Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham is a bitter recluse who has shut herself away since being jilted on her wedding day. She never leaves the house and has stopped all the clocks so that she is unaware of time passing. She always wears her wedding clothes and has left the prepared wedding feast to decay in one of her rooms. As a result of her experiences, Miss Havisham hates humanity, particularly, men. She has adopted a young girl, Estella, and is training her to be cold and cruel so that she will break men’s hearts. Miss Havisham invites the young Pip to the house so that Estella can practice on him. He mistakenly believes that Miss Havisham wishes them to have a future together and he also thinks she is his mystery benefactor.

Although she eventually regrets what she has done and her character starts to change, it is too late. In a tragic accident, Miss Havisham is horribly burned when her wedding dress catches fire and she dies shortly afterwards.

Miss Havisham is clearly suffering from psychological damage so the reader does not condemn her completely. She is one of the mother figures in the novel.

How is Miss Havisham like this?EvidenceAnalysis
EccentricMiss Havisham hides herself away, wears only her wedding clothes, has stopped all the clocks and refuses to see members of her own family.I took note of the surrounding objects in detail, and saw that her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine. "Look at me," said Miss Havisham. "You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?"'Twenty minutes to nine' is the exact time that Miss Havisham originally received the letter telling her that her marriage ceremony was cancelled – she has been 'stuck' at that time physically and emotionally ever since. She has also not been outside the house for at least ten years.
Seeks revengeMiss Havisham has been betrayed by a single man and now wishes to get even with mankind in general. Everything she does (especially with Estella) is to achieve that purpose."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!"As Miss Havisham urges Pip to love Estella, she says nothing about her loving him in return. This, of course, is not an option. The intensity with which she speaks and the repetition she uses highlights Miss Havisham's mania.
PossessiveMiss Havisham has brought Estella up to be the instrument of her revenge. She looks on her as a daughter even though she is not.She hung upon Estella's beauty, hung upon her words, hung upon her gestures, and sat mumbling her own trembling fingers while she looked at her, as though she were devouring the beautiful creature she had reared.Repeating the word 'hung' gives the reader a sense of the powerful nature of Miss Havisham’s emotions towards Estella. It also foreshadows how her obsession will lead to her death. 'Devouring' makes us think of a hungry animal which will not part with its food.
ThoughtlessMiss Havisham is wealthy, having inherited money and the house from her parents. While she could put this to good use, her home is in ruins and some of her poorer relations struggle to make ends meet."Pip has earned a premium here," she said, "and here it is. There are five and twenty guineas in this bag. Give it to your master, Pip."Miss Havisham here uses her money for what she believes is a good cause – paying for Pip to become Joe's apprentice. She seems totally unaware that this is the last thing the boy wants at this stage in his life.

Social and historical context

A bootblack shining another man's shoes. As a young boy, Dickens worked in a boot-blacking factory, pasting labels onto pots of blacking.
A bootblack shining another man's shoes

Dickens had an erratic relationship with his own mother and this is perhaps reflected in the relationship between Pip and Miss Havisham. Dickens never forgave his mother for insisting during his childhood that he continued to work in a factory. As a young boy, Dickens worked in a boot-blacking factory, pasting labels onto pots of blacking. This is mirrored in the novel in the scene where Miss Havisham pays the money for Pip to become a blacksmith's apprentice.

Analysing the evidence

quote
Within a quarter of an hour we came to Miss Havisham's house, which was of old brick and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred. There was a courtyard in front, and that was barred; so we had to wait, after ringing the bell, until someone should come and open it.Miss Havisham's house, as described by Pip in the novel
Question

How does Pip's first view of Satis House prepare us for what he will see inside?

How to analyse the quote:

'Within a quarter of an hour we came to Miss Havisham's house, which was of old brick and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred. There was a courtyard in front, and that was barred; so we had to wait, after ringing the bell, until someone should come and open it.'

  • 'bars' / 'barred' – these remind the reader of a prison
  • 'dismal' – gloomy and depressing

How to use this in an essay:

Miss Havisham has turned Satis House into her own personal prison with herself as its only prisoner. There are 'bars' everywhere and the windows have been blocked; the whole building is described as 'dismal' which suggests Pip will find a gloomy and depressing interior too. Miss Havisham has not been outside her house for over ten years and has had all of her clocks stopped so that she is unaware of time passing. Her emotions are also imprisoned and frozen in time at the point at which she was jilted by Compeyson.