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David Copperfield > DC, Chp. 19-21

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message 1: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Dear Fellow Curiosities,

Our story moves on at a faster pace now, and we find David at the age of 17 in the course of our new chapter now and about to leave school and unless he wants to follow Mr. Dick’s advice and become a “Brazier”, which would probably mean incurring Aunt Betsey’s wrath, he has to look about him and make some decision as to his future career. In order to help him do so, Aunt Betsey decides to let him take a change of air and visit Peggotty again – although Aunt Betsey is still sceptical as to that good woman’s name. Before David can take some time off and settle his future prospects by seeing a bit of the world – Aunt Betsey thinks that four or three weeks will do the trick –, he says goodbye to the Wickfields and to his old teacher Dr. Strong.

In his conversation with Agnes, David makes it clear that he regards her as a dear sister, and his idolatry also takes on a rather clinging tone:

”'[…] But there is no one that I know of, who deserves to love you, Agnes. Someone of a nobler character, and more worthy altogether than anyone I have ever seen here, must rise up, before I give my consent. In the time to come, I shall have a wary eye on all admirers; and shall exact a great deal from the successful one, I assure you.'”

It’s certainly not a nice thing to put a woman on a pedestal, thus making her a slave to one’s own overblown expectations and to rob her of her own wishes and instincts, is it?

The course of their conversation gives us further cause for alarm with regard to Uriah Heep, who seems to be aware of Mr. Wickfield’s penchant for drink – through David? –, uses his employer’s spells of insecurity in order to enhance his self-doubts, and maybe to make himself indispensable to him. In the Strong household, too, we learn of more trouble ahead in that Jack Maldon, in a letter addressed to Annie, rather than to his benefactor, complains about India’s being detrimental to his health and announces his resolution to return to England. The Old Soldier, to her daughter’s dismay, does not lose a second before she takes the side of the young drifter and urges Dr. Strong to do something for him. There is one sentence I really like and plan to use it whenever I am making a case for something:

“’I must really beg that you will not interfere with me, unless it is to confirm what I say.’”

Mr. Wickfield, with his usual pessimism and distrust (of which the Doctor could take his portion), notices that there is something rotten, and he seems to be willing to shield his own daughter from too close an association with Annie.

On his journey to London, David desperately tries to act and look adult, but before a lot of time has passed he is already taken advantage of by a rather seedy fellow-traveller, who gets the seat David has paid for. At the inn, it is not much better for they give him a mediocre room and dinner, and the waiter treats him rather condescendingly and with an undue amount of familiarity. Nevertheless David goes to a play, which impresses him a lot, and on returning, he recognizes one of the guests at the inn as his old schoolmate Steerforth, who – characteristically – at first cannot remember him. However, Steerforth bullies the impertinent waiter into improving conditions for his friend David, whom he refers to as “little Copperfield”. It is quite noteworthy that David, from the very beginning, is struck with an almost creepy admiration for Steerforth and evinces his old attitude of submission:

”I grasped him by both hands, and could not let them go. But for very shame, and the fear that it might displease him, I could have held him round the neck and cried.
'I never, never, never was so glad! My dear Steerforth, I am so overjoyed to see you!'
'And I am rejoiced to see you, too!' he said, shaking my hands heartily. 'Why, Copperfield, old boy, don't be overpowered!' And yet he was glad, too, I thought, to see how the delight I had in meeting him affected me.
I brushed away the tears that my utmost resolution had not been able to keep back, and I made a clumsy laugh of it, and we sat down together, side by side.”

It is probably not easy for an author to deal with the passage of larger spans of time elegantly. We have been used to seeing and regarding David as a child, but now Dickens wants the story to get on and he has David become a teenager. Do you think Dickens managed the passing of several years successfully?
What do you think of David’s attempts to pass for older than he is or to be taken as an adult in his own right? What might this say about his character? What do you think of Steerforth as a contrast?
And last, but not least – do you take it as a lucky coincidence in a novel rich in coincidences that David should bump into Steerforth? How might the story develop?

message 2: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Chapter 20 gives us some insight into Steerforth’s family life as Steerforth decides that David spend some days at his mother’s place before going on to Yarmouth. The very first sentences of this chapter remind us of David’s lack of self-confidence, and as they are very funny, I’ll quote them here:

”When the chambermaid tapped at my door at eight o'clock, and informed me that my shaving-water was outside, I felt severely the having no occasion for it, and blushed in my bed. The suspicion that she laughed too, when she said it, preyed upon my mind all the time I was dressing; and gave me, I was conscious, a sneaking and guilty air when I passed her on the staircase, as I was going down to breakfast.”

