Similarities in Role and Persona of the Characters of Miss Havisham and Victor Frankenstein, As Well As Estella Havisham and the Creature
Many similarities and comparisons can be drawn when analyzing the two works, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. The stories both involve the transformation and manipulation of a being; Estella is that particular being in Great Expectations, paralleled by the wretched creature that is invented in Frankenstein. Each of these manipulated and transformed beings is involved with a particular character which carries the chief role in manipulating and transforming them. For Estella, that person is Miss Havisham, who devotes her entire life to create an unobtainable seductress out of Estella, so that Miss Havisham can wreak her vengeful havoc upon the world of men; this devotion is due to the pains that Miss Havisham has suffered from her husband-to-be who has abandoned her. For the wretched creature, the manipulator is Victor Frankenstein, who invents the creature, and transforms it into the thing that it is, and brings it to life. Both manipulators have particular and self-interested desires in manipulating these ‘creatures’, which I will call them hereafter; but in both situations, the desires of the manipulators are not accomplished ideally, and the fruits of their labors are not what they had foreseen.
Both of the manipulators are truly intent on the purpose to which they adhere, Miss Havisham to make a man-hating temptress out of Estella, and Victor Frankenstein to invent a living being from dead tissue and other inanimate objects. The ambition with which the two characters pursue their desire for their manipulated creatures is very evident. Miss Havisham devotes years of uninterrupted attention to Estella, and to teaching her the ruthless ways of a proud, relentless elitist. In her devoted plot, Havisham sees no other object of desire, than to bring pain to all men that live. Miss Havisham uses her own snobbish qualities to teach Estella: “as she grew, and promised to be very beautiful, I gradually did worse, and with my praises, and with my jewels, and with my teachings, and with this figure of myself always before her a warning to back and point my lessons, I stole her heart away and put ice in its place” (Dickens 399). In Frankenstein, Victor is so entirely consumed by his desire that he often sacrifices sleep to his purpose: “the stars often disappeared in the light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory.” (Shelley 930). Victor no longer cares for himself, and ceases to eat and bathe, foregoing his own well being in order to further research the creation of his wretched beast: “…a resistless, and almost frantic impulse, urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” (Shelley 933).
Both of the manipulators are shut off from civilization in their missions to manipulate the creatures. It is in this reclusive environment that the true transformation of the characters is effective. Miss Havisham is able to dominate the conscience of Estella, because Miss Havisham is the one and only significant other for the young girl, and therefore Estella has no other person or image with which to form her self. Moreover, if Estella had perhaps been subjected to the outside world more than she had been, she might have seen the true perversity of Miss Havisham’s psyche, and abandoned her altogether. With the story of Frankenstein, Victor is only able to create his creature by solely devoting his time to the process. He proceeds to work on the creature, night and day, without any contact to mankind for a long period of time: “my person had become emaciated with confinement” (Shelley 933). Victor no longer tends to his physical well-being, something that would be tended to, were he in the need to impress the presence of others.
With both of the manipulators, prolonged periods of time are given to their ambitious goals in manipulating the creatures. With Estella, Miss Havisham spends years in forming Estella, and slowly riling her into hatred. Miss Havisham forgets all purposes in life, but to sulk in an isolated depression, and to train Estella to serve her purpose of controlling men. It is this single-mindedness, which leads to Miss Havisham’s success in moulding Estella into the supercilious woman that she is. Victor Frankenstein spends two years of his life in attaining the completion of his manipulated being; so much time put into this goal shows such sacrifice on his part, that his entire ambition to live was in the transformation of this being: “winter, spring, and summer, passed away during my labours; but I did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves” (Shelley 934). This utter devotion of time and effort magnifies the hope that the creatures would serve their creators, somehow.
Both creators have ulterior motives for manipulating their beings; Miss Havisham spends those years of hard training, so that Estella might be the sword that she could wield ruthlessly, slashing and ripping the hearts of men, and as many as possible. This is Estella’s sole purpose in Miss Havisham’s agenda, to torture men; these men have no direct effect on Miss Havisham’s unfortunate situation, but Miss Havisham is only determined to pass her anger down to whoever will accept it, and will bring sadness to those who will not accept it. Victor desires something far more prestigious from his creature; fame, recognition, admiration, honor, and foremost, scientific accomplishment, and the power of God. Victor desires to help the world in a way that no other scientist or invention had ever done before, to bring back the dead: “I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time… renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (Shelley 933). Victor hopes to conquer human nature with this desire, which ultimately leads to disaster. Victor also feels the desire to be on the level of God: “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley 933). These selfish and supernatural aspirations ultimately lead to pain and destruction, not only to both the manipulators, but to innocent beings as well.
