Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy

  • Created by: Claire42
  • Created on: 29-10-17 20:17

Havisham by Carol Ann Duffy


This poem comes from the collection “Mean Time” published in 1998 and probably provided the inspiration for Duffy’s first themed collection of poetry “The World’s Wife” published the following year in which she considers the often neglected women behind some of the most  iconic male figures from  history, literature and legend.  The speaker of this dramatic monologue is the fictional Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens, “Great Expectations”.  Jilted by her lover, MissHavisham spends the rest of her life decaying in her wedding dress sitting amidst the remnants of her wedding breakfast, grooming her beautiful niece Estella to exact revenge on all men.  The title of the poem, her unmarried surname, reveals her self- loathing and bitterness at being denied the epithet of Mrs and being forced to live the remainder of her life as a spinster. 

Form and Structure

The poem is written in four unrhymed stanzas. Duffy has said that she enjoys the way stanzas help her to concentrate and fix her ideas more effectively, describing them in the past as almost “mini-canvases”.  The lack of rhyme and the presence of enjambment help to create a more defined “voice” in the poem.  However, while this can often produce a more natural, realistic speech pattern, in this case it has the opposite effect: Havisham’s voice is choppy and stilted which emphasises the lack of order and structure to her thoughts.  Similarly, although at first glance the poem looks fairly regular, there is no fixed meter.    This, combined with the occasional slightly off kilter half rhymes and assonance help to reinforce this lack of logic and the erosion of the speaker’s psyche.

Stanza One Summary and Analysis

The poem opens with the oxymoronic minor sentence “Beloved sweetheart *******” revealing without ambiguity the focus of the speaker’s hatred and emphasising the expletive.  The alliteration of the plosive “b” sounds creates the impression that the words are almost being spat out helping to  create the caustic, bitter tone that runs throughout the entire poem.  This entire stanza is a kind of curse; detailing the extent to which she wishes her former lover dead through the all consuming nature of her hatred.  She is literally stuck in time, paralysed as a ridiculous parody or imitation of a bride whose love has been rejected by her fiancée. In giving a voice to Miss Havisham then,  Duffy clearly exposes the terrible, corrosive effects on the human psyche of such an experience.  She has prayed so earnestly for his death, with her eyes tightly shut and her hands clasped together that her eyes have become “dark green pebbles” and the veins on the back of her hands protrude like “ropes”.  Green of course is the colour of envy and jealousy and if the eyes are the window to the soul, the pebble imagery conveys that hers is now cold, dead and hard.  The reference to strangling her lover is an allusion to Dickens’ novel, in which Estella’s natural mother strangled a


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