What strange epergne does Pip see on the table in Great Expectations, and how does this object relate to Miss Havisham's dress?
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In Charles Dickens 1861 novel Great Expectations, the bitter, dejected aging spinster Miss Haversham remains mired in the memory of the day she was humiliated by being left at the altar, her fiancé having failed to materialize. The wedding was to have taken place in her expansive mansion, with the banquet room properly adorned. Miss Haversham refuses to change out of the gown she wore in anticipation of being married, and the banquet room remains untouched from that sad day years earlier. In fact, the room has not been cleaned, and cobwebs hang from every part of the structure. Dickens describes Pip’s observations of the banquet room and the room’s most prominent feature as follows:
“The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centerpiece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstances of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community. “
Miss Haversham’s entrance into the banquet room and reproach of Pip is startling to the young man, as the elderly woman is a frightful sight in the tatters of what was once a beautiful wedding gown. Indicating the strange object in the center of the long table, she angrily greets Pip:
“‘What do you think that is?’ she asked me, again pointing with her stick; ‘that, where those cobwebs are?’
‘I can’t guess what it is, ma’am.’
‘It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’”
Miss Haversham has left everything, every detail, precisely as it was on the day she was to be married. Her bitterness and resentment towards men, including Pip, is manifested in her decision to allow herself to wither away in the detritus of the saddest day of her life.
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