I have three sisters and one brother; I am in the middle. We are all creative in uniquely different ways. Debbie, the oldest, went to an archaic catholic school where the nuns still locked you in the closet for transgressions towards God. In her teens she was a modern dancer before her knees gave out, and through out her younger adult life she was a talented painter, potter, crafter and intermittent follower of Rajneesh Bhagwan.
Owing to a tumultuous relationship with our parents Debbie spent her last year at the house in a tiny cramped room at the back of our unfinished, cinder-block basement. With sixties bohemian flair, and youthful angst, she turned the barrack-like room into a semi-cozy hippie den that smelled of sandalwood and mildew. She even managed to install a television — this was something of a “big deal” as our mother considered the TV nothing less than a “damage box” allowing me only one hour a week of viewing; Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Jacques Cousteau or Masterpiece Theatre...
One afternoon my mother left me with Debbie… and the T.V. Little did I know I was about to look into a strange kind of mirror reflecting the ethos of my life.
Arranging my tiny frame in the corner of Debbie’s bed, I settled in — I thought — for one of her long tirades against parental authority and the “man.” My gaze continuously averted to the T.V. screen that was flipping through one commercial after the next, and then... David Lean’s Great Expectations came on.
While nervously listening for my mother’s car, I spent the next hour engulfed in what I can only describe as a kind of horrified bliss. Deathly afraid that I would get in trouble for watching an unsanctioned program on the demon box, but even more afraid that I would not be allowed to finish watching.
The planets aligned and I was miraculously able to see the entire movie. I was quite young so it is hard to put into words the effect this film had on me — no doubt significantly heightened by the fear of being caught.
Everything about the film was revelatory: the gentle, sincere, impoverished and abused boy whose life transforms through clothing and speech, the fascinating characters as well as the interiors where they lived and worked. I was immediately drawn into the cinematic, sweeping grey vistas and that house! Miss Havisham’s House, the overgrown gardens, the neglected and creaking gate; all that wealth and grandeur buried in dust. The explosion of release in that final scene when Pip wrenches the ancient decaying curtains from the windows, ripping away the old established order, ushering in a new more egalitarian era — I felt that I too had been shown the light.
Fast-forward about thirty years and Miss Havisham becomes a design mascot, a muse, a totemic matriarch of the beauty of 19th century decay, her surname used as a relatively well known descriptive term; Miss Havisham is now a look. It is highly unlikely others share the same experience as above but it seems clear I was not the only one who was smitten by her static excess.
I see Miss Havisham as an aesthetic of complexity, laced with nostalgia married with a character at once eccentric and deeply melancholy and combined with a style well-suited for flea market finds.
This is not to make light of her attributes, Miss Havisham represented (represents) grandeur in decline; a perfect marriage of high and low, both aesthetically and conceptually. This was an aesthetic I think we needed in the eighties environment where it first emerged, with it’s Reaganite emphasis on winners and wealth wrapped in a glossy package, sporting excessive shoulders, and promoting John Hughes movies with their suburban, pocket-sized, digestible youth angst. The Havisham aesthetic, with its depiction of luxury while simultaneously incorporating its decadence and decline, was reflecting both the status driven eighties ethos as well as the emergence of a more incorporative era rising, like a phoenix, from the ashes of the old.
An era I innately felt would welcome some one the likes of me.