw on that in capturing all the intended flavour of Pip's admission of his naivete.

Similarly with the next pair of sentences:
   From the character and turn of the inscription, "Also Georgiana
   Wife of the Above," I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was
   freckled and sickly, To live little stone lozenges, each about a
   foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside
   their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers
   of mine--who gave up trying to get a living exceedingly early in
   that universal struggle--I am indebted for a belief I religiously
   entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their
   hands in their trouser-pockets, and had never taken them out in
   this state of existence. (Dickens 9)

The falsity and imaginativeness of these two characterisations (of his mother: that my mother was freckled and sickly, of his brothers: that they had all been born ... state of existence) is in each case conveyed by their subordination to neg-factive main clause predications (respectively, I drew a childish conclusion, and a belief I religiously entertained), the whole of each statement being offered on a pragmatic, or communicative, assumption, one taken as without doubt shared between speaker and addressee, that it would be redundant for the speaker to spell out for the addressee facts as to the truth of these matters, on the grounds that these factors are already known to both, and with an implication that things were known to the addressee before they were discovered or mentioned by the speaker.

This quality (as established in the second paragraph) continues to hold in the third paragraph, namely that Pip is narrating within a communicative situation where relevant matters that facilitate mutual understanding do not need explicit comment because what is known to, or understood by, the speaker is also already available to the addressee. In paragraph two, Pip implies accurate knowledge that cancels his earlier childish, odd, and religiously entertained ideas, but feels no need to make any of this explicit by citing any of what he now knows and understands correctly. And in paragraph three, this pragmatic quality is added to, and indeed emerges more strongly.

As Leech has noted, the third (and final) and lengthy sentence of paragraph three involves a parallel and coordinate series of subordinate that-clauses, each with the characteristic and unexpected syntactic-cum-rhetorical organisation that is the early focus of Leech's paper. But there are other features of this sentence that Leech does not draw attention to, and that suggest that Pip is again (or still) speaking of things that he assumes are not news for the addressee within an assumed communicative relationship where complete understanding belongs at least as much with the addressee as with the speaker.

In connecting Pip's third paragraph with communicative and pragmatic qualities already registered in the preceding two paragraphs, we need to reconsider the clausal syntactic patterns that Leech has focussed attention on, noting particularly that these clauses are subordinate to a main factive clause--At such a time I found out for certain.... With the exception of the second and third instances (where the predicate complements are adjectival), the majority of these patterns involve noun phrase complements. The consistent pattern can generally be illustrated by means of the first--involving an equative and specifying predication with main verb was, whose subject is a definite noun phrase (this bleak place overgrown with nettles) and whose complement is a definite noun phrase (the churchyard) giving the common name of the object or entity periphrastically characterised by the subject. Now, as Leech clearly establishes, this form of statement is rather striking; on all sorts of grounds one might expect it to be--it would be more 'normal' as--the alternative form (that) the churchyard was this bleak place overgrown with nettles. In the form in the text, the subject phrase is clearly referential while the complement phrase, definite though it is, is descriptive. Pip is not simply defining or identifying the churchyard by making both a glossing and a labelling reference to the same entity, albeit in a strikingly ordered back-to-front sequence (normally, definitions move from label to gloss); Pip's impressionistic subject phrase (and the same holds in subsequent cases) does not qualify as a definition. Pip seems to be telling us that his experience and his realised sense of the place have come to be associated with a shared and public term--the name known to (and now shared with) his addressee. The various NPs which occur as predicate complements of was in the series of equative clauses in Pip's third paragraph (the churchyard, the marshes, the river, the sea, and finally Pip) are functioning descriptively rather than referentially.

