Abstract

Against the background of the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, this essay returns to Charles Dickens and Great Expectations, especially his infamous recluse Miss Havisham, and asks what relationship we might discover between Miss Havisham’s solitude, that of many medieval holy women, and the author’s own. Reading the novel as largely to do with class and money, patriarchal capitalism, and the affective ruptures generated by social, economic, and cultural mobility, the Middle Ages seem far from its concerns. Yet solitude, loneliness, and death haunt the texts by and about all of these women (characters). The essay argues for an affective history, as what drew the author to Miss Havisham was her own complex emotional response to solitude, to reading, and to particular texts from the Middle Ages, in this case Mechthild of Magdeburg’s The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Are we ever really alone if God visits us—or if we have a good book?

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