We have further evidence of David’s cringeworthily submissive attitude towards Steerforth – in passages that are rather painful to read and that are grist to the mill of a Freudian reading of the text, or the relationship:

”'Now, Copperfield,' said Steerforth, when we were alone, 'I should like to hear what you are doing, and where you are going, and all about you. I feel as if you were my property.' Glowing with pleasure to find that he had still this interest in me, I told him how my aunt had proposed the little expedition that I had before me, and whither it tended.”

Aaaah, shudder … and then there’s this:

”’I take a degree!' cried Steerforth. 'Not I! my dear Daisy—will you mind my calling you Daisy?'
'Not at all!' said I.
'That's a good fellow! My dear Daisy,' said Steerforth, laughing. 'I have not the least desire or intention to distinguish myself in that way. I have done quite sufficient for my purpose. I find that I am heavy company enough for myself as I am.'
'But the fame—' I was beginning.
'You romantic Daisy!' said Steerforth, laughing still more heartily: 'why should I trouble myself, that a parcel of heavy-headed fellows may gape and hold up their hands? Let them do it at some other man. There's fame for him, and he's welcome to it.'
I was abashed at having made so great a mistake, and was glad to change the subject.”

When we finally arrive at Steerforth’s home with the two young men, we can hardly be surprised that Mrs. Steerforth is one of those doting mothers, who treasure their sons’ locks and letters and who will like everyone that shares their admiration for junior. It also becomes clear why Steerforth had been placed in Mr. Creakle’s school, which was not, as we all remember, very renowned for the quality of the education:

”'It was not a fit school generally for my son,' said she; 'far from it; but there were particular circumstances to be considered at the time, of more importance even than that selection. My son's high spirit made it desirable that he should be placed with some man who felt its superiority, and would be content to bow himself before it; and we found such a man there.'”

In other words, rather than have her son be prepared for life and be taken down a peg or two, Mrs. Steerforth chose a school where they would not interfere with him giving himself airs. Little wonder that he does not appear to show any ambitions in life!

We also make the acquaintance of Rosa Dartle, who is described like that:

”There was a second lady in the dining-room, of a slight short figure, dark, and not agreeable to look at, but with some appearance of good looks too, who attracted my attention: perhaps because I had not expected to see her; perhaps because I found myself sitting opposite to her; perhaps because of something really remarkable in her. She had black hair and eager black eyes, and was thin, and had a scar upon her lip. It was an old scar—I should rather call it seam, for it was not discoloured, and had healed years ago—which had once cut through her mouth, downward towards the chin, but was now barely visible across the table, except above and on her upper lip, the shape of which it had altered. I concluded in my own mind that she was about thirty years of age, and that she wished to be married. She was a little dilapidated—like a house—with having been so long to let; yet had, as I have said, an appearance of good looks. Her thinness seemed to be the effect of some wasting fire within her, which found a vent in her gaunt eyes.”

I don’t know about you, but to me the very last sentence but one of the description seems out of tune with David’s character as it is quite malicious. But then it’s not the 17-year-old David speaking here but the narrator, who has grown older and seen more of life, and still I find that sentence very mean. Rosa Dartle, who is an orphan but who has money of her own, has been disfigured for life by Steerforth’s throwing a hammer at her when he was a child, and she is that embittered-and-disenchanted-female type that we have seen in Alice Marwood in Dombey and Son (and maybe also in Edith Granger) and that we are going to meet again in Miss Wade from Little Dorrit. However, unlike Alice and Edith, Rosa Dartle seems to be rather artful as becomes clear from her seemingly innocuous “only asking for information”, which is, in fact, rather insidious, and she thankfully picks every occasion to mar the Steerforths’ sense of comfort with themselves. We are clearly supposed not to like her – because of her pent-up passion and her sneaky way of leading a conversation … but then I don’t always do what I am supposed to do ;-)

One of my reasons is the following passage:

