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She inspires in Pip a frenzy of one–sided emotion which has no hope of growing into real and fertile love: it is, as Barbara Hardy puts it, ‘without tenderness, without illusion; it reveals no desire to confer happiness upon the beloved; it is all self-absorbed need.’ Pip knows this too.‘I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be ‘(Chapter 29). It has often been noted that Estella’s name is one which Dickens coined out of the Latin Stella (meaning ‘star’) and the French Estelle, and that it could also be regarded as a partial, encoded anagram of Ellen Ternan, the young woman with whom Dickens had fallen in love and who at the time of his writing Great Expectations may well have been resisting his advances. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then.
Great Expectations contains several such powerfully vivid female figures who transcend caricature to take on a distinctively Dickensian form of life.
Outstanding among them is Miss Havisham: like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, her name has passed into the common currency of our culture, causally referred to whenever people want to describe someone living in seclusion, imprisoned by the past.
Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil.
But, in this separation I associate you only with the good, and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may. ” ― “Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” ― “The unqualified truth is, that when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible.
Ironically, at the same time as she gloats over Pip’s futile passion for Estella, she becomes fond of the boy and volunteers to pay the indentures for his apprenticeship (as well as agreeing later in the novel to Pip’s request for help for Herbert Pocket).
Even more ironically, what destroys her is the realisation that Estella’s loveless nature will crush not only Pip and the girl’s other suitors but herself as well.Comparison of the scenes suggests Dickens’ readiness to exploit the standard formulas of melodrama.In Chapter 49, Miss Havisham achieves the redemption of self-knowledge.But Pip’s relationship to Estella could also have been inspired by Dickens’ memory of his three-year, unconsummated infatuation with the banker’s daughter Maria Beadnell - a period when, like Pip, he was in his early 20s nervous of his social status, but full of expectations of gentlemanliness and dreams of worldly success.The courtship terminated in 1833 following Maria’s ‘displays of heartless indifference’; Dickens returned her letters, and they lost touch.At this point Dickens could have let her live on as a kindly old lady in a rosy cottage – and in his early novels, he would probably have done so – but in his artistic maturity, he must have seen that this would have struck a falsely sentimental note, and instead flames consume her in an accident that has an element of suicide as well as divine justice.Estella is a more conventional figure, a version of the type of unattainable maiden common in Renaissance poetry (as in As You Like It where Orlando calls Rosalind ‘the fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she’).But for anything beyond monsters or paragons, for the grey areas of ordinary female psychology, explored in all their subtle shades by his contemporaries George Eliot and Anthony Trollope, Dickens had no feeling. Dickens may never have succeeded in portraying any woman with a depth equal to George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke or Trollope’s Glencora Palliser, let alone Flaubert’s Emma Bovary or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina,.But who else could have imagined Flora Finching (Little Dorrit) or Miss Flite (Bleak House)?Nobody who reads the novel ever forgets her first appearance in Chapter 8, in which her decrepitude is so richly and evocatively described.To Pip’s childish eyes, she at first seems like a fairy-tale witch - half-waxwork, half-skeleton, garlanded with jewels but surrounded by stopped clocks, dust and mould: I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow.