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Miss Havisham In Great Expectations Essay

2645 words - 11 pages

 
In Great Expectations, Dickens depicts an eccentric character in Miss Havisham. The unmarried Miss Havisham seems to both conform to and deny the societal standards of unmarried women in the Victorian Age. Spinsters and old maids display particular attitudes and hold certain functions in the society. Miss Havisham's character shows how one woman can both defy and strengthen these characteristics. She, along with several other female characters in the novel, supports the fact that unmarried women were growing in number. In addition, her extravagant appearance aligns her with the common misconceptions of a spinster's appearance as common and unattractive, as well as makes her outcast from society like many unmarried women were. On the other hand, Miss Havisham's wealth is an uncommon characteristic of unmarried women. Furthermore, society does not show disrespect for Miss Havisham as it did for many spinsters; in fact, Miss Havisham portrays an authority rarely associated with spinsters over the lives of a few characters in the novel. Yet, while Miss Havisham's wealth and sense of respect and authority defy these characteristics of spinsters, the reasons she has these traits, her inheritance and social status, realign her with the traditional idea of a spinster.

The novel presents several figures of single women like Miss Havisham, each with her own peculiarities, which is in keeping with the social reality that the number of single women was growing. Molly, Jaggers's maid, is revealed as a murderess with a "diseased affection of the heart" (204; ch. 26). Biddy, the servant at the forge, provides an excellent example of a young woman on the verge of spinsterhood. She is described by Pip as "not beautiful - she was common" and therefore aligns herself with the common, unattractive standard of appearance for spinsters in Victorian time (130; ch. 17). Miss Skiffins, Wemmick's friend, presents herself not only as a single woman but one who takes care of her own finances, which was uncommon in this day. And then there is Miss Havisham, who has risen to the status of old maid through the mere passage of time. All of these women provide examples from the text of single women, which supports the contention of the time that single women were growing in number. Although Biddy and Miss Skiffins do marry, it is important to note not only the length of their spinsterhood, but the circumstances under which it comes to an end. Biddy can only become Joe's wife after Mrs. Joe dies. Wemmick waits until precisely the right time in his affairs to propose to Miss Skiffins so as not to disturb the natural order of his very structured life. While these single women offer a distinct presence in the novel, none plays a large role in society.

Spinsters were often viewed as outcasts from society; there was no respect for a woman who could not marry. Miss Havisham definitely fits the mold of an outcast. After being abandoned...

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