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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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MISS HAVISHAM

Dickens piles on the details about Miss Havisham, as if he's
irresistibly fascinated by her. The more he describes her, the
more intensely she stands out, looming as a weird, powerful
image, coloring the mood of the entire book. Pip's hopes and
dreams are all associated with this grotesque figure. This has to
make us feel skeptical about them.

Miss Havisham is unpredictable. In some scenes she's as crazy
as a loon, making startling statements, asking embarrassing
pointed questions, issuing imperious commands. And yet there
are times when she seems quite sane, a hard-headed
businesswoman and a realistic judge of human character (she
immediately perceives Joe's goodness, for example). In some
scenes she seems like a victim, a prisoner in her own house,
surrounded by greedy relatives and haunted by her own
obsessions.

We often hear stories about rich eccentric recluses (Howard
Hughes, for example) who lead bizarre lives. Maybe we
respond to such stories because they show us that money can't
buy happiness. Money does not make Miss Havisham happy.
We learn that her money made her a prey for an unscrupulous
suitor. After he deserted her, money gave her the luxury of
wallowing in her disappointment until it literally drove her
crazy. Money gives her power over her relatives, Pip, and her
adopted daughter Estella, but in the end this power does more
harm than good.

As you read, think about what Miss Havisham would have
been like if she hadn't been rich or if her hopes hadn't been
blighted. Perhaps Pip ought to be warned by her example not to
count too much on his "expectations" of money or of love.



ESTELLA

In many ways, Estella is like Pip. Both are orphans, who have
led solitary childhoods; both are being educated by a
benefactor for a certain purpose-Estella, to break men's hearts;
Pip, to be a gentleman. But Pip always sees Estella as being in
another world. She seems older than he is, although they're the
same age; he associates her with rare, glittering objects, like
Miss Havisham's jewels or the far-off stars (Estella means
"star"). He describes her as a queen, or a fairy-tale princess,
and yet only once does he include himself as the knight who
will carry her away.

Pip tells us that Estella is beautiful-and heartless. Readers have
disagreed over whether Estella is truly passionless. She enjoys
watching Pip and Herbert fight as boys; she must get some
kind of thrill out of it. Perhaps she uses her power over men
deliberately, or perhaps she unconsciously sends off sexy
signals. Either way, she doesn't seem to enjoy her cruel
flirtations. But notice that even when she tries not to seduce
Pip, he is still hopelessly trapped. Because of the customs of
his age, Dickens could not write openly about sexual attraction,
but Estella must have had something more than cold beauty for
her to break so many hearts.

Pip can list Estella's faults-she's proud, selfish, cold, cruel, and
unloving. But Pip idolizes Estella too much to describe her
accurately. To know her as a flesh-and-blood person, we have
to study her speeches and actions. It's difficult because she
presents such a hard surface. As you read, you'll have to
imagine for yourself how she really feels about Pip.

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