The Psychological Black Hole: Female Versions of Arrested Development in Dickens Novels
“Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.” This quote, often attributed to Einstein, is actually said by many physicists and writers – the oldest confirmed being Ray Cummings in a short story. However, Dickens’s novels have redefined the interpretation of this quote by allowing characters to (attempt to) manipulate and condense time and acknowledge it in atypical ways. While may characters in Dickens obsessively check their pocket watches, deliberately tracking time’s passing and feeling the urge to move forward, characters such as Miss Havisham, Mrs. Clennam, and Mrs. Skewton function as epitomic cruxes that shirk this desire to move with ever-passing time – these women strive to maintain a stasis, manipulating time into a metaphor for a disappointed future that’s wrought with rot and decay. This stasis only disintegrates once these women are removed from the domains they control. Time serves as a controlled function in Dickens that is not only arrested by the aforementioned characters, but becomes the arrested development of them entirely in their ruin.
In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham overtly attempts to freeze time in her dismal, deliberately unchanging house. This attempted temporal manipulation speaks volumes about her character, portraying her as an already dead specter sealed away in her tomb until she actually dies. Unlike other characters who are always on the move and express an urgency in regards to time, Miss Havisham approaches temporality with a sort of dread and prefers to suspend her life in a single, life-changing moment. Miss Havisham says in a passage,
“On this day of the year, long before you were born, this heap of decay,’ stabbing with her crutched stick at the pile of cobwebs on the table but not touching it, ‘was brought here. It and I have worn away together. The mice have gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me.” (“Great” 89)
She refers to the “heap of decay” as being brought to her home many years ago, and though this seems insignificant, her mentioning this implies that this oldness, this decay and decrepitude, have always been the way they are – trapped temporally in their existence and will continue to exist in this state. The oldness was always old, or at least Miss Havisham believes it has always been, and it seems this translates to a belief that she has always been stuck in this moment and will always be. Miss Havisham also makes a strange acknowledgment of time in this passage by her saying that “it and I have worn away together.” Time must have been passed for anything to wear away, and this is made even more complicated by her preceding sentence about the heap of decay that seems to have always existed. Miss Havisham, then, is completely aware of time and its passing, which further leads to the notion that she willfully manipulates time into the metaphor for the future she will never have and that she prefers to essentially be a pitiable woman destroyed by her past (or what has become her perpetual present).
It is also significant to note the day and time at which Miss Havisham has attempted to temporally entrap her house. Time is stopped on her birthday, which is typically celebrated as the beginning of one’s time, but Miss Havisham detests this day. Though this is the only day she ever has guests, none of them are allowed to even mention it is her birthday, and she mentions this explicitly when she says “they come here on the day, but they dare not refer to it” (“Great” 89). Additionally, her birthday is also her (would be) wedding day, yet every clock is stopped at twenty to nine in a strange stasis of the moment when her husband-to-be abandoned her. She remains confined to a moment of despair, refusing to move on in either a dread of the future or an attempt to remember the pain of the past, and she has not even bothered to change out of her wedding clothes. She has, in a sense, doomed herself to this pivotal moment in her life by never moving on from it, and as she seems to believe the house and its artifacts have always been antiquated, she has convinced herself that her life is destined to be frozen in time forever.
To bring this particular day’s significance full circle, Miss Havisham is determined that she shall die on this very day as well. She says to Pip, “When the ruin is complete… and they lay me dead, in my bride’s dress on the bride’s table – which shall be done, and which will be the finished curse upon him – so much the better if it is done on this day!” (“Great” 89). What is strange though is that she uses the word “complete” as if there is a process to this forced stasis that must run its course, which could imply she recognizes the futility of truly manipulating time but stubbornly refuses to move on to make her point. It’s also interesting that she uses the phrase “curse upon him” because, in her attempted temporal manipulation, she seems to be the one under a curse, and it is a curse bestowed upon her by her own hand. However, through all of this, her birth/death cycle will be comprised of her own imprisonment in the moment that changed her life – conveying the notion that she literally was born for and will die for this sustained torturous moment.
