10

This question is regarding Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Chapter 24 (also known as Volume II Chapter V).

Mr Jaggers has two casts in his office, revealed by Wemmick to be death masks of his former clients.

Wemmick says they are

Famous clients of ours that gave us a world of credit.

But he then reveals that these were the masks made after the criminals were executed

The cast was made in Newgate, directly after he was taken down

So my understanding is these were Mr Jaggers' clients and they were executed for their crimes.

If they were executed for their crimes, why did Mr Jaggers (the man hired to defend them) get a world of credit? Or am I misunderstanding the word 'client' here? Because it seems odd to me that he and Wemmick would keep reminders of their clients who were executed, rather than ones who they stopped from being executed.

Sorry if I am totally missing the point, which I feel I may be.

Many thanks

(I am quoting from 1996 Penguin Classics edition)

1
  • 4
    Just a quick note: You say “the masks made before the criminals were executed” which is either a typo or you misinterpret “The cast was made in Newgate, directly after he was taken down.” The “taken down” here refers to being taken down from the gallows. Aug 17, 2020 at 3:25

2 Answers 2

2

Death masks are post mortem artifacts, as you point out. The masks are kept in Mr. Jaggers workplace (as explained by Wemmick), on account of the Fame owing to the notoriety of the clients and the Fees of clients attracted by Mr. Jaggers reputation. Additionally, the Victorian penchant for Physiognomy (especially of criminals and the insane) coupled with the Victorian Fashion of memento mori may represent further reasons for their presence.

Fame and fees

This becomes clear from the conversation between Pip and Wemmick in Chapter 24 on page 191:

‘Pray,’ said I, as the two odious casts with the twitchy leer upon them caught my sight again, ‘whose likenesses are those?’

‘These?’ said Wemmick, getting upon a chair, and blowing the dust off the horrible heads before bringing them down. ‘These are two celebrated ones. Famous clients of ours that got us a world of credit.

The construction to be placed upon “world of credit” would seem to be "reputation" or "advertisement" but arising from this postive advertisement is remuneration provided by legal fees to Mr Jaggers.

A further important point to remember is that the fees to Mr Jaggers are paid in advance! This becomes apparent from chapter 20 pp 158-161. Mr Jaggers on the way back to his Chambers encountesr Pip and 5 other waiting clients (two men , two women and an anxious Jew). For the two men and the two women he repeats his question “Have you paid Wemmick”. Having satisfied himself on this particular he articulates his commitment to the case. (He disappoints the lisping Jew as he has taken a fee and committed to opposing the Jew’s relative -Abraham Lazarus.)

Physiognomy

The Victorian belief in Physiognomy was prevalent and ingrained. Furthermore, Dickens was a believer in this pseudoscience as may be seen from examples in his fiction (for example the short story Hunted Down: “There is nothing truer than physiognomy, taken in connection with manner“) and non-fiction (Household Words: Vol XII p 505: The Demeanour of Murderers)

Prevailing Fashion

The macabre Victorian custom of memento mori found manifestation in a variety of artifacts including death masks which would not have been seen to be out of place in Mr Jaggers chambers as sobering reminder of our inevitable mortality.

2
  • 1
    I do not think "world of credit" means copious remuneration. It means reputation.
    – verbose
    Nov 2, 2023 at 2:28
  • @verbose : indeed credit does imply reputation , and the fees are a consequence of this .
    – schweppz
    Nov 2, 2023 at 3:27
-4

I read Dicken's GREAT EXPECTATIONS recently and I was 'creeped out' by those death masks that were hanging so indecorously in Attorney Jaggers office. I don't remember any of the characters offering any good reason to Pip for why they were there. The death masks just added a touch of the macabre and an unnerving presence to the ambience of the room. You would think that Jaggers would want to advertise his successes and not his failures, but he was enigmatic.

1
  • 2
    This answer could be helped it your provided some supporting evidence from text. Your thought may be correct but as it stands this is just opinion.
    – Skooba
    Aug 17, 2020 at 11:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.