Miss Havisham’s Wedding Cake

In Miss Havisham’s Wedding Cake the protagonist, an old woman in a moth-eaten wedding dress, speaks to us from a circle of light. Referring to Miss Havisham in the third person, the old woman tells us that she was jilted on her wedding day and spends the rest of her life plotting revenge against men, to make them feel that same horrible sense of humiliation and betrayal.  “This,” the old woman says, “is what interests me.”  She tells us how Miss Havisham adopts a pretty little girl and teaches her to break hearts, and then she finds a poor boy that she can have completely in her power and watches the girl, Estelle, torture him for loving her.  The old woman says that, although Miss Havisham feels pleasure and power in watching the boy suffer, her satisfaction in her revenge is hollow, false.  She is trapped and cannot be comforted.  The old woman explains that what really interests her is Miss Havisham’s attempt to stop time by preserving the wedding cake, wearing her wedding dress, changing very little in the house, and setting up an eerie, reversed reenactment of her betrayal and humiliation.  Miss Havisham does this, the old woman, says, because she is an artist, a playwright, like God, trying to conquer time, to triumph against all odds, to redeem the world through art.  But she fails because art does not save us.  It is an attempt at revenge against those who have abandoned and betrayed us.  Art cannot make us happy or comfort us.  It is “just a foul, stinking, moldy wedding cake, crawling with vermin.”  Miss Havisham knows that art and love are lies, that she has not stopped time.  Yet, the old woman says, Dickens, who wrote the novel in which Miss Havisham is trapped, supplied two endings to the story.  In one, the boy goes back to Estelle and she cannot love him so they are both miserable.  In the other, the boy goes back to Estelle, finds that she is lonely and unhappy, and believes that, if he is patient and good and forgiving and loves her with all his heart and soul, then it is remotely possible that she will join him in the mutual delusion of love—a happy ending.  But, the old woman reminds us, this is ridiculous; there are no happy endings.  Miss Havisham cannot throw out the wedding cake because she still loves and grieves, the living image of dementia.  Miss Havisham, the old woman tells us, cuts herself a piece of the rat- and vermin-infested cake and begins to eat.

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