In relation to physical temporality, Miss Havisham’s manipulation of time is similar to that of a black hole because her internal condensing of time into a single moment has extended to the Satis House itself. In Pip’s description of the house, he observes,
So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in the darkened room, the faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-table glass, that I felt as if the stopping of the clocks had stopped Time in that mysterious place, and, while I and everything else outside it grew older, it stood still. Daylight never entered the house as to my thoughts and remembrances of it, any more than as to the actual fact.” (“Great” 125)
First, it’s important to note “spectre” is Miss Havisham’s descriptor, portraying her as a ghost – something already dead and literally temporally encased in time, unchanging in their environments or tombs (whether they be actual tombs or the Satis House). It’s also worth noting that “Time” is capitalized as if it is a named person that can be controlled in the same way that Miss Havisham controls and manipulates Estella. Time, then, is not only Miss Havisham’s metaphor for doom, but is merely a tool she uses to perpetuate the pain of the past and saturate the present (and future) with it. Grammatically, “and” is withheld in the first sentence of the aforementioned passage, making it more direct and everything equal in the moment of lapsed time, and the phrase “Time… stood still” is a dead metaphor, generating a perfect parallel within the context of the seemingly dead Miss Havisham and Satis House.
Mass and gravity have a direct relationship, and that relationship is the more mass an object has, the larger its gravitation force will be. Since black holes have an enormous amount of both mass and gravity, time essentially slows down to a near stop in close proximity to a black hole. To an observer outside the black hole, time would be stopped, and in this case, Miss Havisham would be the singularity causing this with her mass of wedding clothes, heaps of decay, and grandiose house. With all her accumulated mass and immovable density of vengeful betrayal, Miss Havisham creates a strange gravity all her own, allowing her to control time and space similar to that of a black hole. According to the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Einstein’s theory of gravity seems to predict that time itself is destroyed at the center of the hole: time comes to an abrupt end there. For this reason, a black hole is sometimes described as the ‘reverse of creation.’” Miss Havisham’s reverse of creation lies both her manipulation of time, stopping it altogether, as well as her emotional dismantling of other characters (e.g. Pip) through her controlled use of Estella.
It’s also worth noting that daylight never entered the house, as Pip mentions, and, to an outside observer, light seems to never enter nor exist in a black hole, either. “Daylight never entered” Satis House, and Miss Havisham entrapped herself in a room much like a tomb, and it is in this tomb she eventually meets her demise. Even in her death, there is a sort of lamination of time in her dressing wounds. Pip recounts, “though every vestige of her dress was burnt, as they told me, she still had something of her old ghastly bridal appearance; for, they had covered her to the throat with white cotton-wool, and as she lay with a white sheet loosely overlying that, the phantom air of something that had been and was changed, was still upon her” (“Great” 403). Even in all of Pip’s visions of her hanging from a beam – literally suspended in a moment of ruin – she is imprisoned by her own will and manipulation of time and space, she is perpetually in death.
Speaking of wounds, the literal wounds that Miss Havisham acquires at the end seem reflective of her internal, emotional wounds of past wrongs done to her. Martin Price says in a chapter titled “Dickens: Selves and Systems” in his book that:
Miss Havisham has been cruelly wronged, although the event was in part created by her own will; more to the point is what she has made of her suffering. She stops time so as to live in a constant state of betrayal; she enjoys her wounds too much to let them heal. Moreover, she converts Estella into her instrument for repeating the wrong again and again at the expense of others’ feelings. She has turned her suffering into the cycle of one wrong avenging another; and it never enters her imagination that Estella can feel anything but gratification as she sustains the cycle. (Price 118)
The event “created by her own will” harkens back to the curse she has supposedly placed which has really become a curse upon herself and others. This becomes complicated because, though she is in a stasis temporally, the cycle of vengeance continues because of it – an extension of Miss Havisham’s preferred temporal binding in vanity and despair. This cyclical behavior goes along well with Peter Brooks discussion of return of the repressed, which will be addressed in later paragraphs.