”'Should I?' said Steerforth. 'Well, I think I should. I must see what can be done. It would be worth a journey (not to mention the pleasure of a journey with you, Daisy), to see that sort of people together, and to make one of 'em.'
My heart leaped with a new hope of pleasure. But it was in reference to the tone in which he had spoken of 'that sort of people', that Miss Dartle, whose sparkling eyes had been watchful of us, now broke in again.
'Oh, but, really? Do tell me. Are they, though?' she said.
'Are they what? And are who what?' said Steerforth.
'That sort of people. — Are they really animals and clods, and beings of another order? I want to know SO much.'
'Why, there's a pretty wide separation between them and us,' said Steerforth, with indifference. 'They are not to be expected to be as sensitive as we are. Their delicacy is not to be shocked, or hurt easily. They are wonderfully virtuous, I dare say—some people contend for that, at least; and I am sure I don't want to contradict them—but they have not very fine natures, and they may be thankful that, like their coarse rough skins, they are not easily wounded.'
'Really!' said Miss Dartle. 'Well, I don't know, now, when I have been better pleased than to hear that. It's so consoling! 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. Live and learn. I had my doubts, I confess, but now they're cleared up. I didn't know, and now I do know, and that shows the advantage of asking—don't it?'”

Steerforth here shows his callous contempt for working-class people like the Peggottys, and I don’t know, by the way, whether David is very well-advised to introduce his eminent friend into their household in Yarmouth, but at least Miss Dartle in an underhanded sort of way emphasizes Steerforth’s haughty and heartless attitude, and gives David the chance to notice it – only he won’t. She similarly calls into question the aptness of the sobriquet Daisy. I doubt that her motives are based on principle rather than on a personal grudge against Steerforth but nevertheless she seems like a very intelligent woman, and I daresay that I might get along with her admirably, whereas I can’t say the same for the Steerforths. Do you think that part of Rosa’s bitterness may stem from her possibly being in love with Steerforth, or do you think that she wholeheartedly despises the young man?

message 3: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
The beginning of Chapter 21 introduces yet another character – what a vast little microcosm this book is –, Steerforth’s manservant Littimer, who apparently has no Christian name, which is argued for thus:

”Even the fact that no one knew his Christian name, seemed to form a part of his respectability. Nothing could be objected against his surname, Littimer, by which he was known. Peter might have been hanged, or Tom transported; but Littimer was perfectly respectable.”

Never in my life have I read the word “respectable” so often as in the description of this character, who, by the way, cows David into feeling much younger than he actually is, and it is all too clear that this kind of respectability is not much different from the Heeps’ humbleness. Add to this Littimer’s snakelikeness, which is hinted at here:

”He had not a pliant face, he had rather a stiff neck, rather a tight smooth head with short hair clinging to it at the sides, a soft way of speaking, with a peculiar habit of whispering the letter S so distinctly, that he seemed to use it oftener than any other man […]”

as well as this dark foreshadowing of evil:

”I am particular about this man, because he made a particular effect on me at that time, and because of what took place thereafter.”

and we can be sure that Littimer is up to no good and that he will play a crucial role in the course of events. For the moment, though, times seem rosy for David since he revisits the people and places linked with his happier childhood moments. First of all, he goes to see Mr. Omer, whose daughter has married Mr. Joram and given birth to three children, in order to thank him for the kindness with which he treated him. We learn that it was on their journey to Blunderstone that the match between Minnie and Joram was agreed on – another bit of proof that the circle of life cannot be interrupted although death is ubiquitous – and we also get information on Little Em’ly, whose beauty and whose openly confessed dreams of being a Lady one day have set the teeth of the townswomen against her.

David pays a visit to Peggotty and Mr. Barkis, who is in bed with rheumatism, and though he may be quite tight-fisted, he is so delighted with seeing David again that he orders Peggotty to prepare a choice meal and sacrifices one guinea for this purpose. Whereas Uriah Heep’s and Littimer’s deceitfulness is more subtle, Mr. Barkis’s claims that his box only contains clothes and under no circumstances any money and that he is, alas!, but a poor man seem quite innocent in their threadbareness.

David and Steerforth arrive at the Peggottys’ boat at a very crucial moment: After a long suit, Ham has finally succeeded in making Em’ly accept his marriage proposal – to the utmost delight of that little patchwork family, a delight they are more than ready to share with David and Steerforth. However, Em’ly seems to keep a distance between herself and Ham, which is only noticed by David. Steerforth has made himself thoroughly agreeable to every single one of David’s friends, using his natural charm, but then we have the following two passages:

”He maintained all his delightful qualities to the last, until we started forth, at eight o'clock, for Mr. Peggotty's boat. Indeed, they were more and more brightly exhibited as the hours went on; for I thought even then, and I have no doubt now, that the consciousness of success in his determination to please, inspired him with a new delicacy of perception, and made it, subtle as it was, more easy to him. 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! Probably only in an increase, had that been possible, of the romantic feelings of fidelity and friendship with which I walked beside him, over the dark wintry sands towards the old boat; the wind sighing around us even more mournfully, than it had sighed and moaned upon the night when I first darkened Mr. Peggotty's door.”

