Femininity as Described by a Man: Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens’ Use of the Male Gaze in Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Great Expectations
Tess Durbeyfield in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations are fascinating female characters for modern audiences to analyze with respect to their character traits and their interactions with themselves and others. Moreover, their stories are similarly tragic because they are both betrayed and then abandoned by a male character who they have strong affection for. This betrayal controls the eventual actions of both Tess and Miss Havisham. Readers view Tess’s behavior toward her lover, Angel, following his rejection as she pines and follows him willingly until she eventually quits him altogether. Miss Havisham’s initial reactions are not readily on display, but readers can view her lifelong fixation on the specific moment of her rejection and the revenge she seeks for her lover’s unfaithful departure. Though these two characters are deemed strong females by readers and critics alike, they were both created by male authors during a period of time in which women were seen as the inferior gender. Due to the sexist mindset of the men creating these female characters, we find women who have sadly wrapped their lives around the men who abandon them. Because readers know little of Tess and Miss Havisham’s own beliefs and thoughts, they do not understand the motives for the women’s behavior, therefore leaving the two characters to not only be mentally controlled by their male lovers but narratively controlled by their male authors and narrators.
Angel, Tess’s lover, proposes to her multiple times. Though in love with Angel, Tess constantly exclaims that she does not deserve him and denies his proposal. Tess was sexually assaulted by another man, Alec D’Urberville, who she believes is her cousin, and fears that Angel will no longer deem her a worthy partner if he discovers that she was sexually assaulted. She wants to save Angel from the embarrassment of having a tainted wife. However, she eventually relents to his proposal, and they marry soon after. One night, she reveals the secret of her sexual assault, but Angel does not react the way she had hoped. He exclaims that she is not the women he originally loved and that she is “another women in your shape” (179). Angel eventually leaves her because he does not believe he can live with a woman who has deceived him about such an act. After Angel’s departure, Tess is hounded by Alec, her rapist, because he states he is a “changed man” and would like to care for and marry her. Tess writes to Angel and begs him to return. The letter appears excerpted below:
My own Husband,
Let me call you so—I must—even if it makes you angry to think of such an unworthy wife as I…
The punishment you have measured out to me is deserved—I do know that—well deserved—and you are right and just to be angry with me…If you would come, I could die in your arms! I would be well content to do that if so be you had forgiven me! …
Angel, I live entirely for you …
Have you never felt one little bit of what you used to feel when we were at the dairy? If you have, how can you keep away from me? I am the same woman, Angel, as you fell in love with; yes, the very same!—not the one you disliked but never saw …
People still say that I am rather pretty, Angel (handsome is the word they use, since I wish to be truthful). Perhaps I am what they say. But I do not value my good looks; I only like to have them because they belong to you, my dear, and that there may be at least one thing about me worth your having…
I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your servant, if I may not as your wife; so that I could only be near you, and get glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.
Your faithful heartbroken TESS (264-266)
Throughout this letter, Tess clings to a past she seemingly no longer can return to. As Jody Gallaher Ross writes in her essay “The Irrevocable Past in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” “Tess portrays – simultaneously in physical reality, in social interactions, and in the depths of consciousness – grief for a past forever gone” (44). Though Angel has left her and traveled to a different country, Tess clings to the idea that he might change his mind about her and return to become a loving husband. In the letter, her salutation begins with “my own husband.” One could assume that if Angel is her husband, that she would not have to outwardly claim him as such. However, she puts the adjective “own” before the noun “husband,” and in this context and situation, Hardy displays a sense of insecurity Tess has about Angel. Tess has lost her husband because he does not see her as the woman he believed he married. Therefore, Tess is trying to convince Angel to reclaim his title as her husband.
Tess continues to show her insecurity in the first sentence of the letter: “Let me call you so—I must—even if it makes you angry to think of such an unworthy wife as I.” If Tess, as the writer, addresses Angel as her husband in the salutation, which he rightly is, and then proceeds to ask Angel to “let” her call him by that title, the reader can assume that there is an estrangement in their relationship. The word “let” connotates allowance or permittance. If Tess is asking Angel to allow her to call him her “own husband,” then either Angel does not want to be called that by her or Tess insecurely believes he does not want to be called her husband. The phrase and sentence define their situation as it stands. Tess believes that Angel holds contempt for her, but Tess still has feelings for him and wants to maintain a loving relationship.
