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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Describe Miss Havisham and her house in Great Expectations.

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In "Great Expectations", Miss Havisham is depicted as a decayed and eccentric woman, perpetually wearing her wedding dress as she was jilted at the altar. Her house, Satis House, mirrors her state of decay, being dilapidated and frozen in the past, with all clocks stopped at twenty minutes to nine, the time when she received the heartbreaking news. Miss Havisham's life and home symbolize her inability to move past her heartbreak and her desire for revenge.

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Miss Havisham is an eccentric old lady who is always dressed in her wedding dress.  She is described as being "faded" - everything about her is old and decaying.  Her hair is white and wreathed with wilted flowers, and her clothing hangs on her withered body and is stained and yellowed with age. Mrs. Havisham had once planned to be married, but she was jilted at the altar, and she has left everything in her house exactly the way it was on what was to have been her wedding day. 

Mrs. Havisham's estate is unkempt and overgrown, and the house is dismal and closed up with iron bars.  The interior of the house is sunless and lit by wax candles, and all the clocks have been stopped at twenty minutes to nine.  On a long table in the great room, Mrs. Havisham's wedding cake still remains, covered with dust and cobwebs.  Mrs. Havisham has instructed that the table not be cleared until she has died, after which she will be laid upon it for her wake.

Mrs. Havisham is pathetic, but imperious.  When Pip comes over for the first time, she orders him to play so she can have some diversion.  It is her intention that he grow up to marry Estella, a young girl whom she has adopted.  Taught by Miss Havisham to reject all who would love her, Estella is cruel and unfeeling. Though Miss Havisham exhorts Pip to "love (Estella)", she cannot love him back, and the old lady's dream of marriage for them never happens.

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Miss Havisham is a rich old lady who is out of touch with reality.  She has a room in her house where she keeps a banquet set, decaying from age.  Miss Havisham is a victim of being left at the altar.  She was to be married to a young man and was jilted on her wedding day.

From her unfortunate experience at losing her love, she is angry and developed a hatred for men.  Miss Havisham walks around dressed in an old wedding gown.  Clearly she clings to a moment in time when her life was meant to be celebrated as she was united in marriage. 

Miss Havisham's home, Satis House, is a creepy haunted mansion kind of place.  It is next door to a brewery and is severely neglected and falling apart. 

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What is Miss Havisham's house like in Great Expectations?

Miss Havisham is an eccentric lady who lives a life of seclusion.  She has a reputation for being strange, and few have actually seen the inside of her house.

[Everybody] for miles round had heard of Miss Havisham up town—as an immensely rich and grim lady who lived in a large and dismal house barricaded against robbers, and who led a life of seclusion. (ch 7, p. 36)

Miss Havisham’s house matches her reputation.  Pip describes it as “old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it” and windows that are barred up (p. 38).  There is a courtyard in front, and the only way to enter is by ringing a bell and being let in by someone.  Pip is usually greeted by Estella.

The courtyard is a little better than the outside.  It is “paved and clean, but grass was growing in every crevice” to keep it looking somewhat decayed.  It is surrounded with old disused brewery buildings.   Estella tells Pip “the place will stand as idle as it is, till it falls” (p. 39).  Estella tells Pip that the name Stais means “enough” in some language (it is actually Latin).

The house was once grand, but now the entrance is chained closed.  Inside, the house is as decayed as the outside.  There are candles but there’s very little light.  Most of the furniture is dusty, moldy, and frayed.  In Miss Havisham’s dining room is a great bride cake that has been decaying as long as Estella and Pip have been alive, and is now home to beetles, spiders, and various other bugs.

The house is a metaphor.  It’s name’s meaning is supposed to imply that whoever has the house could want nothing else.  Miss Havisham uses this ironically, because the house becomes her living grave as she wastes away from grief. 

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