Monthly Archives: October 2019

Rising in Status

Once again, strong parallels can be formed between the central characters of Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations. In the content of this week’s chapters, this is most notable in Pip and Heathcliff’s rise in social class. Both have similar lowly backgrounds and rise through Victorian societies to positions of greater respect and value. Additionally, both seem to be motivated by both their upbringing, but also an external love, Catherine and Estella. The repetition of this plot device across both novels may give us insights into Victorian class and society.

One of the most crucial parallels between Heathcliff and Pip’s rise is in their purpose. Once again, both looked to better themselves in the eyes of Catherine or Estella. Both made a triumphant return to their hometown, after spending considerable time away to reinvent themselves. And both were disappointed when they returned, as all of their work to better their social standing did not completely award them with everything they looked to gain, much to their surprise.

This last parallel is of great interest to me. Both Bront and Dickens seem to suggest that Victorian society in the eyes of a commoner is a ladder. They believe that by climbing and raising themselves up, they will earn everything they look for, in this case, Catherine or Estella. However, while wealth and position are acquired by both Heathcliff and Pip, neither is able to completely win over their love. They are hyper-focused on rising through Victorian society, believing status alone is how they prove themselves. Still, Estelia and Catherine are not perfect parallels as characters, but the relationships they share with a young Pip and Heathcliff have strong similarities.

The Benefactor

In reading of Pip’s ascent to fortune and gentleman status, I am reminded of Heathcliff’s ascent in Wuthering Heights. Both Pip and Heathcliff are propelled to a higher social status at a young age with the help of a benefactor–that is, (most likely) Ms. Havisham in Pip’s case and Mr. Earnshaw in Heathcliff’s. Both characters come from a background in which they were once orphans, though Pip has living familial connections whereas Heathcliff was left to fend for himself on the streets before Mr. Earnshaw brought him back to the Heights.

I am sensing a Victorian motif in the form of “the benefactor,” though Dickens and Bronte take a pretty unrealistic approach to the concept—it is as if both authors are writing of benefactors in an imagined, idealized way instead of as they would exist in real life. It is pretty hard to imagine a case in which a perfect stranger would endow penniless boys with the comfort of a high-class life purely out of the goodness of their heart’s, as is essentially the case in both novels. It should be noted that in Great Expectations, there is a certain social status that comes from being a benefactor as is evidenced by Pumblechook trying to take credit for Pip’s social elevation.

With all of this in mind, I think the argument can be made to look at the role of the benefactor in both novels not as a representation of actual life in Victorian England, but rather as an imagined dream of the working class during the time. The real world doesn’t just plant rich men who want to make you rich on your doorstep, but the thought that this could happen must have been comforting to poor working class people. From this viewpoint, the benefactor is not a real person, but rather an imagined reality in which any of us could be like Pip and score big…pay no mind to the legislative, social, and societal road blocks that squash these dreams as soon as they are put into action.

Revenge, Revenge, Revenge

Although we don’t get the full story of Miss Havisham’s past, Herbert does tell Pip some things about her that he didn’t previously know, shedding a little bit of light onto her obscure past. We find out that the man she was supposed to marry, swindled her out of some money before leaving her at the altar. This scheme was devised by the man and Miss Havisham’s half brother Arthur, who apparently did not like her much. This story just reminded me so much of Heathcliff and his behavior of revenge against his adopted brother Hindley. He didn’t like the man so much that he vowed to exact revenge by any means possible and harbored these negative feelings around with him which ultimately led to the destruction of any relationship he had or could have had. It is definitely interesting to see how people cope with these traumas and find ways to manipulate others to fit their agendas, no matter the cost.

Liminality in Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights

While everything about Ms. Havisham is greatly interesting, nothing could be more fascinating about her than the clocks that surround her. These clocks are not ticking, but rather, are stuck on a specific time (8:40), which would be precisely when she was left at the altar. The pause is literally representative that her wedding never happened, but even presently, Ms. Havisham’s wedding has never happened. She is quite literally stuck in the moment before her wedding, and she thus acts as both a bride and not a bride, and in that contradiction, she is neither. Simply put, the ritual that would have caused her title to change from Ms. to Mrs. never happened, and the aberrance of the ritual that would have kept her Ms. never happened either. She exists caught between those two facts. All of this is not unlike Heathcliff, who after Catherine’s death exists between both life and death. However, Heathcliff is more proactive than Ms. Havisham as he recognizes he is caught in a liminal space, and seeks to do everything he can to complete the ritual of his love, even going so far as to unearth Catherine’s body. But even further than that, Heathcliff effectively kills himself so that he may escape the torturous liminality he exists in, that of being unable to fulfill his love for Catherine and also being unable to dispel his love for Catherine. Liminality exists definitively within both of these books, and it will be interesting to see how Ms. Havisham deals with her own precarious standing in contrast to how Heathcliff dealt with his.

Class & Marriage in the Victorian Era

As I was reading the chapters for this week, I was struck by something in Herbert’s story. In chapter 22, he explains to Pip the tragedy of Miss Havisham and the wedding that never was. In his description of Miss Havisham’s bridegroom, Herbert seems to indicate that the man had little money or status, and that he was really supported by Miss Havisham. I was surprised by this because Herbert makes no explicit reference to the class difference between the couple, only references it through other comments. He doesn’t say anything about the marriage being taboo, and nothing else in his story or the book up to this point indicates this either. I had expected this to cause at least a few issues, but it didn’t.

Perhaps why I was so prepared for the class divide to be focused on more than it is in these chapters of Great Expectations is because it was such a significant obstacle in Wuthering Heights. Cathy married Edgar because he was of her class, and therefore suited to her. But Cathy did not love Edgar, she loved Heathcliff. In a conversation with Nelly, she states that she wants to be with Heathcliff, and wants to marry him, but that doing so would shame her. This in effect, is really the main driving force of Wuthering Heights. I just expected the reaction to be similar in Great Expectations; at least significant enough for Herbert to mention in his story.

Strong Female Characters In Victorian Literature

While reading Great Expectations, Estella’s description stood out to me. In line 15 of chapter 22, she is described as being “brought up by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on all the male sex.” Due to heartbreak from Compeyson leaving her, Miss Havisham lived a vengeful life. After adopting Estella, Miss Havisham decided to use her to get revenge on men and raised her to view men negatively. This passage instantly reminded me of Catherine from Wuthering Heights.

In Wuthering Heights, Catherine is described as being a strong woman who did not depend on men. Although her goal was not to wreak revenge on men, she wished to obtain a high role in society which would allow her to have power over men. Even from a young age, Catherine was described as being “the queen of the country-side; she had no peer; and she did turn out a haughty, headstrong creature!” (Wuthering Heights, Chapter 8) Many women who lived during the Victorian Era were described as being dainty and obedient to the men in their lives, but Catherine did not fit this description. Similarly to Miss Havisham and Estella, she was unwilling to live a timid life. This lifestyle led her to become a strong female character that many women from the Victorian Era looked up to.

Men’s Pursuit of Money/Power in Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights

In chapters 20-29 of Great Expectations, readers discover that Miss Havisham once came very close to marrying a man that she loved deeply, but when it came time to marry, her fiance stood her up and stole her money. He had been scheming alongside Miss Havisham’s half-brother who did not have a good relationship with Miss Havisham or their father. Ever since, Miss Havisham has been heartbroken and bound to her house. Her heartbreak explains her strange behavior: her staying inside, eating alone, stopping the clocks, wearing her wedding dress and her obsession with bringing Pip and Estella together. I think this can be paralleled with the actions of certain men in Wuthering Heights. Specifically, I find Miss Havisham’s situation to be similar to Catherine’s situation in Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff, in an effort to gain property and power, decides to manipulate Isabella Linton into marrying him at which point things reach at breaking point at Thrushcross Grange. Linton comes home and demands that Heathcliff leaves and yells at Catherine for engaging with Heathcliff. As a result, Catherine decides to lock herself in her room, practically starve herself and drive herself mad. In both novels, there are men that do whatever it takes to gain money/power and women suffer as a result. Miss Havisham suffers from heartbreak at the hands of her ex-fiance while Catherine suffers from an inner turmoil as a result of her husband and Heathcliff’s abhorrence of each other. I thought that this parallel between the novels was interesting to note because it could be indicative of a shared viewpoint of the two authors. Perhaps the men’s aggressive pursuit of money/power could be evidence of these authors’ condemnation of capitalism. In further research about Dickens I found that while his novels weren’t politically subversive and he wasn’t explicitly anti-capitalism, he was known to expose the ills of Victorian Society in his writing. Bronte was known to have grown up in a non-conformist community and seems to show her outward rejection of Victorian society in multiple ways throughout Wuthering Heights.

Miss Havisham and Her Puppets

In Great Expectations the narration is told by the present reflective Pip about the seemingly naïve past Pip. One of the several threads sewn into the narrative is the manipulation of young Pip and Estella by Miss Havisham. The reflective Pip seems very aware of her manipulations as in Chapter 29 he remarks: “She said the word often enough, and there could be no doubt that she meant to say it; but if the often repeated word had been hate instead of love—despair—revenge—dire death—it could not have sounded from her lips more like a curse.” (Dickens). This is present Pip noting her manipulation of his past self to fall in love with Estella. However, the naïve Pip, as noted towards the end of Chapter 29, he states:  “Far into the night, Miss Havisham’s words, “Love her, love her, love her!” sounded in my ears. I adapted them for my own repetition, and said to my pillow, “I love her, I love her, I love her!” hundreds of times.” (Dickens). This is the obvious result of Miss Havisham’s manipulation of Pip, to the young Pip the “I love her” might seem childish, hopeful, and perhaps even sweet, but the knowledge of the narrator Pip and the reader, puts a dark twist on those words. All that we can do is watch young Pip fall into Miss Havisham’s trap, helpless to do anything.