Tess then calls herself an “unworthy wife.” She holds the same contempt for herself as Angel does for her. According to Carolyn A. Conley, author of the article “Rape and Justice in Victorian England,” women in this time period who were assaulted were no longer seen as worthy wives. Conley states, “the loss of virginity or marital chastity reduced a woman’s value regardless of the circumstances” (534). Even though Tess did not lose her virginity willingly, due to the standards of women during the time this book was published, any woman who lost their virginity before marriage, whether consensually or non-consensually, was viewed as tainted and unworthy of marriage. Tess attempts to defend herself when Angel rejects her after she reveals her secret: “I thought, Angel, that you loved me—me, my very self! If it is I you do love, O how can it be that you look and speak so? It frightens me! Having begun to love you, I love you for ever—in all changes, in all disgraces, because you are yourself. I ask no more. Then how can you, O my own husband, stop loving me?” (179). Tess believes that Angel should love her no matter what her faults may be. Though Tess believes she deserves to be loved even after she has been assaulted, whether she believes that her rape is her own fault and whether she believes in the standard for women who are victims of rape during this time period is never mentioned nor spoken of. Even when trying to defend her actions, Tess only mentions her desirable character as a defense and not the fact that the rape was committed by Alec, not herself. Her beliefs align with her husband as she claims in Chapter 46: “But I looked at it in this way; what he believed, after inquiring deep into doctrines, was much more likely to be right than what I might believe, who hadn’t looked into doctrines at all” (254). Tess believes that Angel’s opinions on society’s standards are more valuable and intelligent than her own, meaning that if he thinks she is immoral because of her rape, then she believes she is immoral also.
Tess continues to degrade herself in the next excerpt; “The punishment you have measured out to me is deserved—I do know that—well deserved—and you are right and just to be angry with me.” Even though she was raped, she still believes she deserves “punishment” as though she committed the crime of her own accord. Women who were assaulted by men were usually seen as seductresses during the Victorian Period and rarely ever seen as victims in their own assault. Conley states: “Women who brought rape charges were themselves suspect. In court records and newspapers, the “prosecutrix” is usually depicted as careless at best, and often as deceitful, unnatural, and hopelessly corrupt as well. The alleged assault is often referred to as a seduction” (535). Again, readers do not know if Tess agrees with these standards but in order to make Angel happy, she accepts her “punishment” from him. Tess no longer sees Angel as her partner but as her judge, the person who decides if her actions deserved to be punished, and if they do, how her punishment should be “measured” accordingly.
Tess continues her letter exclaiming, “If you would come, I could die in your arms! I would be well content to do that if so, be you had forgiven me!” Tess understands that her social image has been tainted by her rape. She does not write as though she believes she will ever be in Angel’s good graces. Instead, Tess writes about dying in Angel’s arms. Tess says she would be “content” to die if Angel forgives her, signifying that Tess does not value her own life but only the idealized version of her that Angel has created. Tess wants to be his perfect wife and would be happy to die if the man she loves viewed her as an ideal partner. Her tone in this letter signifies that Tess only values the acceptance of her lover. She would be happy dying with the knowledge that Angel accepts her instead of living with the knowledge that Angel despises her. Moreover, she says in the next excerpt, “Angel, I live entirely for you.” This sentence defines her whole identity at the time of writing this letter. She doesn’t believes that she is her own individual but only lives for her husband’s happiness. When Angel no longer loves her or departs from her, Tess believes she has no purpose. Her very being is defined by the love of her husband.
The letter continues: “Have you never felt one little bit of what you used to feel when we were at the dairy? If you have, how can you keep away from me? I am the same woman, Angel, as you fell in love with; yes, the very same!—not the one you disliked but never saw” As Ross argues in her essay, Tess is desperate to rid Angel of their tainted memories: “Memory is the enemy, and Tess tries to obliterate it” (50). Angel now views her as a different woman, so Tess attempts to refigure her character so that Angel will see her again as same woman she was at the dairy farm where they fell in love. She repeats that she is the “same woman” to emphasize her innocence. However, as Ross says, “Like water in a river, the flow of desire may be diverted to a new path, but it can never return to a former one. The social past cannot be recovered” (49). Tess attempts to recover Angel’s idealized vision of her by ridding herself of her “disliked” identity. As she says, she is “not the one [Angel] disliked but never saw.” According to Tess, the woman he never saw is the tainted version of her. However, he did see that version of her, and he fell in love with that tainted woman. She has always been the same woman from assault to the dairy farm love affair to the after-marriage quarrel. To rid herself of the identity he doesn’t love, she would also have to rid herself of the identity he does love, because they are one in the same.
