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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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It leaves him with Estella. This whole section is devoted to
Estella at Richmond, where Pip plays the role of a sort of
eunuch escort. He's free to hang around her, but he almost
seems to be considered harmless, rather than the favored suitor.
He watches her torture scores of other admirers, while all he
gets is a rare word of pity. His tone is weary, dogged,
exasperated. Even though he believes she is reserved for him
alone, he feels too shy about this to press his own cause, and
simply follows her with mute passive devotion.

When they go to visit Miss Havisham, she seems weirder and
more witch-like than before, devouring Estella with her eyes,
watching Pip's misery with glittering satisfaction. Pip tries to
figure out why Miss Havisham hasn't announced Estella's
engagement to him. It must be because she can make
everybody suffer at once, by letting Estella go on flirting with
everyone except him.

Pip sees the awful setting-the candlelit gloom, the spooky
decayed props-with fresh eyes. As the privileged insider, he
finally observes the private relationship between Miss
Havisham and Estella, too, in the form of a bitter fight. Estella
treats Miss Havisham as coldly as she treats everyone-and
Miss Havisham is astounded. Estella responds calmly that Miss
Havisham made her heartless and must accept the
consequences. The language here is melodramatic, the scene
almost like an intense little play (or, in our times, a soap
opera). There are several possible interpretations of Estella's
behavior here: 1) she really is an unfeeling monster; 2) she
knows Miss Havisham's tricks, and has found the only way to
manipulate her back; or 3) she feels cheated by her upbringing
and wants to punish Miss Havisham for it. Miss Havisham
appears to be the victim again, a lonely, slightly crazy old lady
whose scheme of revenge backfired on her. In her own
perverse fashion, she has loved Estella and pinned all her hopes
on her. Her emotional reaction cries out for pity. In contrast,
Estella is intellectual and hard-headed; she develops a
metaphor, comparing sunlight-which is always shut out here-
to love, which she has never been taught to feel.

It's hard for Pip to watch this, in love with Estella as he is. He
escapes, depressed, into the starlight (remember, Estella's
always symbolized by stars). That night, sleeping at Satis
House, he sees Miss Havisham, first in his dreams, then in her
restless nightly wanderings, a pale ghostly tragic figure; we
feel sorry for her, not for Estella.

But Pip still persists in adoring Estella. At his dining club, Pip
discovers, through a crude drinking boast, that Bentley
Drummle has been paying court to Estella. This offends Pip
down to the roots of his soul, and nearly leads to a ridiculous
duel. Recall how Pip reacted when Orlick was hanging around
Biddy in Chapters 17 and 35; here again, Pip insists that his
main feeling is horror that so pure a creature should be defiled.
He's jealous, but he also simply can't stand to think of Estella
with such a brute. (Again, Pip draws a sharp line between good
and evil.) Drummle, on the other hand, doesn't worship Estella;
he regards Estella as his prey and, spider-like, he waits
patiently to catch her.

One night, Pip confronts Estella about Drummle, but she
shrugs it off, so certain that she's the one in control, entrapping
him. Estella then reminds Pip that he's the only beau she
doesn't toy with. This is special treatment-but not the kind Pip
wants. We can only guess at Estella's motives here. Does she
really care for Pip? Is she being kind, protecting him from her
cruel games? Or does she realize that he's already caught, and
this is the best way to break his heart?

After Pip is finished describing his grinding heartache, the last
paragraph sets the scene for a disaster to come. Referring to an
Oriental novel, Tales of the Genii (which Dickens read as a
child), Pip pictures fate as a slab of stone, falling to crush the
hero. We await Pip's fate nervously.

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes

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