When Estella tells Pip of her engagement, Miss Havisham sees her own ancient injury reflected in him. Only then does she realize what she has done, what great harm she has inflicted. Pip goes home heartbroken, but she calls him back to help him and to beg forgiveness. Pip forgives her readily, has her give the money she would have gladly given to him to another, and takes his leave. On the way out of Satis House, however, he has a vision.

I was going out the opposite door — not easy to open now, for the damp wood had started and swelled, and the hinges were yielding, and the threshold was encumbered with a growth of fungus — when I turned my head to look back. A childish association revived with wonderful force in the moment of the slight action, and I fancied that I saw Miss Havisham hanging to the beam. So strong was the impression that I stood under the beam shuddering from head to foot before I knew it was a fancy — though to be sure I was there in an instant. [495]

In a more Romantic work, the reader might consider such an event supernatural. God might have sent the vision to warn Pip of Miss Havisham's danger. In Great Expectations, however, the supernatural never plays such a powerful role, if it plays any role at all. There is no reason this scene should be the exception. As Pip says, “I knew it was a fancy."

Pip seems to consider his vision a psychological event. He describes it as “a childish association," an “impression," and “a fancy." All of these terms imply something subjective, grounded in the mind rather than the physical or supernatural worlds. That does not, however, keep him from acting on his vision. He rushes back to Miss Havisham and finds that she is indeed in danger. If Pip is surprised that a mere “fancy" could prove so accurate, he gives no sign, and Dickens offers no explanation.

Questions

1. How does Pip's reaction to his vision compare to Jane's reaction to her “vision" of Mr. Rochester's voice in Jane Eyre?

2. Is it anachronous to use the word “psychological" to describe Pip's understanding of his vision? If so, what word would be more suitable?

3. A couple of paragraphs later, Miss Havisham will catch on fire. In earlier scenes she is often seen staring into the very fire that will later consume her. Also, Pip describes unusual fires in her dining room. What is the significance of all this fire? If it has symbolic meaning, is the meaning consistent throughout the novel?

4. Why is Miss Havisham hanging “to" and not hanging “from" the beam?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 23 February 2008