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The novel "is too serious a book to be a

trivially happy one. Its beginning is unhappy;


its middle is unhappy; and the conventional
happy ending is an outrage on it."
(George Bernard Shaw on Great Expectations)

Dickens wrote Great Expectations in the latter years of his life, a stage when he has
himself suffered the bitter realities of life. In Pip’s realization of the falsehood of life and
his expectation, we see Dickens own life reflected. The revised ending of Great
Expectations can be said to end paradoxically with a beginning, just as Paradise Lost
does. Trying times lie ahead for Pip and Estella. Estella’s beauty has lost its bloom; Pip
has lost a fortune. The challenge facing them is to discover how much can be made of
what is left. Can her battered spirit and his long disappointed hopes be assuaged? This
paradox seems to reflect the questions that were haunting Dickens at a time when he has
been divorced for two years and Dickens own life was coming to a close.

Though much more depressing, many critics consider the first ending more true to the
story's themes. Their argument, in some cases, is that the entire point of the book was that
Pip must come to realize happiness through his own internal process and not through
some external situation (such as position or wealth) or person (like Estella).

Nevertheless, there is some justice in Estella and Pip finally finding love in each other.
Because of their difficulties, they seem both to have come to a realization of what it
means to be happy and therefore are ready for a healthy relationship with each other.
Chapter Nineteen demonstrated that Pip had been living an upright life for 11 years when
he finally runs into Estella again. Estella might be seen as the final reward for a true
Victorian gentleman.

And, although we are not witness to Estella's transformation from ice queen to sensitive
lady, we, as readers, must in the end forgive her for her treatment of Pip. Estella, moreso
than Pip, represents the abused child, the true victim of circumstance, that Dickens
presents in many other characters throughout his novels. Estella had no choice in her lot
in life -- she was born to criminals and brought up to be emotionless by a cold, vengeful
woman. Even Estella's marriage to Drummle, and her abuse in that relationship, is
predesigned by powers beyond her control. While Pip had good friends in Joe and
Herbert and Wemmick, Estella had only jealously bitter relatives.

Estella's life, in fact, is nearly identical to the lives of both her criminal parents. She has
been trapped, nearly imprisoned, throughout her life, but literally and figuratively. Estella
is trapped in a house without daylight for her entire childhood and then moved, like a
prisoner herself, to houses in Paris and then London. Finally, she ends up trapped in an
abusive marriage. Estella's past, her roots, her beginnings, are symbolized not by the
warm fire of the forge, as is Pip's case, but in the barren empty lot where the Satis House
once stood.

Estella is the true victim of society's values. It is a miracle that she emerged sane or with
any feelings at all. And so, like Pip, we must forgive her and wish the two of them well.

Great Expectations
The Controversial Endings
Wilkie Collins, a close friend and author of The Woman in White, objected to the not-
happy ending Dickens first wrote for Great Expectations; Estella has remarried and Pip
remains single. Dickens then wrote a more conventional ending, which suggests that Pip
and Estella will marry. Writing to friends about the revised ending, Dickens seems
positive: "I have put in as pretty a little piece of writing as I could, and I have no doubt
the story will be more acceptable through the alteration" and "Upon the whole I think it is
for the better."

The second ending has generally been published from Dickens's time to our own, so that
it is the one which most readers know. Critics have been arguing the merits of both
endings since the novel's publication. Dickens's friend and biographer, John Forster, felt
the original ending was "more consistent with the draft, as well as the natural working out
of the tale." The writers George Gissing, George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell, William
Dean Howells, Edmund Wilson and Angus Wilson agreed with Forster's preference. In
modern criticism, the stronger arguments tend to support the second ending.

This is a question which you may decide for yourself, since the text we read in this class
includes both endings. I will list some of the arguments on both sides, without comment,
for your consideration.

The Original Ending

The original ending is not so hopeful; although it gives a deeper understanding of Estella.
Pip feels that Estella has suffered from Miss Havisham's emotional manipulation as he
did. This therefore, makes Estella a more empathetic character. The unhappy
circumstances of her first marriage described in this passage elicit further empathy. The
original ending also conveys the theme of the novel as anti-aristocratic. Neither Pip nor
Estella has found happiness while wealthy. At the end of the novel, Pip becomes happier
when, having had to work overseas, he returns home and re-establishes ties with Joe and
Biddy. The young Pip mentioned in the passage is their son. When Pip reconnects with
his working-class roots and begins his modest employment as a clerk he is much more
content with life than when he was attempting to be a “gentleman." This passage, then,
illustrates Dickens's notion that members of the aristocracy are often morally flawed
while the lower-middle and working classes are not: people, he implies, should be judged
on their work, not on their clothes. Estella's deceased husband, Bentley Drummle,
demonstrates throughout the book that wealth may produce negative character traits.
Drummle is selfish and cruel, and, although a gentleman technically, is not the gentle
man that Joe is, for Joe treats everyone with respect and kindness.

