Do Miss Emily and Miss Havisham compare well with each other?I have tried searching for Miss Havisham in eNotes coverage of "A Rose for Emily," and I am surprised that nobody seems to have asked...
I have tried searching for Miss Havisham in eNotes coverage of "A Rose for Emily," and I am surprised that nobody seems to have asked about or written about the similarities between these two eccentric characters. To me it seems that Faulkner must have been strongly influenced by the portrayal of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Did I miss something in the Q&A or Discussion? Does anybody agree with me?
While I bow to the similarities pointed out between the two, it seems to me that the vast differences overwhelm the similarities. Miss Havisham is active in her isolation. Though she exists in her solely self-imposed isolation, she nonetheless reaches out and initiates intimate contact with at least two individuals. Miss Emily is passive in her isolation. Though she acts on her behalf when it comes to Homer (and Homer's demise), Miss Emily remains isolated in a continuation of the isolation imposed upon her by her domineering and inhibiting father; contact she otherwise initiates is of a utilitarian mercantile nature (she gives lessons), not a personal nature. To summarize, their interior motivational systems are antithetical to each other though the visible result may have the same effect.
Name analysis shows that "Emily" means "rival, eager," which may suggest a bright eager personality that her father saw as potential rivalry to his dominant social position, particularly if she married a man superior to himself. "Havisham" is a homonym for "have I sham." In other words, Dickens pointedly illustrated Havisham's dominant character trait: she is a false sham of a person, woman, and recluse; her suffering and isolation are all of her own creation.
The most telling and overriding difference in my perspective is the behavior, Homer notwithstanding. Miss Havisham is wantonly manipulative and intentionally destructive, rejoicing in the horrific mental attitude she instills in Estelle and in the humble, dismissive, position she imposes upon young Pip (one wonders what the ultimate outcome of her plan would have been if Pip's benefactor hadn't unwittingly liberated Pip from her grasp). Miss Emily, on the other hand, is so utterly isolated that her only interaction is by way of teaching painting and going buggy ridding. Emily is devoid of manipulation while Havisham breathes it.
Finally, what about Homer? While Miss Havisham's activities are all cruelly retaliatory, Emily's are desperately possessive. While Miss Havisham reaches out to willfully harm and injure in retaliation, Miss Emily reaches out to possess lest her one opportunity at possession of love slip through her fingers. Perhaps Homer's temporary absence was so painful to Emily that, to protect herself, she promised herself never again. Though there is nothing in the text to positively clear up the Faulknerian ambiguity surrounding Emily's actions, we do know she holds tenaciously to an idea once it is in her head.
My contention is that while there are surface similarities between the two women, there are greater foundational differences that overwhelm similarities and dramatize two very different characters.
There are definitely similarities between Miss Emily and Miss Haversham: I also am surprised that they have not been compared in some literature class about creepy, wedding-obsessed women. They both fixate on marriage and loss of love. Each character is creepy in her own way, though they are very different with regards to the extent of their "creepiness."
While Miss Emily keeps her obsession a secret, undiscovered until after her death, Miss Haversham is very overt: she wears her wedding dress and refuses to have the wedding cake removed from the table.
They are similar in that each woman's obsession is based on a loss of love, which neither can recover from. While Miss Haversham tries to mold Pip and Estella's lives, Emily takes it much further, murdering Homer Barron and keeping his body in a downstairs bedroom—sleeping next to the corpse until she dies.
Perhaps because Miss Havisham represents what Dickens felt was a frivolous aristocracy while Miss Emily represents the Old South that Faulkner admittedly loved, there seem to be differing authorial attitudes regarding these two characters that may interfere with the attention to their commonalities.
Nevertheless, there are, indeed, several parallels that can be drawn with these two characters. Certainly, they have arrested time as Miss Havisham stops all the clocks at Satis House and chooses to live in the disappointed past while Miss Emily is "a monument" of the patriarchal culture of the Antebellum period of the South. Each woman is reclusive and demonstrates bizarre behavior, as well. After Compeyson jilts Miss Havisham at the altar, she continues to wear her wedding dress and essays to wreak revenge on the male gender; Miss Emily wears the watch and chain of her father, rarely leaves her house, and retains an old black servant along with the dead body of the lover who would jilt her.