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‘Havisham’ By Carol Ann Duffy

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1 ‘Havisham’ By Carol Ann Duffy
‘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 woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone.’ ‘Great Expectations’ (I.VII)

2 Carol Ann Duffy’s comments on the poem:
‘HAVISHAM’ is an exploration of love turned to hatred through the bitterness of rejection and was inspired by Miss Havisham, a character in Charles Dickens’ novel, ‘Great Expectations’. In my poem, the title is HAVISHAM, to indicate a move away from “Miss” Havisham- this is my creation now, and the poem is in Havisham’s voice. The removal of Miss suggests she no longer feels like a woman/is somewhere between a Miss and a Mrs and has lost her role in life. Havisham is a woman driven mad with loss and rejection and the poem is a hymn of pain and rage as she moves in and out of dream and awakening, always remembering the love of her life who jilted and betrayed her. In many ways, HAVISHAM as a poem is the opposite of ANNE HATHAWAY.

3 FORM Free verse. No rhyme scheme or formal metre and the poem. The jerky rhythm of the lines is dictated by the voice of the character, a voice filled with pain and bitterness. 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. Regularity of the stanza and line lengths – suggests tedium/monotony of her life now without her lover. This poem is a monologue spoken by Miss Havisham.

4  Discussion Questions (mainly stanzas 1-2)
The opening phrase is an oxymoron. What does it reveal about Havisham's feelings for her former fiancé? What is the effect of the alliteration of the harsh B sound? Find other examples of alliteration. Do they all reveal a vindictive side to the character or does Duffy cleverly make the reader consider the character in a different light? Find and analyse examples which show the angry/aggressive aspect of her character. The central image of Havisham is the one about the mirror. How does Duffy go on to develop the idea that Havisham has some realisation that she has changed and that she must take some of the responsibility for this herself?

5 Oxymoronic minor sentence – suggests speaker’s frantic/crazed state of mind as does not speak in full grammatical sentences. Conveys inner anguish /conflict. Plosive use of ‘b’/alliteration – as if words are spat out in hatred (doesn’t want to admit how much he meant to her and how much she is suffering in his absence.) Missing punctuation in ‘Beloved sweetheart bastard’ – emphasises intensity of emotions and conveys speaker’s lack of control (words come pouring out without restraint.) Awkward sentence construction/syntax - reiterates her confused/chaotic state of mind. Indirectly refers to wedding (‘not a day since then.’) unable to speak of it by name – conveys her distress/pain. Disturbing intensity of wishing him dead. Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes, ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with. Corruption of religious beliefs – prays for his death. Enjambment emphasises intensity of her prayers. Consequences of this = corruption of her soul? Eyes now = hard/cold pebbles (metaphor.) Green = connotations of envy/jealousy. Has become so fixated on his death, that she doesn’t eat etc. Hands are skeletal with veins bulging (metaphorical ropes.)Even these have dark connotations for her – strangulation. = an allusion to Dickens’ novel, in which Estella’s natural mother strangled a rival with her unusually strong hands. Emphasises her vindictive/vengeful character. Literally stuck in time, paralysed as a ridiculous parody or imitation of a bride whose love has been rejected. In giving a voice to Miss Havisham, Duffy exposes the terrible, corrosive effects of such an experience on the human psyche.

6 Spits the word out with disgust /contempt at what she is
Spits the word out with disgust /contempt at what she is. Deliberately isolated in a sentence on its own to emphasise Miss Havisham's own feelings of isolation in a society in which women were often defined by their marital status. Positions word at start of stanza/line to show its importance and impact this name has on her. Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe; the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this ‘whole days’ emphasises all that was lost including time so now she remains static in time in the dress. ‘cawing’ and onomatopoeic shriek emphasise the animalistic/visceral quality behind her agony – almost no longer human. ‘the wall’ = all she has – no friend/family to express her pain too. Evokes our pity etc. 2 occur simultaneously (stink and remember) – to remember = to decay physically, mentally etc. Disgusted at herself – ‘stink’ and what she has allowed another to do to her/succumbed to their power/hold over her (cf. with last line of stanza.) The construction and order of the lines/words is deliberately jumbled and confused to emphasise the speaker’s irrationality and her muddled, tormented state of mind. She presents herself as the victim - this was a wrong that was done to her and she is determined to exact revenge. The irony is that this quest and lust for vengeance is utterly self destructive and only exacerbates her pain. ‘slewed’ – turned around as she too rejects what she sees, almost not recognising herself. Detachment/distance emphasised through use of third person pronoun ‘her’ – either doesn’t see herself or doesn’t want to admit this is her. Emphasises her mental fragility. Symbolism of colour – ‘yellowing’ conveys age, decay, passing of time yet the memory and her pain do not fade so still, haunted and aggrieved, she wears the dress. Enjambment suggests ambiguity of the last line’s meaning. Is she admitting she has done this to herself or does she see herself as the victim and is questioning/calling out in pain who did this to her?

