The two endings of Great Expectations

Most paperback editions of Great Expectations include the original ending of the novel, but it is reproduced here in case it is not included in the copy you have.

In the original text in Ch. 59; Vol. 3, Ch. 20), after Pip's words ‘all gone by, Biddy, all gone by!' came the following paragraph:

The original ending

It was four years more, before I saw herself. I had heard of her as leading a most unhappy life, and as being separated from her husband who had used her with great cruelty, and who had become quite renowned as a compound of pride, brutality, and meanness. I had heard of the death of her husband (from an accident consequent on ill-treating a horse), and of her being married again to Shropshire doctor, who, against his interest, had once very manfully interposed, on an occasion when he was in professional attendance on Mr. Drummle, and had witnessed some outrageous treatment of her. I had heard that the Shropshire doctor was not rich, and that they lived on her own personal fortune.
I was in England again, in London, and walking along Piccadilly with little Pip when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady was driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another.
‘I am greatly changed, I know, but I thought that you would like to shake hands with Estella too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it!' (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.)
I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering has been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.

Dickens allowed himself to be persuaded – among others by his friend and fellow-novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton -that this ending would not be acceptable to his readers and that he should write something more optimistic.


Read the two endings carefully and try to answer these questions:
  • Which of the endings comes closer to your own expectations as you came towards the end of the book?
  • Which of the endings seems to you the more probable?
  • If Dickens had retained the first ending, what difference would it make to your reading of the novel?
  • Do you think that the second ending implies that Pip and Estella are happily reunited and get married? Give reasons for and against this view.
  • Do you think that the narrative sounds as though it is written by a man who is happily married to the woman of his dreams?
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