Both novels were written in different eras and have striking differences in style and attitudes to women. Women play a vital role in both novels and are expressed by the authors in different ways. Essentially, the two novels differ from each other because “Cider With Rosie” is an autobiography of Laurie Lee’s early childhood, while “Great Expectations” is a novel that describes the reformations of people, society and the growth of the nation through the eyes of a young country boy.
The novel “Great Expectations” revolves around the central character of the story, Phillip Pirrip (Pip). He was orphaned from a young age and was brought up by his older sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery. Pip sees her as a mother figure because she is the only mother Pip would know since his mother was dead. His true mother was buried in the graveyard beyond the marshes surrounding his country home. Engraves on his father’s gravestone are the following words:
“Also Georgiana, wife of the above…”
Oddly, Pip always refers to his true mother by that “name”. This shows that Pip is innocent and, possibly naï¿½ve in his nature. However, it is this characteristic which often lured Pip into trouble with Mrs. Joe. An example of such an occasion is in the second chapter when Pip returns home after his first encounter with Magwitch in the graveyard. Mrs. Joe is very angry at Pip for making her worry:
“I have only been in the churchyard…”
“If it warn’t for me you’d have been to the churchyard long ago, and stayed there.”
The reply that Pip made was innocent, but Mrs. Joe changed it into a harsh retort, showing how she almost resents having to look after Pip. Could this retort be the cry for help that all women at this time had? The role of women during the Victorian era was almost like a ball and chain; women were not as carefree as men because women had to look after the children (and servants if the house was large) mostly alone. I believe that Dickens used this to show how women were trapped in the Victorian society. Through until Orlick paralysed Mrs. Joe with a blow to the head with a crowbar, it appears that there had been many scoldings off Mrs. Joe, because Pip notes how Mr. Joe follows Mrs. Joe around with his eyes during “squally times”. This short phrase is a metaphor for Mrs. Joe, saying how she is like a passing storm in temper. This characteristic keeps Pip at a distance from Mrs. Joe and prevents them from having a close relationship.
However in “Cider With Rosie”, such a thing did not upset the sisters too much at all, which makes “Cider With Rosie” seem like a small little world. “Great Expectations” grows to be on a much larger scale geographically and also in storyline it runs deep, but “Cider With Rosie” remains throughout the novel on the same small scale. The older sisters don’t mind too much having to look after Laurie and his brothers, which is a great difference in attitude too compared to Mrs. Joe. For instance, all of Laurie’s sisters just turned into adolescents when they are required to look after the house and the family whilst the mother was visiting their father early in the book when Laurie was still a pre-school infant. The eldest sister, Marjorie, was just fourteen and had to take on the role of a mother, but instead of taking the role badly, like Mrs. Joe from “Great Expectations”, she and the other sisters worked and at the same time were almost enjoying themselves despite their exhaustion:
“…the girls moved about in a giggling flurry, exhausted at their losing game.”
This situation, where his sister is bringing up Pip, was common during the Victorian era amongst the poor. The roles that women had to undertake were to be a mother, an educator or a nurse, and to uphold an image of innocence and virginity until marriage. Most women after marriage spent most of their lives either pregnant or recuperating after pregnancy. However, during the early years of the twentieth century, there had been many acts of reformations for women, enabling them to vote and work in the workplaces next to men.
Despite these advances, at the time of “Cider With Rosie”, they were not in full swing in the countryside of the Cotswolds, and in many ways although “Great Expectations” is a novel written about seventy years before Laurie Lee was born, it is more modern than “Cider With Rosie” because everything is continuously advancing and moving on up because of the Industrial Revolution. Pip grew, like Britain grew, from having a rural being to having an urban being. There was individual expansionism and national expansionism happening at the same time in “Great Expectations”, and the result of such vast expansionism is that Pip becomes a “snob”, like Britain became “snobbish”. In “Cider With Rosie”, such expansionism was not happening on such a scale. Britain was at war at the time of “Cider With Rosie”, and all vast expansionism came to a pause. This is what makes “Cider With Rosie” almost backwards compared to “Great Expectations”.
One of the most important relationships in the novel, “Great Expectations” is the relationship between Miss Havisham and Pip. Pip met Miss Havisham early on in the book, and has been sent to “play” at her house – Satis House. That name in itself implies that something is rather ghastly about the house because Satis is derived from the term Suttee. Suttee is a Hindu ritual where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. Dickens wrote of this because at this point in history Britain had very close links with India for trade. Pip notes that all the clocks in and around the house were stopped at twenty minutes to nine. This was the time that, as Pip eventually discovers, Compeyson, her groom, had left her on that day, and so she stopped the clocks as a way of trying to stop time. She so badly wished to control time and corrupt time, she actually tries to dismiss the fact that time goes on. This shows when she tells Pip as he is leaving:
“There, there! I know nothing of days of the week; I know nothing of weeks of the year.”
In contrast to Miss Havisham, Laurie Lee learned that time flows by instinct and almost doesn’t care if things happen. He just accepts it when things happen and carries on, flowing with time as time flows forth. An example of this is when a soldier who regularly for a short period of time visited his house, but one day he was caught by the police, taken away in a cart. However, he concluded what happened to the man in a single line:
“And Mother sighed and was sad over the man.”
Just that, and no more was said about the man. Time had moved on, so had he, and so had the words of the novel. However, there is one similarity between Miss Havisham and Pip’s mother – they both knew that their loved ones were gone, but waited for time to flow on by and bring their loved ones back amongst the waves. Pip’s mother also was constantly reminiscing about the past, but the difference with Mrs. Lee was that instead of clinging onto the bad times, she was clinging onto the good times, and overruled the bad times with the good. Laurie wrote of how she spoke of him like “…it was yesterday…” and also said:
“His later scorns were stripped away and the adored was adoring again.”