She addresses her beauty in the next paragraph of her letter. She first begins by mentioning how others view and speak of her looks: “People still say that I am rather pretty, Angel (handsome is the word they use, since I wish to be truthful). Perhaps I am what they say.” Tess understands that beauty is important for a man when obtaining a wife. By writing of her beauty, Tess is trying to appeal to Angel’s superficial desires. Also, she is stating that, even after all the time that has elapsed, she has remained attractive woman in the public eye. Though she has been tainted from a sexual standpoint, she has not been tainted as a figure of beauty. She emphasizes that she is not only pretty but “handsome.” In the Victorian era, the word “handsome” could be used to describe women where it is now mainly used to describe men. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “handsome” for a woman means “striking, stately, as opposed to conventionally beautiful or pretty.” Tess is insinuating that she is not only pretty, but beautiful beyond the standard acceptance of beauty. By adding this note, Tess is appealing to Angel’s sexuality and hoping to lure him back to her. She confirms this sentiment in her next sentence: “But I do not value my good looks; I only like to have them because they belong to you, my dear, and that there may be at least one thing about me worth your having.” Not only does Angel have possession of her looks, but her entire person.
The final quotation of the letter reveals Tess’s dedication to Angel: “I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your servant, if I may not as your wife; so that I could only be near you, and get glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.” Tess is legally married to Angel and yet she completely debases herself in this final excerpt. Tess states she would be “glad” to live as his “servant.” Tess would accept to lowering her status as a woman to appease a man. She is willing to give up her identity as a wife only to be near Angel again. Tess will completely redefine herself and her social status in the world so that her lover approves of her.
However, after much time elapses and she never hears from Angel, Tess begins to hold resentment towards him. After she is constantly pursued by her rapist who manipulates her into believing Angel does not love her, she comes to the realization, under Alec’s influence that she does not deserve to be treated so poorly by her husband for an act she did not consensually commit. She then writes another letter to Angel that appears in Chapter 51:
O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you—why have you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands! T. (281)
One major difference between the first letter and the second is that the second does not carry a salutation. The salutation of any letter sets the tone of the information given in the rest of the letter and acts as a sign of courtesy towards the recipient of the letter. Without the salutation, Tess is insinuating that she has no courtesy for her husband and would like to quickly get into her fiery message for him.
In the second letter, Tess shifts her thinking and no longer believes that Angel has treated her as a husband should. She calls his behavior “monstrous,” in contrast to her calling his behavior “deserved” in the first letter. Not only does she now call the behavior undeserved, but a gross extreme of what she would deem to be normally expected of a husband. She mentions that she “thought it all over carefully,” signifying that her first letter was written in a state of heightened emotions and that she may have written a lot of the things in that previous letter that she did not particularly think about completely. The first letter was written in desperation for her lover with no thought of the ill treatment he has given her. However, in the second letter, she has carefully gone over the matter and has determined her treatment is unfair. She repeats several words together throughout the second letter: “never,” “cruel,” and “wronged.” Though this letter is shorter than the first, the three repeated words in such a small space emphasize that Tess is trying to stress in her own mind that she must end the relationship with her husband because he has treated her badly. Angel is the love of her life, the man she was willing to give up her own social status and identity for and because of that fact, she may have a hard time ending their relationship. She must not only convince him but herself to completely give up the person they love and by repeating those words, “never,” “cruel,” and “wronged,” she is internalizing that fact.