Price also points out Pip about Miss Havisham to himself when she is on her actual deathbed, after she has been consumed by fire (also note that black holes are theoretically extremely hot because of their axial rotation speeds):
And could I look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world? (“Great” 399)
Besides this being a revelatory reflection on Pip’s part, there are a lot of fascinating things about this passage. Firstly, this resonates well with characters from other Dickens novels that exemplify extreme vanity as well, and this seems to be the first time Miss Havisham’s behavior is explicitly described in comparison to vanity – narrowing the focus of her actions to an intrinsic reaction that many women who have been wronged in Dickens novels demonstrate. Aside from Miss Havisham, there is another impressionable character in Dickens’s novels who attempts to manipulate time by means of stopping it or perhaps even reversing it out of a distorted vanity. In Dombey and Son, Mrs. Skewton, aka Cleopatra, goes to great efforts to appear young even though she is aging miserably. She actively tries to restrain time from advancing in her desire to remain suspended in a date before time became unforgiving to her face and figure, and the vanity of this old crone is emphasized throughout the novel and most particularly during her introduction:
The discrepancy between Mrs. Skewton’s fresh enthusiasm of words, and forlornly faded manner, was hardly less observable than that between her age, which was about seventy, and her dress, which would have been youthful for twenty-seven. Her attitude in the wheeled chair (which she never varied) was one in which she had been taken in a barouche, some fifty years before, by a then fashionable artist who had appended to his published sketch the name of Cleopatra: in consequence of a discovery made by the critics of the time, that it bore an exact resemblance to that Princess as she reclined on board her galley. Mrs. Skewton was a beauty then, and bucks threw wine-glasses over their heads by dozens in her honour. The beauty and the barouche had both passed away, but she still preserved the attitude, and for this reason expressly, maintained the wheeled chair and the butting page: there being nothing whatever, except the attitude, to prevent her from walking. (“Dombey” 319)
This overelaborate description of Mrs. Skewton parallels well with her vanity, her obsessive desire to control time in regards to herself. Another character (who will be addressed more in-depth later) is Mrs. Clennam, whose distorted vanity leaves her determined to enact vengeance on those who wronged her in the past, all while imprisoned temporally in her room. Secondly, in the passage regarding Miss Havisham, to refer to Miss Havisham as a ruin reiterates the established link between her house and self – the house in ruins (ruin as metaphor for arrested development) is an extension of Miss Havisham and the Time (a metaphor for disappointed future) that she controls. This also starts to beg the question of if the house is actually a ruin when it is imprisoned in time or when it is a literal ruin, and the answer seems to be it is both – the temporal ruin frozen in time as well as the ruin it becomes at the end of the novel when the house is allowed to catch up with real time and crumbles apart. Thirdly, Pip’s mentioning that Miss Havisham has a “profound unfitness for this earth” resembles notions of Miss Havisham behaving like a black hole – another thing profoundly unfit for earth that would end up destroying it if it was in too near proximity. It’s also strange that Pip mentions Miss Havisham was “placed” on the earth, which might suggest this to be another (or the very first) wrong done against Miss Havisham. “Placed” implies it was not necessarily her will or wish to exist on earth when she is fit for elsewhere. Fourthly, the aforementioned irony of Miss Havisham’s “curse” comes back into conversation here, as Pip distinctly realizes that the curse Miss Havisham has given is actually on herself in the form vanity, and, like a black hole, it is a “monstrous” one itself that affects everything it comes into contact with, particularly Pip and Estella.
