Study Guide

Havisham Quotes

By Carol Ann Duffy

  • Love

    Beloved sweetheart bastard. (1)

    Miss Havisham begins her monologue with an oxymoron – a set of contradictory terms. Her ex-fiancé is both a beloved sweetheart and a bastard. Right from the beginning, then, we see that love and hate are closely intertwined in this poem.

    Some nights better, the lost body over me,
    my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
    then down till I suddenly bite awake. […] (10-12)

    For a moment, it seems that love isn't all bad. Miss Havisham has some erotic fantasies about her ex – until she's awoken with a violent start. So much for the beauty and pleasures of love. Oh, and why do you think she refers to her fiancé as an "it" here? That's a little strange, right?

    […] Love's
    hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
    in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding-cake. (12-14)

    Here Miss Havisham once again ties love to hate. Behind all love is hate, she says. She imagines a red (a color we associate with love, lust, blood) balloon bursting, She stabs at a wedding cake. The source of all this hate and violence comes from love, which seems pretty twisted if we may say so.

    Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon. (15)

    Honeymoons are supposed to be joyous times for couples. This imagined honeymoon, in contrast, makes us cringe.

    Don't think it's only the heart that b-b-b-breaks. (16)

    Miss Havisham breaks down at the end of the poem. She admits that it's not only her heart that's been broken by her fiancé. Her body is also worn down, and her life is destroyed by her lost love.

  • Marriage

    […] Not a day since then
    I haven't wished him dead
    . […] (1-2)

    Here Miss Havisham alludes to her past. We as readers are expected to know what "then" refers to: her wedding day, on which she was unceremoniously dumped. If you haven't read Great Expectations, this can be a little tricky, but, hey, that's what we're here for!

    <em>Spinster. I stink and remember. </em>(5)

    Miss Havisham calls herself a spinster, which a not-very-nice word for an older woman who has never been married. Is she feeling sorry for herself? Does she see herself as others see her? Probably yes to both. She seems to be aware of just what she looks (and smells) like to others.

    […] <em>the dress
    yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
    the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this</em>
    to me?</em> […] (6-9)

    Miss Havisham has been wearing her wedding dress for decades. It's yellowed and disgusting. So what do you think she's clinging to here – her wedding? Or marriage? Is there a difference between the two?

    […] <em>Love's
    hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
    in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding-cake.</em> (12-14)

    Here Miss H shares her thoughts on marriage: Behind all love is hate. The buoyant red balloon of marriage will eventually burst with a bang. Even the wedding cake deserves to be stabbed. Miss Havisham has no faith in marriage at all, it seems.

    <em>Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon. </em>(15)

    Miss H imagines a honeymoon with a corpse. Just what does she want to do with the corpse? Well, we don't really want to know, but she clearly sees her possibilities for another marriage (and any sort of a normal life) as dead. Frankly, honeymoon with a corpse might not be any worse than anything else that's happened to her.

  • Madness

    <em>Beloved sweetheart bastard. </em>(1)

    This phrase, which begins the poem, just might be a symptom of Miss Havisham's madness. Can someone be both a sweetheart and a bastard at the same time? She could be purposefully using an oxymoron to present contradictory ideas. (She both loves and hates her ex-fiancé.) Or maybe she's a little nuts, and the contradiction flies completely over her head.

    <em>Spinster. I stink and remember. </em>(5)

    Here Miss Havisham is certainly aware of herself. She knows she's a spinster. She even acknowledges the fact that she stinks. So maybe she's not so crazy? She seems pretty aware of herself and the situation she's in.

    […]<em>Whole days
    in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; </em>[…]

    Lying in bed all day screaming at the wall doesn't exactly sound like good mental health behavior to us. Then again, who hasn't been temporarily destroyed by the breakup of a relationship at some point in their lives? Shmoop recommends ice cream.

    the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this
    to me?

    At first Miss H doesn't even recognize herself in the mirror. She sees a "her" – like she's looking at another person before she recognizes herself. This might be madness, or it might just be plain old shock: she <em>has</em> become pretty strange looking over the years and she probably doesn't see herself that often. She asks who's at fault. Is it her? Her former fiancé? This seems like a pretty sane question to ask.

    <em>Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.</em>(15)

    This is perhaps the height of Miss Havisham's craziness. We don't want to know what she's going to do with this male corpse. Not at all. Nor do we want to.

    <em>Don't think it's only the heart that b-b-b-breaks. </em>(16)

    Miss Havisham's body is broken, her life is broken, and maybe even her mind. So is she crazy? We're still not sure. Is she stuttering here? Blubbering? Shivering? Trying to decide just what is going on in Miss Havisham's mind is one of the things that make this poem so unexpectedly fun.