NOTES ON THE NOVEL: ISSUE 18
This illustration, by Marcus Stone, appeared
in the 1862 edition of Great Expectations. The original serial
(1860-1) and the 1861 editions of the novel were not illustrated.
A Note on the Ending of Great Expectations:
There is, famously, more than one ending to Great
Expectations. Dickens, on the advice of a friend -- the novelist
Bulwer Lytton -- cancelled his intended ending in favor of a happier
one. Thus, the novel ends, in all the versions printed during Dickens'
lifetime, with the reunion of Pip and Estella on the grounds of
Miss Havisham's old house. Pip affirms, in this ending, that he
"saw the shadow of no parting from [Estella]."
The ending that Dickens had originally devised
is reproduced below. Instead of coming back to see Joe and Biddy
after eleven years (as Pip says he did at the beginning of Chapter
59 in the published version of the novel), he is gone only eight
years in the cancelled ending (Mitchell 508). This original ending
is as follows:
Pip," said Biddy, "you are sure you don't fret for her?"
am sure and certain, Biddy."
me as an old, old friend. Have you quite forgotten her?"
dear Biddy, I have forgotten nothing in my life that ever had
a foremost place there. But that poor dream, as I once used to
call it, has all gone by, Biddy, all gone by!"
was four years more, before I saw herself. I had heard of her
as leading a most unhappy life, and as being separate from her
husband who had used her with great cruelty, and who had become
quite renowned as a compound of pride, brutality, and meanness.
I had heard of the death of her husband (from an accident consequent
on ill-treating a horse), and of her being married again to a
Shropshire doctor, who, against his interest, had once very manfully
interposed, on an occasion when he was in professional attendance
on Mr. Drummle, and had witnessed some outrageous treatment of
her. I had heard that the Shropshire doctor was not rich, and
that they lived on her own personal fortune.
was in England again -- in London, and walking along Piccadilly
with little Pip -- when a servant came running after me to ask
would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak
to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady was driving;
and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another.
am greatly changed, I know; but I thought you would like to shake
hands with Estella too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let
me kiss it!" (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.)
was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her
face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance,
that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching,
and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to
Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, a friend of Dickens',
and a popular Victorian novelist, convinced Dickens that a happy
ending would be more acceptable than the ending he originally proposed
(as given above). Lytton, whose novel A Strange Story was
to be published serially in All the Year Round upon the conclusion
of Great Expectations, had been reading Dickens' work as
it was produced, in advance of publication. Dickens, persuaded to
make the change that Lytton urged, apparently concluded that the
alteration would increase the popularity of the work. In a letter
to John Forster (his close friend, and later his biographer), he
discussed the change as follows: "I have put in as pretty a little
piece of writing as I could, and I have no doubt that the story
will be more acceptable through the alteration" (Letters, vol.
The story was indeed "acceptable." When Great
Expectations was published as a whole in July 1861, it went
through five impressions before the end of the year (Law 31). The
response to the ending, however, varied. A review in the Athenaeum
of July 13, 1861 resisted the notion of a happy conclusion.
The reviewer wrote, "most particularly are we grateful for the uncertainty
with which the tale closes, as we interpret it. We do not believe
that Pip did marry Estella, though there are two opinions on the
subject" ("Contemporary Responses" 526). The other opinion was,
of course, that Pip and Estella were reunited and married
after all; and though this opinion seems to have met with general
approval among those who believed in it, it did not please all
of its adherents: The Saturday Review, on July 20, 1861,
remarked that "[t]he plot ends before it ought to do. The heroine
is married, reclaimed from harshness to gentleness, widowed, made
love to, and remarried, in a page or two. This is too stiff a pace
for the emotions of readers to live up to. We do not like to go
beyond a canter through the moral restoration of a young lady" ("Contemporary
Responses" 530). These objections notwithstanding, the novel was
popular, and an immense commercial success.
Coddleshell, she had wrote out: "Coddleshell"
is Joe's rendering of "codicil" -- a sort of legal post-script to
a will, attached to change or modify the provisions previously enumerated.
'Hundred and twenty-three pound, fifteen,
six: Pip's debt to the jewelers, which he is unable to attend
to because of his illness -- and unable (given the confiscation
of Magwitch's property and his own unwillingness to benefit further
from that source of income) to pay -- is in the amount of almost
£124 (123 pounds, 15 shillings, and 6 pence). Joe pays this bill,
which -- considering his income -- is particularly generous. Even
were he earning the highest average wage earned by blacksmiths during
this period (Joe pays Pip's debt in 1829 [Meckier 168]) -- Joe would
probably not have made more than £62-63 per year (for further details,
see related notes on blacksmiths' wages in Issue
1). He thus pays Pip's jewelry bill at the cost of almost two