Looking at this passage in relation to the revised ending of Great Expectations, one gets the sense of the Bildungsroman as the reader has followed Pip's life from childhood to adolescence through a troubled quest for identity. Dickens felt compelled to change this ending to meet the Common Reader's habitual expectations. Since Victorian novels generally have happy endings (a notable exception being George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, which dates from the same period as Great Expectations), this original ending must have seemed too gloomy to Ellen Ternan and to Sir Edward G. D. Bulwer-Lytton.

In the revised ending, Dickens gives Pip and Estella--and the reader--hope: “I took her hand in mine . . . I saw no shadow of another parting from her." This line gives the reader some grounds for optimism that Pip and Estella, both improved morally by suffering, will develop a lasting bond. The public loved this ending. The novel follows many subgenres such as the gothic novel, the Newgate novel, the Silver Fork novel, the novel of crime and detection, the serial novel, the historical novel and, most importantly in connection with this passage, the romance. Pip's obsession with Estella becomes a motivation for his becoming a gentleman, for only a refined lover (thinks adolescent Pip) will do for the aristocratic Estella. The novel ends happily to inspire readers with the wonderful second chance at happiness that Pip might have with Estella. With this original ending, Great Expectations would not have fulfilled the expectations of these various subgenres; rather, the ending looks much more modern if Estella is married again to a Shropshire doctor after the brutal Drummle treated her outrageously. As in his writing The Old Curiosity Shop, Dickens must have sensed that the public and even his critics would not accept anything less than a happy ending.

Other responses by students in English 3412, Lakehead University, Ontario

Discussion questions for Jane Eyre

Last modified 26 April 2004