Does this mean that Steerforth, too, is a deceiver – still better at his work than Uriah Heep because he does not lack personal charms – who is following his own, egoistic aims, and who tries to lull David’s friends into a false sense of security?

Then there is this:

”'That's rather a chuckle-headed fellow for the girl; isn't he?' said Steerforth.
He had been so hearty with him, and with them all, that I felt a shock in this unexpected and cold reply. But turning quickly upon him, and seeing a laugh in his eyes, I answered, much relieved:
'Ah, Steerforth! It's well for you to joke about the poor! You may skirmish with Miss Dartle, or try to hide your sympathies in jest from me, but I know better. When I see how perfectly you understand them, how exquisitely you can enter into happiness like this plain fisherman's, or humour a love like my old nurse's, I know that there is not a joy or sorrow, not an emotion, of such people, that can be indifferent to you. And I admire and love you for it, Steerforth, twenty times the more!'
He stopped, and, looking in my face, said, 'Daisy, I believe you are in earnest, and are good. I wish we all were!' Next moment he was gaily singing Mr. Peggotty's song, as we walked at a round pace back to Yarmouth. “

David’s was born in Blunderstone, but his bringing Steerforth into the circle of his own friends was clearly more than just a blunder. When Steerforth says that he wishes everyone were as good as David, does he mean to imply that he himself isn’t and that he knows he is up to no good but that it simply is his nature and he cannot act against it? That would make Steerforth a rather Mephistophelean character, wouldn’t it?

message 4: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 575 comments It is clear David is still way too naieve.
Also, is it me, or are there a lot of hints of Steerforth being gay? There were the creepy remarks of how he wished David had a sister, and then he'd know, at Creackle's (and I realise I already remarked on David being almost romantically infatuated with him back then). Then in these chapters there were Rosa's hints at what might happen with his supervisor in university, which is dismissed by Mrs. Steerforth with that this supervisor is trustworthy, as is Steerforth. Him pouncing onto a boy who admires him, making him have a room next to his everywhere, too. And then there is the man who followed him from university, and who doesn't seem to bring in a lot for his money, or does he? If he is snake-like, he also has a literary symbolic connection to the forbidden fruit, which often is seen as sex too, right? So in my eyes there are quite a lot of hints, and I am very surprised I missed all those last time I read DC.

message 5: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod

whenever I come across the David-Steerforth passages I have similar ideas even though I doubt that Dickens meant us to read them in that way, homosexuality being too great a taboo in Victorian times to have featured on the surface level of a Victorian novel. Only I did not interpret Steerforth as a closet gay, but rather David, from how he makes sheep's eyes at Steerforth and basks in the young man's condescension. At the same time, we learn about all those love interests that David indulges in, and to me it reads like a typical phase of sexual orientation a young teenager may go through. Kudos to Dickens for capturing that kind of thing so naturally here.

message 6: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 575 comments I thought that perhaps, because it was such a great taboo, Dickens might have used it to show off Steerforth's amorality - because it was seen like that in the Victorian times. I do agree that it all might point towards David as well, although Dickens would then also point towards himself. Either way, the scenes with David and Steerforth read very, very much sexualised in a Victorian, glossed over kind of way. Also, Dickens is pretty good at pointing to societal things that are weird at best and often wrong. Certain relationships/actions even if it are not relationships that might or might not be forced on young men wanting to fit in in male dominated environments might have been a thing too. Dickens is known for bringing poverty/inequality into the light, but I've often thought he certainly is not a one trick pony.

message 7: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 575 comments Btw I didn't mean he wanted to bring acceptance of homosexuality to light. He of course still was a Victorian man with a lot of internalised bigotry and such. I was thinking more about the culture surrounding all-male places like schools and universities, and the underhanded dealings that come with taboos like this in such places. And it might not even have been a conscious thing that he also tackles the taboo with it, he probably focused more on the culture around it.

message 8: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3033 comments Mod
Steerforth is an interesting, confusing, and new type of character in Dickens’s writing. He certainly has a magnetic effect on David. David is rather blind to the cruelties that Steerforth exhibits towards others such as Mr Mell. It seems to me that David is taken with whatever fairy dust Steerforth is sprinkling into David’s eyes.

