Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dickens' Havisham....

As i watched an old but remodernised film of Charles Dickens' classic, "Great Expectations"
I suddenly find myself fascinated by the character of Miss Havisham. Now in the novel, she was the wealthy, old and eccentric woman who brandished her adopted daughter Estella like a crucible, a weapon that would crush men's hearts, the sc
alpel that would slice through skin and flesh as vengeance for the emotions that were shattered inside her core. In the story she invites Pip, an orphan who lives with his unkind sister and her husband, to her house to entertain her and Estella. She entices Pip to Estella and with Estella's wily ways, he develops an attraction for her. This attraction goes further into their adulthood. He has placed Estella on a pedestal and considered her a template of womanhood perfected. But Estella, the pupil has been taught well. She gives some but withholds a lot from Pip. She tantalizes him into emotional immersion but never imparts her own share of passion. This was exactly the plan hatched by Miss make pawns of these two creatures - in a Machiavellian plot that she thought would be salve for her thorned ego....

I fear ending up as a Miss Havisham. Somehow the circumstances that led towards her eternal disdain and remorse of MALEkind is too painful to picture. Can you imagine being made up and dressed as the most beautiful woman in your life on your wedding day only to be abandoned by your groom and husband-to-be at the very last minute in the midst of invited guests? Left at the altar all alone to soak up the sighs of pity from people both close and foreign to you? A reception full of food and bounty ready to nourish the wedding guests only to be left cold and withered in the aftermath of the tremors? Time standing still and the shock too enormous to absorb? I would lose my mind. She did! I would tear up the whole room and stop all the clocks at twenty past nine....That's what she did too!

She was a woman trapped in time...literally. She stopped the clock at the exact time she read the letter from her lover. She retreated to her own capsule. A cocoon of flimsy and diaphanous dresses and gowns. Of exaggerated, glitzy, colorful and flamboyant makeup... a huge effort at imitating beauty but interpreted as jesterish to outsiders looking in.... this was the illusion Miss Havisham immersed herself in. A most effective mechanism to salvage whatever sanity was left in her.

Surrounding herself with pretty, dainty objects inside her room, the rest of the house
she lived in became haunted and cursed with that one single moment of that single day in her past which had broken her. It was filthy, dark and unattended to. Wild plants had ravaged her garden and the insides of her house. They were like a primeval warning to all visitors - do not come in. The furniture inside the house had been whittled down to bare existence. The most incongruous objets d'art were found in the reception hall. The glasses, the tables, the carpet and the gigantic wedding cake, the piece de resistance of that grim day....

Fortunately or unfortunately she had found a vessel in Estella. her adopted daughter. Her wealth had helped maintain Estella's lessons of etiquette and decorum. Her beauty was her biggest asset though. She was one who would make men grovel at her feet. And Miss Havisham was determined to take full advantage of that. She wanted to instill coldness inside the young girl so that she could exact cruelty on men who were willing to give themselves to her. Estella was her alter-ego, but more sophisticated, less giving, unemotional and quite devious. She was consumed with making men suffer for that single defining moment that wrenched her heart..

But in the end Miss Havisham's protege falls. The threads of the veil of sophistication and coldness in Estella unravels. Estella had fumbled into relationship after relationship of conveniences, which was never enough. The matryoshka-esque armor fashioned for her by Miss Havisham crumbles and the real Estella came out. She is lonely and sad in the end. Pip's enduring love for her has won. Coincidence brought them both together again and they start anew.....Miss Havisham catches fire in a freak accident but is saved by Pip himself. She then dies from the injuries inflicted on her by the burning.

The end of Miss Havisham is riddled with vagueness but I think how Dickens wrote her end out is symbolic in itself. She was a crafty and almost evil persona. She used others to feed her inadequacy and to heal her own issues. She literally burned into oblivion because her cause may have been good but her intentions were evil and involved destroying two people who were probably the closest to her heart at that time - Pip and Estella. I cannot blame her though. She was a victim. Her existence stopped at the very moment love turned its back on her. She would forever be typecast in literary history as the eccentric, and wealthy spinster whose heart was stuck at twenty minutes before nine o'clock....


Anonymous said...

Hi Liisa
A very sad story, that should never be played out in real life.

Best Wishes, Ben

Dick Rick said...

Oh write a book will you? Never have I seen talent wasted like yours.

Anonymous said...

Ah, you picked out my favourite book of all time. So many outstnading characters.

Not sure whether you turned it into a long review or a short story :-p

Hope you are having fun in China


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