In Great Expectations, the scene of Joe meeting Pip in London narrates:

“I really believe Joe would have prolonged this word (mightily expressive to my mind of some architecture that I know) into a perfect Chorus, but for his attention being providentially attracted by his hat, which was toppling. Indeed, it demanded from him a constant attention, and a quickness of eye and hand, very like that exacted by wicket-keeping.” — Chapter 27

Does this "wicket-keeping" refer to one in the sport of cricket, or something else?


1 Answer 1


Yes, it refers to cricket, with the wicket-keeper being the fielder behind the wicket, who has dedicated equipment and is frequently called on to catch the ball. The catcher in baseball is similar. It's a position requiring focus and fast reflexes, as Dickens describes. You can get a sense of the skills required of top wicket-keepers in this video.

Miriam-Webster and wiktionary have only a single definition for the term, and M-W dates it to 1750. This is probably referring to the early Laws of Cricket (see also) from that time, which already make reference to the wicket-keeper. Cricket was both popular in Victorian times and a subject Dickens was familiar with - consider the cricket match in Pickwick Papers.

So given the lack of an alternative definition for the term, and the good fit for the simile, Joe's unstable hat does demand of him the skill of a wicket-keeper, as in cricket.

  • Thanks. I know about Cricket good enough, but what's the source/reference to back your claim, old chap ? Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 17:21
  • I have edited to add some detail on the currency of the term and Dickens' familiarity with cricket, as well as - crucially to me - the seeming lack of any alternative definition, even an archaic one.
    – Adam Burke
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 23:44
  • Thankee! Dickens familiarity makes it a strong case indeed. Commented Jun 9, 2021 at 0:04

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