Miss Havisham had seen him as soon as I, and was (like everybody else) afraid of him. She made a strong attempt to compose herself, and stammered that he was as punctual as ever.

"As punctual as ever," he repeated, coming up to us. "(How do you do, Pip? Shall I give you a ride, Miss Havisham? Once round?) And so you are here, Pip?"

I told him when I had arrived...

Great Expectations, Ch. 29, Charles Dickens (1861)

What is the meaning of the parentheses/round brackets inside the quotation marks here?

It seems clear that the participants said something like the following:

Miss Havisham: something like "Jaggers, you are as punctual as ever."
Jaggers: "As punctual as ever"
Jaggers: "And so you are here, Pip?" (speaking to Pip)
Pip: something like "I arrived yesterday..."

But it's not clear to me what happened in the part I marked "...???...".

When I searched Google for things like "Dickens parentheses dialogue", I found some things, but nothing that seemed to provide a completely satisfactory explanation. According to the blog post "Great Expectations AP Style Literature Questions", the correct answer to the question "In chapter fifteen, what is the purpose of the parentheses around (“Let her alone, will you?” said Joe)" is "To show that Joe interrupted and talked at the same time at which Orlick and Mrs. Joe were arguing." But as the parenthetical portion of the dialogue I am asking about comes between two sentences that are both spoken by Jaggers, I don't see how it could be interpreted as an interruption.

Is it meant to indicate that Jaggers said "As punctual as ever" to Miss Havisham, then "How do you do, Pip?" to Pip, then "Shall I give you a ride, Miss Havisham? Once round?" to Miss Havisham, and then walked around the table once with Miss Havisham before saying "And so you are here, Pip?" to Pip? That's the best I can come up with, but I'm not sure I've ever seen parentheses used to imply that a speaker took some action in between parts of a quotation before, and it reads a little oddly to me.

I would appreciate it if anyone can either give a good explanation of the meaning of this particular example, or just provide more insight based on the use of round brackets in other places in Dickens' work or in the work of his contemporaries. Citations or examples of similar usage would be ideal.


1 Answer 1


I think that Dickens is quoting the conversation in full but leaves our imagination to fill in the gestures that would occur during the exchange.

It is almost like a screenplay, but Dickens has not filled in the directions - we have to imagine them.

'As punctual as ever, ' he repeated, coming up to us.

[. . . Brusque exchange as she and Pip stand there, awkwardly afraid of him :-

'How do you do, Pip ?' (Rhetorical question; Pip nods or smiles or stands there rigidly afraid.)

Shall I give you a ride, Miss Havisham ? (Miss H smiles courteously and nods, yes.)

Once round ? (Miss H smiles and nods again, yes. ) . . . . . . . ]

'And so you are here, Pip ?'

Pip tells him when he arrived . . .

I think that Dickens has enclosed a brief and brusque exchange within his brackets in order to emphasise that the speaker is in total control of it all. Others are standing there woodenly responding, afraid of the man.

It is quite an effective literary device.

  • Thanks; the second-to-last paragraph of this in particular helped me.
    – herisson
    Nov 2, 2017 at 0:37

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