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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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What explanation does Herbert give Pip about Miss Havisham's life and Estella's role?

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In chapter 22, Pip encounters Herbert—formerly known as the "pale young gentleman" from his childhood—in Barnard's Inn in London. The two of them at this time laugh about their old rivalry and resolve to move beyond it.

It transpires that Herbert knows rather more about Miss Havisham and her situation than he or his family had ever been privy to. Herbert explains that Estella is no relation to Miss Havisham but was adopted by her and seems to exist as a means for Miss Havisham to vicariously "wreak revenge" upon all men. Pip is startled by this and asks why Miss Havisham should desire revenge; at this, Herbert in turn expresses surprise that Pip has not heard the story.

Herbert explains that Miss Havisham's mother died when she was young, and she was spoiled by her father until he remarried and had another child. A proud man, he was secretive about his second marriage (to a woman of lower class). This woman died, and Mr. Havisham introduced his two children to each other. The son was very profligate, and when Mr. Havisham died, he left both children great fortunes, but Miss Havisham's was the greater.

As a great heiress, she was the subject of much male attention. One particular man, who was not really a gentleman, pursued her assiduously; she fell for him and was induced by him to part with great sums of money. An associate of her brother's, this man was able to coerce Miss Havisham to pay off her brother's debts, as well as many others. Against all advice, she accepted his proposal of marriage, but at the last moment, he jilted her at the altar by means of a letter. Miss Havisham fell ill, and after she recovered, she resolved never to leave the house again. From that day onward, Miss Havisham has hated all men.

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In Chapter 22 Herbert reveals to Pip (and to us) the story of Miss Havisham and the events that have created the womam that Pip has met. When Miss Havisham was a young, rich heiress, she was jilted on her wedding day by a suitor, who, aided by her half-brother, took much of her money. Her reaction to this tragic event was to attempt to stop time and live as a hermit. Estella  has been brought up by Miss Havisham to take her revenge on the male sex.

This chapter is important for the plot as it provides through Herbert crucial information that Pip could not know himself (as in Chapters 42, 50-51). We are also given more warnings regarding Estella and any attachment that Pip might hope to form with her.

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