An Analysis of Miss Havisham’s Madness

This paper will try to check out the atypical behavior of Miss Havisham, perhaps the most remarkable character in Charles Dicken's novel, "Terrific Expectations". The analysis will be performed in the context of the society she belonged to and the events she had actually been through. INSANITY DURING THE VICTORIAN ERA Throughout the eighteen hundreds, a typical belief was that those who had mental disorder suffered due to the fact that they had a "illness of the soul" (Goldberg, 24). Their unusual behavior was attributed to fundamental malevolence and they were treated apathetically in asylums by ignorant caretakers who have inadequate understanding of psychological disease.

They were treated as animals. Clients in these early asylums were kept in cages, provided percentages of often dirty food, had little or no clothes, wore no shoes, and oversleeped dirt. Due to the fact that the clients could frequently live many years in such conditions, the caretakers ended up being more positive that these people remained in actuality closer to animals and therefore deserving of such abuse (Ussher, 65).

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Moreover, reliable treatments for mental disorders were not available, with the only procedures being such procedures as, drugging, bleeding, or purging, which produced few objective outcomes (Carson et al.

47). Bleeding, likewise understood as phlebotomy or bloodletting, was used to launch "bad blood". This was normally the initial treatment. It appeared like a rational option to restore health based upon the 4 humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Patients were cut with a lancet or "leeched"; blood or milk was leaked over a vein to motivate the leech to bite and draw from that vein.

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A medical professional often bled a patient until they fainted. Bleeding was carried out not just by physicians however also by barbers.

This procedure did extremely little to assist, however did a terrific task in concerns to compromising the client. (Krausse) Purging involved giving patients heavy doses of laxatives or emetics to expel "toxins" from the body. It was believed that diarrhea was unwinding the interior of the body while puking was believed to relieve stress on the arteries. (Krausse) Fortunately, in the mid-eighteen hundreds, beliefs about psychological illness started to change and treatments improved. Moral management of asylums was motivated.

Insanity was no longer viewed as punishment from God but as a disease of the brain, a biological occurrence that could be studied and eventually cured. This initiated a change in treatment of patients; they were given decent food and clothing. They were released from their shackles and brutal confinements and were treated humanely. Women and mental illness. During the19th century, women were deemed to have weaker intellectual faculties than men. It was believed that women were lacking in mental strength and, thus, were more susceptible to mental aberrations.

It was in the Victorian era that madness was called ‘a female malady’. These attitudes were reinforced by medical science of that time which defined women in biological terms as naturally passive, dependent, sexually disinterested and born to be mothers and ‘helpmeets’ to men. These beliefs severely reduced women’s freedom of expression and limited their access to education, employment and ownership of property. Women who rebelled against these codes found themselves vulnerable to being diagnosed as ‘mad’ for exhibiting a wide range of ‘deviant’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘unwomanly’ behaviors.

(Jones) Medical writing at this time made it clear that doctors’ believed women uniquely vulnerable to mental instability; protecting her involved regulating her sexuality and cycles. Mothers were advised to try and delay menstruation in girls and doctors sought to regulate women’s minds by regulating their bodies. Dr. Isaac Baker Brown pioneered the surgical practice of clitoridectomy as a cure for female insanity which he carried out at his private clinic in London.

One of his patients was only 10 years old and the ‘madness’ of several others consisted of their wish to take advantage of the new divorce act of 1857. Another young woman was brought to the clinic by her family because she had suffered ‘great irregularities of temper’, was too assertive in sending her visiting cards to men she liked and spent ‘much time in serious reading’. (Jones) Anorexia, though prominent for many years prior, was officially recognized as a mental disease in 1873 (Ussher, 77). It flourished during the nineteenth century as women wished to exemplify their femininity.

In denying food, a woman could truly be passive and become a weightless accessory for her husband. The physical and spiritual ideal of anorexia also became a status symbol for many women. Working class women had to eat in order to have energy to work. Thus, only middle to upper class women could afford to be anorexic. Cures included being admitted to an asylum where women rested and were excessively fed. The idea of the Wondering Womb also developed in this era, as madness was associated with menstruation, pregnancy, and the menopause.

The womb itself was thought to wander throughout the body, acting as an enormous sponge which sucked the life-energy or intellect from vulnerable women (Ussher, 74). As a result, women became synonymous with madness, as they were pronounced to be emotional and unstable. If a woman of the Victorian era were subject to an outburst, perhaps due to anger or frustration, she would be proclaimed insane. The word Hysteria became the general term for women with mental illness and cures included bed rest, seclusion, bland food, refraining from mental activities such as reading, daily massage, and sensory deprivation.