Miss Havisham and Victor Frankenstein alike can not possibly foresee the outcome of their labours; in both cases, the result is not what they ideally plan it to be. When Miss Havisham first begins to teach Estella her supercilious ways, she can only see the pain that she desires to pass to men, and she does not imagine the things that she is keeping from Estella: a healthy relationship, a loving family, and the experience of true love, unbounded by superficiality, inhibition, and deceitfulness. Victor is uncertain from the moment that he initiates the experiments that lead to the creation: “Nor could I consider the magnitude and complexity of my plan as any argument of its impracticability” (Shelley 932). Victor plans to make a beautiful creature, that can pass as human, and hopefully live its years in a human way of life. The result is the exact opposite: “now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley 935). Victor also knows not the personal pain and mental suffering that he will endure as a result of creating the wretched beast: “in all the misery I imagined and dreaded, I did not conceive the hundredth part of the anguish I was destined to endure” (Shelley 946).
Miss Havisham and Victor Frankenstein both have great feelings of remorse for the creatures that they have created. Not being able to foresee the outcome of their actions, they create beings who pour hate or death upon their fellow men and women. Miss Havisham sincerely expresses regret to Pip when she repeatedly exclaims, “What have I done!” (Dickens 398). Miss Havisham sees in Pip an example of the void she has created in the hearts of men. Her remorse is so deep for the pain she has caused Pip, that she begs him to forgive her. When Victor feels the misery of guilt after hearing that Justine has been convicted of his brother William’s murder, he suffers for the sake of his creation deeply: “Anguish and despair had penetrated into the core of my heart; I bore a hell within me, which nothing could extinguish” (Shelley 954). Victor goes so far as to tell the creature personally of his regret: “Cursed be the day, abhorred devil, in which you first saw light! Cursed (although I curse myself) be the hands that formed you!” (Shelley 961).
I have divulged the similarities between the two manipulators, Miss Havisham and Victor Frankenstein; now I will shed some light on the associations that can be made between the two “creatures”, Estella and the wretched beast. Both of the creatures are detrimental to the world and its citizens. Estella is a hell-raiser among men, tempting all men, and granting love to none of them. Her detrimental ability is perceived most purely in Pip, whose thoughts revolve around Estella. He wakes to her face in his mind, and his heart patterns to the pace of her footsteps approaching, but Pip is destined to ‘look but not touch’. Estella becomes the chain of many men, for which there is no key, including Pip. The creature that Victor creates is given to violent acts of murder- they are not selfishly pursued though, but for vengeful purposes. His violent murder of at least three people, namely William, Henry, and Elizabeth, exemplifies his ruthless anger towards his creator, who denies him love, along with the rest of the world.
Both creatures, Estella and the wretched beast, are the victims of great emotional pain and suffering, due to their creators. Estella suffers simply to be herself, a living image of Miss Havisham’s dream. Estella is taught to be a nightmare, and she experiences every tear, every painful wince and gasp that she causes the men. She is in many ways unchangeable, and is forced to see the world through judgmental and prejudiced eyes, merely to serve the ‘sick fancies’ of Miss Havisham. Psychologically seeking a cold-hearted man to fit her standard, Estella marries Drummle, who is the source of great trouble to her; apparently Drummle had divorced Estella, “had used her with great cruelty, and who had become quite renowned as a compound of pride, avarice, brutality, and meanness” (Dickens 482). The wretched beast explains his utter disgust with all mankind, who will not give him a chance, and always shuns him. All are afraid of the large monster, and attempt to kill him in fear. He begs to Victor, “be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember, that I am thy creature” (Shelley 960). The beast also explains that the pain of rejection is the source of his violence: “I am miserable, and they shall share my wretchedness” (Shelley 960).
Estella and the wretched beast alike are not originally evil or malicious. It is the symptoms of their manipulations which subjects them to perverse ways of acting and thinking. When Miss Havisham admits, “I stole her heart away and put ice in its place” (Dickens 399), she proves that Estella once had a heart, and a childlike persona; it is Miss Havisham who takes that warm heart and freezes it to fit her own ‘sick fancies’. At the very moment that the wretched beast comes to life and sees Victor, its creator, it makes an attempt to physically bond with it (a hug, possibly). Victor Frankenstein, confused by the horror of its size and appearance, assumes that the beast intends to ‘detain’ him. The beast has not an ounce of violence upon his birth, as large and ugly as he seems, which is apparent because “a grin wrinkled his cheeks” (Shelley 935).
There are numerous similarities that match the roles and traits of these characters. Ultimately, Estella and the wretched beast exhibit the human error of determining love. The external beauty with which Estella woos dozens of men is a symbol of man’s (and woman’s) superficiality with a beautiful creature, and disregard for their personality. The reproach with which the world treats Victor’s wretched beast, is a symbol of the prejudice of man upon appearance. These erroneous qualities of human nature cause pain and suffering to numerous people throughout these stories; it is with these qualities that we should learn how not to treat people. Perhaps all of mankind might find a little wisdom in their hearts from these works, to see the beauty in a less attractive person, or be more intent on first discovering the character of someone beautiful.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 2. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: Norton, 2000. 907-1034.
Book Bug on December 05, 2014:
Thanks for this, perfect way to start a Friday! =) Super interesting. Never thought to compare Estella to Frankenstein.