Great Expectations?

These two quotes are slightly different variations of the ending to Great Expectations. While they contain only slightly different wording, they may convey significantly different messages and therefore are well worth exploring. The first version appeared in the 1862 3-volume edition, and the second version was the wording that appeared in the 1861 serial publication and the edition that was first published in the U.S. This alone brings up the first interesting question about these quotes: if they were being published virtually simultaneously, and Dickens was endorsing both of them, do they mean the same thing? And if they don’t mean the same thing, why would Dickens endorse both? At first glance, one might say that of course they mean the same thing, because the wording is so similar. However, a closer look reveals that the differences in word choice could signify vastly different endings to the novel.  

For example, the first version, in saying that Pip saw “no shadow of another parting” from Estella, this could mean that he never foresaw leaving or parting with Estella again, now that they had been reunited. In this case, the “shadow” could be the looming possibility of another separation, the absence of which Pip is noting. In this case, the first version indicates that Pip and Estella stayed together for the rest of their lives. However, it is also possible that the “shadow” is already behind them, and that it refers to the separation that led to their current reunion, and Pip is not noting its absence, but rather saying that it is behind them. Furthermore, Pip might not be expressing a matter of certainty at all. He might be saying that at the time of this event, he did not predict that he and Estella would ever separate again, but they have since then, and although Pip didn’t see the “shadow” of their parting at the time, it eventually appeared, and they did go their separate ways. After all, Pip is telling this story from an unspecified point in the future.  

The first version of the ending is complicated, evidently, but the second version has its own complicated implications that are different from those of the first version. For example, the word “no” is not referring to the shadow in this case, but to the act of Pip and Estella parting. This creates new, different implications. This could mean that Pip, at the time of his reunion with Estella, could see the metaphorical shadow coming off of the rest of his life with Estella. Like the other version, this wording could also mean that Pip is not expressing a matter of certainty, and that he thought but didn’t know for sure that they would stay together. However, unlike the other version, this wording gives little to no indication that Pip and Estella ever parted, because the word “no” is attached to their parting, rather than the shadow. In this case, the “shadow” could represent a gloomy dread that Pip feels at expecting that he and Estella will remain together, or simply that, again, he sees the metaphorical shadow coming from this future event. Either way, this version at least strongly implies that they remain together forever.  

Based on this analysis, it is possible that Dickens was endorsing two different endings that meant vastly different outcomes for the characters of his novel. While we will almost certainly never know why he would do this, it is important to the study of this novel to consider this possibility to get a better understanding of what Dickens intended the reader to walk away with. Maybe he intended to confuse his audience. Maybe he meant to give two different endings to two different countries to see which was received better. Whatever his intentions, examining the two versions certainly leaves the ending up to interpretation.