Explore the ways in which Estella is presented and developed in Great Expectations
Arguably, Dickens’ novels portray the majority of the female characters in an extremely misogynistic light, and the character of Estella is no exception. Whilst modern readers may feel shocked at her portrayal, it is important to consider the Victorian era in which Dickens was writing and how its patriarchal society influenced his works. Estella is heart-breakingly beautiful and yet strikingly pernicious. She is the icy, cruel princess who plants the seeds of dissatisfaction and expectation into the naïve and impressionable Pip. Her impact upon his life is immeasurable, and is maintained throughout the novel. Her frosty nature is developed through her twisted relationship with Miss Havisham, which defines and dictates not only Estella’s character, but also her actions throughout the novel. However, whilst she is ostensibly presented as cold and hostile, she is not the automaton she seems to be, and ultimately, we can view her as a character to be pitied rather that despised. Although she may appear to be a manipulative conductress who intentionally tortures men, she is fundamentally a victim of her society, class and circumstances.
Dickens introduces the character of Estella, through the young Pip’s perspective, as a “very pretty and…very proud” young girl. Although her age at the time is similar to Pip’s, her constant addressing of him as “boy” highlights her condescending attitude towards him, as the plosive sound captures her contempt and disgust of him. It also highlights the deeply ingrained division between the classes in the Victorian society, which was something that Dickens passionately wanted to change. He wrote his novels as social critiques that were intended to challenge and ultimately modify society: the rich lived in decadence and opulence whilst the poor suffered devastating deprivations. There was no movement between classes: if one was born into poverty, they died in poverty. Estella, having been brought up with wealth and luxury, sneers at and ridicules Pip, which emphasises her judgemental quality. This is ironic, as, eventually, she is destroyed by the class system, but also because she is actually a convict’s daughter, meaning she was born into a class even lower than Pip’s.