Monday, February 11, 2019

Carol Ann Duffy - Havisham (Overview - Part 3)

This is the last part of the overview to Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Havisham" which covers stanzas three and four of the poem in terms of content, namely: the puce curses, power of words and degeneration to an animal state, the incubus image and vampirism, the white veil, wedding cake, honeymoon, red balloon and necrophilic thoughts and final stutter present in a poem that comes full circle through the choice of words used at the beginning of each stanza.

Part 1 gave a brief biography, discussed the poem's structure (meter and rhymes), the sounds present in the poem and analyzed the persona of Miss Havisham (what is known about her from Great Expectations and how Duffy treats her case).

Part 2 dealt with various points present in stanzas 1 and 2 (enjambment, inability to escape, the notions of time and ageing, Miss Havisham's homicidal thoughts, green pebbles, ropes on the back of her hands, the concept of the spinster, the yellowing dress and slewed mirror, the bed, wall, wardrobe).

For more literary analyses, click on the image below.

 Carol Ann Duffy - Havisham


  • stanza 3
    • begins with the end of the enjambment present at the end of stanza 2: beginning, ending, splitting are concepts dear to Miss Havisham
      • time and thought have become a blend of contradictions:
        • sentences/thoughts start at the end of a stanza and end at the beginning of another one
        • sentences end or start in the middle of lines
        • the logic of starting at the beginning and finishing at the end is lost to this woman who cannot escape memory yet sees time progress
        • she is a static being in a dynamic environment: her thoughts revolve around the same person or event in her life, yet she feels the weight of “whole days” (stanza 2) turn into “some nights”, her agony prolonged by her obsession with her pain (the whole poem is a witness to this) and her awareness of the ravages of time
        • all this reveals her state of mind: nothing changes for her as she constantly recalls events, yet everything does change as time ages her this leads to insanity (the inability to live in the here and now and develop mentally as your body develops is what causes insanity)
    • stanza 1 contained prayers, this stanza curses
      • puce
        • is a dark red to purple-brown color
          • it was linked to the color bloodstains left on bed sheets (either from flea droppings or crushed fleas)
        • etymologically it comes from the French “puce” which means flea, but is also used as a term of endearment meaning “love” or “sweetie”
        • even more interesting is the phrase “mettre la puce √† l’oreille de quelqu’un” = put a flea in someone’s ear meaning get someone thinking about something, start to have doubts about something
          • originally, the phrase meant “cause or have an amorous desire” in the 13th century (viz. here)
          • in the 17th century, the phrase changed to mean “be worried or agitated”
          • the lines that follow the “puce curses” contain both desire and agitation
        • in sum, “puce” evokes lack of hygiene, illness, decay
      • sounds not words
        • Miss Havisham has degenerated to a babbling animal state
        • in stanza 2 she describes her cries as caws (of a crow or raven)
    • after telling us about her days, she now proceeds to describe her nights
      • the lost body over me = incubus
        • male demon in folklore/ myths who seduces women as they sleep
        • the Latin root of the word incubare (“lie upon”, cf. “incubate”) evokes an image of such a demon lying on or weighing heavily on a woman, just as the thought of Miss Havisham’s lover weighs on her mind
        • all the images that follow in this stanza are the result of her imagined sexual encounter with Compeyson – alluded to here as a demon lover – merely a body now, not a human being, lost to her forever
        • see connections to vampirism below ("bite")
      • note the emphasis on speech / the power of words throughout the poem
        • acts of speaking present: prayers, cawing “Nooooo”, curses, sounds not words
        • presence of body parts connected to speech: fluent tongue, mouth
        • Miss Havisham’s nightmare started with deceitful words of love and fidelity uttered by Compeyson, and now continues with her inability to produce a coherent sentence
          • it's as if she has turned her back on coherent speech after seeing what it can lead to
        • Compeyson’s betrayal has robbed her of one of the primary traits that make us human which is language / communication and now she can only dream of her “fluent tongue” as compensation
        • her devolution from intelligibility to animality is also shown through the change her articulators (speech organs) undergo in this stanza: the fluent tongue turns to a bite
          • connections between incubi and vampires were made as early as the first millennium as demon spirits sought to possess a dead body in order to inseminate their unwary female victims
          • the similarity to folkloric vampires (pre-18th century) – dead yet living beings (i.e. undead) – who return to their loved ones to cause death or other misfortune ties in with the image we have of Miss Havisham in this poem:
            • a recluse
            • locked away in her room pining for her former lover
            • wearing a yellowing dress
            • libidinous
            • desires to kill him and live together with his corpse
        • loss of speech ultimately ties in with the violence present throughout the poem: Miss Havisham’s regression to an animal state is present in her thoughts and actions
          • she wants him dead
          • she can imagine strangling him with her bare hands
          • love’s kisses become bites
          • she stabs at her wedding cake
          • the purity of a white veil gives way to necrophiliac fantasies
    • enjambment at the end creates a complete division between love and hate that are unified in a contradictory manner only logical to those who are insane
      • Miss Havisham has these two forces raging within her, tearing her apart which is what Duffy does by placing the 2 words apart in different stanzas (even though they are joined together in the same sentence)

