The Gothic as a force of randomness in a cartesian world

“So!” she said, without being startled or surprised; “the days have worn away, have they?”

“Yes, ma’am. To-day is —”

“There, there, there!” with the impatient movement of her fingers. “I don’t want to know. Are you ready to play?”

“I was obliged to answer in some confusion, “I don’t think I am, ma’am”.

“Not at cards again?” she demanded, with a searching look.

“Yes, ma’am; I could do that, if I was wanted”.

“Since this house strikes you old and grave, boy,” said Miss Havisham, impatiently, “and you are unwilling to play, are you willing to work?”

I could answer this inquiry with a better heart than I had been able to find for the other question, and I said I was quite willing”.

The Satis House is the emblematic place of contradiction. A site of continuity and discontinuity. A scenario of the preparation for life and the stagnation of life. Pip and Miss Havisham hang on a spectrum, whose edges go from joviality and naivety to dullness and stasis, respectively. However, they do share something in common: both of their lives have been deeply affected by great expectations.

In the passage that I selected above, Pip is visiting Miss Havisham one more time. We can see the torpidity in Miss Havisham’s behavior, because she asks about the quick passing of time without being surprised. However, now that she has Pip as a visitor, her stasis transforms itself in impatience or even eagerness. She wants Pip to play again with her and Estella. The conversations are short and straightforward. Miss Havisham insists on playing with Pip, even after he said he didn’t think he was ready to play. She suggests then that he should work with her, and he agrees. Some moments after this passage, Pip goes inside the party room, where there is a rotten wedding cake. Everything is in a state of putrefaction in the room: no air, no sun, an excess of yellowish fabric everywhere, worn by time.

Miss Havisham was hours away of getting married when her husband-to-be abandons her. Time has stopped for her, because she stopped seeing meaning in life. She was in love, she wanted to build a happy life alongside her future spouse, but her great expectations were broken by the unpredictable hands of fate. She wants Pip to play with her as a way of compensating for the lust she missed. She wants Pip to work (and that means, going around the cake table many times with her), because she wants to imagine what it would have been like if the party had actually happened. She doesn’t want to face reality, she is forever stuck in time, wondering and wandering, projecting her own hypothetical scenario towards Pip.

Pip is in the Satis House, but, in opposition to Miss Havisham, he is being prepared for his great expectations. He gladly wants to work, and he even considered playing again, although not being that willing. The house works differently for Pip: its stagnation doesn’t affect him, and it actually represents a rite of passage. He goes several times to the mansion, and slowly learns about love, sexuality, masculinity and the labor world.

Both characters expect change in their lives, but both are carried away by unpredictable events. Miss Havisham had great expectations for her life after her marriage, but they didn’t happen. Pip has great expectations (he wants to live a different life from the one he has in the countryside), and he is suddenly taken to the Satis house, being subjected to adults’ decisions. This space, so gothic, represents the unpredictability and mystery of life, in a society which praised science and rationalism. Dickens ultimately wanted the Victorian reader, who was excited to this fresh, revigorated thinking, to be aware of life’s randomness.

3 thoughts on “The Gothic as a force of randomness in a cartesian world”

  1. I like your analysis of Satis house as a place and state of juxtaposition between Pip and Miss Havisham. I also agree that it is a very Gothic space. First, there’s the overall sublimeness of Miss Havisham’s state of living and the situation in which Pip finds himself when he is invited over so that Miss Havisham can watch him play. Furthermore, there is the strange manipulation of time and the contrast between Pip and Estella’s youth and Miss Havisham’s static existence in one moment. She remains in one moment, but she and the objects around her still age according to the normal passage of time, which is similar to the connection between past and present found in Whuthering Heights and Nelly’s recounting of her experiences for her guest. Miss Havisham can also be seen as a kind of ghostly figure, which was immensely popular in Gothic novels. There is also the unique position of power that Miss Havisham holds over Pip and Estella, especially in forcing them to play together and how this can be read as a kind of sexual perversion.

  2. I really enjoyed your blog post on Miss Havisham and Pip’s relationship with the overall gothic nature of the novel. I was wondering if you could have focused as much on Pip as you do on Miss Havisham. I thought that it could add more dimension to your post if you were to speak more about Pip and his role throughout all of this. Specifically, if you could give examples of how Pip is learning more about himself in visiting Statis house and how visiting í teaching him more about himself and preparing him for his great expectations. I feel that this would give your post more depth and information about what you are proposing. I felt that you could also go into a bit more depth on how Miss Havisham’s relationship with Pip isn’t exactly what it should be in regards to what we would consider normal and possibly how that adds to the gothic tones of the various scenes that occur at Statis house.

  3. This reading of Statis house really turns it on it’s head in an interesting way. At first it seems like a place of stasis and stagnation, and yet, as you point out, it is a big site of action and change. You mention Havisham and Pip but I think this reading could apply equally well to Estella, as she is placed there by random circumstances and changed perhaps more than anyone else. I’m curious about your reading of Havisham, I see her treatment of Pip as more evil than you characterize it but I would be interested to see more of your arguments on that front.

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