WCW: Miss Havisham


For all my oft-stated dislike of Charles Dickens and most Great Expectations adaptions, I have a goth’s natural soft spot for the character of Miss Havisham. She’s bitter, twisted, and vengeful, sitting for years in the dark, wearing her decaying wedding gown. That has the makings of a fabulous horror movie, and she’s kind of wasted within the novel she inhabits. But the actresses who’ve played her in historical costume movies and TV shows have certainly shown Miss Havisham as the central figure she should be. Because sometimes, you just want to wallow around in rotting lace, eat cake, and plot some sweet sweet revenge.  Thus, my woman crush this week is the fictional but fabulous, the man-hating, one-shoed, ever-bridal Miss Havisham and all the women who’ve brought her to life.


Florence Reed in Great Expectations, 1934

Florence Reed, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 1934

With Jane Wyatt as Estella, who’s rockin’ a marcel wave.


Martita Hunt in Great Expectations, 1946

Martita Hunt, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 1946



Margaret Leighton in Great Expectations, 1974

Margaret Leighton, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 1974

There were a couple TV adaptions that aired in the ’50s and ’60s, but they didn’t survive. This was the first big TV version in color. And I’m still loving the hair.


Joan Hickson in Great Expectations, 1981

Joan Hickson, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 1981

And we hit the prime BBC era with a big dose of ‘No fucks to give’ in a snazzy yellowing Regency wedding gown.


Jean Simmons in Great Expectations, 1991

Jean Simmons, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 1991

She’s seen it both ways, having played Estella in the 1946 movie. No idea what she’s wearing, but why not just swath yourself in tulle?


Charlotte Rampling in Great Expectations, 1999

Charlotte Rampling, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 1999

So glam, so good. This makes those silly white Regency dresses look fab-u-lous, and Rampling is imperiously cool, as always.


Gillian Anderson in Great Expectations, 2011

Gillian Anderson, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 2011

Miss Havisham gets ghostly and creepy, and it works for me.


Helena Bonham Carter in Great Expectations, 2012

Helena Bonham Carter, Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, 2012

She is OTT gothic and wacky, in that special HBC way, and dayum, that’s a spectacular outfit.


Tuppence Middleton in Dickensian, 2016

Tuppence Middleton, Miss Havisham, Dickensian 2016

The series was a dud, but it did have a nice attempt at showing Miss Havisham’s backstory.


Are you Team Havisham?

13 Responses

  1. Jane Jones

    “Are you Team Havisham?”

    Of course! Miss Havisham is goth as fuck!

    My favorite though is Anne Bancroft’s version in the 1998 film. So glamorous, bitter, and disturbing. Made no sense to re-name the characters and keep the original title but whatever. She makes the movie a worthy watch in her Florida-Meets-Grey Gardens Realness.

  2. Andrea

    My wedding dress was a regency pattern from Folkwear. I’ve used it to dress up as Miss Havisham a few times now :)

    The was a British chocolate/cake show and one episode they made a wedding cake based on Miss Havisham’s, right down to the mice!

    • Liutgard

      I used that same pattern for my younger daughter’s wedding dress! Was a dusty mauve bengaline, and I just happened to have some antique lace for it. She looked lovely, and her dad didn’t notice the baby bump. ;-)

  3. Charity

    I love Gillian’s version the most — it actually made me feel sorry for this poor, twisted woman in a way that no other adaptation has managed — the part where she’s scratching her hand raw and whispering, “When will [my relatives] leave?????” … yeah, Miss H. Been there, done that. ;)

  4. Susan Pola

    Team Haversham, count me a new member. I really enjoyed HBC’s take on the character with her Goth/steampunk wedding dress. Now I’m going to re-watch the others, but will watch Dickensian first.

  5. Liutgard

    I saw a production of Great Expectations at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival last October. It was pretty amazing. Miss Havisham’s clothes appeared to be something 1820ish. Was pretty amazing.

    What I don’t understand though- she’s supposed to have been hanging out in her wedding clothes for about 30 years now. If she as at the altar at 20-25, she’s 50-55, right? Why do they always make her look like she’s at least 75? I mean, I’m 52, and I don’t look anything like that, even at my worst!! (Good genes, clean living, and Oil of Olay. :-) And no tanning.)

    • MoHub

      Fifty was a lot older then than it is now. Dickens himself died in his late 50s.

      Mozart wrote Haydn warning against Haydn’s trip to England because he felt Haydn in his 50s was too old to survive the trip. Ironically, Mozart died just short of 36, and Haydn lived to 77.

  6. SarahV

    I always thought that Bellatrix LeStrange was the role that HBC was born to play, but now I realize it was Miss Havisham.

  7. robintmp

    Did she ever bother to take the dress off long enough for a bath or even a quick wash-up? Because if she didn’t, well…I’m amazed anyone, but especially Pip and/or Estella, was able to stand getting close enough to have a conversation with her. (Yes, standards of hygiene were somewhat different, but generally people *did* try not to stink to high heaven and maintain some level of personal cleanliness.) Also, if that’s the case, then all these ladies, no matter how ratty and dusty, might be a wee bit too *clean*…

  8. Emily (@hearmesnark)

    My first Havisham was Wishbone, and I’ve been team Havisham since. She’s obviously not the most lavishly costumed, but since then I’ve loved the character in all her ratty, rotting-at-the-seams glory.

  9. Heidi Cochran

    My sister bought a Build A Bear dinosaur and a pretty wedding dress costume to put on it, and the obvious name was Miss Havisham. We laughed and laughed, because we are middle-aged spinsters who do silly things.


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