What is the relationship between Estella and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations?

The relationship between Estella and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations is one of teacher and pupil. In bringing up Estella, Miss Havisham is teaching her how to take revenge on the entire male sex. This is because Miss Havisham was stood up by her intended on the morning of their marriage. Just as her heart was broken on that fateful day, so the hearts of men must now be broken by Estella.

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On the face of it, it might seem rather noble of Miss Havisham to take in the offspring of a couple of common criminals. But in actual fact, there are less selfless motives at work. Ever since she was jilted on her wedding day all those years before, Miss Havisham...

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On the face of it, it might seem rather noble of Miss Havisham to take in the offspring of a couple of common criminals. But in actual fact, there are less selfless motives at work. Ever since she was jilted on her wedding day all those years before, Miss Havisham has sought revenge on the entire male sex. And Estella has been chosen as the instrument of that revenge. Growing up in the ways of Miss Havisham, she will use her extraordinary beauty to lure unsuspecting men into her web of deceit, only to break their hearts with the utmost cruelty.

The relationship between Miss Havisham and Estella is really just a grotesque parody of that between a mother and her daughter. There's no love, no warmth, no mutual support; just manipulation and control.

Aside from its inherent immorality, the main problem with this teacher–pupil relationship is that it's almost too successful. Estella grows up to be so cold and unfeeling that she even shocks Miss Havisham. It would appear that Estella is a kind of Frankenstein's monster, who's gotten out of control. But as Estella is only too quick to point out, Miss Havisham only has herself to blame. Miss Havisham has brought up Estella to be cold and unfeeling, and that's exactly what she's become.

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Miss Havisham and Estella illustrate the extent to which we do to others what was done to us. Miss Havisham was cruelly tricked on her wedding day by her brother in revenge for his being disinherited (which was not Miss Havisham's fault), and this sadistic act results in her looking for revenge on the entire male sex. She raises her beautiful adopted daughter, Estella, to be cold and to break male hearts. Pip thinks Miss Havisham invites him to her house to play with Estella because she wants them to marry eventually—just as he thinks the money that brings him his "great expectations" comes from her. Of course, the money comes from elsewhere, and Miss Havisham wants Estella to break Pip's heart. 

Estella is obedient. She grows up in the image of her adopted mother, cold and selfish, and she ends up spurning Miss Havisham coldly. When this distresses Miss Havisham, Estella tells her that it was she, Miss Havisham, who made her what she is.

Dickens, who especially loved generous, big-hearted characters and saw the redemption of society in the way their gestures would ripple outward to influence others, makes a point that it is cruel to raise a person to spread misery in the world rather than joy. We reap what we sow, Dickens shows, and Miss Havisham suffers in her relationship with Estella because of how she raised her. 

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Estella and Miss Havisham are not close.  They are puppet and puppet-master more than daugther and mother.

To understand the rocky and unusual relationship between Miss Havisham and Estella, it is important to know their history.

Estella is Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter.  She is the child of Molly and Abel Magwitch.  Unfortunately, shortly after she was born both of her parents ended up in jail.  At this point, her father was deported and her mother was acquitted.  Her lawyer Jaggers then sent her to live with Miss Havisham, because the lady was lonely and expressed a desire for a daughter to adopt and raise as her own.

Miss Havisham had been tricked by her brother Arthur and his associate, Compeyson.  She thought she was going to marry Compeyson, but he deserted her on her wedding day.  As a result, Miss Havisham seems to have suffered some kind of mental collapse.  She cloistered herself up in her house, stayed in her wedding dress, and changed nothing for more than a decade.

Estella often refers to Miss Havisham as her mother by adoption.  Whether either one has affection for the other is hard to say.  Miss Havisham is selfish and cold.

Miss Havisham, you must know, was a spoilt child. Her mother died when she was a baby, and her father denied her nothing. Her father was a country gentleman down in your part of the world, and was a brewer. (ch 22, p. 123)

Arthur was “riotous, extravagant, undutiful—altogether bad” and his father disinherited him, leaving Miss Havisham alone with the fortune.  Arthur thought himself ill-used, and devised the marriage plot.

Miss Havisham has plans for Estella.  She is to be her instrument of revenge on the male sex.  So Miss Havisham raises her to be flirtatious and cruel.  She directs her every move, using Estella as a kind of puppet.

When Estella is older, she acts coldly toward Miss Havisham.  The old woman is surprised.

“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…” (ch 38, p. 207)

Estella reminds her that she is everything she was taught to be.  She resents her upbringing, and the fact that she was used.  Pip accuses Estella of marrying Drummle just to get back at Miss Havisham, but Estella insists she is doing it so that she can make one choice on her own.  The fact that it causes Miss Havisham and Pip pain is a bonus.

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