THE READER'S ATTITUDE TOWARD PIP
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.
THE TWO 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
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
- 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
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.
- 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."
DISCUSSION OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS