The first published edition of Great Expectations ends with Pip running into Estella in the garden of Satis House after many years of separation. Estella has been widowed after an unhappy marriage in which her husband “used her with great cruelty.” In the final lines of the novel, Pip comments ambiguously that he “saw the shadow of no parting from her.” After decades of longing for her, it seems possible that Pip will finally get to be with Estella, especially since they have both matured due to the suffering they have experienced. However, the novel has also revealed Pip’s notorious tendency to misread situations and make false assumptions. By ending the novel with Pip revealing another wishful fantasy, or “expectation,” Dickens might be subtly undermining just how much his main character has actually matured or evolved.
Readers should note that this ending is not the one Dickens originally conceived. In the original manuscript version of the novel, Pip runs into Estella through a chance coincidence, not at Satis House but on a London street. She has lost her first husband but has also remarried, which diminishes the possibility that the reunion will trigger a new relationship between Estella and Pip. In fact, Pip recounts the scene as a one-time incident, recalling that “I was afterwards very glad to have had the interview.” Seeing Estella again and gleaning the impression that time has softened her and made her kinder gives Pip a sense of peace, but this original ending makes it clear that Estella and Pip do not end up together. Before publication, several of Dickens’s friends suggested he change the ending to something that at least allowed for the possibility of a reconciliation. Dickens made the change, apparently with some reluctance.