This does lead to a very important question: is Miss Havisham really cold-hearted, or is she a victim of life and the way it has treated her? The answer is debatable. A man who she doted upon had left her to decay with Satis House, and to seek revenge, she adopts a young, pretty girl and had metaphorically killed her in spirit and taught her not to be loved, but then asks a common labouring boy to try and change that by telling him to love her. Obviously, Estella is representing womanhood and Pip is representing manhood. This is a sadistic game, it could possibly be a deliberate contradiction to do such a thing, and any person will say that she is cold and stone-hearted to do that, but what makes you wonder whether she really is mean is when she is unhappy to see Pip heart-broken after his verbal emotional outburst of love for Estella.
Instead of rejoicing and taunting Pip, she looks shocked and repeats over and over again when he visits her one last time, “What have I done!” This shows that she is not completely malicious and mean, but being locked in the decaying house had twisted her emotionally as she became more self-pitiful and willing to wreak revenge upon the opposite sex. She even told Pip that she had meant to save a girl from the cruelty that had happened to her, but as she realised how attractive that Estella was and how she could easily gain admirers, she played out her lengthy game, with terrible consequences. Therefore, I think that she was a victim of life, but she was wrong to seek revenge in that way.
The fire that traps her, and eventually caused her death was irony in a way because the house was named Satis because of the close connections that the wealthier people had with India, and the act of Suttee was carried out.
Laurie Lee had a very close relationship with his mother, and he made that evident from the beginning of the novel right through to the last page. His first “betrayal” by women was by his own mother – when he was three years old he was moved to sleep with his brothers instead of his beloved mother in her bed:
“…my first lesson in the gentle, merciless rejection of women”.
The tone of this is rather interesting because it is a mixture of something so hurtful but so mild, and that oxymoron does leave you feeling cold. This tone is not found very often in “Cider With Rosie”, but this kind of cold tone is constant in “Great Expectations, and particularly around Miss Havisham you feel this. Where Pip has been sent to “play” at Miss Havisham’s house, Pip describes his view of the wedding room as being, “So new…so strange…so fine – and melancholy”. It is odd to hear words of praise of a place, and then hear a word that changes the mood automatically, and that happens often in “Great Expectations”. Dickens did this purposely to tell the reader that the material things in life that people were obsessed with, such as a reputation, a station and a fortune will not make you happy, and it comes through throughout his novel.
Despite this rejection, Laurie was strengthened as a result of it, and it didn’t affect the relationship with his mother. Laurie Lee reflects on this as if it was the dawning of a new life and:
“…the outside world…was emerging visibly through the mist…”
An interesting relationship that appears in “Cider With Rosie” is the relationship between Rosie and Laurie. He didn’t know Rosie personally, but they shared an intimate summer’s afternoon under a wagon together. By this time, both Laurie and Rosie were in the middle of adolescence, but Laurie began to feel intimidated by her. He describes how she had, “cat-like eyes”, indicating that he felt she had become a predator, hunting her prey – him.
A little further down the narrative, Laurie then describes how he felt: “dry and dripping, icy hot”, a complete mix of confused emotions, that could be linked to terror because when you are terrified of something you feel confused. These oxymorons are powerful and they engaged me, grabbing me by the scruff of my neck and shaking me until I was just as terrified as Laurie was at that moment. All these are set very close together too, giving me the feeling of panic because of so much confusion. After the drink of cider, Laurie and Rosie parted ways, and the last time he wrote of her would be a few pages later on, where he sadly described how she married a soldier and was lost forever. He had lost a part of his innocence that day. Although Laurie barely knew Rosie, she had, quite literally, rocked his world and changed his life forever.
Estella and Pip, however, had a very different relationship. Estella couldn’t care less whatever happened to Pip, whether the fortune was good or bad. Miss Havisham had brought up Estella not to be loved, and Estella believed it. She says at one point that she acknowledges the words, “I love you”, as words, with no emotions linked to them, and heavily stresses and emphasises that, but Pip believed that it could not possibly be because she is so, “…young, untried and beautiful” and in Nature it cannot be that such a girl could be the way she is. She then counters:
“It is in my nature…it is in the nature formed within me”.
As I had said earlier, she was used by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge upon the male kind for her woes, but was Estella herself happy with the way she was? The last quote shows that she knows she was almost manufactured into a heart-breaking trap for a man to fall into by Miss Havisham, because she used the keyword: “formed”. Although she was proud, self-possessed and cruel to Pip, during the dramatic chapter where Pip declares his love for her she says:
“…I am tired of the life I have led…I am willing enough to change it.”
This means that she was unhappy with the way she was. I believe that Estella knew of the sadistic game Miss Havisham was playing, because in that quote she has realised Miss Havisham’s intentions, and reflected upon it briefly here. Although she knew of the “game”, she continued to participate and in the end she broke Pip’s heart. I think that she felt that the only way to escape this game was to play the game out as Miss Havisham wanted and then find freedom in marrying Drummle. She was unhappy because she was tired of the “game” and wanted it to be finished, regardless of the consequences. Despite all of her flaws, I feel sorry for her because she was in a no-win situation; if she backed out of the plan conjured up by Miss Havisham, she would have nowhere to go, broken Pip’s heart and lead a miserable life, but if she finished the “game”, she would break Pip’s heart and marry someone who she knew didn’t love her for who she was, but lusted after her because of her beauty. Therefore she was very unhappy because she was trapped, and she knew it.
In both novels, it is surprising how the roles of women are so great in these novels. It is the women such as Estella, Miss Havisham, Rosie and Laurie’s mother who cause and strike up emotions within Pip and Laurie, and that makes the women stronger than the men in the novels. One thing is for certain, and that is that without the women characters in the novels, the novels would not be as great as they are.