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David Copperfield
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The Dickens Project - Archives > David Copperfield, Chapters XX-XXIII (20-23) - November 17 - November 23

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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Times goes by in David's world, and he grows and matures in chapters XX-XXIII. These are the chapters we are discussing this week. Please share your thoughts.


message 2: by Zulfiya (last edited Nov 17, 2013 02:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Life has been relatively peaceful and stable for David, but as we discussed it earlier last week, it seems to be just a lull before the turbulent storm. If we look at the chronology of the events, there is nothing emotionally special: David goes to see his friend Steerforth and his family, David and Steerforth go to see Pettoggy and her family, David decides to be a barrister. In between these peaceful stages of his life, we as readers can not help interpreting the darker clues left by the narrator. First, don't we all think that there is too much of Steerforth and his family? Steerforth is here and Steerforth is there; Steerforth is a host, and Steerforth is an uninvited guest. We also learn something about his reason why he ended up at the boarding school for the less fortunate men. The reason is so disgusting – Steerforth wanted to make sure that he could tolerate people inferior in their social rank. Miss Dartle's attitude is somewhat equivocal in this stand. On one hand, she openly declares her disgust with the lower class people saying that they are savages and can not suffer and love, but on the other hand, she does it openly while Steerforth's attitude toward Ham, Mr. Peggotty and his family is quite condescending and hides disgust or his 'experimental mode'
Miss Dartle is quite a character: she is impetuous, impulsive, passionate, and enigmatic. She might have a potential to become an interesting and likeable character, but her moral position is highly questionable. At least, Dickens does not introduce us to a compliant, submissive, and deprived-of-any-independent-thought character.
Another cold whiff of darkness is Martha, who is Emily's former friend and a fallen woman. So far, there has been only one woman of bad repute as a character in Dickens's novels: Nancy from Oliver Twist. Now we are cursorily introduced to another character. Dickens, following his personal philosophy, was an advocate for many voiceless, villainized social groups, and now we see that fallen women could be his next focal group. Martha deserves compassion, not condemnation, and that is what she receives. What is surprising is Emily's emotional reaction: she is by no means affiliated with this behavior and is happily engaged to Ham, but her soul is restless and on tenterhooks …
And isn't Miss Moucher a delightful character? She is much more inspiring and vivacious than morbid and nasty Quilp from OCS.


Sarah | 269 comments These chapters serve to reinforce my suspicions and ill feeling regarding Steerforth. David is still naïve and impressionable, and he continues to be duped by Steerforth’s outward guise of amiability, but indications of his true character peek through. For instance, when asking David what he has been up to he says, “I feel as if you were my property” (chapter 20), and David explains how Steerforth treats him: “A dashing way he had of treating me like a plaything, was more agreeable to me than any behaviour he could have adopted. It reminded me of our old acquaintance; it seemed the natural sequel to it; it showed me that he was unchanged” (chapter 21). We also learn that Steerforth gave Miss Dartle the scar on her lip by throwing a hammer at her. It is a sinister inkling into his nature. There are hints that later on David will become acquainted with the “real” Steerforth, as in the following quotation from chapter 21: “If anyone had told me, then, that all this was a brilliant game, played for the excitement of the moment, for the employment of high spirits, in the thoughtless love of superiority, in a mere wasteful careless course of winning what was worthless to him, and next minute thrown away—I say, if anyone had told me such a lie that night, I wonder in what manner of receiving it my indignation would have found a vent!” Steerforth himself once gives vent to his own dark thoughts in wishing that he’d had “a judicious father” and that he “had been better guided” and could better guide himself (chapter 22), but such feelings are quickly eclipsed by his joking and superior manner.

I wonder, too, why Steerforth chose to christen his clipper “Little Em’ly” and whether he has any romantic feelings for her. She, too, hints at her shortcomings when she gives Martha money and cries about wishing she was a better and more thankful girl.