The house name, Satis House, translating to “enough house,” also wells deep with significance. Satis is a play on multiple words, and the first that comes to mind is stasis which implies the house is stuck temporally as well as physically in its immovability from the moment in which it is perpetually suspended, and this relates directly to another interpretation, stagnant, implying the same thing while conveying the connotation that the house is deteriorating and festering in the languish of Miss Havisham. Another play on the house name is “status,” which might indirectly imply the societal need to retain high regard by society, and this pulls the direction of the other interpretation of satis, being “satisfaction,” that seems more ironic than anything because Miss Havisham is far less than satisfied. Or perhaps in some masochistic way she is very satisfied to be making a strange statement by keeping her home temporally stuck, even though the world outside continues to change and move while she attempts to remain in a single moment. With the stasis of the house, it becomes understood that a character such as Miss Havisham can have a satisfactory home that she can control, but she may not have a satisfactory time or amount of time, which she cannot control despite all attempts.
In Peter Brooks’ article“Repetition, Repression, and Return: Great Expectations and the Study of Plot,” he discusses the cyclical return of the repressed throughout the novel, typically regarding Pip, but also paying close attention to Miss Havisham and Satis House. He says “The craziness and morbidity of Satis House repose on desire fixated and become sadistic, on a deviated eroticism which has literally shut out light, stopped the clocks, and made the forward movement of plot impossible” (Brooks 508). The return of the repressed for Miss Havisham is held hostage in her temporal manipulation and becomes complicated by its manifestation as stasis – this is a continuing return of the repressed, a return that could perhaps be described as condensed into suspension like that of a black hole, the power of which extends beyond itself (or Miss Havisham) and effects everything surrounding it (Satis House itself, Pip, Estella, etc.). It seems there will be no resolution to this repression, as Brooks discusses plots typically strive for, and Miss Havisham’s past is very non-repressed since she actively chooses to live in it, aware of yet dismissing time. The only way to get closure or resolution of any kind in her instance is through death.
Brooks indirectly addresses this notion of her death as a resolution to this stasis as well when he says
The novel in fact toward its end records a generalized breakdown of plots: none of the schemes machinated by the characters appears to accomplish its aims. The proof a contrario may be the ‘oversuccessful’ result of Miss Havisham’s plot, which has turned Estella into so heartless a creature that she cannot even experience emotional recognition of her benefactress. Her plotting has been a mechanical success but an intentional failure. (Brooks 520)
The breakdown of plot as well as the literal breakdown of Satis House comes with Miss Havisham’s death, and even Estella by the end of the novel seems to have potential for some sort of change once she is freed of the gravitational, manipulatory grasp of Miss Havisham, particularly in her last encounter with Pip that implies there could be a potential friendship or relationship of some sort. This makes it important to zero-in on Miss Havisham’s last words and her death as it is the dismantling of her manipulated stasis.
Towards midnight, she began to wander in her speech, and after that it gradually set in that she said innumerable times in a low solemn voice, ‘What have I done!’ And then, ‘When she first came I meant to save her from misery like mine.’ And then, ‘Take the pencil and write under my name, ‘I forgive her!’’ She never changed the order of these three sentences, but she sometimes left out a word in one or the other of them; never putting in another word, but always leaving a blank and going on to the next word. (“Great” 403)
Brooks says “The cycle of three statements suggests a metonymy in search of arrest, a plot that can never find satisfactory resolution, that unresolved must play over its insistent repetitions, until silenced by death” (Brooks 520). And it is, indeed, only in death that Satis House is allowed to catch up with real time and crumble, become a literal ruin, and have its many parts sold off at auction (“Great” 473). When the black hole of Miss Havisham is removed from the house, stasis disintegrates and resolution and re-initiation into the natural order of time can commence. This stasis, then, is a form of continuing return of the repressed until the condensing repressor is removed from the situation and the metaphorical disappointed future can be either realized or dissolved.
