Seen through an evolutionary framework, Estella from Great Expectations's counterintuitive romantic and reproductive decisions indicate Dickens's understanding of the space for individual female agency within a Darwinian environment. Critics have argued that her apparent lack of warmth and childless, violent first marriage signals the character's status as a biological failure, either due to her criminal birth parents or twisted upbringing by Miss Havisham, both of which can be understood in evolutionary terms. However, Estella's choice to pursue a path away from motherhood is not portrayed by Dicken as less “natural” or a problem to be diagnosed, but rather the deliberate actions of a figure with her own agenda, who must negotiate her biological drives as well as her own desires in pursuing her future. Dickens also explores other opportunities for feminine agency through the character of Biddy's educational labor and eventual marriage. His novel therefore portrays a more optimistic Darwinian environment, especially for women, than many of his contemporaries.

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