The Ending Of Great Expectations

A writer who is not read is really not much of a writer. Therefore to be a writer requires being pleasing to an audience. The challenge must be when the writer must choose between one’s artistic integrity and pleasing one’s audience.

I’m thinking about the pressure that Charles Dickens was under by virtue of being the most popular writer of his day. On the one hand, he had to “give ‘em what they want,” but that was not really a problem because he was a master of weaving the various the threads he wove into one happy ending. But the one dark spot in all this has to do with the ending of Great Expectations. My understanding is that Dickens feared that his readers would object to the original ending because they wanted Pip to end up together with Estella. And so it was, apparently, that, succumbing to the demands of his audience, Dickens wrote an ending that, while slightly ambiguous, at least strongly suggests that Pip and Estella would be together.

And this is where I start to go crazy. Dickens’ original ending is exactly the correct ending. The whole point of this most wonderful book is Pip’s coming of age, how, through a process of trial and error, he finally comes to an understanding of reality. But Pip’s ultimate self-understanding really can’t happen until he recognizes that his obsession, the life-long object of his dreams, was an illusion concocted by his own imagination.

Now of course we the readers love Pip and want things to end well for him. And my point is that in the original ending, things do end very well for Pip precisely because he is finally clear of the mesmerizing attraction that has been dominating his consciousness for so many years. The thing is that we readers know the real Pip; we know who he was before he was ever first smitten by Estella.

In the original ending, Pip feels sorry for Estella, and this is precisely how we should feel for her. What makes Estella such a great femme-fetal is that she is not a ***** by nature; rather she is herself the product of the wonderfully-demented Miss Habersham. But she is one of those women who will always be unhappy, and will therefore always make her husband unhappy. (If Dickens wanted to give us a sentimental ending, he should have contrived for Pip to end up with Biddy, the girl who both understood him and truly cared for him.)
Uncleleo Uncleleo
56-60, M
2 Responses Jun 10, 2013

It's a great analysis Leo i like the way you break down what an author or any artist and their audience both want and how they aren't always the same. Again another shining example of why I love to read your work. you put it so well as does Quintesse you both make great points and show me things I hadn't considered at the time of reading it. Thank you Leo.

Wow! Thank you for putting me in the same category with Quintesse who I think is awesome. [I hope everything is good with you, 2cool: I've been busy, but I will message you soon.]

And this is why I love you so Leo...
Great Expectations re-enforces my belief that everything, and I mean everything in life revolves around jealousy (jealousy of love and jealousy of riches) rather than greed ("the root of all evil...")
Our emotions drive us, and poor Pip was a victim both of his circumstances and of his emotions (fear, infatuation, pride to name a few)
I think Dickens was a genius because he knew that even his audience (who maybe on the surface wanted a "happy ending") was smarter than to believe that that was a reflection of real life. Readers (well, some anyway) respond to writers who don't treat them like idiots, who know in the end that real life is messy, not all tied up with bows and wedding marches.
If only...
But you have to love Joe--he represents all that is good and right and lovable--and he is the stabilizing force for Pip (the recurring theme if you will.)

Maybe the moral is, "love hurts and life is hard, but you persevere until it's over."
This is why I love Dickens. He tells it like it is.

That is a good point you make about Joe who plays a large role as Pip's moral compass, But here I would also bring up Wemmick who, in his eccentric way, also represents a type of good. Perhaps it takes a village of characters to create a person.