Something I find interesting in this novel is how Dickens uses shadows to foretell coming disturbances. Martha Endell first appears as a shadow behind Em’ly, and there is the mysterious man who frightens Betsey Trotwood and to whom she gives money, presumably to protect Mr. Dick. Miss Mowcher the dwarf—and Steerforth’s dispensing of so much information about the Peggottys—bodes ill also. For the moment, however, there is a calm before the imminent storm, and David has a new position and living quarters as he embarks on this new stage in his life.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Sarah wrote: "Something I find interesting in this novel is how Dickens uses shadows to foretell coming disturbances"

Spot on, Sarah. It is wonderful that you brought it to our attention. Now all these darker moments get shape and become more palpable. It is as if darkness is always here, playing hide-and-seek with David!


Lauren (tewks) How old is David supposed to be at this point? 16 or so? My feeling is that he is getting old enough to get suspicious of Steerforth. Particularly since he hasn't exactly led a sheltered life.


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments I assume he is 15 or 16, but he does have a childish naivete and charm as his mother did. If you remember, Miss Betsy Trotwood always refers to her as a child ...

Besides, how many friends does he have? So, he prefers to trust Steerforth especially in the case of regained friendship. And yes, I know sometimes we as readers seem to be wiser than characters, but the pleasure of fiction is the deeply wired concept of suspended disbelief:-). A good book of fiction is full of truisms while facts do not add up:-) I actually find this feature of fiction delightful in most of the cases, but once in a while I DO GET AGGRAVATED. So I see your point, Lauren!


Lauren (tewks) David is impresse


Lauren (tewks) Oops. David seems impressed with Steerforth's wealth, as if it is a sign of his good character. There is a theme of people thinking too well of those in the class above them.


message 9: by Robin P, Moderator (last edited Nov 18, 2013 04:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robin P | 2205 comments Mod
Zulfiya, you said "Miss Dartle's attitude is somewhat equivocal in this stand. On one hand, she openly declares her disgust with the lower class people saying that they are savages and can not suffer and love, but on the other hand, she does it openly"

I am convinced that everything Miss Dartle says is satirical. She is critiquing Steerforth's automatic dismissal of anyone not as accomplished or affluent as he is. She is a sort of poor relation and this is her way to strike back and maintain her independence. She is the one person not taken in by Steerforth's charm.


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: "I am convinced that everything Miss Dartle says is satirical. She is critiquing Steerforth's automatic dismissal of anyone not as accomplished or affluent as he is. She is a sort of poor relation and this is her way to strike back and maintain her independence. She is the one person not taken in by Steerforth's charm. "

I think my wording is not clear enough. Let me reword the ideas. Miss Dartle, unlike Steerforth, never conceals her attitudes and opinions about the poor and less fortunate. She calls them savages that are not able to feel. I have a suspicion that Steerforth might have similar feelings, but he manages to conceal them because it might help him to manipulate people. We never know for sure at this point, and the only benefit we have is reading further:-) But in other topics, she is quite sarcastic.

She is also a character that is hard to decode: is she a passionate woman with murky past or does she simply like the aura of mysticism that surrounds her?


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Robin P | 2205 comments Mod
Sorry, maybe I'm the one not being clear. I don't think anything Miss Dartle says is a real opinion of hers. When she says" Are they really animals and clods and beings of another order? I want to know so much" and "It's such a delight to know that when they suffer they don't feel! Sometimes I have been quite uneasy for that sort of people, but now I shall just dismiss the idea of them altogether" she is attacking Steerforth in the only way open to her, with satire. He knows it, that's why he finds her so annoying.

Same thing when she asks about how "conscientious" Steerforth is and how reassuring that is. She also picks up on Steerforth calling David Daisy - "he thinks you young and innocent and so you are his friend. Well, that's quite delightful!" If she does have any personal opinions, I believe they are quite opposite to what she expresses.


message 12: by Hedi (last edited Nov 22, 2013 02:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hedi | 978 comments These all are already great remarks. I am not quite sure whether I can add so much to that, but here are some of my thoughts.

Related to Miss Dartle, I, too, believe that she is being sarcastic. Steerforth is describing his view of "that sort of people" which Miss Dartle replies with "...when they suffer, they don't feel!..."
In a certain way she is also just a poor relation, maybe of a better background, but still very dependent on others. Steerforth with all the money behind him and the certain pride he is showing off, has probably not behaved very well towards Miss Dartle, shown even by the physical attack, which actually hurts her feelings.

