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Miss Havisham’s Curiosities

There are ways and means of expressing your deepest sentiments. And if you love doing everything with class and elegance, and you know what it means to wait for the right moment, why not do it around a good cup of tea? Melissa Johnson, an animation producer from Los Angeles, California, was able to combine the two things through her Miss Havisham’s Curiosities project, a charming world made of antiques, fashion, gardening, taxidermy, travel and, of course, cups of tea.

If you really need to say something you’d never say in a conventional way, now you just have to select one insult per set from a menu. “Kindly f**k off”, “Stop Talking”, “No one likes you”, “Please Go Die”, “We hate your baby”… Because “if you got hate in your heart, you gotta let it out.”

Miss Havisham’s Finishing School
Salomé – feat. Salomé (1907) by Jean Benner

Melissa took her inspiration from the home of her great-grandparents, where she grew up, and which she describes as “filled with dark wood, chandeliers, and worn-out deco furniture”. Her grandmother, was a lady with a not easily labeled life and career.

“She’d once owned a hair salon,” Melissa told No Man’s Land, “she’d worked for the local government, she was an antique dealer, she sold real estate. One day she was taking French classes and the next day she was embroidering ducks on pillow cases. There really wasn’t much rhyme or reason to it. She was just looking for something to keep herself occupied.

Pip Waits on Miss Havisham (1862) by Marcus Stone – Second illustration for the 1861 Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations novel. Passage Illustrated: “‘Look at me,’ said Miss Havisham. ‘You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?'” (Ch. 8), facing p. 65 [p. 81 in the Nonesuch Edition rpt. 2005]

Melissa’s is a striking example of how grandparents often leave an indelible mark on a person’s childhood. “She wasn’t the happiest lady, she had a bad temper and a mouth like a sailor. One of her many ventures was as an antique dealer. Her specialty was china and glassware. The house was full of mismatched pieces, essentially nothing matched. She used to write offensive things on broken or chipped pieces, often in nail polish.

She moved from project to project constantly. She also embroidered funny sayings into intricate quilts. At one point she wanted to be a cake decorator so she and I took an ill-fated cake decorating class. My sister had to take a class with her on being a clown. I remember at one point I had a school play and needed a costume. She went into her closet and pulled out a Victorian mourning gown and a stole dyed bright blue.

Her art projects were her way of expressing her dissatisfaction with the world.”

Miss Havisham (1910) – Illustration by Harry Furniss from the 1861 Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations novel
Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, in 2011 BBC television drama adaptation, by Sarah Phelps, of the Charles Dickens’ 1861 Great Expectations novel
Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham in 2012 film adaptation, by Mike Newell, of the Charles Dickens’ 1861 Great Expectations novel – Photo: Johan Persson

The name of Melissa’s project comes from a character in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations — 1861. Amelia Havisham is a wealthy spinster, once jilted at the altar, who insists on wearing her wedding dress for the rest of her life. She lives in a ruined mansion with her adopted daughter, Estella. Dickens describes her as looking like “the witch of the place”.

This side of the novel seems to fit very well with the spirit of Melissa’s world. They drink tea every bloody day and have a cat army. They work on a 45 day turnaround and hate everyone, “but not you though, dear.” Which means that if you are one of those who happens to run into Miss Havisham’s Curiosities because of their cups, waiting time for receiving one of them won’t be so quickly since currently each cup is insulted by hand and that takes time — nothing personal.

You’ve been poisoned / Bye
Stop talking
Live deliciously
Tea and Bones
Dead inside
Rise and Shine, Dummy
Such a Nasty Woman
We hate your baby
Kindly f**k off
You are tedious
I could poison you
I hope you choke
Mommy Dearest
I don’t want kids
No one likes you
Blessed be the tea

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