Great Expectations

by: Charles Dickens

Estella

Though she called me “boy” so often, and with a carelessness that was far from complimentary, she was about my own age. She seemed much older than I, of course, being a girl, and beautiful and self-possessed; and she was as scornful of me as if she had been one-and-twenty, and a queen.

Here Pip describes his first impression of Estella, the woman who will become the great, yet unrequited love of his life. We cannot tell whether her indifference to him is what he finds attractive about her, or whether he simply admires her beauty and self-possession. Pip is now destined to be unsatisfied with his lowly position in society, because he cares far too much about impressing Estella.

“That girl’s hard and haughty and capricious to the last degree, and has been brought up by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on all the male sex.”

Herbert, one of Miss Havisham’s cousins, reveals that he knows and does not like Estella. He clearly sees her personality and its origins in Miss Havisham’s teachings and, unlike Pip, is not impressed, intimidated, or charmed by her—perhaps, in part, because he is her social equal, unlike Pip.

The lady whom I had never seen before, lifted up her eyes and looked archly at me, and then I saw that the eyes were Estella’s eyes. But she was so much changed, was so much more beautiful, so much more womanly, in all things winning admiration had made such wonderful advance, that I seemed to have made none.

Here, Pip sees Estella for the first time after the years she spent abroad learning how to be a lady. Pip has matured and advanced over these years also, with the goal of becoming Estella’s equal. Overwhelmed by who Estella has become, he judges that Estella is just as much “above” him as before.

“You must know,” said Estella, condescending to me as a brilliant and beautiful woman might, “that I have no heart—if that has anything to do with my memory.”

For the first time, Estella tries to explain to Pip her indifference to him. Earlier, she might not have thought he deserved her attention at all simply because of his inferior class status. Now she at least “condescends” to try to make him understand. She seems to know that her heartlessness is a difference between herself and other people.

“It is not easy for even you,” said Estella, “to know what satisfaction it gives me to see those people thwarted, or what an enjoyable sense of the ridiculous I have when they are made ridiculous. For you were not brought up in that strange house from a mere baby.—I was. You had not your little wits sharpened by their intriguing against you, suppressed and defenceless, under the mask of sympathy and pity and whatnot, that is soft and soothing.—I had.”

Estella explains her view of Miss Havisham’s relatives, or “those people.” She knows they envy and scheme against her, and she resents that. She tells Pip that she knows they do the same thing to him, because they believe Miss Havisham is supporting him also. Estella likes the fact that Pip’s advancement disturbs the relatives, something she and Pip finally have in common.

“When have you found me false to your teaching? When have you found me unmindful of your lessons? When have you found me giving admissions here,” she touched her bosom with her hand, “to anything that you excluded? Be just to me….Who taught me to be proud? Who praised me when I learned my lesson?”

After Miss Havisham complains that Estella does not act towards her with love, Estella explains that she never learned how to love—on the contrary, she was specifically raised not to feel love. Estella’s calm, rational explanation may be meant to display how well she has learned the lesson, or it may be a genuine lack of feeling. Either way, Estella’s words upset Miss Havisham, even though Estella’s personality is of her own doing.

“On whom should I fling myself away?” she retorted, with a smile. “Should I fling myself away upon the man who would the soonest feel (if people do feel such things) that I took nothing to him? There! It is done. I shall do well enough, and so shall my husband…. I am tired of the life I have led, which has very few charms for me, and I am willing enough to change it. Say no more. We shall never understand each other.”

Estella explains to Pip that she is going to marry Drummle, who he knows to be a stupid and mean man, although rich. Estella believes that since she can’t love, it does not matter whom she marries; in fact, it would be worse for her to marry someone who loved her since she could not love him back.

“But you said to me,” returned Estella, very earnestly, “’God bless you, God forgive you!’ And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.”

Here, Estella quotes what Pip said to her when they parted upon her announcing her engagement. Her husband treated her very badly throughout their marriage. She now understands the importance of love in a marriage and also what a special person Pip was forgiving her even as she broke his heart. Now that she has suffered from a lack of love, she appreciates the importance of love.