Did you know that Charles Dickens re-wrote the ending of Great Expectations?
He made this change after he’d submitted the final chapters to the printers in June 1861. He was apparently persuaded to make the change by a close friend who felt he should end the book in a way that left the reader hopeful that Pip and Estella might get together. It is recorded that Dickens was reluctant to make this change but was eventually won around to the idea of a more conventional ending that he had originally written.
The initial ending depicts Pip accidentally meeting Estella on the streets of London. Estella has lost her first abusive husband to death, but has remarried. Pip recounts this chance meeting as a once-off and there is not expectation by the reader that the two will ever get together. Pip does express a sense of satisfaction and peace that time has softened Estella and made her kinder.
The published ending depicts Pip accidentally discovering Estella in the abandoned garden of Satis house (Miss Havisham’s house that burned down) when he returns to visit Joe and Biddy after many years abroad. Estella has been widowed after an unhappy life with her abusive husband. In the final lines of the novel, Pip comments ambiguously that he “saw the shadow of no parting from her.”
This ending leaves the reader with the impression that Pip and Estella might finally be together but the nature of Dickens’ writing and the use of the word shadow hints at possible mists to come.
The misty marshes near Pip’s childhood home in Kent is an important setting in this book and is used as an instrument by Dickens to symbolize danger and uncertainty. Pip initially meets Magwitch the convict in the graveyard on the marshes on a misty evening and that has significant implications for his future. The search for the convicts by the police also happens in the mist as does Orlick’s kidnapping of Pip. The day Pip travels to London after receiving news of his great expectations is also depicted as being misty, as is the night when Magwitch arrives at his door later in the book.
The hint at shadows and mist in the closing paragraphs with Estella in the garden at Satis house could thus easily hint at further turmoil to come for Pip.
From another perspective, by the end of the novel, the reader is aware that Pip misreads situations and makes incorrect assumptions so the idea that this could be just another wistful idea or ‘expectation’ is not fully expelled.
Personally, I felt that the original ending would have been better and would have given Pip a real chance to move on with his life and find someone better and nicer than Estella. I did not like her even if she was a product of Miss Havisham’s upbringing.
What do you think? Which ending do you think is better for this novel? Do you think Pip and Estella get together based on your reading of the original ending?