Matilda visited London to research Dickens more extensively, going to the British Library to look at “all the fragments of life that had gone into the making of Great Expectations.” She quickly found herself disappointed, though, upon learning that Dickens—despite his compassion for orphans—was not the most loving of fathers. After retracing Dickens’s steps—and the novel’s steps—for several days, Matilda found herself in a depression, unwilling to leave the bed of her boardinghouse for six days. On the sixth day, she rose early, walked over to the desk, picked up the front page of her thesis, turned it over, and wrote, “Everyone called him Pop Eye.”
Matilda’s depression in London comes from her own inability to enter the story of Great Expectations. No matter how much she researches Dickens and the origins of his novel, she exists outside the narrative. Here again is her dissatisfaction with the idea that her relationship to Pip is a “one-way conversation.” Unlike Mr. Watts’s life story, which she becomes part of by collecting new fragments, Great Expectations is sealed against her influence. In response, she jumps up and writes, “Everyone called him Pop Eye,” the first sentence of Mister Pip. By writing about her own story, Mr. Watts’s story, and Pip’s influence on her life, she is finally able to interact with Great Expectations on a collaborative level.
Before leaving England, Matilda decided to visit Rochester, a place from which Dickens borrowed several landmarks in the composition of Great Expectations. She describes Rochester as a quaint town with cobblestones and shopkeepers who look like Dickens himself. With two hours to spare in the town before catching a train back, she joined a tour guided by a woman from the Charles Dickens Center at Eastgate House. While the group looked at one of the landmarks—a large house that figures prominently in Great Expectations—a young man hopped out of a cab and showed annoyance at the tour as he made his way into the landmark; the guide explained that the house had been turned into apartments. Later, Matilda stared at a mannequin of Charles Dickens and muttered, “I have met Mr. Dickens and this is not him.” In the silence of this room, she decided that she would return home to Bougainville.
Matilda’s assertion that she has met Mr. Dickens and that the mannequin before her does not accurately represent him illustrates the idea that as an engaged reader—and now a writer, too, since she’s begun writing the contents of Mister Pip—she can conceptualize Dickens in whatever way she wants. To her, Mr. Watts was Mr. Dickens and, furthermore, Pip lived not in England but in the Pacific Ocean. She allows herself these liberties because she knows narrative isn’t fixed in reality, but rather malleable—it invites interpretation, and Matilda chooses to remake the author of Great Expectations in her own image.