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THE DICKENS PROJECT 2013

THE DICKENS PROJECT 2013

David Copperfield So, I finally finished David Copperfield.

I want to focus this first post on the girls and women of David Copperfield: Clara Copperfield,, Agnes Wickfield, Dora Spendlow, and Aunt Betsy Trotwood.

Let me start by just admitting that I absolutely despised both Clara Copperfield and Dora Spendlow. They are very similar characters – both extremely childlike and, to my mind, incredibly annoying. Their childishness exceeded all possible bounds of reality, and, certainly, Clara Copperfield’s inability to stand up to Mr. Murdstone and his horrible sister caused great pain to David.

After having such an utterly useless mother, one would have expected that David would avoid marrying someone with the same deficiencies, and yet, nonetheless, he marries a girl who is so utterly incompetent that all she really seems to do is play with her dog. Dora is the most extreme result of a culture in which women are valued only for their appearance. She is pure decoration, without use. I kept wanting someone to hand her a broom and tell her to make herself useful. I am well aware that it is uncharitable, but I was rooting for her to kick the bucket so that David could find a wife who was a woman and not a child.

Spoiler alert: she did.

As much as I disliked Clara and Dora, though, I loved Aunt Betsey and Agnes Wickfield. Aunt Betsey is eccentric and good-hearted, and she becomes David’s guardian after he flees from Mr. Murdstone’s warehouse where he has essentially been enslaved. Aunt Betsey is no fan of men, having been ill-used and abandoned by a worthless husband as a young wife. In fact, the reader first meets Aunt Betsey in the very first chapter, when she arrives at the birth of David and leaves in disgust when he is born a boy and not a girl. Nonetheless, when David arrives on her doorstep, abused and unloved, she takes him in, educates him, and becomes a true friend and advocate to him. Her character is complex and interesting.

Agnes Wickfield is a bit too good to be true, but is likeable nonetheless. She is the daughter of one of David’s schoolmasters, and is a friend of his youth. She is everything that Dora is not: competent, capable and housewifely. She is also a good friend to Dora, though, and is such a kind person that she is careful never to make Dora feel inferior.

Spoiler alert: she marries David after Dora’s death, they have children, and live happily ever after.

In my next Dickens post, I’ll talk about the four villains of David Copperfield: Edward & Jane Murdstone, James Steerforth, and Uriah Heep.

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Lucky Number 14

Lucky Number 14

Fortunately, I am nearly done with David Copperfield. I guess Barnaby Rudge is my next “Daily Dickens” book.

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I want to party with Pickwick

From Goodreads:

Few first novels have created as much popular excitement as The Pickwick Papers – a comic masterpiece that catapulted its twenty-four-year-old author to immediate fame. Readers were captivated by the adventures of the poet Snodgrass, the lover Tupman, the sportsman Winkle and, above all, by that quintessentially English Quixote, Mr Pickwick, and his cockney Sancho Panza, Sam Weller. From the hallowed turf of Dingley Dell Cricket Club to the unholy fracas of the Eatanswill election, via the Fleet debtor’s prison, characters and incidents sprang to life from Dickens’s pen, to form an enduringly popular work of ebullient humour and literary invention

Discussion

Dicken’s first novel was published in 19 serial installments from March, 1836 through October, 1837. It was wildly popular, and in many ways transformed serial publishing in England from a type of fiction in which the picture plates took priority, to fiction where the narrative gained precedence.

The Pickwick Papers is, above all, good, clean fun. It is more or less plotless, a roaming, picaresque adventure story of the titular Pickwick and his friends, Nathanial Winkle, Tracy Tupman, and Augustus Snodgrass, and their exploits as they take a number of trips out of London into the countryside. Chapter 10 introduces Sam Weller – he of the reversed “w” and “v” (it’s wery, not very, and Veller, not Weller) – who ends up being much more than merely a manservant to Mr. Pickwick.

The Pickwick Papers is sort of like Victorian comfort food. One of my first experiences with Pickwick occurred through reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The four March girls are, apparently, great fans of Dickens and the Pickwickians and there is a scene in Little Women that has each of the sisters playing one of the four primary characters, with Jo, of course, as Mr. Pickwick himself.

In The Pickwick Papers, Dickens either ignores many of the more serious aspects of his later works, or treats them lightheartedly. Mr. Pickwick spends time in a debtor’s prison, but the reader scarcely realizes that it is an unpleasant place, as he emerges more or less unscathed from his time there. The legal system, which is skewered and satirized in his later works, especially Bleak House is, in this book, shown to be ridiculous through the action at law brought against Pickwick by his landlady, who alleges a breach of promise of marriage. But again, this is a lighthearted treatment, without the scathing undercurrent of deep discontent and even anger that the later Dickens novels display.

I will probably do an entirely separate post on Dickens and the names of people and places in his books. Few writers in the history of literature have had such a facility with names, aside from – perhaps – J.K. Rowling, who obviously owes an enormous debt to Dickens. In The Pickwick Papers, we have Muggleton (which does beg the question of whether or not Ms. Rowling took this word from Mr. Dickens) and Eatanswill, both towns visited by Mr. Pickwick and friends. Alfred Jingle is, sort of, the villain of the piece: a duplicitous actor and teller of tales. There is a young man by the name of Mutanhed, who is deserving of the appellation as he is very much muttonheaded.

I do want to make a brief mention of the food and drink in this book. It is easy to want to party with the Pickwickians, as they seem to be continually eating and drinking. At some point this weekend, I’m planning on writing a follow-up post to this one that goes into more detail about this aspect of the book. Dickens is a descriptive writer, and his descriptions of the food and drink of the Victorian era are, to say the very least, appealing.

Reading The Pickwick Papers is fun. It is a relatively easy introduction to Dickens, although, because it is a bit meandering, I did find myself bogging down from time to time.

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