Havisham and Heathcliff – The Spurned Lovers

After reading of Miss Havisham’s woeful backstory, I cannot help but be reminded of the other major relationship we’ve seen in a Victorian novel: that of Heathcliff and Cathy’s in Wuthering Heights. Havisham I find to be some sort of odd combination of mostly Heathcliff and Cathy as a character. As I noted in my blog post comment for Tuesday’s readings, Herbert notes that Havisham is like a Tartar – a racial minority. Similarly, Lockwood refers to Heathcliff as a “dark-skinned gipsy” in Chapter 1 of Wuthering Heights, and at several other points by others. Perhaps Havisham appears to be a normal, white English woman in appearance, but to the members of well-to-do English society, they are perceived in a similar light: as social others. Like Heathcliff, Havisham was spurned by a prospective lover, and left to simmer and fester in her own hate and apprehension. Both decided to concoct an elaborate plan to have their revenge (Heathcliff by taking ownership of both the estates, thereby wresting control of the entities used to harm him; Havisham by targeting men in general through plucking them out and deliberately trying to break their hearts like her’s was). Both are wealthy, with Heathcliff having acquired his wealth through manipulating Hindley and Havisham presumably having been born rich. Also, to bring in a comparison to Cathy, Havisham fell in love with a man of a lower social class — though unlike Cathy, seemingly she was unconcerned with how she was perceived by the populace as a whole.

To what purpose do I bring up these comparisons, however? Sure it’s neat that there are parallels between the characters, but how does this tie into any further motifs established by either novel? Well, from Wuthering Heights we can read intense class critiques from Bronte. None of the unfortunate happenings of the novel would have happened if not for social pressures influencing the characters into acting against their own self interest. Heathcliff essentially becomes the very sort of person he despised in his path to destroy them. Perhaps we will see a more gendered commentary from Dickens regarding Havisham’s position, and of how women were more susceptible to the whims of men. Is Havisham perhaps a proto-feminist character? I’m interested to see how Havisham and Heathcliff’s paths diverge or remain the same as we continue reading.

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