Study Guide

Pippa Cross in A Great and Terrible Beauty

By Libba Bray

Pippa Cross

Sugar and Spice

Oh, beautiful Pippa. She is everything society wants a girl to be: wealthy, gorgeous, thin, proper, and well-mannered—in other words, she knows the rules of the game and plays by them even if she doesn't feel like it. On assembly day, Pippa announces her fate to her friends:

Pippa swallows hard. "May I also present Mr. Bartleby Bumble, Esquire?" The next part comes out like a quiet cry. "My fiancé." (26.41)

Ugh, right? But because Pippa is expected to obey her parents and marry for money instead of love, Pippa resigns herself to Mr. Bumble, a man who doesn't care a fig about her and is really old and boring. Say what you will about Pippa, but she is a good girl in public view.

And when we say that Pippa is pretty, we mean by any standards—Pip is undeniably hip. When Kartik catches them swimming, Gemma comments that the look on his face shows:

Wonder and awe. As if he truly has seen a goddess made flesh. The visceral impact of her beauty is more powerful than any word or deed. (15.132)

Before you start envying Pippa her good looks, though, remember that she struggles with epilepsy. And while today that wouldn't put off potential suitors, back in the day this was a major liability and something that Pippa's family hopes her good looks will distract Mr. Bumble from.

Pip-Squeak

Epilepsy isn't the only crack in Pippa's pristine façade though, and while she can't help her illness, she probably could reign in her attitude from time to time. She is often, as Gemma puts it, "foolish and taunting"(25.101), and frequently whiny, like when the girls play lawn tennis and Pippa squeaks out "'This is dull, and my arm aches'" (24.8). Never at a loss for some opinion or quick judgment or complaint, Pippa is like the pet parrot: pretty and mildly irritating with its chatter. Check out her response to Felicity's suggestion that the girls jump in the lake:

Pippa covers her mouth and gives a little giggle as if she is both horribly embarrassed by the idea and concerned about looking prudish. "We can't do that."

[…]

"What are you doing? Felicity—this is obscene!" (15.105-108)

Pippa isn't just like a pet parrot because she's always got something to say, though—she's also like one because she endlessly repeats and reinforces social expectations, which we can see clearly in the passage just above. Alone by the water and with no one around, Pippa is shocked by the idea that the girls would take off their clothes and swim—and when she says as much, she mimics the expectations from society that she supposedly finds so intrusive.

It's no wonder Pippa's so loyal to Felicity then. If Pippa is a well-trained pet who always follows orders, Felicity offers her a chance to get a little wild from time to time.

The Shadow

Pippa is a follower by nature, and when it comes to Felicity—who, shall we say, is a natural leader (okay, she's bossy…and a bully)—Pippa acts like a little sister who idolizes her older sibling. She is uplifted by Felicity's vigor and confidence because Pippa has trouble finding her own, since she doesn't really feel valued for anything other than her face and figure. What she says doesn't hold much weight, which Gemma comes to recognize after a while—she thinks to herself:

Pippa isn't quite the pampered princess she was a week ago. She's kinder, less shrill. The knight listens to her as no one else does. I've always been so irritated when Pippa opens her mouth, I haven't stopped to think she may babble on because she's afraid she won't be heard. (25.1)

The knight that Gemma refers to here is Pippa's own creation in the realms, a person designed just to listen to and love her for her who is—which lets us know that these are things Pippa doesn't get in her life in the real world. It's no surprise then, really, when Pippa decides to stay in the realm. It's fine and dandy to be pretty, but if no one actually listens to or gets to know you, you end up feeling pretty invisible after a while—and Pippa's willing to give up life as she knows it to change this.