Tess writes that she will “try to forget” Angel. The word “try” implies effort with no guarantee of success. Because Angel is the love of her life, she may find it difficult to completely erase him from her mind. The word “try” also indicates that she still has some affection towards him, or she would not have to try at all to forget him. In the final sentence, she calls his behavior an “injustice.” This word directly contrasts when she describes his behavior as “just” in the first letter. Again, she has completely shifted her mindset about Angel’s behavior, and by using the exact opposite words as in her first letter, Hardy is making that fact clear. She closes the letter not with her name but with a “T.” In the first letter, her closing is “Your faithful heartbroken, Tess.” Tess used the closing to describe herself. She is “faithful” as she has willingly stayed with a man who has left her, but she is also “heartbroken” as she cannot be with the man she loves. Contrasting to the salutation in the first letter, she calls Angel her “husband” but does not call herself his wife. As stated several times in the analysis of the previous letter, she would be happy even if she wasn’t his wife. By not including the title of wife for herself in the first letter’s closing, Tess insinuates that she does not deserve said title since she has wronged him. She will only call herself what he deems her worthy of being called, and for now, that is just Tess. However, in the second letter, she completely rejects the notion that he is the person that has the power to determine her title and just uses her first initial. Tess is writing then that Angel should know who she is and that she doesn’t have to define her situation for him so that he can control it. The single “T” is also quite sharp and a signal to Angel that she no longer is the Tess he has come to love but a woman he has disrespectfully left behind.
Hardy has not created a woman to be hailed as a perfect female role model, but a woman only validated by the thoughts of the man she loves, leaving her identity to be shaped by him. Hardy never delves into Tess’s inner thoughts but only reveals her character through her actions, her dialogue, and her letters. Though readers can view Tess’s writing in the two letters quoted above, they can never assume if Tess truly meant the things she’s told Angel. As stated above, her beliefs are founded in what her husband believes, and Hardy never offers insight into Tess’s mind on any subject in the novel. When looking at the letters’ contents, it seems as though Tess is only trying to appease the men who seem to persuade her of her identity. For example, although Tess writes the second letter exclaiming her disgust for Angel, her hatred was formed from the opinion of Alec, her rapist, who convinced her that Angel would never return to her. Therefore, Tess’s thoughts are not her own but only what the men around her want them to be. If Angel thinks she is an unworthy wife, then that’s what Tess believes and writes about. If Alec thinks she deserves better than Angel, than Tess seems to agree with him and writes in favor of his opinion. Even Hardy himself, the creator of Tess, formulates a woman to his own desires. Whether that desire be to sell a good book or to write the way he believes women are, no one is to completely know. However, the character of Tess is construed by the idealizations of the male author who offers no distinct character development of a woman forming her own identity. He only creates Tess, a woman bounced between Angel, Alec, and Hardy himself, who relies on them in order to determine her value and her position in the world.
Miss Havisham, in Great Expectations, has a different reaction to the man she loves suddenly leaving and betraying her. Though readers never get to see her interactions with the man, they can determine her state of mind decades after the betrayal. Evelyn Romig discusses Miss Havisham behavior in her article “Twisted Tale, Silent Teller: Miss Havisham in ‘Great Expectations:” “First of all, Miss Havisham does not tell her own story because the facts of the tale no longer concern her. Her narrative centers around her interpretation of those facts and her need to convince her hearers to act on that interpretation” (18). Though Miss Havisham does not give any details of her experience, she has completely wrapped herself into the moment of her betrayal and attempts to envelop those around her in her revenge.
Miss Havisham, like Tess, is only perceived through the lens of Pip, the male narrator and main character of Great Expectations. The reader’s first glimpse of her figure is through the eyes of a younger Pip who has been invited to her house to play with her adopted daughter Estella. Pip finds the character of Miss Havisham in a chair and describes her strange attire in this passage from Chapter 8:
She was dressed in rich materials,—satins, and lace, and silks,—all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on,—the other was on the table near her hand,—her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a Prayer-Book all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass… But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone. (57)
Miss Havisham’s attire has not changed since the moment of her abandonment. Her “white” wedding dress not only represents the purity of a new bride but also her naivety about the man she was hopeful to marry. However, as Pip states, the dress is not longer purely white but has become “faded and yellow.” Miss Havisham has lived with the treachery of conman and has allowed her pure innocence to degrade as she becomes vengeful, making her only goal in life to seek revenge upon the sex that has deceived her. Just like her dress, Miss Havisham has lost her “lustre,” her joy for a progressing life. She has herself “faded” and become a lifeless old woman as Pip says, “I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone.” Miss Havisham has become enraptured in the deceptions of one man, allowing the dress and the woman to become a shell of their former selves.
