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Brief Thoughts On The Original And Revised Endings Of Great Expectations

A screenshot of Holliday Grainger as Estella in the 2012 adaptation

I’ve often thought about the two endings of Great Expectations, but a lot more so since watching the 2012 version over Christmas (as expected as that might sound considering how recent it was).

My initial thoughts on reaching the end of my copy – the Vintage Classics edition that features both endings – was that original ending far surpassed the revised one in terms of quality and overall sense. That Estella spurns Pip yet one more time matches the person she had been in all the time he knew her, whilst the second ending’s happily ever after stance seemed a prime example of something worked simply to please the crowds. Or at least, in this case, Edward Bulwer-Lytton – who said it was too sad; I think we can safely say many readers would have liked the original. That said, the revised ending doesn’t specifically say that the characters got together.

Watching the film made me think a little more. The original ending has Estella effectively behaving as she always has, continuing to be the person Miss Havisham trained her or created her to be. In the second ending we could say that Estella eschews this training; perhaps her behaviour now is more a reflection of who she is without Miss Havisham – perhaps she’s now the person, or moving towards the person, she is without Miss Havisham’s input. She’s now herself.

Taking the endings as they are without their background literary context, they both work for different reasons.

Where the film influenced my thoughts was in what I considered Holliday Grainger’s very good performance – the Estella she and, also, Helena Barlow (as the younger Estella) portrayed, was not someone I saw changing. It seemed to me quite literally out of character for Grainger’s Estella to change as she did; I suppose you could say it highlighted for me why the original ending pips the second to the post. But it did still illustrate further than the simple dialogue and other text of the book, in regards to Miss Havisham’s teaching, how much nurture has to play in our lives.

Your thoughts?



February 5, 2018, 5:22 pm

I’ve not seen the film, so I can’t comment upon that. As for the book, it’s been some 45 years since I read it and I can’t remember much detail, but at least the revised ending does have some ambiguity to it.


February 10, 2018, 4:31 pm

Being completely honest, I had no idea there were two endings! The copy I read had the second ending you mention, so I presumed that was the ending. Also, I have never seen this film adaptation either – it didn’t help that it was released just after a brilliant BBC miniseries. If I’d watched both I feared I would be all ‘Great Expectationed out’! I really must catch up with it now though.