The following arguments are given in support of the original ending:

• George Bernard Shaw: The novel "is too serious a book to be a trivially happy
one. Its beginning is unhappy; its middle is unhappy; and the conventional happy
ending is an outrage on it."
• The second ending is an artistically indefensible and morally cheap about-face; its
purpose is to please a popular audience which expects a conventional happy
ending (i.e., marriage).
• In the second ending, Pip gets more than he deserves. As a result, Dickens
confuses the social and moral meanings of the novel.
• Estella's conversion in the second ending is not only unconvincing but contradicts
the logic of the narrative and excuses the way Miss Havisham raised her. Miss
Havisham does not need to be forgiven or redeemed, since neither Pip nor Estella
was really damaged.
• In the original ending, though Estelle is softened by her suffering, she remains the
lady, with the same characteristic superiority, who is perhaps slightly
condescending to Pip.

The Second Ending

In the revised ending, Dickens gives Pip and Estella--and the reader--hope: “I took her
hand in mine . . . I saw no shadow of another parting from her." This line gives the reader
some grounds for optimism that Pip and Estella, both improved morally by suffering, will
develop a lasting bond. The public loved this ending. The novel follows many subgenres
such as the gothic novel, the Newgate novel, the Silver Fork novel, the novel of crime
and detection, the serial novel, the historical novel and, most importantly in connection
with this passage, the romance. Pip's obsession with Estella becomes a motivation for his
becoming a gentleman, for only a refined lover (thinks adolescent Pip) will do for the
aristocratic Estella. The novel ends happily to inspire readers with the wonderful second
chance at happiness that Pip might have with Estella. With this original ending, Great
Expectations would not have fulfilled the expectations of these various subgenres; rather,
the ending looks much more modern if Estella is married again to a Shropshire doctor
after the brutal Drummle treated her outrageously. As in his writing The Old Curiosity
Shop, Dickens must have sensed that the public and even his critics would not accept
anything less than a happy ending.
• The second ending continues the imagery of the garden and the mist and is better
written.
• The second ending continues the patterns of union and separation and
reconciliation, the connection of the past and the present, and Pip and Estella's
meetings at Satis House.
• The lovers deserve to be happy because they have suffered deeply; their suffering
has changed them so much that they are no longer the same people.
• It is appropriate that Magwitch's daughter finds happiness with Pip.
• Martin Price argues that the mature Pip, with the saving humor of self-acceptance,
finally sees Estella as what she is; therefore, it seems appropriate she can return to
him. "Each is a fantasist who has grown into maturity; each is a fantasist that has
dwindled into humanity."

There are a few critics who have taken a third position; the novel should stop before
Estella's final appearance. They note that Dickens, in his working notes on the novel,
follows Pip's later career but does not refer to Estella. Miss Havisham referred to Estella's
marriage many chapters earlier, so that there is no need to bring her up again; her fate is
known.

Great Expectations is actually a tragedy in essence although not in the true sense of the
word, Harold Bloom has compared Pip with Hamlet. In one of his essays he writes that:

“I hold with those who believe that Dickens ruined the original ending, which held out
no hope for Pip and Estella. The revised ending is equivocal, but perhaps not equivocal
enough. You can end a Hamlet transcendentally, but not happily.”

Although the romantic Victorians have been disappointed with the original ending of the
novel but where the revised ending may represent hope, it can never serve the purpose of
catharsis. The original ending is most appropriate for Great Expectations because Pip
and Estella keep their respectable attitudes and Pip goes full circle. The themes that flow
throughout the book are preserved and the attitude is consistent all the way through the
story. Here Pip and Estella are apart, but this ending is not necessarily sad. It is pleasing
to see Estella's heart freed of its shackles and the mature woman, morally improved by
suffering, married to a small hero. Pip has found relief, according to this ending, because
he knows that Estella can finally relate to his old feelings. We see that Pip has continued
a strong relationship with Joe and Biddy because he is with little Pip, who is now old
enough to walk. Therefore, the reader knows that Pip must himself be happy and
contented in life. The realistic ending is almost more romantic than the other because of
its plausibility.

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