There is a passage from classic literature so vividly macabre yet fantastically romantic that it seared itself into my girlhood brain. Nothing Hollywood’s big budget pyrotechnics or CGI wizardry has ever produced has come close to replicating it: the image of Miss Havisham catching fire in Great Expectations.
Unlike some little girls I didn’t grow up cultivating my own great expectations of stepping regally in a white frothy frock while draped on the arm of an unidentified Prince Charming. No, this anti-wedding day captured my imagination with its symbols of tradition all twisted.
When Miss Havisham offers Pip 900 pounds to help Herbert, there’s the dowry. Then there is, of course, the consummation. Pip demonstrates some major throwdown when he flings her to the ground and rolls on top of her trying to extinguish the “whirl of fire blazing all about her.” The wedding banquet or “heap of rottenness” is finally consumed by flames not guests. Confetti? The tinder and ashes raining down on them in a “black shower.” Post-activity there follows the tender newlywed kiss when Pip leans over and touches Miss Havisham’s lips gently with his own as she lies loosely wrapped in a white sheet.
Great blazing bones and scuttling beetles!
I’ve been betrothed to Dickens ever since.