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Despite Pip's offenses and despite his moral and emotional deterioration, we continue to feel sympathy for and even to like Pip. Why? Is it that he frankly admits his faulty behavior and attitudes and speaks as one who not only sees but feels his offenses?. Is the hardship of Pip's childhood a possible reason for continuing to like Pip? Christopher Ricks offers another explanation:
we are disinclined to pursue vengefully a sinner who gets so little pleasure out of his sin; remorse at his ingratitude to Joe, fear and insecurity about his great expectations, and hopeless yearning for Estella, all combine to make him appropriately unhappy.... Yet in a more elementary way Pip's unhappiness is one of the strongest reasons why we keep our sympathy for him. And without that sympathy the novel could not begin to express its darker purpose.


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.

Arguments Favoring 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.

Arguments Favoring the Second 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.


Day 1 Pages 1-124
    Overview of Dickens
    Some General Comments
    Dickens and Society
    The Opening of Great Expectations
    Pip's Sense of Guilt
Day 2 Pages 125-253
    Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham
Day 3 Pages 254-366
    Pip's Expectations
Day 4 Pages 367-490
    Redemption and Love
    The ending

May 12, 2002