It is possible, in equative clauses where the verb be predicates identity between two definite NPs (one as subject, one as predicate complement), that one NP is to be interpreted descriptively rather than referentially (albeit that both NPs are definite). Clauses of this kind are instances of be in its reference-specifying use. The term 'reference-specifying' (a special instance of the specifying construction with equative be) is from The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston and Pullum 402). The Cambridge Grammar cites, as examples, these sentences, where all NPs are definite (underlining and brackets original):

(i) The Vice-Chancellor is that guy over there by the piano

(ii) Paul is that guy over there by the piano

(iii) I'm Kim Lane

(iv) [Cassius Clay] is [Mohammed Ali]

and goes on to observe:

In [i] that guy over there by the piano is referential, but the Vice-Chancellor is not: I'm not making two references to a certain person and saying that this person is identical to himself. Rather, I assume you know there is some contextually relevant person who satisfies the description the Vice-Chancellor and am telling you who this person is: the individual referred to by the NP that guy over there by the piano. The same applies in [ii]: a proper name can be descriptive, just as an NP with a common noun as head can be. Thus Paul is here non-referential but acts as a description of some individual by virtue of his name ('the individual x such that x is named Paul') and the referential NP that guy over there by the piano specifies the value of the variable x. In [iii] it is the subject/that is referential, while the predicative complement Kim Lane is descriptive: I'm not saying that I'm identical to myself but giving my name. Example (iv) is naturally interpreted like [i-ii], saying that the individual named Cassius Clay is the person you already know as Mohammed Ali, but it can also be interpreted like [iii], saying that the person you already know as Cassius Clay also has the name Mohammed Ali. (Huddleston and Pullum 402)

There are other significant details bearing on the analysis and interpretation of Pip's sentences. The characteristic diction of Pip's several equative clauses in his third paragraph exhibits various consistencies. As Leech observes, "The last three clauses of the paragraph each contain metaphors" (126). Additionally, these three clauses (and the immediately preceding clause too) involve expressions taking their referential significance--call it deixis, if you like--from association with the immediate physical and spatial domain occupied (albeit with recollective realism) by the speaker, namely Pip. This is significant because these situation-bound indications clearly establish Pip's descriptive subject phrases as referential. Accordingly, Pip refers, describing the churchyard, to (i) this bleak place overgrown with nettles (emphasis added); and then, in turn, to (ii) a scenic feature located beyond the churchyard; (iii) a feature further beyond, meaning beyond the location just previously established; (iv) and a distant feature, meaning something further beyond still. In addition, where the second and third clauses in the sequence name those who are dead and buried, the identifying references are also situated in the immediate circumstances of the observing speaker, with descriptions that allude to what can be seen on the gravestones, all of these involving specific here-and-now epigraphic reference (emphasis added)--late of this parish, wife of the above, infant children of the aforesaid. Only the final clause of the paragraph, while still figurative, lacks any situationally relative expression--presumably because here reference is to the deictic centre from which preceding locations have been identified, namely to Pip.

But Pip's closing identification has its own additional interest, especially given that it too is figurative. With that prominent feature, we have to see that in the final clause
   (and that) the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and
   beginning to cry, was Pip

Pip is not self-referentially identifying himself and in effect merely equating and identifying himself with the preceding description, but is instead using his name descriptively. The subject phrase--situation bound and subjective--is necessarily referential, but the complementary proper noun (or name) is not. It does not (in association with the subject phrase) specify or identify Pip. What Pip is saying is that this feeling and reaction (of being a "small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry") applied to himself--and himself, subjectively and imaginatively, and not simply to him as a public, named figure. What Pip says here is not a simple matter of identification or public naming, but instead akin to telling something personal about himself, and using his name 'Pip' not as a means of identifying or naming him, but as a personal means of describing himself. Even here, the best interpretation of "was Pip" is that it has the force of 'was indeed Pip' or 'was called Pip,' rather than something on the lines of 'equalled Pip' or 'identified Pip.'

Significant differences can arise in relation to the way in which speaker and addressee can understand or treat elements (and the order of elements) in reference-identifying clauses. I remember a question from a colleague, about another colleague (who had just published a book whose author was identified with austere initials rather than a more informal first name--for instance, the name we both knew him by). The question was:

Is John Sutherland J.A. Sutherland?

My immediate response was:

Don't you mean 'Is J.A. Sutherland John Sutherland?'

