Great Expectations was written in the mid-19th century by world-renowned novelist Charles Dickens who was known for his exceptional novels such as; Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities and many more. Most of his novels were based on social hierarchies and reform. The novel itself is based on a young orphan named Pip who lives with his sister and her husband in Kent. Miss Havisham is a wealthy dowager who is extremely eccentric.
She has adopted a young orphan called Estella who happens to be Pip’s age, the reason for her idiosyncratic behaviour is due to her husband-to-be’s abandoning of her at the altar on her wedding day.
Upon Pip’s entrance to Miss Havisham’s room we can clearly see her state of mind as being fragmented and irreparable. Dickens describes her attire to be made of “rich materials” stating her great wealth; “satins and lace, and silks all of white: Her shoes were white… long white veil… er hair was white”, the repetition of white in Dickens’ description of Miss Havisham is a reiteration of her purity and wealth.
Miss Havisham’s wealth is implied frequently by Dickens’ description of her jewels: “some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table”, the use of sparkling is used to emphasise the brightness and the luminosity of them. Also the fact that she has jewels on her table, so many jewels that she simply cannot wear all of them.
Her clothes are described as “scattered about” and there are also: “half-packed trunks”. Dickens also states that “gloves, some flowers and a prayer book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass”. The word “confusedly” links back to Miss Havisham’s mindset and how it is mirrored by her surroundings. Pip’s view that everything is faded away decrepit is implied through Dickens’ description of Miss Havisham’s clothing’ “everything within my view which out to be white, had been white long ago and had lost it’s lustre, which was faded and yellow”.
This clearly emphasises to the reader the duration in which Miss Havisham has been wearing these particular pieces of clothing in order to turn from their original colour (white) to yellow. This is a connotation of the colours representing Miss Havisham’s tainted mentality which has been contaminated with evil and cold feelings and actions and how the test of time has had an obvious effect on her both physically and mentally: “no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes… figure upon which it had now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone”.
Literally describing Miss Havisham’s face and figure as being a victim of decay or erosion. The quote referring to the brightness only being visible in her “sunken” eyes is a very effective description due to it insinuating Miss Havisham’s features and emotions as being nonexistent however the brightness in her eye could be the one spark that keeps her going and shows her lust for revenge: “Now waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me”. “I should have cried out, if I could” showing Pip’s fearful reaction to Miss Havisham’s inhuman features which correlate with her state of mind.
Miss Havisham seems to acknowledge and accept Pip’s apparent perception of her by saying: “Look at me… you are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born? ” this has an enormous effect on Pip and is a form of extreme intimidation towards him and is surely an indication of her hatred towards (all) men as she is doing her best to intimidate a boy aged 9. Estella seems to have a mirrored personality of Miss Havisham due to Miss Havisham’s great authority over her and her moulding of her since her adoption.
Estella is described as “scornful” and “cold” which is evidence of Miss Havisham’s upbringing of her to carry on her legacy of abhorrence towards men. When Miss Havisham is viewing the card game that is taking place between the two children, Dickens implies that she is slowly dying through his intense description of her face and apparel: “so she sat, corpse-like… the frillings and trimmings on her bridal dress, looking like earthy paper”. Dickens also describes her as being mummy like and compares her to “bodies buried in ancient times” and says “she must have looked as if the admission of natural light of day would have struck her to dust! This could possibly be Dickens’ most dynamic description of Miss Havisham due to the extreme image of a decaying corpse which has been hidden from view for hundreds, possibly thousands of years which increases her zombie-like aura and reiterates her physical characteristics as literally crumbling.
Dickens’ description of Miss Havisham corresponds with his description of Satis House; Miss Havisham’s residence: “you are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born? ” is Miss Havisham’s description of herself. This tells us that the house has not been tended to and hasn’t been cared for properly: “old brick… ismal… rustily barred… windows had been walled up… grass growing in every crevice… empty and disused… rank garden”. If Miss Havisham were to be a house this would be the exact description of her; as uncared for, fragmented, unloved, private, inhuman etc. This shows that the properties of the two are juxtaposed and Dickens intended this similarity when describing the two. She speaks and looks, and this ever increasing neglect has had a profound effect on the two which is portrayed in the house’s decay and Miss Havisham’s inability to love.
Furthermore phrases such as “tangled wounds” give us the impression of a house that is in disrepair although once it had been loved and cared for, these characteristics no longer exist which is the unequivocal impression we get from Miss Havisham’s clothing and the manner in which she speaks and looks. One can imagine a young girl (Miss Havisham) wearing the particular items, her wedding dress, prayer book, flowers, satins and lace and silk being the exact opposite of what she is now, cared for, loved, beautiful and pleasant.