Miss Havisham isn’t the only character that attempts to manipulate time into a frozen metaphor for a disappointed future. Little Dorrit’s Mrs. Clennam does precisely the same thing, and her temporal control has extended to her environment and home as well, affecting other characters such as Affery and Jeremiah Flintwinch, Amy (to an extent), and Arthur. She lives in a state of ruin, confined to a wheelchair in an unchanging room, arrested in development and saturated with the vanity of her own vengeance against wrongs done to her. Confined as such, her stasis of time seems to be a suspended waiting game for her death (similar to Miss Havisham as she awaits her birth/death/non-wedding day) or her vengeance to perhaps be realized. Similar to Miss Havisham, Mrs. Clennam is wholly aware of the passage of time but acknowledges that time essentially stands still for her in her conscious, mummified state. In a conversation about seasons and the passage of time regarding them, she says, “all seasons are alike to me…I know nothing of summer and winter, shut up here. The Lord has been pleased to put me beyond all that” (“Little” 49-50). Though she is confined both physically and seemingly temporally, she is aware that time passes, and she submits that she has no will or control over her situation of confinement even though she seems to be the one truly manipulating the time, space, and even people around her. Mrs. Clennam explicitly defines her situation as imprisonment as well, but she seems almost content in it as a means of “not forgetting,” which she might otherwise do if she were not physically and temporally bound to her room.
This complicates her situation in the same way Miss Havisham’s situation is complicated, and strikes great similarities with the character of Miss Havisham as well. Miss Havisham’s forcing the clocks to be stopped at a certain time, remaining in her wedding gown, leaving all the fixings for a wedding such as the cake and bride’s table, and her desire to die on that very day as well imply that she fully intends to “not forget” the pivotal moment in her life that she claims she cannot possibly move on from. Mrs. Clennam, on the other hand, is similarly trapped in a room tomb, ignoring the seasons and the changes of the outside world while continuously looking at the watch near her on the table in an effort to not forget. Both women, then, actively choose to manipulate their world into a stasis, acknowledging that time exists and passes but electing to remain suspended in their ruin, vengeance, and vanity-filled occupations of causing others to suffer because of the wrongs that have been done to them.
Martin Price makes note that the “arrest of movement, of action, of mind appears throughout the novel of Little Dorrit,” and this includes Mrs. Clennam’s “denial of time” (Price 131). Though she does deny time when she regards the unchanging room and seasons, her phrase “Do Not Forget” is a suspension of time that shirks real time in favor of continually remaining throughout time in a stasis. She says, “‘Do not forget.’ It spoke to me like a voice from an angry cloud. Do not forget the deadly sin, do not forget the appointed discovery, do not forget the appointed suffering. I did not forget. Was it my wrong I remembered? Mine! I was but a servant and a minister” (“Little” 808). In the same way that Miss Havisham does not forget her past, Mrs. Clennam does the exact same, perhaps most explicitly. These women revel in stasis of their own misery, freezing time to “not forget” transgressions against them. Miss Wade is also an example of a Dickensian woman who refuses to forget her past and the wrongs done to her, vengeful towards everyone and affecting her environment.
Moreover, Mrs. Clennam shares other qualities with Miss Wade and Miss Havisham. Price says, “A principle contrast with ‘arrest’ is the growth toward fulfillment. So energetic is the vitality of normal growth that the arrest must become a strenuous pressure, a violence committed upon oneself or upon others” (Price 132). We see this in Miss Havisham, Mrs. Clennam, Mrs. Skewton, and even (now) Miss Wade. Price goes on to say that Miss Wade has “learned to interpret all experience as grievance” and Mrs. Clennam thrives in self-punishment who has “created a ‘monstrous idol’ of her ‘vindictive pride and rage,’” giving their manipulated stasis a strange vanity to it as they have made themselves essentially into martyrs (Price 132). Price also notes that “Both women cling to their wrongs, Mrs. Clennam in severe self-punishment, Miss Wade in bitter retaliation. Neither can relinquish her torment” (Price 132). Like Miss Havisham, these women do seem particularly attached to the idea of suspending themselves in their wrongs, arresting time itself to stay there, and it seems all these women, not only Miss Havisham, have bestowed a curse upon themselves – a curse that seems to link closely to a distorted sort of vanity until something moves and the temporal structure is allowed to dissolve into a resolution.