No doubt something is brewing between them. I agree that Dickens could not present an openly gay relationship in a novel. I also think that the school experience of males in the 19C would be an automatically understood situation for Victorian readers. The cruelties of such places as Dotheboys or the eccentricities of Blimber’s revealed to us in detail the relationship of the staff to the students. In this novel Dickens demonstrates what the interrelationships of the boys of a school were like. In this novel we are getting a more intimate revelation of the students and their interactions towards each other. No doubt there was a hierarchy within the students and no doubt there were students who looked up to or looked down upon others. To me, what l have learned so far is that David is a rather myopic lad.

His various early crushes and fascinations with so many females may simply be a reflection of the fact he wants to have the affection of someone. David's own father died before David was born and he sees his mother’s attentions focussed on Mr Murdstone. David cannot please his new father or his witch-like sister, he is sent away to school to return home only to discover that his place with his mother has been replaced with a half-brother. Steerforth is the only person of some position of power or respect that appears to take an interest in David on a consistent and on-going basis. Sadly, the Peggotty family offer David only holiday looks at a loving household.

David needs to find a place or a person that will take a consistent interest in him. Remember even his aunt Betsey originally rejected him because he was not a girl. Now, he has a temporary and welcoming home with the Peggotty’s and with his aunt. Will David be able to finally see what a home really is and really offers? I think this is a main question as we move forward in the novel.

message 9: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3033 comments Mod
Jantine wrote: "Btw I didn't mean he wanted to bring acceptance of homosexuality to light. He of course still was a Victorian man with a lot of internalised bigotry and such. I was thinking more about the culture ..."

Hi Jantine

I was in the middle of posting my comment when yours appeared. We are thinking the same way.

message 10: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments David most definitely has some more growing up to do. The fact that he wears rose-colored glasses to look at Steerforth, who is so very demeaning, makes me crazy. Kind of like celebrity culture, isn't it?

Rosa Dartle is annoying but, as Tristram points out, she's a sharp cookie. Seems like one of the tropes in this book is observation. Rosa observes (though not subtly), Uriah observes, and now Steerforth, too, seems to take more in than perhaps those around him realize. It's rather masterful of Dickens to show us three such different characters who share the same modus operandi. How will they each use what they've learned?

Rosa, by the way, reminds me a great deal of a character to come - Molly, Jagger's maid in Great Expectations. All these women with mysterious scars...

I don't find it at all unusual that David worries so much about trying to be seen as older and more mature. Isn't that why most teenagers take up smoking? I think Steerforth's comments on fame are very interesting, though. Perhaps he gets enough adoration from his mother and David and doesn't need it from the public at large.

I wonder if, when Barkis goes to his reward, Peggoty will learn that she's a very wealthy woman.

I'm sorry to say it, but I was disappointed by these chapters. First - the respectable bit.... Uriah was 'umble. 'Umble this and 'umble that. Okay. But now we have the respectable Littimer. Using the same word SO very often seemed like a deliberate choice with Uriah, but to do it with two characters just seems like (dare I say it?) shoddy writing. Since we know Dickens is generally an excellent writer, what is his purpose here? Why is he dropping an anvil on us, when a simple slap upside the head will do?

David met the Omer family once. YEARS AGO. Why on Earth should he remember them so clearly (particularly when his thoughts would have been on his own grief), and why would they have any reason to remember him? I found that whole scene utterly unbelievable. My dad died five years ago. I imagine myself popping in where we bought the headstone to say hello as if we were long lost friends. It's ludicrous! The scene was, of course, a mechanism to update us on Em'ly (can't we please just spell it Emily? But I digress...). I wonder if that couldn't have been accomplished some other way. Will we ever see the Omer/Joram family again, or have they served their purpose?

Finally, I'm usually a huge fan of Dickens' happy family scenes. But the engagement party was excruciating. Mr. Peggoty dragged out his story until I just wanted to scream. I found the entire chapter grating. Dickens usually shows the lower classes in a more respectful way, but this chapter made the Peggoty clan look like a bunch of uneducated buffoons. If he was trying to set up a comparison between Steerforth and the Peggotys, he certainly did draw a distinct line. Even though they're good, kind people, if they were always like this I doubt I could stand much time in their company. At least they shook old Mrs. Gummidge out of her gloom for a little while.

message 11: by Ulysse (new)

Ulysse | 73 comments David's innocence really shines through in these chapters. He's as blind to Steerforth's callousness as he is to the embarrassing sentimentality of Mr. Peggoty and Ham. "I--I love her true. There ain't a gentl'man in all the land--nor yet sailing upon all the sea--that can love his lady more than I love her, though there's many a common man--would say better--what he meant." You can just hear Steerforth cracking his knuckles at this point and thinking "this is going to be easy".