In correlation we can also imagine a fine manor (Satis House) which has a newly-pained gate, fresh bricks lain with cement, not a trace of moss in sight and all the sections of the house being in use (brewery, sty, stable etc. ) which is the exact image Dickens intends to put into the reader’s imagination. Miss Havisham shows a great deal of authority over Pip: “Where shall I have you here again? ” this is due to her immense wealth albeit her status as a spinster.
Miss Havisham’s apparent disregard and for society and her insanity are shown in this exchange of words: “I know nothing of the days of the week; I know nothing of the weeks of the year”, which is a clear notion of her separation from the outside world and shows her boastfulness towards her inability to recite something as simple as the days of the week. Satis House is shown as having the many features of a grand Victorian mansion due to having a pigeon-house, a brewery and a courtyard. However the emptiness that is described by Dickens in a certain paragraph shows the desolateness that has been imposed upon the house: “deserted place… o pigeons… no horses in the stable, no pigs in the sty, no malt in the store house… no smells of grains and beer in the copper or the vat”.
The house’s atmosphere seems to be different from the others as Pip describes the courtyard as colder than that of outside the gate: “The cold wind seemed to blow colder there, than outside the gate” whereas one would usually deem the closer one is to a house, the warmer the atmosphere and the air would be which is in complete contradiction with that of Satis House. It made a shrill noise and howling in and out at the open sides of the brewery” which tells us that the contents of the brewery cause the wind to create a “shrill” noise which creates a spooky atmosphere of sorts and also gives Pip a first impression of Miss Havisham although he hasn’t been in her presence. When Pip is exiting Satis House after his first visit; Miss Havisham’s intimidation of him seems to have worked as he is insecure about his social inferiority: “my coarse hands and common boots.
My opinion of those accessories was not favourable. They had never troubled me before, but they troubled me now” which shows that Miss Havisham’s encounter has had a profound effect on him and again reiterates the reason for such intimidation to be her deep hatred towards men. Upon Pip’s later encounter with Miss Havisham, Pip is now a gentleman and has grown-up. The appearance of Satis House has worsened. Dickens implies Satis House to be uninhabitable through his use of the word “wilderness”. By the wilderness of casks that I had walked on long ago and on which the rain of years had fallen since, rotting them in many places”, the unused beer barrels’ texture has literally eroded away due to the rain and little care, uses of phrases such as “rusty latch”, “damp wood” and “growth of fungus” emphasise the worsened physical characteristics of the house. Miss Havisham is described to be sitting on a “ragged” chair before an “ashy fire”; the two adjectives “ashy” and “ragged” are used to describe Miss Havisham’s surroundings as though her mental and physical characteristics have affected items in close proximity to her.
Dickens’ descriptions of Miss Havisham’s complete remorse towards her actions are very explicit through her kneeling and bowing down towards Pip and are great gestures and show her repentance effectively: “to my amazement… to my terror dropped on her knees at my feet”. “I had never seen her shed a tear before” showing his bemusement to Miss Havisham’s unorthodox behaviour. “She was down upon the ground” shows a complete change in Miss Havisham’s behaviour towards Pip as a domineering and intimidating figure who is now prostrating before him. O” “she cried, despairingly,” “what have I done! ”
“What have I done” which show her auditory response to the situation and not simply though her physical actions. Dickens also describes her seclusion from society being the main reason for her insanity and how “in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more… she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences'”. Dickens is stating that by isolating herself from the outside world she has worsened her situation and removed the hope of ever recovering completely from her insanity.
What must be noted is that several of Charles Dickens’ greatest novels revolved around orphans the most famous of which include Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations itself. This is due to a stint at a workhouse in which he experienced the horrible conditions of workers which were mainly young orphans and how they were starved and forced to work long hours with little pay. The upper-class of society at that period was predominantly unaware of this situation. Due to this section of society being literate, Dickens’ sought to spread awareness of the conditions of orphans through his books.
Also Miss Havisham’s place in society is very irregular due to her immense wealth which is shown from her possessions and residence and her status as a spinster. Women in Victorian times were almost always owned by a male; their father before they were married off to a man and their husband when they were married. Although Miss Havisham may be wealthy her status as a dowager may have caused some within society to have looked down upon her. Overall Dickens has effectively used the description of Satis House and Miss Havisham to correspond together and the description of the house to set the scene for the upcoming description of Miss Havisham.
These are both shown to be two very similar things in terms of description although being two different things (character, person and house, setting). I feel this is an effective way to enrapture the reader and place them in the right mindset. This makes the description of Miss Havisham infinitely more effective due to the house having been described just prior to the description of Miss Havisham. This is a very intelligent technique due to its roots not being apparent without further investigation.