Havisham, is a book based on the life of Great Expectations’ Miss Catherine Havisham, the mad woman who, after being left at the altar, takes in the orphan Estella and teaches her to break the hearts of men. The book both shows the descent into madness of Dickens’s infamous character, but also explains how she comes to be who she is.
Throughout the book the reader watches Miss Havisham grow up a lonely child with only a young maid for a companion. Such a sorry start in life is continued when she finds out that her beloved father has another family in addition to her. As a result, a half-brother is added to the household who is thoroughly unlikeable and who takes great delight in upsetting his sister. As she becomes a young adult, she moves to the manor of an impoverished noble family who are expected to provide her the requisite social “polish” for high society. She discovers socialising, parties and masked balls, and also the love which will ruin her and reduce her to a shell of her former self. In these encounters, Frame raises some of the novel’s key concerns: duty and social expectations.
The sometimes hypocritical and contradictory nature of social expectations and behaviour are evident in the actions of many of the characters in the book; these double standards also apply, of course, to Miss Havisham, who proves herself a canny business woman despite her failings in romance and a blind naivety in relation to those who finally betray her.
The novel is written in the style of an autobiography and is oddly enchanting. As most readers will know Miss Havisham’s fate, Havisham does elicit sympathy for the continually unluckess character. Great Expectations can’t but be read in a different light when seen from Miss Havisham’s point of view. Post-Havisham, readers are likely to feel sympathy for a character they may have previously only disliked and of whom Dickens has portrayed negatively. The readers of Havisham might wish for a different outcome but know otherwise. This gives Havisham a certain pathos , especially towards the end where Frame’s novel dovetails with the plot of Great Expectations. Miss Havisham must therefore live her prescribed fate and die in agony because of her wounds.
In Havisham, Frame manages to show the sorrow of a young girl, the pain of a heartbroken young woman and the bitterness of an older woman who has been denied the life that she had hoped for. The novel casts an interesting light on not only the plight of unmarried women but also the social history of the time. However it is the characters that truly carry the book, after reading the book Miss Havisham will never seem quite the same; her loneliness throughout her life will cling to the reader. It is not a happy book; but it is, however, a very interesting read and definitely one for all those that enjoyed, loved or even merely liked Great Expectations.