Background.

Great Expectations

Context.

Quotation said by the character Miss Havisham talking to Pip.

In the story of Great Expectations, Havisham instils bitterness into her young ward Estella to hate men and break their hearts, in revenge for being jilted herself. Later on, Miss Havisham repents when Estella leaves to marry Pip’s rival, Bentley Drummle and she realises that she has caused Pip’s heart to be broken in the same manner as her own. Rather than achieving any kind of personal revenge, she has only caused more pain. Miss Havisham begs Pip for forgiveness.

Miss Havisham begs Pip for his forgiveness.
Miss Havisham begs Pip for his forgiveness. Illustration from the 1870’s produced by the artist F. A. Fraser for the Household Edition of Dickens’s Great Expectations.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 49 of Great Expectations:

“What have I done! What have I done!” She wrung her hands, and crushed her white hair, and returned to this cry over and over again. “What have I done!”

I knew not how to answer, or how to comfort her. That she had done a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker, I knew equally well. And could I look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world?

“Until you spoke to her the other day, and 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!” And so again, twenty, fifty times over, What had she done!

“Miss Havisham,” I said, when her cry had died away, “you may dismiss me from your mind and conscience. But Estella is a different case, and if you can ever undo any scrap of what you have done amiss in keeping a part of her right nature away from her, it will be better to do that than to bemoan the past through a hundred years.”

“Yes, yes, I know it. But, Pip—my dear!” There was an earnest womanly compassion for me in her new affection. “My dear! Believe this: when she first came to me, I meant to save her from misery like my own. At first, I meant no more.”

“Well, well!” said I. “I hope so.”

“But as she grew, and promised to be very beautiful, I gradually did worse, and with my praises, and with my jewels, and with my teachings, and with this figure of myself always before her, a warning to back and point my lessons, I stole her heart away, and put ice in its place.

“Better,” I could not help saying, “to have left her a natural heart, even to be bruised or broken.”

With that, Miss Havisham looked distractedly at me for a while, and then burst out again, What had she done!

Characters.

Miss Havisham.

Miss Havisham is a wealthy, eccentric old woman who lives in the huge but run-down mansion Satis House near Pip’s village in Kent, southeast England. Abandoned by her intended husband on her wedding day, she lays waste to the buildings and grounds, even stopping the clocks at the exact time she learned of her lover’s betrayal (twenty minutes to nine). Havisham asks Pip’s Uncle, Mr. Pumblechook, to find a local boy to play with her adopted daughter Estella. Pip visits Miss Havisham and Estella, with whom he falls in love. When Pip later confronts Miss Havisham about Estella’s history, Havisham stands too close to the fire with devastating consequences.

  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Miss Havisham has been played by Martita Hunt (1946 film), Joan Hickson (1981 TV mini-series), Jean Simmons (1989 TV mini-series), Charlotte Rampling (1999 TV movie), Gillian Anderson (2011 TV mini-series), and Helena Bonham Carter (2012 film).

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