Miss Havisham in Great Expectations: Description & Character Analysis

Miss Havisham in Great Expectations: Description & Character Analysis
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  • 0:01 Who Is Miss Havisham?
  • 0:48 Appearance & Home
  • 2:41 Motivation
  • 3:28 Last Visit with Pip
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
In Charles Dickens' novel, 'Great Expectations,' we meet an eccentric lady, Miss Havisham. Some may say she is simply vindictive; others may call her mentally ill. In this lesson, we'll explore the world of Miss Havisham and then test our knowledge of the character with a quiz.

Who Is Miss Havisham?

Miss Havisham is one of the main character's in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. William Congreve, the English playwright and poet once wrote: 'Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.' This quotation serves as an apt description of Miss Havisham. In her youth, she fell in love with an unscrupulous suitor, Compeyson, who abandoned her on their wedding day. This emotionally traumatic event defines the rest of Miss Havisham's life, and she never moves past the moment in which Compeyson broke her heart. As a result, her heart is filled with rage toward all men, not just the one who betrayed her.

Appearance and Home

Charles Dickens describes Miss Havisham as an immensely rich and grim lady who lives in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who leads a life of seclusion.

As a little boy, Pip, the novel's protagonist and the eyes and ears of the story, meets Miss Havisham at Satis House, the spooky place she calls home. Miss Havisham invites Pip over to play with her ward, Estella. However, Miss Havisham's real scheme is to get Pip to fall in love with Estella as he grows up. Pip believes Miss Havisham is the most peculiar woman he has ever met. In this passage, he describes what she looks like:

'She was dressed in rich materials - satins, and lace, and silks - all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing for she had but one shoe on - the other was on the table near her hand. . .'

When Pip first meets the aging Miss Havisham, she appears as she did on her wedding day after learning that her groom was not going to show up: wearing her wedding dress and one wedding shoe, the other still waiting for her to put on. At the moment of her betrayal, time stops for Miss Havisham; even the remains of her untouched wedding breakfast and cake have been left on the table.

When Miss Havisham meets Pip, she places her hand over her heart and asks him what is there. After Pip tells Miss Havisham it is her heart, she utters one word: 'Broken.'

Motivation

Although Miss Havisham is at least partially deranged, her life has a cruel and vengeful purpose. She adopts Estella, the daughter of a convict, for the express purpose of raising her to hate men and break their hearts. By asking Pip to come and play at her house, Miss Havisham hopes to accomplish this twisted scheme and make Pip her first victim.

In the novel, Miss Havisham says to Pip: 'I want diversion, and I have done with men and women. Play.' In response, poor Pip just stands there, not sure what to do. He finally admits that he can't play, after which Estella scorns Pip for being too common. And then Pip overhears an odd comment: 'Well, you can break his heart.'

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