And this new Marly book, to appear on bookstore shelves and e-shelves everywhere today, is *apparently a pip, too---the winner, for example, of the 2012 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction.
Names such as Pip or Ishmael or Scarlett, for example, naturally carry strong associations for readers. When a new character bears a name with heavy historical reference, we (the reader) think, "Aha! So how does THIS Pip relate to the Dickens Pip? What is the author telling us about this new Pip, even before his story starts? Is this an ironic use of the name or is it some kind of homage to the Dickens one? What does this MEAN, because in the whole unlimited universe of names from which to choose, the new author has chosen this one and there has to be a reason!
In this case, the fact that the two Pips are orphans seems a double underlining of the connection between them.
Therefore, although perhaps the Pip question has been asked a million times, I'm going to ask it again. Why the Dickens orphan reference, or ...What the Dickens?
Not a deliberate one; I thought of the name, and then a moment later realized that it had been used by Dickens. Certainly there is a common thread joining one orphan to another--for each, a sister is quite important. The name came more from an awareness of "Pip" as suggesting the mostly-British usage of "pipped" or wounded, "pip" as seed that may grow and flower and fruit, and "pip" as the first step of a bird toward hatching. All these things bear on the protagonist's situation and say something about it and him. Of course I remembered the Pip created by Dickens and "brought up by hand." But what did not occur to me until you asked this question was another literary reference--to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and "The Five Orange Pips." The surprising thought just came to me that "The Five Orange Pips" fetches up not only one of many writers (like Dickens) I loved in childhood, but also a direct link between "pip" and danger, death, Savannah, and the K. K. K.
Thank you, Marly. Our discussion teaches me, once again, how the truths and power of a well-drawn character are bigger, deeper, and more various than the reader or the writer, ( if I may be so bold as to claim), can know or predict at the outset.
* I'll find out soon when I get my own copy of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage at our great local bookstore Flyleaf Books. It can be ordered online at amazon.com and other venues. Read it, won't you?