The jewel in the crown

Steph Harmon wrote in The Guardian of 7 Feb 2018:

“Under the dirt in St Stephen’s Anglican churchyard in Newtown, a suburb in Sydney’s inner west, lies the remains of Eliza Emily Donnithorne: one of the most storied characters of the suburb’s colourful past.

According to some versions of the tragic tale, Donnithorne was 30 when the love of her life proposed. As she was a member of the city’s social elite, her wedding in 1856 was to be a gala attended by hundreds – but her fiance never showed up.

Heartbroken but headstrong, Miss Donnithorne demanded that the banquet and the house remain ready for his arrival. The table stayed set for a party, the door remained opened, and for three decades she waited. She died in 1886, still in her wedding dress.

If the story sounds familiar, it should: legend has that Charles Dickens’ character of Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, was based on Donnithorne. It’s one of a few connections between the great author and Australia that will be explored when the International Dickens Fellowship Conference arrives in Sydney this October…

Louise Owens, the president of the NSW Dickens Society, has been singled out as the “driving force” behind Sydney’s successful bid for the conference, which she expects will bring up to 150 Dickens enthusiasts to town.

She tells Guardian Australia the Donnithorne/Havisham story is “hotly debated”…

The Sydney event was announced on Wednesday morning – Dickens’ 206th birthday – underneath a marble statue of the author, which was erected in 1891 at Centennial Parklands in Sydney. The statue has its own “strange, chequered history”, according to Owens. When he died in 1870, Dickens’s will stipulated there be no “monument, memorial or testimonial” to be made of him, preferring that people remember him by his work instead…

The statue, commissioned by Sir Henry Parkes – a regular correspondent of Dickens – is a “huge drawcard for ‘Dickensians’”, Owens says. She’s met people at Dickens conferences in Italy and Scotland who are planning the trip to Sydney just to see it. “The question is whether Parkes commissioned it before he knew of Dickens’s request, or whether he just ignored it.”

Adding insult to injury, the entire monument went missing – for almost four decades…

The statue was found in a basement in Rozelle…the statue is back together and planted precisely where Dickens didn’t want it: in the public eye…

The conference, which runs in Sydney from 25-30 October, will feature a talk from Booker prize-winning author Thomas Keneally about two of Dickens’ nine children, Alfred and Edward, who moved to NSW in the 1850s…

Dr Cindy Sughrue, the director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, will be delivering a virtual tour through Dickens’s home…the State Library of NSW will be making its own Dickens collection available to the public

Prof Christine Alexander will deliver an illustrated talk about the Gad’s Hill Gazette: a weekly family newspaper published by Dickens and his sons between 1861 and 1866, 21 copies of which she has traced through libraries in the US and the UK. At another event, Scott Whitmont – a Sydney bookseller and collector – will speak about his great-great-great uncle Ikey Solomon: a convict who was transported to Tasmania in 1831, widely believed to be the inspiration for Fagin in Oliver Twist.

There will be a trivia night and literary tours but Owens believes the prize ticket will be to a night at Vaucluse House, a historical estate built in the Dickens era, and home to the Wentworth family. A candlelit private tour of the land and house will be followed by a banquet designed by gastronomer Jacqui Newling, inspired by What Shall We Have For Dinner: a small book of recipes published by Dickens’s wife Catherine under the pseudonym Lady Maria Clutterbuck in 1851. “That’ll probably be the jewel in the crown,” Owens says.

Olivia Rutigliano wrote at Literary Hub on February 19, 2020:

“…The novel Great Expectations, which spans sixteen years, does not mention Miss Havisham’s age specifically, but Dickens’s own annotations evidently refer to her as “scarcely forty” when she is first introduced. LitHub has not been able to double-check this with the primary source yet (waiting on that interlibrary loan), but various other researchers, including director Mike Newell, have asserted that the novel contains evidence that she is forty. Actress Gillian Anderson has argued that if you add up a few numbers suggested at various points in the story, you can easily compute that Miss Havisham is actually 37, when we first meet her. “Scarcely forty.” So she might not even be forty when the novel starts. Which . . . is that worse? I don’t know if it’s worse. [Ed. note: it’s worse.]

Great Expectations, which creepily begins in a foggy cemetery, is a novel all about ghouls and monsters. Miss Havisham’s particular brand of monstrousness originates from her sadness, shame, and yearning—her spinsterhood is hyperbolized into grotesqueness.

She sees herself as a monster, too. “Look at me,” she commands  Pip. “You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?”…”

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