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Breaking up is hard to do. Especially when it turns out your fiancé is a world-class jerk who leaves you at the altar and takes all your dough. Sure, it's enough to make you eat an entire gallon of ice cream. But is it enough to make you lock yourself in your room for the rest of your life? "Havisham," a poem by Carol Ann Duffy published in 1998, tackles just that question.
Duffy, a Scottish poet, is the Poet Laureate of Britain. She broke down a lot of barriers when she took this position because she's the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly gay person to hold the title. All in all, she's a pretty cool lady, and she spends a lot of her poetic energy giving voice to some of history's more silenced women.
Miss Havisham, a famous character from the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is exactly one of those women, and in "Havisham," Duffy gives her a voice. Here's the skinny on Miss Havisham: decades before the novel begins, Miss Havisham is jilted by her fiancé just hours before their wedding. He steals all her money and leaves her single and completely alone in the world. So does Miss Havisham curl up by the fire with a weepy novel and a pint of Ben & Jerry's?
Nope – even worse. She decides that her entire life will be about being dumped. She spends the rest of her life wearing her wedding dress and just one shoe (which is what she was wearing when she heard the news). She leaves the wedding cake decaying on the table. She stops all of the clocks in her house so they all display the exact moment in time when she learned of her fiancé's jerkdom. Her beautiful mansion falls into ruins, and she spends all of her time wandering around in a decades-old wedding dress. Just imagine the smell.
Of course, Great Expectations is a Dickens novel, so there are approximately one billion twists and turns in the plot. But you really only need to know the basics we've given you to understand this poem. She's a lonely, sad, and wee-bit-crazy spinster (a not-very-nice word for an unmarried older woman). In her poem, Duffy imagines what's going on in Miss Havisham's head decades after she's been dumped. It's a short poem, but it hits you in your gut where it really, really hurts.
Have you even been unceremoniously dumped? Jilted? Left at the altar? We hope not, but if you have, we're both sorry and happy to say that "Havisham" is the poem for you. You can read this poem as kind of a cautionary tale. It's a reminder that you shouldn't give up on yourself and your life after heartbreak and heartache. It's a reminder that you should get up every morning, brush your teeth, wash your face, and get dressed. Maybe go for a walk. Meet some friends. Hit the clubs.
If you don't, you might end up like Miss Havisham. Old, alone, kind of crazy, smelly, wandering around your dilapidated home in a decades-old wedding dress and one shoe. You don't need to meet the new Mr. or Ms. Right right away. You just need to shower. Take it from Miss Havisham.
Read Great Expectations…
…for free, online at Project Gutenberg. We highly recommend it.
Meet Carol Ann Duffy
Read what the Academy of American Poets has to say about Britain's groundbreaking Poet Laureate.
Want to Read Some Good Love Poems?
Try these, recommended by Duffy herself. (No corpse honeymoons here, we promise)
Interview with Our Author
Ever wondered what it would be like to be the first female Poet Laureate? Here's your chance to find out.
A non-Shmoop Analysis
He's no Shmoop, but he's got some interesting things to say about "Havisham."
An Interesting Take
Some students in England do a montaged reading of "Havisham." It's a little silly, but kind of gets across the choppy feel, don't you think?
A More Traditional Take
This reading is a bit more traditional. What do you think?
A More Traditional Take
Thinking deep thoughts, as usual.
Here she is, as imagined by Harry Furniss, who illustrated the complete works of Dickens. Don't you kind of wish novels were still illustrated?
And here she is again, this time as imagined by the creators of South Park!
The First American Edition of Great Expectations
Can you imagine reading a novel on newspaper? Ah, the ink stains!
Great Expectations: Serialized!
Check out the novel in its original form. Pretty neat stuff.
Duffy's Mean Time
Check out the poem in its original context – a collection called Mean Time.
Return to the source for more Miss Havisham. You know you want to.
Great Expectations, 1998
This adaptation is not exactly faithful to the book. In fact, it takes place in New York, in modern times.
Great Expectations, 1946
A trailer for the 1946 film starring Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham. If you're looking for a more faithful adaptation, this is your movie.
TV Movie, 1999
Produced by the BBC, this (long) movie was so good, it was nominated for an Emmy.
TV Miniseries, 1989
Check out this long-forgotten version of the book, produced by Disney.