I had heard of Miss Havisham up town—everybody for miles around, had heard of Miss Havisham up town—as an immensely rich and grim old lady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion.
This description is the first time Pip, the story’s narrator, mentions Miss Havisham. His description reveals that Miss Havisham was wealthy and eccentric enough to be well known in the area, and starkly contrasts her way of living with Pip’s. The idea of interacting with such a person would never have occurred to Pip or his family until this moment.
It was when I stood before her, avoiding her eyes, that I took note of the surrounding objects in detail, and saw that her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine. “Look at me,” said Miss Havisham. “You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?”
Here, Pip meets Miss Havisham for the first time. Her bizarre surroundings and appearance convey what Pip does not yet know. Miss Havisham deliberately stopped the world around her at a specific time and continues to dwell within that moment, not allowing herself to move on, not even to leave the room.
Also, when we played at cards Miss Havisham would look on, with a miserly relish of Estella’s moods, whatever they were. And sometimes, when her moods were so many and so contradictory of one another that I was puzzled what to say or do, Miss Havisham would embrace her with lavish fondness, murmuring something in her ear that sounded like, “Break their hearts, my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!”
Here, Pip reflects on the relationship he observed between Miss Havisham and Estella, an orphan whom Miss Havisham is raising. Miss Havisham enjoys training Estella to confuse, charm, and rebuff Pip, viewing him as representative of men in general. Miss Havisham seeks to have own heartbreak avenged by Estella’s breaking hearts. Miss Havisham doesn’t care that the person being hurt here is Pip.
I had been looking round—in fact, for Estella— and I stammered that I hoped she was well. “Abroad,” said Miss Havisham; “educating for a lady; far out of reach; prettier than ever; admired by all who see her. Do you feel that you have lost her?” There was such a malignant enjoyment in the utterance of the last words, and she broke into such a disagreeable laugh, that I was at a loss what to say.
Miss Havisham raised Estella as a pet project to create the perfect lady who breaks hearts wherever she goes. Miss Havisham enjoys knowing that Pip is infatuated with Estella, but she has no interest in Pip as a suitor for Estella. Rather, in Miss Havisham’s scheme, he represents the first of many disappointed admirers.
“Ay, ay!” said she, looking at the discomfited and envious Sarah, with delight. “I have seen Mr. Jaggers. I have heard about it, Pip. So you go to-morrow? … And you are adopted by a rich person? …Not named? …And Mr. Jaggers is made your guardian?” She quite gloated… so keen was her enjoyment of Sarah Pocket’s jealous dismay.
Miss Havisham is pleased to discuss Pip’s news about his “great expectations” with her cousin Sarah Pocket. Relatives believe that Miss Havisham has given a large amount of money to Pip rather than to her or other members of the family. Miss Havisham enjoys teasing their suspicions as she knows that most of her family members are hoping for her financial support and she doesn’t think they deserve it.
“This man pursued Miss Havisham closely, and professed to be devoted to her. I believe she had not shown much susceptibility up to that time; but all the susceptibility she possessed, certainly came out then, and she passionately loved him. There is no doubt that she perfectly idolized him. He practiced on her in that systematic way, that he got great sums of money from her…”
Here, Herbert recounts for Pip the story of Miss Havisham’s heartbreak. Not only did the groom abandon her on her wedding day, but also the man who abandoned her was, in fact, a con artist who never loved her. Because the relationship was never real, and she was heartlessly duped, Miss Havisham’s anger and desire to protect Estella from a similar fate become more understandable.
“I’ll tell you,” said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, “what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter—as I did!”
Miss Havisham reflects on her love for the con artist Compeyson with a sort of pride: She has suffered for love. However, this one tragic experience has limited her understanding of what love can be. To her love is suffering, while to another love may be far more satisfying because the experience is not one-sided. Miss Havisham has no comprehension of this type of love, because Compeyson never loved her back.
“Did I never give her love!” cried Miss Havisham, turning wildly to me. “Did I never give her a burning love, inseparable from jealousy at all times, and from sharp pain, while she speaks thus to me! Let her call me mad, let her call me mad!”
Miss Havisham’s words reveal she is bitter that Estella does not seem to love her. Estella explains that Miss Havisham never taught her how to love, and therefore Estella cannot be expected to do so. Miss Havisham disagrees, but her definition of love is more like an obsession with the past. Estella is the embodiment of Miss Havisham’s second chance at success by, in part, not falling in love, which is why she obsesses over Estella.
“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!... 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. … But as she grew, and promised to be very beautiful, I gradually did worse, … I stole her heart away and put ice in its place.”
Miss Havisham recognizes that Pip loves Estella as Miss Havisham once loved Compeyson. As she suddenly sees herself in Pip instead of Estella, her old pain is new again. Miss Havisham realizes that her program of raising Estella not to love anyone was a mistake that is tragic for Estella. She realizes now what Estella will be missing by not being open to being loved.