Though these treatments do not seem too appalling, they were comparable to solitary confinement and would often drive a woman to further insanity. (Frick) MISS HAVISHAM’S LIFE Miss Havisham was raised by her wealthy indulgent father after her mother died when she was just a baby. She also came to inherit her father’s money after his death. As a young woman, Miss Havisham fell deeply in love with a crook named Compeyson, despite warnings from her cousin that the man was only after her money, they decided to get married.

On their wedding day, Havisham received a letter from her fiance and realized she had been betrayed and jilted. From that moment on she refused to remove her wedding dress and wears only one shoe because she was on the process of putting on the other when she received the letter. She also had all the clocks in Satis house stopped at twenty minutes to nine, the moment she realized Compeyson’s deception. After adopting Estelle, she isolated herself from society and remained wandering the mansion in her tattered wedding dress with the remnants of a reception that never came to be.

Miss Havisham’s seclusion is indicative of hysterical insanity, which Conolly classifies. His definition reads: There is a form of malady, more frequent among the wealthier classes than the poorer, in which apparent bodily ailments of a changeful or obstinate character become associated with an infirmity of mind, at first slight and occasional, but afterward more fixed and confirmed…. This form of disorder is chiefly seen in hysterical women… the mind is agitated by every trifle, and every feeling is in excess, and seeks for sympathy with a morbid eagerness.

It would seem as if to all the various portions of the brain, some unrestrained energy were directed, producing endless caprices of the mind and ever-changing bodily sensations… they are affectionate, suspicious, amatory, cold, and repulsive by turns…. Incapable of steady friendship or affection, or of adherence to any of the duties of common life, they usually, by degrees, concentrate their attention on their own feelings and morbid sensations, and, laying claim to excessive sensibility, are really only regardful of themselves. (Conolly, 77)

The fundamental characteristics of hysterical insanity are applicable to Miss Havisham. She has the status of wealth, a social group which Conolly considers vulnerable to hysteria. She is extremely whimsical. She is pleased with Estella’s rapidly changing mood, a copy of her own fickleness. Miss Havisham’s restless temper parallels her impatient bodily reactions. Whenever Pip visits her, he is aware of “impatient movement of her fingers” (Dickens, 146) and her frequent hitting out with a stick in irritation is equivalent to ever-changing bodily sensations.

To Pip as a child, Miss Havisham’s impatient finger movement is a cue of her whimsical demands to him. She apparently indulges Estella, but her love of her ward is egotistical. At the point of death, she is reconciled with Pip, but she cannot form steady friendship or affection with Estella. Her withdrawal into the deserted Satis House is, in other words, the renunciation of the duties of common life, which her wealth permits. Miss Havisham neatly fits Conolly’s classification. (Takei, 3) Havisham’s madness is not a choice. It is the effect of the conglomeration of various aspects in her life.

The death of her mother robbed Havisham of a loving presence and a feminine role model, had she grown up with a mother, she could have been taught how to choose men intelligently, and she would have learned how to conduct relationships well. Growing up with a father that employs the Permissive-Indulgent parenting style, in which parents are high on warmth but low on discipline and control (Carson et al. 104) had made Miss Havisham accustomed to getting her way. This has her fixated on her wedding day, the event of her rejection and humiliation.

Children reared with this type of parenting style are also observed to be manipulative, which is apparent in the relationship between Estelle and Havisham. Also, children of these types of parents grow up to be individuals who readily enter into relationships without much thought, which is exhibited in the engagement between Compeyson and Miss Havisham. Following the unfortunate incident, Havisham has secluded herself from the world. The once magnificent rooms in Satis house has been reduced to ruins filled with dirt and rotting furniture.

The air within is stagnant and rancid. The garden is desolated and choked with weeds. Havisham has denounced even daylight; this contributes to her illness even more. An environment rife with squalor, painful memories and rotting reminders will inevitably take its toll on her already frayed sensibilities. Another contributing factor is the views of the society during that period. Spinsters were considered mentally unsound, during the 19th century doctors claimed that being without continued male interaction would cause irritability, anemia, tiredness and fussing (Ussher).

Havisham could have been initially affected by the opinions of society after she was jilted, the possibility of facing a judgmental and hypercritical crowd could have helped push Miss Havisham over the edge. Desertion on the wedding day in the Victorian social climate caused her an irrecoverable social stigma in addition to agony. Her decaying body exhibits social pressure on deserted women: “Her chest had dropped, so that she stooped; and her voice had dropped, so that she spoke low, and with a dead lull upon her; altogether, she had the appearance of having dropped, body and soul, within and without, under the weight of a crushing blow.

”(Dickens, 107) These factors that were part of her upbringing, social and physical environment, may have contributed to the emotional instability of Miss Havisham. Another proof of Havishams madness not being a choice is the fact that she had sought to find a way to regain a sort of meaning and purpose to her life when she asked for a daughter she could adopt and care for. I had been shut up in these rooms a long time (I don't know how long; you know what time the clocks keep here), when I told him that I wanted a little girl to rear and love, and save from my fate.