However, it might seem that Miss Wade never relinquishes her vengeance and remains in a stasis, doomed to be stuck in the cycle of “return of the repressed” forever, but Tattycoram seems to solve this as Tattycoram exhibits similar feelings to that of Miss Wade toward the Meagles – a sort of unbearable resentment towards them. Within Miss Wade’s realm of vengeful stasis (or at the threshold of her theoretical black hole), Miss Wade can manipulate (“missuade”) Tattycoram (Tatty even admits this once she rejoins the Meagles), but once Tattycoram scrounges up the courage to escape from Miss Wade’s grasp, the vengeance had on the Meagles and on Tattycoram dissolves. Though it might be upsetting to modern readers that Tatty would return to the Meagles because of their (mis)treatment of her, it does reinforce the continuing pattern of Dickensian women who function as manipulative black holes, arrested in their own development and disappointed futures based on wrongs from the past
Also similar to Miss Havisham, Mrs. Clennam’s stoppage of time disintegrates once she, the manipulator of this temporal binding, is removed from the house itself. “Before her ghostly figure, so long unused to its erect attitude, and so stiffened in it, Rigaud fell back and dropped his voice. It was, to all the three, almost as if a dead woman had risen” (“Little” 817). The description of Mrs. Clennam as being similar to a ghost or a dead woman is similar to Miss Havisham being described as a “spectre” (actually, Mrs. Clennam is also described as a “spectral woman” on page 819). Both women are entombed in a stasis that extends to even their environments, and it is in the moments they become the most alive that this stasis disintegrates. Upon Mrs. Clennam’s return to her house, it “heaved, surged outward, opened asunder in fifty places, collapsed, and fell,” and Mrs. Clennam “dropped upon the stones; and she never from that hour moved so much as a finger again, or had the power to speak one word” noting that “she lived and died a statue” (“Little” 827). Price also notes this moment, saying that once Mrs. Clennam relinquishes her repeated/stasis torment, “her house falls as if it had been the edifice of her will, and she survives it in only three years of paralysis and ‘rigid silence’” (Price 132). In relinquishing her vain vengeance and temporal hold on the house (and herself) true time is allowed to catch up with both, causing them to finally collapse and desist in existence.
It’s also useful to note other versions of female arrested development found in Dickens’s novels, though they don’t have the black hole power that other female characters, such as Miss Havisham, Miss Wade, and Mrs. Clennam, do. These characters seemingly have no control over their stasis and are unwillingly imprisoned temporally. One such character, and perhaps the most notable one for this example, is Maggie from Little Dorrit. Little Dorrit recounts to Arthur the dooming history of Maggie, telling “When Maggie was ten years old… she had a bad fever, sir, and she has never grown any older ever since” (“Little”116). Maggie even nods her head in assent to this in true belief that she is only ten years old despite her actual age being 28. Interestingly, however, though Maggie is temporally trapped at ten years old, she seems to be a character least concerned with time. She is unwillingly governed by the stasis of her existence, but she pays no mind to the racing world around her while other characters are constantly and willingly being made aware (either by others or by themselves) of time and its passing.
Another character that exemplifies a unique form of arrested development is Flora Finching, who is seemingly temporally imprisoned twenty years in the past when she was the love of Arthur Clennam. Price notes this as well, pointing out how Arthur has noticed the change, but Flora hopes time has not changed her or Arthur. “She is a large woman, a little given to drink, locked up in a coy and breathless monologue. Within its protection she can believe what she says… She has moments of shrewdness which she cannot sustain and perhaps conceals from herself. She buries them in a torrent of girlish and ‘literary’ talk” (Price 132). Flora attempts to remain (vainly) the girlish child she was years before, believing that she can talk her way into continuing to be that young figure – testing her ability to charm others with her talk, despite it being more comic and a bit bothersome to characters (like Arthur) who have grown with time and suddenly can’t get a word in due to Flora’s domination of the dialogue.
