By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Charlton Griffin
Charles Dickens’ art is in divining human nature, and making readers care for heroes that covet and receive natural justice. Every character in Dickens’ “Great Expectations” (and there are many) are good and bad, heroes or villains that receive just rewards; at least, by the turn of the final page.
Pip is Dickens’ main character. Pip is a young orphaned boy, living with his sister and her husband. The husband is Joe Gargery, a perfect surrogate father to Pip. Joe is kind and nurturing with a simple view of life. Joe neither judges nor condemns Pip’s growth to manhood. His shrewish wife is counterpoint to Joe’s nature. She gives depth to Joe’s character by contrast to his ideal goodness. Her shrewish habits show too much pride, little understanding and no empathy for others. Pip learns and exhibits all of Joe’s and his wife’s characteristics as he grows to manhood. Pip is not perfect; i.e. he is burdened by human nature, the fault of being human.
Dickens serialized many of his 19th century novels. One imagines reader anticipation of the next chapter, the next step in Pip’s journey to self-understanding. Like waiting for the next episode of “Downton Abbey”, one wonders–which character will die next; who will fall in love, and who will be hoisted by their own petard. Will love triumph over adversity? Dickens keeps readers in suspense, not knowing but wanting to know; thinking they know and finding they are wrong.
Listening to this version of “Great Expectations” adds dimension to Charles Dickens’ story; i.e. Charlton Griffin, the narrator, vivified Dickens’ characters. Jaggers is a formidable lawyer. Magwitch is an uneducated criminal. Miss Haversham is a mysterious wealthy shut-in. Estella is Miss Haversham’s ward, raised to revenge Miss Haversham’s ill treatment by a suitor. Estella is destined to be intertwined in Pip’s life. Wemmick is a clever and secretive employee of Jaggers that lives two lives; each known only by Pip. Biddy is Pip’s first mentor. Orlick is Pip’s most dangerous enemy. These are characters Dickens’ weaves into a story of mystery, murder, and misanthropy. There are more; each plays a part in explicating Pip’s journey to middle age.
Dickens is admired by contemporaries as well as modern authors. One of Tolstoy’s favorite novels was “The Personal History of David Copperfield”. It is over 200 years since Dickens was born but even today there is high praise for his insight to human nature, his descriptive prose, and his consummate ability to suspend disbelief in the coincidence of life.
“Great Expectations” is a wonderful story. It entertains while offering lessons for living life. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is the credo of those who believe in natural justice; i.e. human nature is rewarded by a just measure of reward and punishment. At least, that seems Dickens’ view of life. There are other beliefs, less just, and consequently less comforting.