This post is admittedly a little wandering, because I found Jack Maggs so compellingly heavy with different ideas and angles. I’m interested in secrets, secrecy, and suppression in Carey’s novel, and how they relate to power, and how power relates to sex.
(I like that picture because he looks all broody and Heathcliff-like)
I started the book a little unsure why we were reading the text. I read the first few chapters, alternating between “what is going on?” and “Oh. Criminal comes home. There we go.” In reimagining Magwitch as Maggs, returned from exile to care for his “child,” Carey is pretty explicitly inspired by Great Expectations, and, like other adaptations we’ve encountered, wants to explore a gap in the “original” text. This gap is Magwitch- Magwitch’s motivations, desires, and the reality of an experience he could have had upon returning to London.
So why does my title reference penetration (apart from to obviously horrify and titillate the reader)? To get to the thrust of my argument, I’m amazed and intrigued by how explicitly sexual language is used in the novel to describe claiming secrets. In a broader sense, I’m interested in how the obtaining of these secrets is akin to unwanted penetration. Maggs angrily demands of Tobias “‘Do you have him in the room when I am naked? And her?... Do you invite her in to see my shame?’” (139) Tobias has the “appaling spectre” of Maggs’ death “forced… into his mind” (146).
Alongside this, I want to briefly consider how the revelation of secrets, the creation of creativity, is a masturbatory act. Maggs, aroused by Mercy, enters a room “hard behind her” (164, amusing double entendre), locks her in “before he could change his mind” (164), and masturbatorily replaces his attraction to her with “pouring all his feelings into that secret history” (164). Tobias feels a “a huge relief”(255) in releasing all of his secrets to Maggs (and Tobias is often sexually charged by his own writing and his writing process).
Leading out of this is my more open-ended question about power in the novel (maybe sexual power in particular, especially since we have the monumentally important aside piece of information that Henry Phipps (Pip) spent weeks sexually abusing Constable). When does Maggs have it, when doesn’t he have it, and what are the implications of this sliding and slippery spectrum of authority? And if we disagree with my rough ideas about power and sex… where can we take our discussion of power and physicality? What do we make of the intense focus on bodies in the novel?