Now, regarding black holes, all these women’s relations to black holes thus far seem loose at best. However, black holes do exactly what these women do over time, and once it relinquishes its temporal energy and gravity, it and the affected area around it dissolve (Sutter). In almost all cases – Miss Havisham, Mrs. Clennam, Miss Wade, Mrs. Skewton, and their respective homes – the manipulators of arrested time and their extended self-environment hybrid dissolve once they relinquish their energy or stasis of vengeance. Black holes emit Hawking Radiation in the form of virtual particles – particles that could be akin to the havoc these women wreak on other people’s lives such as Arthur Clennam, Amy, Estella, Pip, Tattycoram, the Meagles, and other characters. Once this vengeance (particles) is used up, the temporal stasis is interrupted and arrested time is allowed to dissolve into actual time, and the effects of the black hole around time and space cease to exist.
Black holes also are in a confined, condensed space similar to that of these characters, most particularly Miss Havisham and Mrs. Clennam who remain tucked away in a cluttered room with heaps of decay in Satis House or a small room in a house, both of which are unchanging. Since these rooms and these women are unchanging, it seems there is little resemblance to how they could function as a black hole since black holes eventually eat themselves up and dissolve, but throughout the novels, this is exactly what happens. Miss Havisham’s eventual guilt for what she has done to Pip – she continuously asks him to write “I forgive her” under her name – through her vengeful vanity and process of creating the heartless Estella for the mere purpose of hurting men is the factor of energy that consumes itself and her while still affecting other characters. Mrs. Clennam follows a similar progression when the righteous act of retrieving the box of papers that would do great emotional damage to Arthur should he read them overpowers her vengeance, and what has been eating away at her (she indeed “did not forget,” especially with that gold watch next to her every moment) finally starts to dissolve her entirely, and death consumes her in the end and both women’s homes dissolve with them as if a black hole had finally eaten away at itself.
As Brooks says in his article, “The past needs to be incorporated as past within the present, mastered through the play of repetition in order for there to be an escape from repetition: in order for there to be difference, change, progress” (Brooks 519). Regarding the stasis of time, black holes are an exemplary model for this notion. If the condensed density, like a confined room, of a black hole with its enormous gravity causes time to come to a standstill, the past and present become fused as what could be interpreted as a means of “not forgetting” something. Black holes are also fueled by their own energy which eventually consumes and dissolves them, and Dickensian women in a temporal binding are also fueled by their own energy based on vanity and vengeance for past transgressions. Time as a metaphor for a disappointed future, then, is entirely appropriate because for even black holes, the future is bleak as both expended (vengefulness against other characters) and internalized (vanity, guilt) energy causes them to dissolve regardless – precisely like the women in these novels. And despite the lingering temporal stasis, the dissolution of these women and everything they manipulate and influence, is the resolution for ruin (arrested development) that finally, instead of the repressed returning, it is the natural order – the order of the universe, even a Dickensian one – that is essentially returned.
Brooks, Peter. “Repetition, Repression, and Return: Great Expectations and the Study of Plot.” New Literary History, Vol 11. No. 3 On Narrative and Narratives. John Hopkins University Press, Spring 1980.
Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son. Penguin Books, 2002.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Penguin Books, 2003.
Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Penguin Books, 2003.
Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “What are Black Holes?” Universe Forum. NASA, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. https://lweb.cfa.harvard.edu/seuforum/bh_whatare.htm
Price, Martin. “Dickens: Selves and Systems.” Forms of Life: Character and Moral Imagination in the Novel. Yale University Press, 1983.
Sutter, Paul. “Do Black Holes Die?” LiveScience. Purch, 29 Sept. 2016. https://www.livescience.com/56321-do-black-holes-die.html
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