Charles Dickens, Great Expectations: Ch. 49

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She turned her face to me for the first time since she had averted it, and, to my amazement, I may even add to my terror, dropped on her knees at my feet; with her folded hands raised to me in the manner in which, when her poor heart was young and fresh and whole, they must often have been raised to heaven from her mother's side.

To see her with her white hair and her worn face kneeling at my feet gave me a shock through all my frame. I entreated her to rise, and got my arms about her to help her up; but she only pressed that hand of mine which was nearest to her grasp, and hung her head over it and wept. I had never seen her shed a tear before, and, in the hope that the relief might do her good, I bent over her without speaking. She was not kneeling now, but was down upon the ground.

"O!" she cried, despairingly. "What have I done! What have I done!"

"If you mean, Miss Havisham, what have you done to injure me, let me answer. Very little. I should have loved her under any circumstances. Is she married?"

"Yes."

It was a needless question, for a new desolation in the desolate house had told me so.

"What have I done! What have I done!" She wrung her hands, and crushed her white hair, and returned to this cry over and over again. "What have I done!"

I knew not how to answer, or how to comfort her. That she had done a grievous thingd in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker, I knew equally well. And could I look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was,d in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world?

"Until you spoke to her the other day, and until I saw in you a looking-glass that showed me what I once felt myself, I did not know what I had done. What have I done! What have I done!" And so again, twenty, fifty times over, What had she done!

"Miss Havisham," I said, when her cry had died away, "you may dismiss me from your mind and conscience. But Estella is a different case, and if you can ever undo any scrap of what you have done amiss in keeping a part of her right nature away from her, it will be better to do that than to bemoan the past through a hundred years."

"Yes, yes, I know it. But, Pip—my dear!"d There was an earnest womanly compassion for me in her new affection. "My dear! Believe this: when she first came to me, I meant to save her from misery like my own. At first, I meant no more."

"Well, well!" said I. "I hope so."

"But 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."

"Better," I could not help saying, "to have left her a natural heart, even to be bruised or broken."d

With that, Miss Havisham looked distractedly at me for a while, and then burst out again, What had she done!

"If you knew all my story," she pleaded, "you would have some compassion for me and a better understanding of me."

X [d] That she had done a grievous thing

Writing & Reading

One of the novel's most significant paragraphs, in part because it marks Pip's increased understanding of both Miss Havisham and himself. In speaking of her "shutting out the light of day...," Pip is more a pathologist than a moralist. Succumbing wholly to her hurt and wounded pride, she had sealed herself off from potentially healing influences—the sun symbolically, society and fr…

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X [d] in the ruin she was,

Writing & Reading

We have seen how often the notion of the "ruined garden" appears in the novel. It is an apt description of what happens to the mind when it becomes unsusceptible to organic life. 

X [d] my dear!"

Writing & Reading

The phrase reminds us of Magwitch's attachment to Pip, Now for Miss Havisham it expresses a tender affection. Her healing has begun through Pip, and his through her. In recognizing their common beginnings, they begin a common recuperation.

X [d] a natural heart, even to be bruised or broken…

Writing & Reading

Dickens, in this a beneficiary of the Romanticism that was such a force at the end of the 18th and throughout the first decades of the 19th century, emphasizes in Great Expectations and other novels the necessary place of "the human heart" at the core of life and society. To be able to love well—which in many cases he sees as the finest, most hopeful legacy of our childhood—will be our salvation as adults, protecting us from reversing the appointed order of being. …

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