While Pip and Estella sit by the fire with Miss Havisham in the later stages of the book, the matron accuses Estella of ingratitude, coldness, and a lack of love. Estella replies by asking how Miss Havisham could reproach her ward for being cold when her personality came about as a direct result of Miss Havisham's tutelage: “I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me" (Dickenson 373). Miss Havisham, who doesn't believe Estella loves her, also doesn't believe that Estella's inability to love is a consequence of the innumerable times Miss Havisham whispered in Estella's ear, “Break their hearts, my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!" (Dickens 116).

Estella can only see herself as a product of Miss Havisham's bitterness. To illustrate her predicament, Estella delivers a monologue employing a metaphor about fear of the light.

"If you had brought up your adopted daughter wholly in the dark confinement of these rooms, and had never let her know that there was such a thing as the daylight by which she has never once seen your facefaiif you had done that, and then, for a purpose, had wanted her to understand the daylight and know all about it, you would have been disappointed and angry?...

"Or," said Estella, “ — which is a nearer case — if you had taught her, from the dawn of her intelligence, with your utmost energy and might, that there was such a thing as daylight, but that it was made to be her enemy and destroyer, and she must always turn against it, for it had blighted you and would else blight her — if you had done this, and then, for a purpose, had wanted her to take naturally to the daylight and she could not do it, you would have been disappointed and angry? [place within the complete text of the novel]

“So," said Estella, “I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me."

Although Estella never directly refers to herself during this speech, this explanation shows Estella at her most vulnerable. The paradox lies in the fact that Miss Havisham has never exposed Estella to vulnerability, or allowed her to feel it. Yet Estella's own vulnerability and hurt come through in this speech, nonetheless. Estella claims she must be taken as she has been made, and disavows any and all of her successes and her failures. However, Estella's self awareness and naturally occurring vulnerability, uncultivated by Miss Havisham, seems to indicate that Estella is not just a product of her upbringing, but a person in her own right.

Questions

1. In this monologue and the preceding scene, after Miss Havisham accuses Estella of being “stock and stone," Estella explains that nurture, not nature, is to blame for her cruelty and coldness. Does Estella's eloquent assertion truly dismiss her from taking personal responsibility for actions? If so, is Estella a believable character?

2. Guilt and remorse are two of the most prominent themes of Great Expectations, yet at the end of the novel after Estella realizes how much she has hurt Pip and damaged to her own life, she never explicitly apologizes. Why?

3. Both Phantastes and Great Expectations address unrequited love of a variety of women. Why is this situation such a large issue in the literature of this time period? Does it have anything to do with male discomfort around female agency/the power that comes from being able to say “no thank you" when romantically approached? Is the Victorian literature that takes up this theme a response to the wane of arranged marriages versus unions of choice?

4. Many of the works we've read thus far including “Porphyria's Lover," Jane Eyre, and Phantastes employ the trope of a storm to illustrate the emotional turmoil felt by the characters. When did this form of personification come in vogue? Does it have roots in Romanticism? What does it say about the Victorians' attitude towards the natural world?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 18 February 2008