Study Guide

Estella Havisham in Great Expectations

By Charles Dickens

Estella Havisham

Estella may be beautiful, but she's as chilly as Frozone, freezing the hearts of everyone around her—including her adopted mom, Miss Havisham. She's "proud and refined" (33.4) as an adult, and "beautiful and self-possessed" as a child" (8.25), and for some reason Pip falls desperately in love with her, even though she's really, really rude. She's hardly known him for five minutes before she's telling him that he has "coarse hands" and "thick boots" (8.67).

But we can't hate Estella, either. Can you imagine living in Satis House with a mother who wears her wedding dress everyday and who only cares that you grow up to break boys' hearts? Can you imagine having to deal with relatives who only want your mother's money? Can you imagine sleeping in that run-down house every night, hearing Miss Havisham's low moaning and mouse-like shuffling all over the floor boards?

Yeah, it sounds pretty bad. No wonder she claims she "never had any such thing" as tenderness (29.75), and that she has "no heart […] no softness there, no—sympathy—sentiment—nonsense" (29.66-68).

She knows just who to blame, too: Miss Havisham. We never really get to know Estella, which makes sense, since we're in Pip's perspective and she's always out of his reach, just like the star she's named after. But at one moment, she kind of blows up at her adopted mom and we get a peek into the mind of Estella. Miss Havisham gets mad at her for pushing her away, and she points out that it's totally Miss Havisham's fault for making her unable to love:

Do you reproach me for being cold? You? […] I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame […] All I possess is freely yours. All that you have given me, is at your command to have again. Beyond that, I have nothing. And if you ask me to give you, what you never gave me, my gratitude and duty cannot do impossibilities. (38.69-77)

No wonder Estella chooses the meanest, roughest, cruelest man she possibly could pick to be her husband. There's something inherently self-destructive about this choice, making her not so dissimilar from the self-destructive Pip, choosing the one thing that's guaranteed to make her miserable. Perhaps they're meant for each other after all.