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The Two Endings One of the most curious aspects of Great Expectations is the existence of altern ative endings,

whose relative merits and implications have been passionately deb ated by critics, ever since the unused ending was published as a footnote in For ster s 1870 biography of Dickens. (The most detailed study of the case is Putting a n End to Great Expectations , an essay by Edgar Rosenberg, published in the Norton Critical Edition.) Many writers have revised or tweaked details of the text aft er publication notably Henry James but it s hard to think of another major novel i n English which presents this delicate problem. Dickens sent the last chapters of Great Expectations to the printer in the middl e of June 1861. To relax after his efforts, he then went to stay with his wealth y aristocratic friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a hugely popular crime and historica l novelist (no longer read today) whom he greatly admired and respected. Dickens decided we don t know precisely why - to show his host the last chapters of Great Expectations in proof. What Bulwer-Lytton read in the final paragraphs was this: Pip hears that the oaf ish Bentley Drummle has died and Estella has quietly remarried a country doctor. One day, two years after his return from the east, I was in England again in London, and walking along Piccadilly with little Pip hen a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carr iage who wished to speak to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady wa s driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another. I am greatly changed, I know, but I thought you would like to shake hands with Es tella too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it! (She supposed the c hild, I think, to be my child.) I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in he r voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering had been st ronger than Miss Havisham s teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be. Bulwer-Lytton advised Dickens against this downbeat ending again, on what precis e grounds we do not know for certain. Bulwer was so very anxious that I should al ter the end and stated his reasons so well, that I have resumed the wheel, and ta ken another turn at it. Upon the whole I think it is for the better was his expla nation for the change in a letter to Wilkie Collins, and one can only assume tha t Bulwer-Lytton had told Dickens, in the manner of a Hollywood producer, that th e public would crave a more positive outcome to the novel. The substitution, almost always selected in modern editions, has Pip and the wid owed Estella meeting in the grounds of Satis House. I little thought , said Estella, that I should take leave of you in taking leave of this spot. I am very glad to do so. Glad to part again, Estella? To me, parting is a painful thing. To me, the rememb rance of our last parting has been ever mournful and painful. But you said to me, returned Estella, very earnestly. God bless you, God forgive yo u! And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taugh t me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but I hope into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and te ll me we are friends. w

We are friends, ter

said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the benChap said Estella.

And will continue friends apart, I g e I

took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the mornin mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists wer rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, saw no shadow of another parting from her.

Just to complicate the matter, the final line also exists in two other versions. I saw no shadow of another parting from her has been the standard reading in edit ions since 1862, presumably authorised by Dickens, but the first editions read I saw the shadow of no parting from her , while the manuscript reads I saw the shadow of no parting from her, but one. The Piccadilly ending has an exquisitely understated and offhand melancholy to i t, matched to the tough message that life does not neatly deliver one s dreams of perfect happiness all Great Expectations are doomed, even when, like Pip, you ha ve learnt lessons the hard way. Dickens knew this first-hand: in 1855, when his marriage was collapsing, he had been overwhelmed with excitement on receiving ou t of the blue a letter from Maria Beadnell, the great passion of his youth, whom he had not seen for over twenty years. Their subsequent reunion was a disillusi oning disappointment, inasmuch as Maria proved to be a plump and garrulous marri ed matron devoid of her former allure. Estella was Pip s dream as Maria was Dicken s - a dream from which he had to wake. The Satis House ending has usually been thought to imply that Pip and Estella wa lk off into the sunset together. But there is considerable and, I think, deliber ate ambiguity to that last line. Although they leave holding hands, Estella has just stated that she wishes to remain alone ( and will continue friends apart ), whi le a couple of pages previously Pip has told Biddy that he intends to remain a b achelor. Of course, they may be protesting too much, as people do, and in truth mean the opposite. But the joining of hands could be amicable rather than romant ic, and what Pip perhaps means in the final line is that their parting in the ru ins of the past had been final, because any bitterness or misunderstanding had b een emotionally resolved and they did not need to meet again both can now go onw ards into their own separate lives. Had Dickens wanted Pip and Estella to live t ogether happily ever after, he could easily have done what he does at the ends o f David Copperfield, Little Dorrit and Bleak House and told us as much. The second ending shows Dickens trying to have it both ways. He didn t want to bet ray Pip and Estella with the merry sound of wedding bells followed by the patter of tiny feet which Bulwer-Lytton probably advised, but entertainer that he was, always with one eye on the market, he must also have realised that his sentimen tal readership wouldn t have felt satisfied by the bittersweet inconsequentiality of the meeting in Piccadilly. The first edition s awkwardly phrased I saw the shad ow of no parting from her does indeed imply marriage, and the manuscript s I saw the shadow of no parting from her, but one is even more emphatic, implying their uni on unto death. Yet Dickens scratched both of those versions out, and his last th ought was to authorise something which allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusion. That said, I still feel the Piccadilly ending is truer to the book s underlying mo od (as does Edgar Rosenberg in the Norton Critical Edition essay). For those who demur, the case for the Satis House ending is forcefully made by Q D Leavis in Dickens the Novelist.