“The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstances of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community.”
Let’s knock down a few cobwebs and excuse the ruins of Satis House to take a closer look at the infamous Miss Havisham of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Even if you despise Miss Havisham’s for the heartache she instigated between Pip and Estella, you’ve got to understand the incentive of her bitterness. What made Miss Havisham turn cold and labor away at her legacy of broken hearts?
“The agony is exquisite, is it not? A broken heart. You think you will die. But you just keep living. Day after day, after terrible day.” ― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
What is it about deviant, malicious, and reckless character types that keep us on the edge and actually rooting for their success? We want the baddie to win? Not as strange as you think.
We all love a happy ending; even the bad guys want some form of self-serving resolution. It’s easy to fall in love with the protagonist. Give it up for our beloved heroines Anne Shirley, Dorothy Gale, Alice, Matilda Wormwood, Jane Eyre, and the list is endless.
However, it takes a special personality to recognize and appreciate the value of antagonists like Miss Havisham, the White Witch, Agatha Trunchbull, Nurse Ratched, and countless other deviants, rogues, and wretches. These are the characters worthy of their counterparts in some twisted form or fashion. They are the secret sauce propelling the story on wards popping up with pockets of conflict and query.
The motivation of your favorite villain is often turbulent, taxing, and highly relatable. You find yourself attracted to these roots of bitterness and begin to urge on this character’s motives. Why? Perhaps you have kindred skeletons in your closet. You feel you can connect to them on some level and are drawn to this spark in the dark like a moth to flame. According to renowned psychologist Carl Jung, this is called ‘Shadow Confrontation’.
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” —Carl Jung
The ‘Shadow’ can’t exist without its inverse; there must be light to balance. The ‘Shadow’ harbors destructive, evil facets of our personalities, but it also nurtures potent creativity and power capabilities. Just as we want to condemn our villains for their cunning cruelty and manipulations, we find that kernel of truth in their motives.
We see their brilliant side, their innovation, the source or muse that once cradled and nourished their souls illuminates to give you a new perspective on this miscreant. We comprehend and sympathize with their origins because they become real to us, and we can put ourselves in their shoes. These characters captivate and capture our imaginations.
Miss Havisham’s relatable tragedy all began with when she was smitten with her fiancé, Meriwether Compeyson, the true antagonist of this story, and was completely devastated when he stood her
up at the altar. Twenty til nine to be exact. Time stopped for Miss Havisham while her rage toward men began to grow and she settled into a life of seclusion. From the dress to the decorations, to the now moldy cake, everything was left as it was on her wedding day. Her meager attempt at keeping that memory alive only leaves you feeling hollow.
Aging and wealthy, Miss Havisham found ways to amuse herself. She began teaching her adopted daughter Estella to follow in her footsteps by leaving a wake of heartbreak and confusion. As the reader, there comes a point where you feel her pain and you can understand why she’s tried so hard to keep barbed wire around her and Etella’s hearts. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but your moral compass begins to waiver.
“I stole her heart away and put ice in its place.” —Miss Havisham
Not all villains ask for forgiveness, but this definitely made Miss Havisham more redeemable after years of scheming and condescension. If Pip can forgive her, so can I. Pip’s character needed the ‘help’ of the heartless Miss Havisham just as she needed to pierce his tender heart to realize she was wrong.
I’m not alone in believing there is something romantic and alluring about the sadness and pain that later manifests as injustice and evildoing. Villains are just as essential as heroes. Sometimes more so. They provide the vehicle for and the wave of emotion as a story unfurls. We need them to understand their roots of suffering to better understand our own.
“Nobody’s a hero through and through, there’s always something in them that’ll turn sour… you’ll learn it one day. There are no heroes, only villains who win.”― Joel Cornah, The Sea-Stone Sword
What literary villain do you relate to? Would you be a Hero or Villain in your own story? #villainlove