I think that author Jane Smiley is right about Charles Dickens' Great Expectations: readers would accept either ending if they didn't know there were two, but since both versions are available to us, the jury's still out.
Author David Nicholls calls the original ending (the one that Dickens chose to suppress on the advice of several friends) “incredibly bleak” and the second, the official ending “unrealistically romantic and sentimental”. Which is better, asks one reader, the first one where Pip and Estella bid each other farewell because “the fire no longer burns” or the second one which offers hope because the fire “hasn't stopped burning”? Someone makes the comment that if the first version had been filmed it would have premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the second at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
While debates about the relative merits of the two endings continue, some readers have chosen an altogether different response – from George Bernard Shaw to film director Alfonso Cuaron to secondary school students. Shaw pronounces that Dickens has “made a mess of both” and supplies his own unequivocally unhappy ending where Pip tells us, “Since that parting, I have been able to think of her without the old unhappiness; but I have never tried to see her again, and I know that I never shall”. What a hard, hard man.
Cuaron's delightful modern update set in part in an artist's studio in 1998 New York City ends with Estella asking Finn (Pip) for forgiveness while holding his hand and looking out to sea.
And the most original of all is a short video by Peter, Sydney and Rakela, three students who have Pip pour out his heart in a suicide letter and ingest pills.
Perhaps at the heart of this debate is the question of consistency. I agree with Shaw when he writes that Great Expectations is “too serious a book to be a trivially happy one”, but at the same time, the characters are not caricatures, they are capable of psychological and moral growth so that a nuanced ending, one which at least suggests hope and reconciliation is in order.