Fiction — audiobook. Read by Frank Muller. Recorded Books, 2003. Originally published 1861. 16 hours, 3 minutes. Library copy.
I’ve spent the last week cleaning data sets and copy data from geodatabases into Excel spreadsheets and while good practice for my own honors thesis and future research endeavors, it’s not exactly the most stimulating experience At first I listened to much while working but I kept tuning Pandora out; I needed something more. Thankfully, I have a couple of audiobooks on my iPod to keep me engaged and focused during forty hours of data cleaning. First up, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
I’ve mentioned before here (and discussed extensively in real life) that I feel like taking gifted and talented English did a disservice to my knowledge of Western canon literature and not just in terms of the Advanced Placement English exam. My friends in “regular” advanced English read this book during their freshman year while I watched “Romeo and Juliet” for the umpteenth time. (Yeah, watched not read.) This book has been on my TBR list since then but I’ve always been scared of by its size (my copy is 592 pages) and, more recently, a bad experience with Dickens’ other works.
The novel begins with seven-year-old Pip encountering an escaped convict in the village cemetery. Scared by the encounter, Pip risks the wrath of his older sister and guardian for stealing food from the pantry and a file to break the shackles for the convict. While this seems like an odd beginning, it’s an incredibly important interaction to comes to shape Pip’s life and his expectations. Pip desperately wants to be a gentlemen — not a blacksmith like his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery — and this wish if further fueled by his love for Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter, Estella.
“In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice. It may be only a small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small…” (pg. 85-86)
I was surprised at how engaged I was with this tale — I don’t know if I should credit Dickens’ writing, Frank Muller’s reading, or my own boredom. Possibly the later as I’ve listened to another Dickens novel read by Muller and hated every minute. This time, I was absolutely enthralled with little Pip. So much insightful wisdom is imparted by the main character as he grows up; I thought his comments about children and injustice were particularly poignant.
Reading others’ reviews about Dickens’ novel was an interesting experience. Several people were angry about Pip forsaking Joe in his quest to become a gentlemen and win Estella. I feel the exact opposite; Joe is one of those people who quietly yet fiercely loves and to have Pip automatically recognize this wouldn’t be realistic. Is it morally repugnant to step on someone else’s back or forget a loved one to reach a goal? Yes. But it’s also something that happens everyday, and Pip wouldn’t grow as a person had he always seen Joe for what his is. I, for one, loved this relationship.
“I have been bent and broken, but — I hope — into a better shape.” (pg. 590)
The audiobook includes both of the endings Dickens wrote. It is said that Dickens rewrote the ending based on comments by Edgward Bulwer-Lytton in which he said the ending was too sad. I find, however, that I agree with George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell; the original ending is more consistent with tale and feels more natural than the revised ending. Even so, this is definitely a new favorite novel.
(Note: The book cover at right is of my printed copy. I primarily listened to this novel using only the printed copy to reference quotes. I have included the cover from the audiobook on the left.)