David Copperfield’s Greatest Hits, Numbers 13 and 14

January 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Now reading: David Copperfield.

Once again, favorite lines from each chapter:

Chapter 38:

I cannot describe the state of mind into which I was thrown by this intelligence.  The shock of such an event happening so suddenly, and happening to one with whom I had been in any respect at variance — the appalling vacancy in the room he had occupied so lately, where his chair and table seemed to wait for him, and his handwriting of yesterday was like a ghost — the indefinable impossibility of separating him from the place, and feeling, when the door opened, as if he might come in — the lazy hush and rest there was in the office, and the insatiable relish with which our people talked about it, and other people came in and out all day, and gorged themselves with the subject — this is easily intelligible to any one.  What I cannot describe is, how, in the innermost recesses of my own heart, I had a lurking jealousy even of Death.

As inexplicable and annoying as Dickens’ portrayal of Dora may be, the development of David’s relationship with her is quite well done — you know, besides there being no overt sexual impulse whatsoever — with flashes of surprising truth, such as this admission of jealousy for his beloved’s grief.  That “grasping, avaricious wish to shut out everybody from her but myself,” including the dead.  And that grotesque image of people “gorg[ing] themselves” on news of the unexpected death!

Chapter 39:

Any one of these scouts used to think nothing of politely assisting an old lady in black out of a vehicle, killing any proctor whom she inquired for, representing his employer as the lawful successor and representative of that proctor, and bearing the old lady off (sometimes greatly affected) to his employer’s office.

Really, this sentence stands in for the page-long, almost completely detachable digression (the last paragraph here) about the “kidnappers and inveiglers” who would hustle those in search of marriage licenses or management of an estate into law offices, getting into fights with each other all the while.  Quite a vivid piece of Victorian London street life, that.

Chapter 40:

“When she was a child,” he said, lifting up his head soon after we were left alone, “she used to talk to me a deal about the sea, and about them coasts where the sea got to be dark blue, and to lay a shining and a shining in the sun.  I thowt, odd times, as her father being drownded made her think on it so much.  I doen’t know, you see, but maybe she believed — or hoped — he had drifted out to them parts, where the flowers is always a blowing, and the country bright.”

This beginning to Mr. Peggotty’s tale of wandering, in a chapter entitled “The Wanderer,” comes just after a passage describing the change his travels have wrought on his appearance (but not on his “stedfastness of purpose”).  It’s a short, beautiful chapter, taking place mostly in a pub out of a “heavy, settled fall” of snow.  Something about the chain of passages here made me think of Dickens the genius of genre: how he could slip effortlessly between Gothic, Romantic, domestic, satirical, silver-fork, epistolary, picaresque, more or less all the rest that had preceded him in English literature.  Here he blends Romantic with a touch of mystery, a touch of dialect, and does it while working in these themes of death and, especially, drowning that run through the novel.

Chapter 41:

“Oh!” returned Traddles, laughing, “I assure you, it’s quite an old story, my unfortunate hair.  My uncle’s wife couldn’t bear it.  She said it exasperated her.  It stood very much in my way, too, when I first fell in love with Sophy.  Very much!”

“Did she object to it?”

She didn’t,” rejoined Traddles; “but her eldest sister — the one that’s the Beauty — quite made a game of it, I understand.  In fact, all the sisters laugh at it.”

“Agreeable!” said I.

“Yes,” returned Traddles with perfect innocence, “it’s a joke for us.  They pretend that Sophy has a lock of it in her desk, and is obliged to shut it in a clasped book, to keep it down.  We laught about it.”

Part of an excellent comic dialogue on the standing-up hair and semi-successful courtship of the irrepressible Tommy Traddles.

Chapter 42:

The man who reviews his own life, as I do mine, in going on here, from page to page, had need to have been a good man indeed, if he would be spared the sharp consciousness of many talents neglected, many opportunities wasted, many erratic and perverted feelings constantly at war within his breast, and defeating him.  I do not hold one natural gift, I dare say, that I have not abused.  My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that, in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.

Given a huge enough stone, and a life lived very, very well, you could hardly hope for a better epitaph.  It’s certainly no model of efficiency or precision, but it’s so Dickensy in the profusion of commas and of feeling.

Chapter 43:

Of our kneeling down together, side by side; of Dora’s trembling less and less, but always clasping Agnes by the hand; of the service being got through, quietly and gravely; of our all looking at each other in an April state of smiles and tears, when it is over; of my young wife being hysterical in the vestry, and crying for her poor papa, her dear papa.

Between Dora crying for her father, Jip the spaniel throwing up wedding cake, and Aunt Betsey’s frequent warnings, you’d have to think things aren’t going to end so well for David and Dora.

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