How old is Miss Havisham?

Age and Gender Performances in Great Expectations and Sunset Boulevard


  • Marta Miquel Baldellou University of Lleida



The characters of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard address a matrix of age, gender, and performance through significant points of intertextuality. They epitomize what Anne Morey has referred to as “the elegiac female grotesque” to depict older women’s overstated performances of age and gender; these performances can be interpreted as ambivalent, insofar as they personify the abjection of female aging, but they also subvert the dictates of age imposed on women. Given the transformative quality of performance that characterizes both age and gender, critics such as Deborah Jermyn have argued for the need to revisit representations of aging women with special insight into their performative and, ultimately, transformative dimensions. With this purpose in mind, this article analyzes the performances of age and gender that these two classic characters exhibit, examines how they respectively overstate age and deny it, and reveals how they represent an ambivalent dimension of age performativity—acting age and acting against age—which still prevails in current cultural representations of female aging.

Author Biography

Marta Miquel Baldellou, University of Lleida

is a Postdoctoral Researcher and a member of the research group Dedal-Lit at the University of Lleida, as well as a member of the European Network of Aging Studies. She is currently participating in a three-year government-funded project entitled “Aging, Quality of Life and Creativity through Narrative” (FFI2016-79666-R). The results of her research into aging have recently been published in Traces of Aging: Old Age and Memory in Contemporary Narrative (eds. Marta Cerezo and Nieves Pascual, Transcript, 2016), and Literary Creativity and the Older Woman Writer: A Col- lection of Critical Essays (eds. Núria Casado, Emma Domínguez, and Brian Worsfold, Peter Lang, 2016). Her areas of research are aging studies, nine- teenth-century literature, popular fiction, and comparative studies. Readers may write to Dr. Miquel-Baldellou


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How to Cite

Miquel Baldellou, M. “How Old Is Miss Havisham? : Age and Gender Performances in Great Expectations and Sunset Boulevard”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 3, Jan. 2018, pp. 57-93, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v3i.130155.