As in "The Eve of St. Agnes," John Keats addresses the transience of a beauty in "Ode On Melancholy." He speaks of "Joy" that turns to poison. Even while it exists, Beauty is an "aching Pleasure," for it is marked by inevitable decline.
In Miss Havisham, Dickens creates a victim of perverse illusion — a woman who clings to the trappings of Beauty while her body rots on the brink of death. Regardless of her physical state, Dickens implies that Miss Havisham's beauty ended when her innocence was destroyed. Although she was still young when her isolation began, one has the sense that she has been been this same white-haired woman from the moment the clocks stopped at twenty minutes to nine.
Whereas Keats lived in a time of philosophical absolutes and high drama where death was death and life was LIFE, Dickens implies that Beauty need not be lost completely. In his description of an aged Estella, Pip says, "the freshness of her beauty was indeed gone, but its indescribable majesty and its indescribable charm remained." Perhaps, as Dickens watched the uglification of his country at the hands of industrialism, he liked to imagine that something of Beauty might survive even when it was no longer visible. This is the "indescribable" element of beauty that has no definition. Even when "Joy" and "Pleasure" are gone, something subtler might prevail.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000