The issue raised by my response concerned reference and naming within a context of shared familiarity. We both knew our colleague as 'John Sutherland' and would address him as 'John.' The key factor is shared context. And as Givon has observed:

Context is a mental construct, assembled for the occasion, and thus in principle dependent on judgements of framing, perspective, and relevance. And framing, perspective, and relevance are intentional mental operations. (Givon 222)

My colleague's equative-based question had an order placing a known description (as subject) before a nonce reference (as complement). But one key circumstance is not attended to in the framing of this question, and in the perspective it adopts--that this time the question seeking information about identity arises in relation to the identity of an individual known to both speaker and addressee by a specific and identical name. Alongside this name, the other--newer--name cannot be assumed by the first speaker, when framing her question, to be equally familiar to both interlocutors. The crucial factor here is this: The issue is not simply a matter of equating identities but instead one involving ways of equating names, where one of two names can be assumed to be shared as properly nominative but the other cannot. In such a circumstance, namely where one name or term can be assumed to be known between speaker and hearer, an order placing reference ahead of description seems preferable, as suggested by my instinctive response to the original question.

The order of elements in Pip's various equative clauses is perhaps not so surprising if one allows that what is at issue is not really a matter of identifying but also one of naming correctly. On top of this already complicated issue, there is, additionally, the fact (mentioned in Leech's discussion only as a side-long detail--127) that these clauses do not occur as independent or main clauses but instead occur as subordinate content clauses complementing a main clause whose predicate is factive--(I) found out for certain.... For all that it concentrates on the third paragraph, Leech's discussion does not comment on this--namely that Pip's marked equatives occur as a series of that-clause complements of an emphatic main-clause factive predicate, arising emphatically and contrastively in the context of neg-factives in the preceding paragraph. But that this factor matters is shown when we consider possible contextualizations for sentences of the form 'I found out for certain that S,' where the embedded or subordinate S can be either (i) an equative clause of the referential-to-descriptive form used by Pip, or (ii) the alternative form of such a clause which associates the subject with a name and the predicate complement with a subjective reference, so that now the order is descriptive-to-referential. The issue here is to identify possible contextualisations for the surprising or unexpected reference-specifying order of Pip's equative clauses, compared with equivalent possible contextualisations for the 'more normal' order eschewed by Pip.

Let us say that you and I are both visitors to the University of Edinburgh, and that we have arrived together in George Square, the correct general area of the campus that we are aiming for, but that neither of us has yet located the David Hume Tower, the specific building where we both need to be. We decide that the most efficient way of quickly finding our bearings is for each of us to make separate enquiries around the square, meeting up as soon as possible to compare notes. Within minutes, I am back at your side, announcing breathlessly and before you can say anything:

(i) I've found out for certain that the Tower is the tall building on the corner of the square.

Note the structure of my utterance--two clauses, the first involving a predicate claiming factivity, and the second a subordinate content clause involving an equative predication where the subject is a noun phrase naming an entity in the environment, the main verb is an equative or copular is, and the complement of that verb is a noun phrase describing or characterising the entity named by the subject. In the complement clause, the copular predicate relates a description (the subject noun phrase--the Tower) to a situated reference (the complementary descriptive phrase--the tall building on the corner of the square), with the sense 'the Tower is to be identified as the tall building on the corner of the square.'

Now consider another scenario, also involving both of us as lost or wandering scholars--or rather a setting where one (me) is lost, and still hasn't identified the Tower, and the other (you) already knows which building is the Tower, but won't tell; you prefer to test my orientation and locating skills, refusing to tell me which building is the Tower until I find out for myself.

This time, I alone rush round the square, urgently buttonholing locals, and I soon turn up with my answer. And that is? Surely-

(ii) I've found out for certain that the tall building on the corner of the square is the Tower.

That is more or less what I said last time, except--of course, and crucially--that the order of noun phrases in the equative and reference-specifying clause is reversed. Now the clause has a distinctly focused structure, just like Pip's; the definite characterising phrase--the reference--is now subject, and this time the labelling or naming noun phrase --the descriptive--is complement of the main verb is. This time what I say has the sense 'the tall building on the corner of the square is what is known as or is called the Tower.'

