In this book, Frame allows one of the greatest characters in English literature to tell her story. Miss Havisham, from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, is the crazy old lady who, after being abandoned at the altar, closes up her house, leaves the wedding feast to rot on the table and wears her wedding gown for the rest of her life.
In Frame’s story, we learn about Catherine Havisham’s youth as the motherless daughter of a wealthy brewer. Catherine loves her father and is proud of the family name, but she has no peers. Lonely, she chooses Sally, the daughter of a servant, as her best friend. In her way, Catherine loves Sally, but they have an odd relationship. Catherine confides in Sally, but she never treats Sally as an equal, and Sally never confides in Catherine. Mr. Havisham, wanting his daughter to rise socially, sends Catherine to live with the aristocratic Chadwycks. From the Widow Chadwyck and her children, Catherine is meant to learn the manners, the dialect, and the ways of the gentry. They study the classics and arrange themselves in tableaux. However, the lessons she learns from the Chadwycks cause her to be romantically naïve and overly dramatic—setting her on the road to becoming the character we know she must become.
Through his extraordinary writing, Frame gives the narrative to Miss Havisham, but does not make her sympathetic. The reader never feels close to her. Even as she tells the story, Catherine keeps us at a distance. Readers familiar with Great Expectations know the tragedy that will befall Miss Havisham. We cringe at her bad choices, wrong assumptions, and spiteful schemes, but realize that no other way lies before her. Frame clearly shows how a naïve brewer’s daughter became the horrible Miss Havisham.