Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Fork in the Expectations

A good ending for me isn't necessarily a happy ending. I found myself thinking about this when trying to decide which of the two alternate endings of Great Expectations I preferred. I finished reading it yesterday--or rather, listening to it. I ordered the audio book version read by someone named Peter Batchelor who mostly does a good job, certainly better than the guy at Librivox, but he has an annoying tendency to give Ms. Havisham a screechy, vaudevillian old lady voice.

I listened while drawing--I'd originally gotten the audiobook through Amazon's service called Audible since it came free with a trial of Audible. I recommend not trying Audible unless you want a green, bloated imitation of iTunes on your hard drive that won't let you easily navigate a book. So I ordered exactly the same audiobook for six dollars or so from iTunes.

Okay, that's enough buffer. As I'm talking about the end of Great Expectations in this post, be warned, there be

Spoilers ahead.

I don't know how many of you know it, but Charles Dickens' original ending for Great Expectations did not have Pip and Estella ending up together.

I 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.

“I 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.) I 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 be.

The ending you're most likely acquainted with is the revised ending which has Pip running into Estella at Satis house, Drummle's widow and she's not remarried:

"But you said to me," returned Estella, very earnestly, "'God bless you, God forgive you!' And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now,—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends."

"We are friends," said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

"And will continue friends apart," said Estella.

I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.

So, we have a choice between an ending where Estella has remarried an apparently nice man after her horrible marriage to Drummle and an ending where she seems to have been broken by her experience with Drummle and seems to be at the beginning of a relationship with Pip, a man she knows she can depend on. There's something a bit sinister about it, the idea that Estella needs to be beaten into submission for Pip. That Pip doesn't seem conscious of this also indicates he hasn't taken to heart the lessons the rest of the novel imparted to him. He still has the arrogance Trabb's Boy taunted him for--the idea of getting Estella as a reward overwhelms any consciousness as to her psychological state.

The original ending reminds me of one character at the end of Bleak House. It's very subtly bittersweet. Like Pip (in the original ending), the Bleak House character ends the story alone but no mention is made as to whether or not the character is happy. It's a part of the character's nobility of nature that he doesn't give any indication of unhappiness to trouble his friends and family. Pip says he's glad he didn't mention wanting to marry Biddy when he comes upon her and Joe having just been wed. But he doesn't say whether he's sorry to have missed his chance with Biddy. Biddy having been presented as the healthy alternative to Estella--Estella who made Pip miserable and seemed tied up with all his foolish ambitions and Biddy who was his childhood companion and someone he was always happy around, who was wise and gracious. Having missed his chance with Biddy tells us that there were very real consequences to Pip's misspent young adulthood.

Now, in the second ending, do we know Pip will be happy? Maybe marrying Estella isn't so much a reward but, in the long run, part of his comeuppance. That doesn't seem to be in Dickens' tone, though, with Estella being so contrite and bowed. But considering masochism seemed to be so much a part of Pip's attraction to Estella, could he really still be that into her? Maybe, in the end, the change in ending is completely meaningless as they've both now essentially become different, less ambitious, less passionate people. So it's not so much the satisfaction of needs as making do with leftovers.

Well, as an ending I prefer the original. The second presents too many questions and I don't think Dickens is going to write a sequel any time soon.

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