Now we also know why Steerforth ended up in the Salem House instead of a more accomplished establishment. After this type of attack probably none of the better schools wanted to have him.

In chapter 21, Steerforth says " ... Let us see the natives in their aboriginal condition." Was the term aboriginal generally used at that time or already associated with the aborigines in Australia?
At least it alludes to Steerforth viewing the Peggottys like the pioneers viewed the Native-Americans and the emigrants to Australia probably the aborigines there.

Regarding Steerforth, there are little hints to his real character/ some mischief all over the place, e.g.

"...Daisy, I believe you are in earnest, and are good. I wish we all were!" and
"...thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night of our coming down, might - to judge from the present wasted air of the place - to be dispersed, or dead, or come to I don't know what harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last twenty years."
The latter alludes somehow that his mischief might be related to the Pegottys.

Miss Mowcher is once again one of Dickens's curiosities, isn't she? I wonder sometimes how he came up with the ideas for these more comical and curious characters.

The affair around Martha is an interesting one, but we, as the readers, do not receive any details and can only derive the story from a few hints. And is she an omen for Emily who admits that she is not as good as assumed?


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Hedi | 978 comments Last, but not least:

The dark man following Aunt Betsey, could he be her husband from whom she separated a long time ago?


Melanie | 48 comments Hedi wrote: "Miss Mowcher is once again one of Dickens's curiosities, isn't she? I wonder sometimes how he came up with the ideas for these more comical and curious characters."

I remembered I had read something last year in my introduction about a real person Miss Mowcher was based on and just looked it up:
(view spoiler)


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Robin wrote: "Sorry, maybe I'm the one not being clear. I don't think anything Miss Dartle says is a real opinion of hers. When she says" Are they really animals and clods and beings of another order? I want to ..."

Sometimes a foreknowledge of a novel you have already read might be a dangerous thing... I think we were both putting our further interpretations into our posts, trying not to spoil too much ... Oh, the pleasure of online discussion :-)


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Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Hedi wrote: "... Let us see the natives in their aboriginal condition"

How about gatherers, fishermen, and peasants before the class society? Maybe that is what he meant in this rude utterance? Sarcastic and, honestly, loathsome, but this is Steerforth for you ...


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Hedi wrote: "And is she an omen for Emily who admits that she is not as good as assumed? "

Dickens does have a habit of introducing new characters and returning the long-gone characters, but they still do serve their functions in his novels. So I would assume, Martha is there for a reason. Besides, we all have noticed that Dickens is a more mature writer at this period, and his plotting is more consistent. Let us hope that Martha is also instrumental in this novel.


Renee M | 751 comments Zulfiya makes a great point in reminding us that David's apple may not fall too far from the maternal tree. I was beginning to feel annoyed by his level of "innocence" in the last section, given that he has had to survive on his own in London. Not so much with his idolization of Steerforth, since he has David's loyalty from a very young and impressionable age. But, with some of his other interactions. I also have to remind myself that David's time in London puts him at a disadvantage in society since he feels himself "behind." And, perhaps, he is, having spent his energies on survival.

This novel does seem to carry a great number of impressionable young people at the mercy of those who see their innocence as an opportunity. Woe to anyone with a trusting nature! Yet, as a reader, I love David's appreciation for the Peggottys! His ability to recognize and admire the "nobility" in each of them despite their station and lack of education, etc.


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Renee wrote: " Yet, as a reader, I love David's appreciation for the Peggottys! His ability to recognize and admire the "nobility" in each of them despite their station and lack of education, etc. "

An excellent point, Renee. Dickens through David interprets nobility not as a birthright, but as generous and genteel nature, a noble heart rather than a noble birth.


Lynnm | 3027 comments Zulfiya wrote: "I assume he is 15 or 16, but he does have a childish naivete and charm as his mother did. If you remember, Miss Betsy Trotwood always refers to her as a child ...

Besides, how many friends does h..."


A bit behind...just finished Chapter 23.

Nothing to add, but just wanted to let you know that I haven't given up on the novel. As if I would give up on a Dickens novel! :-)


Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Lynnm wrote: "Nothing to add, but just wanted to let you know that I haven't given up on the novel. As if I would give up on a Dickens novel! :-)
"


Dickens addiction is a powerful thing:-)


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