In the last paragraph of Great Expectations:

I took [Estella's] 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.

I'm wondering what the highlighted sentence means. I can't quite parse it - it seems like there are two possible interpretations:

  1. There is no sign (the "shadow") that Estella will want to part with me again.
  2. Estella is haunted by someone (presumably Miss Havisham's ghost). Because no "shadow" of "another" [that someone] is "parting" from her, she's still not left her past behind.

Which interpretation is correct?

  • 1
    Why not both? Passages can have multiple interpretations in literature.
    – Matt Thrower
    Commented May 2 at 8:32

1 Answer 1


The ambiguity noted in the question was discussed in detail by Douglass Thomson, who identified the shadow as that of Estella’s mother, Molly.

Most readers have assumed that the word “another” is an adjective in the main clause “I saw no shadow of another parting from her”; it modifies the gerund “parting.” The line suggests that Pip sees no chance of another separation from Estella. I believe that “another” may also be a pronoun, modified by the participle “parting.” One “shadow of another” who twice had “passed” from Estella’s face is, as we have seen, Molly.

Douglass H. Thomson (1984). ‘The Passing of Another’s Shadow: a Third Ending to Great Expectations’. Dickens Quarterly 1:3, p. 94.

Thomson quotes three passages in support of this argument. First, from chapter 29, where Pip detects the “ghost” of a resemblance in Estella’s looks and gestures, and considers and rejects the possibility that she reminds him of Miss Havisham.

What was it that was borne in upon my mind when she [Estella] stood still and looked attentively at me? Anything that I had seen in Miss Havisham? No. In some of her looks and gestures there was that tinge of resemblance to Miss Havisham which may often be noticed to have been acquired by children, from grown person with whom they have been much associated and secluded, and which, when childhood is passed, will produce a remarkable occasional likeness of expression between faces that are otherwise quite different. And yet I could not trace this to Miss Havisham. I looked again, and though she was still looking at me, the suggestion was gone.

What was it?

In another moment we were in the brewery, so long disused, and she pointed to the high gallery where I had seen her going out on that same first day, and told me she remembered to have been up there, and to have seen me standing scared below. As my eyes followed her white hand, again the same dim suggestion that I could not possibly grasp crossed me. My involuntary start occasioned her to lay her hand upon my arm. Instantly the ghost passed once more and was gone.

What was it?

Charles Dickens (1861). Great Expectations, chapter 29. Project Gutenberg.

Second, from chapter 32, where Pip catches a “nameless shadow” in the face of Estella:

So contaminated did I feel, remembering who was coming, that the coach came quickly after all, and I was not yet free from the soiling consciousness of Mr. Wemmick’s conservatory, when I saw her [Estella’s] face at the coach window and her hand waving to me.

What was the nameless shadow which again in that one instant had passed?

Chapter 32.

Third, from chapter 48, where the “ghost” in the brewery and the “nameless shadow” at the coach window are explained:

He [Jaggers] dismissed her [Molly], and she glided out of the room. But she remained before me as plainly as if she were still there. I looked at those hands, I looked at those eyes, I looked at that flowing hair; and I compared them with other hands, other eyes, other hair, that I knew of, and with what those might be after twenty years of a brutal husband and a stormy life. I looked again at those hands and eyes of the housekeeper, and thought of the inexplicable feeling that had come over me when I last walked—not alone—in the ruined garden, and through the deserted brewery. I thought how the same feeling had come back when I saw a face looking at me, and a hand waving to me from a stage-coach window; and how it had come back again and had flashed about me like lightning, when I had passed in a carriage—not alone—through a sudden glare of light in a dark street. I thought how one link of association had helped that identification in the theatre, and how such a link, wanting before, had been riveted for me now, when I had passed by a chance swift from Estella’s name to the fingers with their knitting action, and the attentive eyes. And I felt absolutely certain that this woman was Estella’s mother.

Chapter 48.

Thomson interprets the last sentence of the novel as follows:

At the end, Pip’s efforts to understand Estella—and himself—are no longer obscured by this fleeting and “nameless” presence. Pip has learned the name of Molly and Magwitch and, on his own, identified them as Estella’s parents. Moreover, he has freed himself from the illusion that Estella was destined for him by his own shadowy benefactor. This third ending† to Great Expectations does not prophesize Pip’s and Estella’s togetherness, the “sugary suggestion”‡ that Shaw and so many have taken as an inappropriately happy ending. With this deliberately ambiguous line, Dickens affirms Pip’s ability to dismiss the “shadow” of the past that had for so long bewildered him. Pip no longer sees that “shadow” of another parting from Estella, and he has freed them both from ignorance of their origins.

† The last clause in the final weekly installment (1861) and the first bound edition read, “I saw the shadow of no parting from her.” In 1868 Dickens amended this to the line that I discuss as a “third ending.”

Thomson, p. 94. Footnote in original.

‡ From George Bernard Shaw’s 1937 preface to the novel. The context is, “At all events the final sugary suggestion of Estella redeemed by Bentley’s thrashings and waste of her money, and living happily with Pip for ever after, provoked even Dickens’s eldest son to rebel against it, most justly.”

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