Why haven’t I read any Dickens before? That was the question nagging my brain both before and after my read of ‘Great Expectations’. If someone could’ve prompted me to read a spot of Dickens earlier than I have done, I would’ve been extremely grateful. So, here I am, sitting here, typing this and urging you to pick up anything Dickens immediately. Having only read ‘Great Expectations’, I can hardly comment on his other novels. However, based solely on this novel, I can argue that Dickens’ style of writing, characters and plot are truly gripping and rather refreshing, when compared to other classics.
Say goodbye to conventional love, twisted love, subversive love and absurd love; Dickens’ portrayal of love certainly triumphs over all and I feel as though it would be an injustice to label it as one of the above, despite the fact that it arguably upholds or embodies a combination of the aforementioned. I must discuss the two alternative endings to ‘Great Expectations’ because such a change of heart, regarding one of the most pivotal points of a novel, is highly intriguing (see my review of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ 😉 yes I did just plug my own work, deal with it), especially as they both deal with this issue of love very differently. In the original ending, Pip hears that Estella’s husband, Mr Drummle, has died and Estella has quietly remarried a country doctor. The pair awkwardly meet and exchange small talk. Pip remains single; Estella is remarried. Pip notes that “suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.”
However, in the revised version Pip and Estella find each other in the ruins of Miss Havisham’s abandoned house. Pip comments that “We are friends”, to which Estella replies “And will continue friends apart”. Clearly their actions betray Estella’s words, as they join hands and leave Satis House, walking out of the “ruined place” into the “evening mists”. Dickens ends his novel on the ambiguous line “I saw no shadow of another parting from her.” (I love this ending so much, the whole of this chapter is quite possibly my favourite end to a novel ever!). Contrary to most, I don’t fully interpret their joining of hands as a foreshadowing of the pair joining their hands in marriage. I feel as though the ending is much more melancholic than that; there is a dull sense of acceptance of their separate fates. Their entwined hands symbolise the sealing of their unspoken deal; a deal to embrace a love that they once shared, but a love that would never come to be. The juxtaposing phrases “will continue friends apart” and “I took her hand in mine”, highlight their internal conflict, but ultimately Estella’s conditioning will forever be a looming limitation over her love life. However, actuality is much greater than potentiality. Considering that Estella’s defiant words exist merely as words alone, yet her actions betray her nature (or nurture, more fittingly), but exist as concrete actions, this suggests that her body has a greater autonomous power, than her mind. Therefore, despite her conditioning and guarded mentality, her body can ultimately subvert and overcome the restrictions of her mind, thus suggesting that perhaps they may well marry indeed. More convincingly, Estella argues “And will continue friends alone”, avoiding the pronoun ‘we’, just as Pip says “I took her hand in mine”,rather than saying ‘we joined hands’. Additionally, it is still Pip that makes the move towards Estella, suggesting her inability to fully commit. Therefore, the pair both unconsciously acknowledge the impossible existence of themselves as a ‘we’. Ironically, it is Pip that acknowledges himself as the individual ‘I’, rather than Estella, perhaps as Pip has had the time to heal and accept that there never would be a ‘we’, but only know has reality forcefully knocked Estella, and words along with her, screaming that she has missed her opportunity to become the ‘we’ that Miss Havisham always hoped for. Yet, in raising her as she did, Havisham actually conditioned Estella to miss what she had always longed for, as Estella symbolises her second chance at love, or avoidance of it.
Additionally, “shadow”, connoting death, suggests that for many, the couple’s love is powerful enough to defy the usual ‘til death do us part’. However, “shadow” is laced with connotations of secrecy, hidden emotions and in the Platonic sense, a shadow is a false imitation of a real Form. Therefore, no matter how hard the pair may try to kindle the flame of their love, it can never reach its full potential, it will only ever be a forced imitation of what could’ve been. Rather than Estella being a somewhat broken beauty unable to love, she has perhaps rendered Pip the guarded and resistant individual instead. Therefore, this ending is more ominous or melancholic than once presumed.
Furthermore, when reading ‘Great Expectations’, I was reminded of an interpretation of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, in which Blanche is raped by Stanley, whilst dressed in apparel resembling wedding garments. My A-Level class and I concluded that the rape scene was a dystopian reenactment of Stella’s wedding night to Stanley, Blanche (Stella’s sister) becoming an embodiment or reenactment of Stella’s internal self. Stella represented the external self, thus symbolising her submission and inability to subvert her traditional expectations, whilst Blanche represented the internal self, seeing the “consecration” of the marriage as rape, rather than the once innocently presumed post-marital sex. Additionally, Blanche fought against Stanley, thus mirroring Stella’s internal desires to protest and refuse. However, as a symbol of non-resistance and even surrender, she was unable to do so.
Relating back to Great Expectations, I can draw parallels between the significant female characters and argue that Estella’s aversion towards men is a dystopian reenactment of Miss Havisham’s desires for her former self; she wished to be less naive and more guarded. Hence, Miss Havisham’s dystopian reality (this phrase in itself seems incorrect within the following context, but roll with me), in which she is rendered jilted, sad and alone, parallels Estella’s dystopian reenactment of a desirable, alternate set of events, in her avoidance of affection towards men, which still renders her sad and alone. Therefore, Miss Havisham tries to recreate a ‘perfect’ set of events that she had wished for her former self, using Estella as the vicarious vehicle to do so (thanks for this phrase James, I loved it so much that I had to use it), or even more so absurd as a fragment of her imagination. Is Estella even real? Are all of Miss Havisham’s encounters wholly made up? After all, she seemingly lacks total sanity, in Dickens’ portrayal – perhaps she has designed this bubble or microcosm of events that she wished to occur, but never did. However, this perfect (or Utopian) fantasy that she creates herself still has the fatal consequences of a dystopian fantasy. Therefore, even if this alternate path had been taken, the consequences would remain the same. Hence, my argument of a paralleling dystopian fantasy and dystopian reality. Much like ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, even when one imagines an alternative set of events, the consequences still remain. Does this teach us not to regret our prior actions, for consequences are wholly unpredictable? We can never really be aware of the final outcome of our actions, even if we had followed a different path entirely. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”, am I right? You can say that the path you chose “made all the difference”, however one can never fully know…
Overall, I’d highly recommend ‘Great Expectations’ and I’d love to know your opinions on both endings. Which ending do you prefer? Is the revised ending as optimistic as many believe? Or do you agree that it is rather melancholic and tragic?
Comment: Well this made my heart hurt. Is it weird if i dedicate this review to an old friend? I’m sorry for being the Estella to your Pip…