Mr. Wemmick’s castle

By Edward Ardizzone, 1952. (flickr.com)

By Edward Ardizzone, 1952. (flickr.com)

Here’s a great passage from Great Expectations, where Pip is introduced to the household of his guardian’s clerk, Wemmick:

Wemmick’s house was a little wooden cottage in the midst of plots of garden, and the top of it was cut out and painted like a battery mounted with guns.

“My own doing,” said Wemmick. “Looks pretty; don’t it?”

I highly commended it, I think it was the smallest house I ever saw; with the queerest gothic windows (by far the greater part of them sham), and a gothic door, almost too small to get in at.

“That’s a real flagstaff, you see,” said Wemmick, “and on Sundays I run up a real flag. Then look here. After I have crossed this bridge, I hoist it up – so – and cut off the communication.”

The bridge was a plank, and it crossed a chasm about four feet wide and two deep. But it was very pleasant to see the pride with which he hoisted it up and made it fast; smiling as he did so, with a relish and not merely mechanically.

“At nine o’clock every night, Greenwich time,” said Wemmick, “the gun fires. There he is, you see! And when you hear him go, I think you’ll say he’s a Stinger.”

The piece of ordnance referred to, was mounted in a separate fortress, constructed of lattice-work. It was protected from the weather by an ingenious little tarpaulin contrivance in the nature of an umbrella.

“Then, at the back,” said Wemmick, “out of sight, so as not to impede the idea of fortifications – for it’s a principle with me, if you have an idea, carry it out and keep it up – I don’t know whether that’s your opinion–“

I said, decidedly.

” – At the back, there’s a pig, and there are fowls and rabbits; then, I knock together my own little frame, you see, and grow cucumbers; and you’ll judge at supper what sort of a salad I can raise. So, sir,” said Wemmick, smiling again, but seriously too, as he shook his head, “if you can suppose the little place besieged, it would hold out a devil of a time in point of provisions.”

Then, he conducted me to a bower about a dozen yards off, but which was approached by such ingenious twists of path that it took quite a long time to get at; and in this retreat our glasses were already set forth. Our punch was cooling in an ornamental lake, on whose margin the bower was raised. This piece of water (with an island in the middle which might have been the salad for supper) was of a circular form, and he had constructed a fountain in it, which, when you set a little mill going and took a cork out of a pipe, played to that powerful extent that it made the back of your hand quite wet.

“I am my own engineer, and my own carpenter, and my own plumber, and my own gardener, and my own Jack of all Trades,” said Wemmick, in acknowledging my compliments. “Well; it’s a good thing, you know. It brushes the Newgate cobwebs away, and pleases the Aged. You wouldn’t mind being at once introduced to the Aged, would you? It wouldn’t put you out?”

I expressed the readiness I felt, and we went into the castle. There, we found, sitting by a fire, a very old man in a flannel coat: clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for, but intensely deaf.

At this point in the Penguin edition, edited by Angus Calder, is a lengthy note that reads, “Sir Kenneth Clark’s The Gothic Revival (Penguin, 1964) makes it clear that Wemmick was eccentric only in constructing his miniature Gothic mansion out of wood, with his own hands. ‘By 1825, almost all Gothic mouldings or ornament could be bought wholesale.’ The craze for Gothic villas reflected the extreme plainness of the Regency alternatives” [compared with what, one would have to wonder today!], “as well as the interest in the ‘Picturesque,’ which the Romantic poets and novelists both indulged and promoted. The fashion was at its height at the period in which Great Expectations is set. Here, as in so many other places where Dickens’s imagination seems to have lured him into implausibility, he ‘does not,’ in fact, ‘overstep the immodesty of nature,’ to quote Bernard Shaw’s comment.”

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Mr. Wemmick’s castle

  1. Anonymous says:

    i like that castle rick

    Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    yeah bro

    Like

  3. Bruce says:

    I second Rick on both points. Thanks for sharing, David.

    Like

  4. Rick says:

    I want one! I read Dickens too young. I should start all over.

    Like

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