Now, it being Christmas when the ship shot from out her harbor, for a space we had biting Polar weather, though all the time running away from it to the southward; and by every degree and minute of latitude we sailed, gradually leaving that merciless winter, and all its intolerable weather behind us. It was one of those less lowering, but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that I mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I levelled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.
from Great Expectations, chapter 37
After a little further conversation to the same effect, we returned into the castle, where we found Miss Skiffins preparing tea. The responsible duty of making the toast was delegated to the Aged, and that excellent old gentleman was so intent upon it that he seemed to be in some danger of melting his eyes. It was no nominal meal that we were going to make, but a vigorous reality. The Aged prepared such a haystack of buttered toast that I could scarcely see him over it as it simmered on an iron stand hooked onto the top-bar; while Miss Skiffins brewed such a jorum of tea that the pig in the back premises became strongly excited, and repeatedly expressed his desire to participate in the entertainment.
Here's what I notice: Melville's outside world is so vivid; Dickens's contained world is so vivid. Both novelists use the word reality with particular emphasis. Melville depends considerably on his remarkable adjectives: vindictive, melancholy. Dickens depends on comic metaphor, exaggeration, personification: "melting his eyes," "haystack of buttered toast," the expressive pig. Melville's sentences begin as long, complex, grammatically challenged constructions and gradually narrow themselves down to "Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck." Dickens's sentence structure is less obviously melodramatic, but it does subtly move our attention from character to character, place to place, item to item while making sure that everything coheres as a single unified scene.
I think that both of these passages are extraordinary. I was lying in bed last night, waiting for the onset of the Nyquil stupor, when I read "vindictive sort of leaping," and I was stunned. A phrase like that can single-handedly quell sleep. And the fireside scenes in Wemmick's house are among my favorite moments in Great Expectations. I love the Aged Parent; I love the backyard pig. I love how Wemmick, and therefore Pip, regain their goodness in that setting. I love all that buttered toast.