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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, Dickens’ peer, the novelist and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who said it was too sad1; 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?

Footnotes

1 In his 1874 biography of Dickens, John Forster wrote: “One other letter throws light upon an objection taken not unfairly to the too great speed with which the heroine, after being married, reclaimed, and widowed, is in a page or two again made love to, and remarried by the hero. This summary proceeding was not originally intended. But, over and above its popular acceptance, the book had interested some whose opinions Dickens specially valued (Carlyle among them, I remember); and upon Bulwer Lytton objecting to a close that should leave Pip a solitary man, Dickens substituted what now stands. “You will be surprised” he wrote “to hear that I have changed the end of Great Expectations from and after Pip’s return to Joe’s, and finding his little likeness there. Bulwer, who has been, as I think you know, extraordinarily taken by the book, so strongly urged it upon me, after reading the proofs, and supported his view with such good reasons, that I resolved to make the change. You shall have it when you come back to town. 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.” This turned out to be the case; but the first ending nevertheless seems to be more consistent with the drift, as well as natural working out, of the tale, and for this reason it is preserved in a note.”

Book References

Forster, John (1874), The Life Of Charles Dickens, James R Osgood & Company, Boston, Vol. 3, p. 360.

 
 

Kelly

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.

jessicabookworm

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.

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