I had first seen him when I sent for him to lay this place waste for me; having read of him in the newspapers, before I and the world parted. He told me that he would look about him for such an orphan child. One night he brought her here asleep, and I called her Estella (Dickens, 713). This was Miss Havisham’s original goal, before her mental instability nudged her to manipulate Estelle into becoming a heart-breaker that would wreck havoc on the lives of men as a kind of revenge for what happened to her. Towards the end when Estelle leaves to marry Bentley Drummle.

Havisham realizes the extent of damage she had caused with Pip’s heartbreak. To see her with her white hair and her worn face kneeling at my feet, gave me shock through all my frame. I entreated her to rise, and got my arms about her to help her up; but she only pressed that hand of mine which was nearest to her grasp, and hung her head over it and wept (Dickens, 709) … Until you spoke to her the other day, and until I saw in you a looking-glass that showed me what I once felt myself, I did not know what I had done. What have I done! What have I done!

’ And so again, twenty, fifty times over, What had she done! (Dickens, 710) Havisham’s utter remorse and guilt when she realizes that Pip has been through the same heartache she has experienced is proof that the perverse influence she provided Estelle was not done because she deliberately chose it, rather, she had reached emotional instability because of the events in her life that enabled her to do such actions. As soon as she realized the effect it had on Pip, she was horrified and begged forgiveness. She recognizes that she has tormented Pip, whose heart is as vulnerable as her own.

Havisham says, “I am not all stone” (Dickens, 705), her sympathy and the kindness of a human heart still remains. By her ethical awakening, she recovers her sanity for a short while. Havisham’s madness was not a choice; the events in her life, the environment she lived in, the social interactions she subjected herself too, and her personal flaws, all of these played a part in her mental fragility. Miss Havisham had truly loved Compeyson. This is apparent in one of her conversations with Pip, Havisham exclaims, “I’ll tell you, what real love is.

It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter - as I did! ” (Dickens, 426). The intense passion and complete commitment she had felt for Compeyson corresponds to the utter heartbreak she went through and the unbearable pain she felt over his betrayal. This was the principal event that led to her insanity, unable to cope; she manages to survive only by retreating into her own mind and withdrawing from the difficulty of moving on with a normal life.

She believed her mental illness was necessary for her existence. Works Cited Carson, C. , Butcher, J. , Mineka, S. Abnormal Psychology and Modern life 11th edition (Needham Heights, MA:), 2000. Print Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations, Planet PDF format (online publication: Planet PDF). Web Ussher, Jane M. Women’s Madness: Misogyny or Mental Illness? (Ameherst, Ma: University of Massachusetts Press), 1991. Print Takei, Akiko. Miss Havisham and Victorian Psychiatry, (PDF format) . Web Conolly, John.

On Some of the Forms of Insanity (London), 1850. Print. Jones, Claire. Women and madness, Herstoria magazine (Jones5 Publishing Limited) . Web Goldberg, Ann. Sex, Religion, and the Making of Modern Madness (New York: Oxford University Press), 1999. Print Summary Mental illness during the 19th century had initially been attributed to inherent malevolence or punishment from God; it was during the mid-eighteen hundreds that doctors have begun to view it as a disease of the brain, a biological occurrence that could be treated.

During the Victorian Era it was believed that females were more susceptible to mental imbalance because of their weaker minds. Society dictated that the roles of women should be strictly confined to household and they must all be under the support of men. Miss Havisham’s madness was not a choice. It was a result of the conglomeration of various aspects of her life: the environment she lived in, the family she grew up with, the events she had been through, the society she is part of and the personal flaws she had.

All of these have played a role in her madness. The breaking point had been the abandonment and betrayal of her fiance Compeyson, whom she loved deeply. In her devastation she proceeds to let her life revolve around the wedding day she never had. Havisham wanders the ruined halls of her Satis home wearing the yellowed wedding dress she refuses to take off and using only one shoe because she was in the process of putting on the other pair when she received the letter from Compeyson.

She also had all the clocks in her home stopped twenty minutes to nine- the moment she realized she was betrayed. She adopted a girl named Estelle and proceeded to influence her to become a cold and ruthless girl to wreak havoc in men’s lives. She saw this as a type of revenge to all men for the pain she’s been through. Towards the end of the book Havisham regains sanity for a short while after realizing the pain of heartbreak Pip has been through because of her machinations. Guilty and remorseful, she begs Pip for forgiveness and realizes her mistake.

Updated: Jul 07, 2022
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An Analysis of Miss Havisham’s Madness. (2016, Sep 15). Retrieved from

An Analysis of Miss Havisham’s Madness essay
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