Thursday, December 20, 2012

Miss Havisham in Great Expectations

If I must choose, which character in Great Expectations who had experienced the most extreme transformation, I’d choose Miss Havisham—instead of the main protagonist Pip (I’d feature him for next week). Miss Havisham was born in a rich family; she must have grown up very comfortably, used to get anything she wanted, that when her fiancée left her on the wedding day, she could not accept that reality. So big her resistance was, she stopped living at the same minute as she received the rejection letter. All the clocks were set on the time she received the letter, she dressed like when the letter came (in wedding gown and only one shoes on), and the reception party was left as it was for years (I wonder whether Dickens had the idea from the famous tale Sleeping Beauty?...).

The fact that she wanted to stop dead everything in the house, indifferent of anything else outside her own life, only reflected Miss Havisham’s severe egotism. Egotism usually leads to narrow-mindedness. Miss Havisham did not want to think about anything else other than her own revenge. She could not or refused to see that being left by a man was not the end of the world for a girl, and she was not the first nor the only nor the last girl in the world who suffered for it. She just closed her mind and soul, and only had a sole object in her mind: to revenge!

Gillian Anderson in 2011 BBC miniseries

As she could not take revenge to the man concerned, Miss Havisham adopted and raised a little girl for that sole purpose: revenge. But what happened when the girl had grown up to be the lady-like young woman with iron heart as Miss Havisham had wanted? Estella left her just like that. Although she had raised Estella for revenge only, I think Miss Havisham unconsciously—deep in her heart—loved her. The fact that Estella left her and didn’t care about her, really hurt Miss Havisham. Perhaps there was still a little affection left in Miss Havisham’s heart despite of her selfish anger. And I believe Pip had something to do with that. Despite of Miss Havisham’s taking advantage of Pip’s soul, Pip never hated her, he even forgave her. He kept visiting Miss Havisham even after he knew his real benefactor. I think there was kind of sympathy grew between Pip and Miss Havisham, that Miss Havisham regretted what she had done to Pip, which caused him terribly suffering the anguish of love, just as Miss Havisham’s.

Helena Bonham Carter in 2012's movie

In the end—instead of having her revenge—Miss Havisham experienced what her victims had felt. Her iron heart melt away, and she asked for forgiveness from Pip and granted what Pip asked from her—as if she wanted to repentant her sin of taken a life from an innocent boy by giving a life to other man. Wasn’t it nice to see a cold-hearted lady finally realized that love was about give and take, not only take?

Anne Bancroft in 1998 modernized movie

A little about who's playing the best Miss Havisham on screen. I have only watched two version: the 1998 movie (with modern setting) where Miss Havisham played by Anne Bancroft. She could make out Miss Havisham's eccentric quality very well, but I think she was too old for the role (assuming that when Pip met her, Miss Havisham was about 37-40 years old).

The second one I watched very recently was the 2011 BBC's miniseries, where Gillian Anderson took Miss Havisham's role. She fit more to the age, but maybe she was rather too soft for the cold hearted woman such as Miss Havisham.

I haven't watched the newest version of Great Expectations, where Helena Bonham Carter played Miss Havisham, so I can't give her any judgement, but from the trailer and from what I know about Helena, I think Miss Havisham here would be more grotesque than the predecessors.

I can only give my fair judgement after I watch the 2012 movie, but for you who have seen all, which one is your favorite?


  1. I haven't read anything written by Charles Dickens before. Do you have some recommendations for me? I think his greatest work is Great Expectations, since most people tell me to read it...

    1. I haven't read all of his book, but from what I've heard, Great Expectations is the most popular one, while David Copperfield is (probably) the best.


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