No Miss Havisham for Hillary

Charles Green, “Miss Havisham”


I haven’t read Hillary Clinton’s account of the 2016 election, but New York Magazine’s Rebecca Traister points out a literary allusion she uses that reflects well on her. Traister’s article is about the pressure on women to hide their anger:

So internalized is women’s impulse to paper over their ire that Clinton writes about how, in the weeks after her loss, she prayed “to stay hopeful and openhearted rather than becoming cynical and bitter … so that the rest of my life wouldn’t be spent like Miss Havisham … rattling around my house obsessing over what might have been.”

Traister observes,

This is what women have been taught that rage might do to us: We are so sure that our resentments — especially any resentments toward men — are corrosive, and make us appear pathetic and vengeful, that we ask for divine help to simply stop feeling them.

Because of our double standard, Traister observes, Clinton

never could have turned around and screamed at Trump, never could have slashed her finger through the air and called for revolution in the style of Bernie Sanders, at least not if she had any hope of winning the presidency. Hillary Clinton is a woman, and there is almost nothing that Americans view as more repellent in women than anger…

Traister names other women who have been targeted for their anger:

When California senator Kamala Harris and Jeff Sessions tussled during his Senate Intelligence hearings in the spring, Trump adviser Jason Miller described Sessions as full of “vinegar and fire in his belly,” while he deemed Harris “hysterical.” (Black women, with perhaps more to be mad about in America than anyone else, are often regarded as militant monsters when they so much as raise a disapproving eyebrow, or just as often, when someone imagines that they have. Recall the treatment of Michelle Obama in 2008.) After Senator Kirsten Gillibrand dressed down a commandant for failing to address sexual harassment in the military earlier this year, Tucker Carlson called her “positively unglued.” And in response to a righteous post-election rant from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Mika Brzezinski declared, “There’s an anger there that’s shrill … unmeasured and almost unhinged.” 

I agree with Traister about the double standard, but I also commend Clinton for drawing on literature to not becoming consumed by her anger. Miss Havisham, of course, is the jilted bride in Dickens’s Great Expectations who is rendered perpetually bitter by her disappointment. Pip describes his first view of her as follows:

But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.

Nor does Miss Havisham confine the bitterness to herself but corrupts a child, turning her into an instrument of revenge. Esther will break hearts just as Miss Havisham’s heart was broken.

That Clinton imagines that she herself has Miss Havisham potential indicates that she never lost touch with her soul. Clinton really, really wanted to be president, just as Miss Havisham really, really wanted to be married. Yet somewhere along the line, Clinton got in touch with a healing perspective. Thank the lord that novels provide us such guidance.

In contrast to Clinton, I have written a blog post on someone who did in fact become Miss Havisham. For Donald Trump, the clocks stopped the moment he won the election. Like Havisham, the remaining bloom went out of his life. Because nothing could ever match election night euphoria, he became an empty husk, always hearkening back to it. Just yesterday he retweeted a GIF of him swinging a golf club and hitting Clinton.

The fact that Clinton was able to make such a shift indicates that she has an inner compass that would have served her well as president. Her Havisham reference shows that she was never the soulless caricature people believed her to be.

Another literary allusion: This was to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables:

I saw a man off to the side who I thought was Reince Priebus…. We shook hands and exchanged small talk. Later I realized it hadn’t been Priebus at all. It was Jason Chaffetz, the then-Utah Congressman and wannabe Javert who made endless political hay out of my emails and the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi.

Later Chaffetz posted a picture of our handshake with the caption, “So pleased she is not the President. I thanked her for her service and wished her luck. The investigation continues.” What a class act! I came this close to tweeting back, “To be honest, I thought you were Reince.”

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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