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I was reading Great Expectations the other day, and came across this passage that I couldn't make any sense of whatsoever:

Why should I loiter on my road to compare the state of mind in which I had tried to rid myself of the stain of the prison before meeting her at the coach office with the state of mind in which I now reflected on the abyss between Estella in her pride and beauty and the returned transport whom I harbored? The road would be none the smoother for it, the end would be none the better for it, he would not be helped, nor I extenuated. (ch. 43)

I've been able to decipher Dickens and his unbelievably long sentences so far, but I'm stuck with this one.
What does it mean?

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    I'm afraid this is off topic. Please read the faq. english.stackexchange.com/help
    – Kris
    Aug 13, 2014 at 5:59
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    if it's off topic, click to close
    – Fattie
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:25
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    FTR I think that's an example of a HORRIFIC piece of writing from dickens. it's just a mess. he was in a hurry and forgot to edit it later.
    – Fattie
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:26
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    I'm not convinced this question is off-topic. It's a discussion about the meaning of a piece of English language. With Literature closed, I think that English literature now belongs in english.stackoverflow.com (in the same vein as how, in the United States, literature is taught in English class)
    – jwir3
    Dec 26, 2014 at 19:17

1 Answer 1

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Road is metaphorical for life.

Why should I take time in my life to compare

  • the state of mind in which

    • I had tried to rid myself of the stain of the prison
      → before meeting her at the coach office

with

  • the state of mind in which

    • I now reflected on the abyss between
      → Estella in her pride and beauty and
      → the returned transport whom I harboured?

That is, he's just met Estella at the coach office and has taken her under his wing. Before that, he'd been trying to rid himself of the stain of the prison. Since meeting her, he's been reflecting on her change in appearance.

He doesn't feel it worthwhile to compare those two states of mind and carry on brooding on "the stain of the prison", because he now has Estella and she's the most important thing to consider.

The "returned transport whom he harboured" is presumably in a state of anything but pride and beauty. Transport could be a pun: not only can it mean "what has been transported" (that is, Magwitch who was judicially transported), but also a "transport of delight" — that which causes one "to be carried away with strong and often intensely pleasant emotion" [MW] in which case it's probably ironic.

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    Without going to meta can you clarify (from an individual moderators point of view) if this question is on-topic or not?
    – Frank
    Aug 13, 2014 at 7:35
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    @Frank From this individual moderator's point of view, it's borderline (because of the classification "Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature") but it just falls the right side of that line. What helps in that assessment is the road metaphor and the probable pun on transport. And it's not criticism or discussion because it's explaining a particular sentence rather than, say, its style or Dickens' style in general. Others may disagree, and the question may end up being voted closed, possibly even by another moderator.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:27
  • IMO dickens was essentially saying: "I was worried about being an ex-con, but then all I could think about was seeing my ex-girlfriend again after not having Relations for so long. Unfortunately when I saw her, she had aged badly which was a downer. Nevertheless, I'm crazy not to put all that aside and focus on getting her to the Inn for Relations."
    – Fattie
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:32
  • The "returned transport whom I harbored" is Magwitch, who was transported to New South Wales and has returned to Britain illegally, and who Pip now is concealing under the alias "Provis".
    – Neil W
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:40
  • @Neil Thanks. My recollection has faded beyond reliability. However, the sentence analysis appears accurate.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:49

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