Not only has the attire on her body remained unchanged, but so has the attire and accessories in her room. Pip notices that “dresses” and “trunks” are laying around the floor. These items have not been altered from the hurried packing of her wedding night where Mrs. Havisham was eager to leave her home and move in her with her beloved. The room remains untidy so that Miss Havisham had a constant reminder of her eagerness to marry and her lover’s eventual deceit so that she won’t forget her goal of revenge. If the room is never cleaned, she never has to move on, allowing her to dwell and fester to become a vindictive woman. Moreover, the untidy room represents her distraught state of mind. She has lost her belief that there is goodness in men which, again, leads her to seek vengeance. Pip also mentions that Miss Havisham is not fully dressed. She only has on one shoe, her veil is not fully on her head, and she is missing some accessories. Again, her unwillingness to move on from the day of her lost wedding day has slowed her progress in life. Miss Havisham is stuck in a hiatus, unwilling to participate in everyday activities, such as changing clothing or cleaning. One dresses for the activities they will perform throughout the day. For example, if one is going to the grocery store, they would wear casual clothing or if one was going to bed, they would wear pajamas. However, Miss Havisham has no plans. She does not intend to leave her room, so she has no reason to change because if she attempts to move on from her hated wedding day , she will no longer be in the mindset of potential bride looking for revenge against the sex that has embarrassed her but will inevitably move on as a single woman. Due to her longstanding grudge, she might be lost without her fixed goal. Therefore, because so much time has passed between her deception and the current day, she might not know how to forget her revenge plot, leaving her uncertain of a future for herself outside of her fixation on one man. She must be frightened, then, to escape her troubles and instead obsesses over lost love.
Pip also depicts Miss Havisham as a grotesque figure of death. The “sunken eyes” and body that has “shrunk to skin and bone” creates the illusion of a corpse sat in the room. Death implies finality and, once dead, corpses may not return to the hustle and bustle of life where new opportunities and changes may occur. By describing Miss Havisham as a corpse-like figure, Dickens is implying that Miss Havisham is no longer a being of change but is locked in the finality of her decision to encompass herself in her abandonment.
Along with her clothing, Pip also views the room Miss Havisham inhabits. As Romig says, “Miss Havisham is not concerned with repeating her tale; she has visibly frozen the salient facts in the stopped clocks, the darkened house, … and the rat-eaten bride’s cake” (18). Her world is fully encapsulated in her ruined wedding day. This description of her room comes from Chapter 11:
I crossed the staircase landing, and entered the room she indicated. From that room, too, the daylight was completely excluded, and it had an airless smell that was oppressive. A fire had been lately kindled in the damp old-fashioned grate, and it was more disposed to go out than to burn up, and the reluctant smoke which hung in the room seemed colder than the clearer air,—like our own marsh mist. Certain wintry branches of candles on the high chimney-piece faintly lighted the chamber; or it would be more expressive to say, faintly troubled its darkness. It was spacious, and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstances of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community. (84)
Pip’s first impression of the room begins with the light and air in the room: “From that room, too, the daylight was completely excluded, and it had an airless smell that was oppressive.” “Daylight” symbolizes a new day. Miss Havisham fixates externally and internally on the day of her wedding so she will not allow a new day to pass. The daylight is then “excluded” because she denies an existence for herself outside of her betrayal. She will not move on and therefore “daylight,” or a new day, must be “excluded” from her life. Pip then describes the room as having an “airless smell” that is “oppressive.” Just like the air in the room, her betrayal “oppresses” her life, completely dominating her actions and thoughts.
Pip then proceeds to describe one of the two sources of light in the room: “A fire had been lately kindled in the damp old-fashioned grate, and it was more disposed to go out than to burn up, and the reluctant smoke which hung in the room seemed colder than the clearer air, —like our own marsh mist.” Though the fire had recently been lit, it was more willing to “go out” then provide any source of light. Just as the light has the chance to “burn up” but will not ignite, Miss Havisham is more inclined to remain in a stasis then step forward from her traumatic experience. The smoke from the almost non-existent fire is described as “reluctant” because it continues to stay in the room, as does Miss Havisham.
Pip describes the other source of light, which is from the candles: “Certain wintry branches of candles on the high chimney-piece faintly lighted the chamber; or it would be more expressive to say, faintly troubled its darkness.” Tree branches in the winter are often completely shriveled, so readers can imagine the candles as skinny and almost bare. These shriveled candles relate to Miss Havisham because she has also withered away and lost herself, only identified as the lost bride. She is swallowed by her wedding dress as a branch would look covered in thick heaps of snow. The candles also offer little light, “troubling” the darkness of the room. The darkness is the main presence in the room, representing Miss Havisham’s continued unhappiness with her state of affairs and her stubbornness to not let go of the past. The light “faintly troubled” the darkness, meaning the candles disturbed the bleakness of her disposition. However, they disturbed the bleakness only “faintly” meaning they had no power to overthrow the darkness within her.