Why the difference? Essentially, (i) and (ii) are answering different questions--or can be said to emerge from distinct kinds and relationships of interrogation. For (i), the shared issue is to discover an answer--to find out something that qualifies as information for both individuals engaged in establishing the relevant facts as to the location of a building they know only by name, the entity for which they want to establish a description or identifying reference. With (ii), the situation is different; what is being announced is not news for the addressee, neither as to name or location, but constitutes the speaker's confirmation or corroboration of something already known to the addressee. The sentences (i) and (ii) answer the question 'Which is the Tower?' in different ways. Both involve the issue of finding out which building is the tower--but they relate to quite distinct communicative settings. In (i), I am identifying a building as the Tower, which has previously been known only as a name; in (ii), I am telling you about a building that is called the Tower, but I am not identifying it for you. I am confirming that I now know what you already know, that I can now identify what you can already identify; it is no longer a matter of us sharing a name--now we share a reference for that name.

A key factor in (i) and (ii) above is the interaction between a factive main clause (which makes a key matter of the establishment and acceptance of something as known as factual) and the order of elements in a complementary equative and reference-specifying clause. The equivalent factor in relation to Pip's series of equative clauses is that these stand as the complement of a factive main clause, I found out for certain, and so cannot be considered separately from the fact that the sequence is the listed complement of the main clause I found out for certain. One consequence of this dependence is that the that--clauses in sequence have to be seen as factive (quite apart from the additionally emphatic "for certain," the main predicator "found out" already involves a speaker commitment to the truth of the associated proposition). And beyond that, there are other, even more telling, factors. For instance, there is the contrast between the second and third paragraphs, centred in the move between the over-stated neg-factive character of the second paragraph's statements and the marked and contrastive shift to the emphatically factive announcement of the third paragraph. This is where the dependence between main clause and subordinate sequence starts to matter; the sequence of claimed truths is now offered as doubly vouched for, as complementing a factive, and an emphatic one at that--"I found out for certain?'


The opening paragraphs of Great Expectations can be read--indeed they perhaps require to be read--separately from the narrative of action that immediately and subsequently ensues with the sudden and vocal intervention of Magwitch. At the very least, each of these three paragraphs needs to be read and integrated with what we understand from the other two. There are key linguistic details that Geoffrey Leech has drawn clear attention to; but there are others that need to be placed alongside these observations. Altogether, linguistic features of these three paragraphs carry a sense of Pip addressing someone other than some real-world reader; certainly, at the start of the novel, it is as if Pip is in cahoots with some counterpart, some secret sharer, someone more knowledgeable and wiser than himself, or with deeper and wider perspectives. Great Expectations is not free of hints elsewhere of the idea of the double and the counterpart--indeed, in the very first chapter Magwitch soon introduces his ironic threatening talk of the horrible "young man hid with me" who "hears the words I speak" (Dickens 11). Perhaps some special narratee is engaged with Pip and hears (as we overhear) the words he, as narrator, speaks in the opening paragraphs of Great Expectations.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. 1st ed. London: Chapman and Hall, 1861. Ed. Edgar Rosenberg. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.

Givon, Talmy. Bio-Linguistics: the Santa Barbara lectures. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2002. Print.

Goffman, Erving. Forms of Talk. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981. Print.

Huddleston, Rodney, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Print.

Leech, Geoffrey. "Stylistics and functionalism?' The linguistics of writing: Arguments between language and literature. Ed. Nigel Fabb et al. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1987.76-88. Print.

--. "Style in Fiction Revisited: The Beginning of Great Expectations." Style 41 (2007): 117-32. Print.

Leech, Geoffrey, and Mick Short. Style in Fiction." A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose (2nd ed.), London: Longman, 2007. Print.

Rosenberg, Edgar, ed. Charles Dickens: Great Expectations. (Norton Critical ed.). New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.

Short, Michael. "Understanding texts: point of view." Language and Understanding. Ed. Gillian Brown et al. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. 169-90. Print.


(1) Subsequent citations of Leech's paper on Great Expectations will take the form of bracketed page references only. Where necessary, citations of two other works by Leech will carry brief indications of title.

(2) Most of the remaining argument of this paper (with some obvious--and once or twice crucial--latter-day additions and references) derives from a lecture entitled "Some grammatical approaches to the language of Dickens" which I gave (by invitation) to the Annual Conference of University Teachers of English in Scotland at the University of Aberdeen on Saturday, 15 November 1980.

Norman Macleod

University of Edinburgh
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Date:Dec 22, 2009
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