Great Expectations Essays/ Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham

Character Analysis

Pip's great expectations are ruined, and he becomes a better man. Miss Havisham's expectations are ruined, and she becomes an "immensely rich and grim lady" who refuses to take off her decaying, tattered wedding gown (7.80)—or to hire a cleaning service.

Talk about coping problems.

Here's Miss Havisham's story, according to Herbert Pocket: she was the spoiled only child of a rich country gentleman brewer, until her dad married a cook (how déclassé) and had another child, a son, who for some reason decided he hated Miss Havisham and conspired with a conman named Compeyson to steal her fortune and then leave her at the altar on her wedding day.

Whew. Long sentence.

Anyway, the point is that Miss Havisham loses her fortune and her boyfriend/ fiancé—and she decides to take it out on the entire male sex. Which makes sense. (Not.) So, she adopts a little girl and raises her for one purpose: breaking hearts, starting with Pip.

Miss Havisham constantly needles Pip, making him play with Estella even when Estella obviously hates him and then, when Pip is growing up, eagerly telling him that she's "educating for a lady; far out of reach; prettier than ever; admired by all who see her. Do you feel that you have lost her?" (15.69). And when Pip is finally all grown up, Miss Havisham really goes nuts on him:

Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces—and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper—love her, love her, love her! (29.85)

Okay, so, obviously Miss Havisham is a little (or a lot) crazy. But why is she so obsessed with making sure that Pip loves Estella? Is it just to break his heart, and, if so, why? Pip can't quite understand. Being Pip, he chooses to think the best, saying that he's pretty sure she didn't "reflect[...] on the gravity of what she did" (44.43). She was just trying to heal her broken heart in the only way she could.

Say Yes to the Dress

The thing that catches our Shmoopy interest is that Miss Havisham's situation sounds a lot like Pip's: she lost her fortune and her special someone. But where Pip manages to become a better person because of it, Miss Havisham just goes nuts and ruins more people's lives. The question is, why? Is she just a bad person because she grew up spoiled and rich? Or is it a problem of gender? (Spoiler: we think so.)

After all, Miss Havisham can't exactly go off to Cairo and become a partner in a shipping firm. Young, single women just couldn't do things like that in the nineteenth century; their options were marriage or, well, marriage. And because she was a lady, she couldn't go off and work, like Biddy—it would have been almost unthinkable for a rich (or formerly rich) daughter of a gentleman to do anything except maybe become a governess or another rich lady's companion—and even that would have been stretching it. Did Miss Havisham really have another choice?

Miss Havisham In Great Expectations Essay


In Great Expectations, Dickens depicts an eccentric character in Miss Havisham. The unmarried Miss Havisham seems to both conform to and deny the societal standards of unmarried women in the Victorian Age. Spinsters and old maids display particular attitudes and hold certain functions in the society. Miss Havisham's character shows how one woman can both defy and strengthen these characteristics. She, along with several other female characters in the novel, supports the fact that unmarried women were growing in number. In addition, her extravagant appearance aligns her with the common misconceptions of a spinster's appearance as common and unattractive, as well as makes her outcast from society like many unmarried women were. On the other hand, Miss Havisham's wealth is an uncommon characteristic of unmarried women. Furthermore, society does not show disrespect for Miss Havisham as it did for many spinsters; in fact, Miss Havisham portrays an authority rarely associated with spinsters over the lives of a few characters in the novel. Yet, while Miss Havisham's wealth and sense of respect and authority defy these characteristics of spinsters, the reasons she has these traits, her inheritance and social status, realign her with the traditional idea of a spinster.

The novel presents several figures of single women like Miss Havisham, each with her own peculiarities, which is in keeping with the social reality that the number of single women was growing. Molly, Jaggers's maid, is revealed as a murderess with a "diseased affection of the heart" (204; ch. 26). Biddy, the servant at the forge, provides an excellent example of a young woman on the verge of spinsterhood. She is described by Pip as "not beautiful - she was common" and therefore aligns herself with the common, unattractive standard of appearance for spinsters in Victorian time (130; ch. 17). Miss Skiffins, Wemmick's friend, presents herself not only as a single woman but one who takes care of her own finances, which was uncommon in this day. And then there is Miss Havisham, who has risen to the status of old maid through the mere passage of time. All of these women provide examples from the text of single women, which supports the contention of the time that single women were growing in number. Although Biddy and Miss Skiffins do marry, it is important to note not only the length of their spinsterhood, but the circumstances under which it comes to an end. Biddy can only become Joe's wife after Mrs. Joe dies. Wemmick waits until precisely the right time in his affairs to propose to Miss Skiffins so as not to disturb the natural order of his very structured life. While these single women offer a distinct presence in the novel, none plays a large role in society.

Spinsters were often viewed as outcasts from society; there was no respect for a woman who could not marry. Miss Havisham definitely fits the mold of an outcast. After being abandoned...

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