Mother of Fire - Miss Havisham

Character:

Miss Havisham

Book:

Great Expectations

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      Miss Havisham is the original bride left waiting at the altar. At this humiliation and heartbreak, she suffered a mental breakdown and chose not to alter a thing – she never removes her wedding, the wedding breakfast and cake are left to moulder uneaten on the table, and she lives a jilted spinster in isolation. She tries to stop time. She adopts the orphaned girl Estella to save the girl from a fate like hers. Over time – for time indeed marches on - she hatches a plot to exact her revenge on the man who deceived her, Meriwether Compeyson, by turning the beautiful girl Estella into a cold-hearted man-eater. Towards this aim, she enlists the acquaintance of Pip who, falling for the trap, falls for the icy Estella. In this way, Miss Havisham plays on Pip what was played on her – the bait and switch.

 

 Miss Havisham uses Magwitch's daughter to do it, just as Dickens uses the reader's own prejudice against the convict to bait and switch the reader, for it is Miss Havisham who is the witch, not Magwitch. Rather, with all her money and her supposed great expectations for Pip, she is living proof having is a sham.

 

 Here, in the upper echelons of the male Fire suit, the open and loving qualities of femininity have been burnt and seek to repay kind with kind. By the end of Great Expectations, however, Miss Havisham realizes her own expectations were delusional and destructive. Recognizing her own pain in Pip's, she begs his forgiveness: “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!” In her remorse - and almost as a “burnt offering” elucidated by Leviticus - Miss Havisham's wedding dress catches fire. Pip puts out the flames and, although the burns are not life-threatening, Miss Havisham dies some weeks later, presumably from something more deadly than fire.

 

 While there are many real-life women whose lives echoed in ways Miss Havisham – including a wealthy recluse named Elizabeth Parker whom Dickens met at her aptly named Havisham Court in Shropshire – the character seems to be a composite of people, indicating such outlandish behaviour is less uncommon than it might otherwise seem. And while Dickens used aspects of the real-life Restoration era Satis House near his home in Rochester - so named because Queen Elizabeth I stayed there and coolly rated it “Satis” [Latin: satisfactory] – the name of Miss Havisham's mansion is, whether intentional or not, an allusion to Sati: the ancient funeral custom in which a widow immolates herself.

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Shorthand : by nature, trusting and loving - strong presence of mind - is herself a force of nature - rarely leaves her home - is looked up to - has a firm grasp of practical affairs - acts with authority - sometimes with impunity - she who plays with fire gets burned - fuming with rage - Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned - protective of those within her circle - tends to blow smoke.