The Satis House Brewery in Great Expectations
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This is an activity for interest and fun – feel free to have a go at it if you have the time.
In this video, Amber discusses the Satis House brewery and considers the significance of beer and brewing in ‘Great Expectations’.
The Satis House Brewery
One of the first things that Pip notices when he visits Satis House is its brewery. Following Estella through the court-yard, he hears the wind howling through the building’s open sides and he reflects that no brewing could have taken place there for some time. A few pages later, this brewery is host to one of the strangest, most extraordinary moments in the novel.
Dismissed from his “play” with Miss Havisham, insulted by Estella on the grounds of his class, Pip explores the grounds of Satis House in the hope of expelling his anger and frustration:
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Literature of the English Country House
To be sure, it was a deserted place, down to the pigeon-house in the brewery-yard, which had been blown crooked on its pole by some high wind, and would have made the pigeons think themselves at sea, if there had been any pigeons there to be rocked by it. But there were no pigeons in the dove-cot, no horses in the stable, no pigs in the sty, no malt in the storehouse, no smells of grains and beer in the copper or the vat. All the uses and scents of the brewery might have evaporated with its last reek of smoke. In a by-yard, there was a wilderness of empty casks, which had a certain sour remembrance of better days lingering about them; but it was too sour to be accepted as a sample of the beer that was gone, and in this respect I remember those recluses as being like most others.
Behind the furthest end of the brewery, was a rank garden with an old wall; not so high but that I could struggle up and hold on long enough to look over it, and see that the rank garden was the garden of the house, and that it was overgrown with tangled weeds, but that there was a track upon the green and yellow paths, as if some one sometimes walked there, and that Estella was walking away from me even then. But she seemed to be everywhere. For when I yielded to the temptation presented by the casks, and began to walk on them, I saw her walking on them at the end of the yard of casks. She had her back towards me, and held her pretty brown hair spread out in her two hands, and never looked round, and passed out of my view directly. So, in the brewery itself, by which I mean the large paved lofty place in which they used to make the beer, and where the brewing utensils still were. When I first went into it, and, rather oppressed by its gloom, stood near the door looking about me, I saw her pass among the extinguished fires, and ascend some light iron stairs, and go out by a gallery high overhead, as if she were going out into the sky.
It was in this place, and at this moment, that a strange thing happened to my fancy. I thought it a strange thing then, and I thought it a stranger thing long afterwards. I turned my eyes – a little dimmed by looking up at the frosty light – towards a great wooden beam in a low nook of the building near me on my right hand, and I saw a figure hanging there by the neck. A figure all in yellow white, with but one shoe to the feet; and it hung so, that I could see that the faded trimmings of the dress were like earthy paper, and that the face was Miss Havisham’s, with a movement going over the whole countenance as if she were trying to call to me. In the terror of seeing the figure, and in the terror of being certain that it had not been there a moment before, I at first ran from it, and then ran towards it. And my terror was greatest of all when I found no figure there.
Satis House brewery is uncanny – it is both a familiar and an unfamiliar space. It is an everyday part of the country house and its domestic economy, and it was previously an integral part of the Havisham family business. But now it stands vacant and unproductive.
The Satis House Brewery and Pip’s Vision
Comment upon the following questions using the contextual information provided in the video, and draw upon textual evidence from the novel to support your answers:
- What is the purpose and significance of Pip’s vision of the hanging Miss Havisham?
- Why does this vision occur in the brewery?
Text excerpted from The Project Gutenberg eBook of ‘Great Expectations’, by Charles Dickens, 1867 edition.
Information provided about country house brewing in this step is indebted to the research of Pamela Sambrook and Lynn Pearson (Brewing History Society).
Lynn Pearson, ‘The Brewing Industry: A Report by the Brewing History Society for English Heritage’, Historic England (February 2010)
Pamela Sambrook, ‘Country House Brewing in England 1500-1900’ (London: The Hambledon Press, 1996)
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Literature of the English Country House
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