While present Pip as narrator can confirm that Miss Havisham is enacting revenge on men through her manipulation of young people, and likewise that Pip is eventually aware of this, is Estella is her youth at all aware that she is merely an instrument of revenge? Miss Havisham is recorded to have said in Chapter 29: ““Hear me, Pip! I adopted her, to be loved. I bred her and educated her, to be loved. I developed her into what she is, that she might be loved. Love her!” which explains a vital insight into how Estella was raised. Miss Havisham cultivated her “to be loved,” which an obvious example of that is to have men fall for Estella and subsequently have their hearts broken. But, there is another side to this coin, where Estella could be argued to also “want to be loved,” or in other words, be attention-seeking. Reflecting back to Chapter 12, Pip points out: ” Miss Havisham would embrace her with lavish fondness, murmuring something in her ear that sounded like “Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!” (Dickens). This ties in two elements: the first being an early statement of Miss Havisham’s plot for revenge, and the second is the “lavish fondness” bestowed upon Estella. It would appear that Estella’s cruel behavior towards men and her actions that please Miss Havisham are being positively reinforced. However, is Estella aware of this before Pip? Again in Chapter 29, Estella comments: ‘ “You must know,” said Estella, condescending to me as a brilliant and beautiful woman might, “that I have no heart,—if that has anything to do with my memory.” ‘ (Dickens). She is certainly aware of the effects of Miss Havisham’s manipulation on her own person, but I have yet to see any true indication of her self awareness. This moment after Pip and Estella leave the garden: “As Estella looked back over her shoulder before going out at the door, Miss Havisham kissed that hand to her,” is clear Estella yearns for affection and is being reinforced for leading Pip on. Is this just a childish need to impress a parental figure or has Estella consented to working with Miss Havisham in her plot for revenge against men?


While reading the next section of Great Expectations I was drawn to recount a certain aspect of Wuthering Heights. I wanted to point out a connection I noticed about the way in which both of the authors, Dickens and Bronte, choose to tell the stories of the different characters in their books. In Great Expectations, we see a situation where Herbert is talking to Pip in chapter 22, he is telling him the story of Miss Havisham. He tells the story of her life going all the way back to her childhood. When I was reading this section I could not help but think of Wuthering Heights and the role that Nelly serves in the book. She tells the story through her perspective and we almost have to instill a form of trust into her character to believe what she is saying. Bronte and Dickens both choose to tell stories through different characters in their pieces of literature aside from the normal narrators that are telling the story. I was wondering and reread this section a few times to see if this format of relaying the story to the reader changed anything in my perception of the information. I was thinking back the first chapter of Great Expectations when Pip the narrator is the one to tell his story and introduce his background and how this situation differs from the one in which Pip is not the one telling us the story. Pip tells his own story about his childhood in the beginning, yet we see the contrast when Herbert is the one to recount this story. It was interesting to see that multiple novels from the Victorian Era both had such a similar way of telling stories. We spoke briefly about the effect that Nelly’s storytelling had and when reading Wuthering Heights I was interested to see if Great Expectations was similar at all in this matter. Does the fact that Miss Havisham’s story is coming from Herbert take away from the authenticity or does it add to our understanding on the type of person and or character that she is? When the story comes from the perspective of another character, like Nelly and Herbert, how should the reader interpret this?

The Ghostly Presence in Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations

The presence of ghosts and the unknown was prominent in Wuthering Heights. Evidently, Heathcliff claimed to have numerous encounters with the ghost of Catherine and believed her to really be haunting him, which is what he requested of her right before she died. In popular culture, ghosts are usually perceived to be scary, and being haunted by one is never something that someone requests. Well, Heathcliff did request this of Catherine because of his attachment to her and his need to feel her presence. Notably, Catherine’s spiritual presence provided Heathcliff immense comfort and during one of his encounters with her he recalled, “a sudden sense of relief flowed from my heart through every limb. I relinquished my labour of agony, and turned consoled at once: unspeakably consoled. Her presence was with me: it remained while I re-filled the grave, and led me home” (59). Similarly, a ghost becomes present and witnessed by Pip in Great Expectations. Conversely, we do not know the name of the ghost and its relation, if any, to any of the characters yet. While Heathcliff was comforted by Catherine’s ghost, Pip was observed to be scared by the ghost because Estella witnessed this and asked him, “are you scared again?” We’ll have to see if this ghostly presence becomes more significant in the upcoming chapters of Great Expectations and if its identity is revealed to be significant to any of the characters.