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Has the real-life inspiration for Miss Havisham been uncovered?


March 3, 2022, 1:12pm

You might remember Miss Havisham, the withered, angry villain of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. (Incredibly, in the book, she is “scarcely forty” . . . which was never that old!) Miss Havisham, made monstrous by her spinsterhood, is almost caricaturish in her age and decrepitude: says Pip, “Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.” Now, one man claims—and Dickens’s great-great-grandson backs it up—that Miss Havisham was based on a real-life woman.

According to The Sun, Isle of Wight cottage owner Alan Cartwright came across a pamphlet that made reference to Dickens’s dining companions. Dickens, who often visited the island, regularly dined with Margaret Dick—a resident who then cut herself off from society after a failed marriage. Miss Dick was jilted in 1860, the year before Great Expectations was published, and her neighbor was named Miss Haviland. Circumstantial, but compelling!

“[Dickens and Miss Dick] were friends and it’s too big a coincidence not to think she influenced it,” Ian Dickens, Charles Dickens’s great-great-grandson and president of the Dickens Fellowship, told The Sun. “He would have been aware of Miss Dick being jilted. She was certainly an important inspiration.”

Well, that’s one mystery solved—though if my marriage fell apart and my friend wrote a book saying how devastated I was and how bad I looked, and then that book became an enduring classic, I would be a little irritated. Talk about a bad art friend.

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