7  Discussion Questions (mainly stanzas 1-2)
What does the phrase ‘bite awake’ suggest about the reality of Havisham's life? What is her attitude to men in general? She wants a ‘corpse’ to share the ‘honeymoon.’ What do these words reveal about her view of her life since her abandonment? There is another side to the character. Duffy shows us a woman who is suffering torment to the point that she is losing her mind. (What is suggested by the final line?) How does Duffy convey Havisham's pain? Throughout the poem, Duffy makes use of enjambment to create the cadence of speech and to emphasise important words/phrases. Find examples of this and explain what is revealed about the character through the structure and emphasis.

8 ‘Puce’ – brownish purple colour
‘Puce’ – brownish purple colour. Synaesthesia (one sense used to describe another: sightsound as if the words themselves have colour.) Has connotations of rage. ‘curses’ conveys her continuous/unending desire for revenge. Intensity of grief implied by inability to articulate/express herself in words. Continued animalistic quality to what she has become – her hatred has left her almost mute, unable to articulate her emotions through language so now can only vocalise her bitter anger through sounds. to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words. Some nights better, the lost body over me, my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear then down till I suddenly bite awake. Love’s Abrupt change in direction, a glimpse at the softer side of the speaker. In contrast to her ineptitude with language earlier, now, she recalls how her tongue used to be fluent and she could skilfully use it to seduce her lover. Even here, the strength of her hatred continues to permeate and taint all of her most pleasant memories as she jolts awake so suddenly she bites her tongue. Use of plosive b emphasises sense of loss. “bite” suggests the sudden terror of her situation which allows her no rest, jolts her awake. Deliberate choice not to use pronouns for her lover – instead uses ‘the’ and ‘its.’ Creates a sense of distance from him, while simultaneously depriving him of his humanity, and therefore makes it easier for her to continue to hate him. Could also suggest she dreams of sex as they never had a chance to consummate their relationship so it is hazy/unclear imaginings. ‘lost’ suggests either the loss of the lover or if they did have sex, suggest his vacancy/emptiness/lack of connection with her. Lack of punctuation – suggests intensity of emotion (doesn’t want to pause in her recollection of a tender moment with lover.) The use of present tense in the verb ‘bite’ reminds us that, despite the passing of years, her anger and bitterness have not abated and are just as raw today as when she was first jilted.

9 Enjambment & oxymoron imply confusion of feelings
Enjambment & oxymoron imply confusion of feelings. Exposes just how inextricably linked these two seemingly opposing emotions are. There is something almost possessive and distinctive about the specific and enduring type of hate that is provoked through the betrayal of love. hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding-cake. Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon. Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks. Command and assonance reveal her desire for revenge and the pleasure which she would derive from it. “male” dehumanises. She would rather he was dead than have him reject her – indicates her bitter, distorted view of herself and od relationships. Could also allude to what Miss H does to Pip in ‘GE’ – seeks revenge on all men due to the one who hurt her. This makes her happy: ‘honeymoon.’ Subverts our usual associations of the honeymoon with joy and happiness into something much more menacing Contrast with red (symbolises passion/love) and balloon (symbolises her hopes/dreams) – her intense love for him/hopes for the future have been destroyed. Onomatopoeia shows the suddenness/shock of her lover’s departure. ‘Bang’ in its own sentence also serves to awaken the speaker from her reverie and prompt her back to the miserable reality of her present existence. ‘Stabbed’ paired with ‘bang’ builds on her aggression/hatred towards him. ‘white veil’ – connotations of virginity, purity and a wedding day. Veil = a covering over the face which suggests we can’t see/ever truly understand the depths of her emotions, and still, what she expresses conveys intensity. The white veil normally associated with purity has now become something that the speaker hides behind. The dress/veil = a costume to almost hide/protect herself from herself/her reality/the present. The last word is broken up not only to imitate the sound of the speaker finally breaking down in anguish, but to emphasise the extent of her mental and emotional disintegration. Hatred and anger have consumed and destroyed every facet of her being. The final statement implies a fractured mind and a broken spirit. Wedding cake is stabbed/destroyed as it has no purpose just like her. Hate is the only emotion she is able to feel. Without it she would be utterly numb and so in many ways it is only by preserving and nurturing her loathing and hatred that she has a purpose to her life.

10 Themes The corrosive nature of hatred on the human psyche The complexity of love/relationships Nature/profundity of love/loss/loneliness Discussion Questions How far does the poet want us to sympathize with Miss Havisham? Perhaps the most important part of the poem is the question ‘who did this/to me?’ How far does the poem show that Miss Havisham is responsible for her own misery, and how far does it support her feelings of self-pity and her desire for revenge?

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