Charles Dickens met Maria Beadnell when he was 17 years old. He got along famously with Maria’s family from the start. He and all the Beadnell girls had a marvelous time together, laughing and singing and generally carrying on as much as Victorian teenagers were allowed. Charles fell head over heels for the lovely Maria, and he fell hard. She, in turn, was apparently smitten with him, as well. Either that or she played the part very convincingly.
Unfortunately for him, Charles wasn’t a good catch. As a lowly court reporter with no clear expectations for more on the horizon, he was not at all the sort of man the Beadnells wanted to see their daughter marry. After the Beadnells found out John Dickens had been incarcerated in Marshalsea for a time that was apparently the last nail in that coffin. The Beadnell pater sent Maria packing to the continent, to cool things off a little. When she returned Maria was a different sort of girl. She was cold and aloof to Charles, making him feel very hurt and puzzled. Though he’d nursed his flame for her the entire time she was away, she’d apparently moved beyond him. After a few attempts to reconcile, Charles ultimately had to give up his hopes for Maria. He slunk away, heartbroken.
Cold, aloof, beautiful and trifling with a man’s affections. Sounds like Estella to me. Though it’s rash to jump to conclusions, I would really not be surprised to think this defining episode in his life ultimately made it into Dickens’s fiction. Was Dickens thinking of Maria when he wrote Great Expectations? Hopefully I’ll find an answer to that somewhere.