  • stanza 4
    • this stanza closes the vicious cycle Miss Havisham finds herself trapped in
      • if we look at the 1st words of each stanza, we see the main idea that reigns in her mind in each stanza
        • stanza 1: “Beloved” (her first thoughts are of her former fianc√©, her love of him mixed with hatred as we find out when we read two words after this one)
        • stanza 2: “Spinster” (her thoughts turn upon herself, she describes her present state)
        • stanza 3: “to me?” (she ponders what she has coming her way, what she gets out of all this; this is why in that stanza she talks about the love she was supposed to enjoy which can only be imagined each night)
        • stanza 4: “hate” (from “beloved” we come full circle to “hate” as Miss Havisham’s world – exposed in this poem – is enclosed between the limitations set by love and hatred)
    • imagery of marriage / weddings
      • the 3 things mentioned in this paragraph all follow the logical sequence of events of a normal wedding
      • white veil
        • event 1 = the bridal veil worn at weddings
        • in ancient times: veils were worn to ward of evil spirits that wanted to prevent the bride’s happiness
          • in view of this explanation, the irony is obvious: the veil doesn’t protect the bride from unhappiness but is there to keep the hatred locked inside Miss Havisham forever
        • later: symbol of chastity, modesty (not at all the case with what was seen in stanza 3)
        • the lifting of the veil during the ceremony is symbolic of a wedding’s consummation (the veil symbolizing the hymen): there is no lifting here, however, as Miss Havisham never experiences the wedding night
        • instead, she tastes (as she “bites” in stanza 3) the hatred that springs from love behind a veil that has never been lifted
      • wedding cake
        • event 2 = the bridal cake at the wedding reception
        • in ancient times: a simple wheat or barley cake was broken over the bride’s head to bring good luck
        • in the Middle Ages: it was thrown at the bride to increase fertility or baked goods were piled up high and if the couple managed to kiss over the pile without toppling it, this meant a successful lifelong marriage
        • in general, such cakes symbolized fertility and prosperity
        • the cutting of the cake is carried out by both bride and groom in our days
          • before, it was just the bride who cut and distributed pieces to the guests – again a symbol of fecundity
          • now, both cut the cake together and give each other a bit to eat: this symbolizes the assistance each gives to the other + the promise to provide
        • in the poem Miss Havisham stabs at the wedding cake, not cuts it
          • this instance shows her loneliness and anger lashing out
          • she is alone in an endeavor that would normally consist of a loving husband and wife sharing their first bite together (note the relation to the “bite” in stanza 2)
          • instead, Miss Havisham is left alone to deal with the cake
          • not able to get her hands on Compeyson to kill him, she stabs at the nearest thing she can get her hands on that symbolically constitutes a part of him (thus far, the wedding dress & white veil that are remnants of the wedding are items solely pertaining to her)
        • this is the first time in the poem we see an active verb in past simple tense being used: thus far, present tenses were used (present perfect, present simple, present continuous or these tenses with the helping verb omitted)
          • the only other cases are in the question “who did this to me?” and the hypothetical “could” in the 1st stanza when she talks about strangling him
          • this is the first case where she describes an action she herself did which she hasn’t imagined herself doing
          • this sentence appears just before the one where the imperative “Give me” is used, showing a more assertive side to Miss Havisham
      • honeymoon
        • tradition similar to today’s began in the early 19th century: upper class families would travel to visit relatives who couldn’t attend the wedding
        • origins:
          • bridal kidnapping: grooms hid their brides for one or more months from her family until
            • families had to consent to avoid public disgrace
            • brides became pregnant
          • mead: newlyweds were given a month’s worth of  mead (fermented honey) to drink
            • it was believed to be an aphrodisiac and was gifted to guarantee pregnancy
        • in the poem: positive, romantic connotation the word “honeymoon” evokes (married bliss) clashes with the image of the “male corpse” as partner
    • the red balloon
      • it is a childhood image which bursts in her face
        • her betrayal marked the end of all that was pure and ethical in her mind
        • all her thoughts are now homicidal, vengeful, necrophilic: she becomes an aberration once she becomes disillusioned
        • the balloon marks this moment of disillusionment
      • this buoyant toy of innocence mingles with her night-time fantasies (her thoughts blend with reality)
        • if we continue her idea of biting from the previous stanza, Miss Havisham awakes from her dreams with a blood red explosion in her face
    • necrophilia
      • cf. the lost body from stanza 3 for connections to incubi + vampirism
      • Rosman and Resnick categorized the motives behind such behavior: 
        • to possess a non-resisting / non-rejecting partner 
        • to reunite with a loved one 
        • conscious sexual attraction to corpses 
        • feeling of comfort / to overcome feelings of isolation 
        • as an expression of power over a homicide victim 
        • most of their test subjects had multiple motives, and the same seems true of Miss Havisham (all these categories apply to her except the 3rd because no evidence is present in the poem to corroborate)
      • it seems only natural that Miss Havisham, wanting Compeyson dead but also a companion by her side, would have necrophilic desires
      • her distress doesn’t merely arise from her lack of companionship but also sexual fulfillment, which is why in the last verse she stresses the fact that not only the heart has suffered from this entire ordeal
        • as stated earlier, her realization is one of time wreaking havoc on her physically
      • she knows what she looks like as she gazes at herself in the slewed mirror, and sees she’s only fit for a cadaver (the dead with the dead, to change the quote ‘let the dead bury the dead’)
      • it's not her biological clock ticking in this case as much as her 'sexual fulfillment clock'
    • stutter (“b-b-b-breaks”)
      • shows she’s no longer capable of speaking fluently (cf. speech / the power of words from stanza 3 above)
      • though stuttering is genetically connected, it is aggravated by stress: the greater the tension felt, the more likely a person predisposed to stuttering will display this impediment
      • elicits sound of multiple fragmentation (as if she is bringing forth the sound of a heart or herself cracking a number of times)
      • also implies she’s ageing: repetitive “b” evokes an image of someone running out of breath (interesting to note that a further implication is that she is left spent at the end of her dream sequence that began in stanza 3)
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