Pip points to some noticeable objects in the room: “The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstances of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community.” The long table was from her ruined wedding feast and Pip mistakes a cake for a “centre-piece” because the cake has so much mold on it that it is no longer discernable as a cake. Just like this cake, Miss Havisham is no longer the woman she used to be but an undiscernible decaying mass. Spiders crowd and move around the cake as though they have created a “community.” Communities take much time to build, so the cake has been sitting on the table for an extended period of time. The spiders themselves contrast the very existence of Miss Havisham as they have developed to become a thriving population while she has remained identical to the woman she was decades before. As Pip states, the “house and the clocks have stopped” as Miss Havisham’s identity has remained the betrayed wife instead of moving on to become a new woman.
Though Havisham still remains the bride to be, she still has plans to seek revenge for the love she lost. She adopts a young girl, Estella, and trains her to lure men with her beauty only to deny them love and affection as Miss Havisham’s groom denied her. When Pip falls in love with Estella, Mis Havisham encourages her to betray his affection, saying, “Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy” (95). According to Romig, Miss Havisham has a purpose in raising Estella to become a cold lover: “She wants to be revenged and is willing to wait, continuing her role as victim, until a suitable avenger (Estella) can be shaped. And she wants to make sure that she does not forget, does not heal, for then the enormity of the crime against her would be lessened; her hurt would become merely human rather than enormous and mythic in proportion” (19). The crime committed against her has defined Miss Havisham’s entire identity. If her crime is “lessened,” then her entire identity is also “lessened” meaning that her constant hiatus in life has been for naught.
Though readers are able to view the dialogue and general appearance of Miss Havisham, like Tess, they are never allowed in her inner thoughts. Estella is a means to an end for Miss Havisham which may cause some readers to have negative reactions towards her because it seems as though Miss Havisham has only adopted Estella for the purpose of becoming a tool for her revenge and not because she wants to raise Estella in a loving home. Because readers are not offered Miss Havisham’s own viewpoint of her motives for why she is focused on her revenge and why she is using Estella for that purpose, Miss Havisham becomes a one-dimensional character used as red herring for the reader because they believe that Miss Havisham is Pip’s benefactress when, in reality, she is only the lifeless being of a woman wrapped in her revenge. Like Hardy with Tess, Dickens creates a supposedly strong willed female character but by the end of the novel she has little character development and has no room to change before her sudden death.
Both Tess and Miss Havisham are characters identified only in the eye of a male character who beholds them. Whether that be an omniscient narrator, like Hardy in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, or a character who takes the role of the narrator, like Pip in Great Expectations, the perspective of the female characters only comes from the male gaze because of the sexist viewpoint of women these men hold. In the eyes of Angel and Alec, Tess is a woman they can control to become an idealized version of their perfect woman, whether that be a pure or sexual women respectively, but can also discard and manipulate to feel worthless when she no longer fits in their ideal image. For the narrator, Hardy, Tess is a vessel with no clear inner thoughts or emotions that he can put through horrible situations, like sexual assault, abandonment, criminal actions and then eventually death, that will leave the reader sympathizing with her but also distanced from her because they weren’t able to get inside her head and view her thoughts and feelings after these events. For Pip, Miss Havisham is a woman he only seems to have any interest in because he believes she is his benefactress and wants to understand her more. If Pip had clearly discerned that Miss Havisham was not his benefactress, it could be assumed that he would have shrugged her character off, just as he did his loving uncle Joe, because she did not serve his needs in becoming a gentleman. For Dickens, Miss Havisham is a red herring, only used to distract the reader from Pip’s true benefactor, and a lifeless vessel who reveals no inner thoughts and who Dickens puts through abandonment and forces her to the brink of decay for the benefit of the main character’s own growth in order to show Pip the ugliness of status and wealth. In every aspect of Tess’s and Miss Havisham’s identity, the male gaze has controlled and defined these women, so they no longer are fully fleshed beings but ways for men to push their own agenda forward.