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Clarriker, Pocket, and Pirrip: The Original Tale of Dickens's Clerk

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This essay offers another look at the original ending of Great Expectations. Rather than accept the false opposition between “unhappy” “happy” versions, I consider the evidence that exists about the novel's origin, development, and composition. From the moment of its inception to the composition of its final words, Dickens planned, designed, and executed a story told by an older narrator who looked back on his life not with regret but with understanding. So sure of his intention, with two-thirds of the work completed and with the final third waiting to be “ground off,” Dickens outlined in a letter to John Forster his belief that the import of Pip's story, in its working out and winding up, would be away from “all such things as they conventionally go.” These targets, I suggest, are two prevailing fictional conventions, the use of weddings to signal narrative closure, and the extended use of sensational elements to add pace to the telling. Had Dickens stuck to his original design, the novel that has come down to us would have been read in a different way. We would have paid attention to the fact that Pip is a much older narrator than readers generally concede, that he's a man who has sought and obtained understanding about the events that shaped his life, and that, in the course of telling his story, he has achieved a degree of peace. In reacting to Bulwer's “objections,” however, two consequences follow: (1) Dickens undercut his original design; and (2) he introduced a narrative flaw which relies on a chronological scheme incompatible with that design and with the actual telling. A close reading of various data—the events of the main thread of Pip's story, the historical setting of those events, and the dating of the actual telling time, taken together, support the case that Dickens weakened his book and broke the integrity of an original and flawless narrative.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-06-01

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