Mary Lou, I agree that the Omer family episode was unnecessary. It felt like filler. I guess that with Dickens you get a bit of every kind of filler: from inspired filler to air-filled filler. This was definitely of the air-filled kind.

The more I read this book the more in awe I am of Dickens' ability to create fascinating characters. Rosa Dartle and Littimer. A disfigured Jane Eyre and a gay Jeeves. They could be the heros of their own novels. "Littimer, or A Butler of One's Own."

message 12: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 575 comments I found them fascinating too. And I now realise that part of why I thought of this theme in these chapters, is because Littimer reminds me of Thomas Barrow from Downton Abbey, especially in combination with Rosa Dartle. Which makes me quite curious if there will be more about him, and in what way.

message 13: by Ulysse (new)

Ulysse | 73 comments The Thomas Barrow/Littimer comparison is spot on, Jantine!

message 14: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
Mary Lou, thanks for getting me sitting here trying to remember what the undertakers from my dad's funeral looked like. I can't. :-)

message 15: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
Steerforth/David gay or not, if I had someone following me everywhere I went or wanting to take me everywhere he went, looking at me constantly with adoring eyes, I'd go crazy and go out of my way to avoid the person.

message 16: by Jantine (new)

Jantine (eccentriclady) | 575 comments Yes, me too. It takes a certain personality to enjoy it, I guess, and it's not a healthy one. I know my husband adores me and I him f.i. but if he did this, I'd be quick to bark at him 'shoo, go do your own thing you!' And then we're married and perfectly fine with being together for months due to a pandemic, but this ... is a whole other level. Especially when you were classmates for no longer than a year, and it has been years and years since you've seen each other. It is creepy behaviour, from either of them.

Also, this undertaker and his family were clearly only artificially nice to David when he was a kid. They did not care one hoot about him, were being jolly on the cart and proposing and all of such things. Whatever he thought of going to visit them goes beyond me, especially when he could've used the time to spend it together with his old nurse or someone else important. On the other hand, he at least did not bring Steerforth there, thats ... something?

message 17: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Mr. Omer's reappearance in the novel - and here I agree with you, Mary Lou - was definitely because the reader had to be filled in on Emily (there you go ;-) ), and it is ludicrous that David should expect the family to still know and remember him. But then it might tell us something about David's degree of loneliness?

I had the feeling that the long scene at the Peggottys was meant to show us that, contrary to Steerforth's callous remarks on the ability of lower class people to feel pain, love and other emotions as keenly as their so-called betters, these people are indeed able to experience these emotions and that, on a human level, people from all classes are equal. Unfortunately, it was done in a much too sentimental vein, and its effect, on me, was rather off-putting. Ham came over as a dork - but then there is Dickens's penchant to icky sentimentality.

message 18: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Tristram wrote:
" I agree with you, Mary Lou ..."
"...Emily (there you go ;-) )..."

Thank you, Tristram. You're obviously not as grumpy as your detractors would have us believe. ;-)

message 19: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
Mary Lou wrote: "Tristram wrote:
" I agree with you, Mary Lou ..."
"...Emily (there you go ;-) )..."

Thank you, Tristram. You're obviously not as grumpy as your detractors would have us believe. ;-)"

If he is somehow managing to be less grumpy than usual, although I hadn't noticed, it's only because he knows I'm mad at him and he's on his best behavior. At least that's the only reason I can come up with such a change in his behavior could mean.

message 20: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
Jantine wrote: "Yes, me too. It takes a certain personality to enjoy it, I guess, and it's not a healthy one. I know my husband adores me and I him f.i. but if he did this, I'd be quick to bark at him 'shoo, go do..."

When we were kids there were two boys living next to me. The first boy lived two houses down the street, the second boy lived between us. Boy number one was really number one, in his mind anyway, he made the rules, he picked the games, he led the way, etc. etc. The other boy followed him. He followed him everywhere. He was quiet, you'd hardly know he was even there, but wherever the first boy went, you'd see the second boy right behind him. In this case I thought the second boy was crazy. This other boy did anything he wanted to this kid and the kid let him. He got a brand new bike for Christmas, and boy number one spent all night taking it apart so when the other boy got up in the morning and ran outside to ride his bike, it was in pieces. On and on. Finally they went to college together, they were roommates. Well boy number two happened to go home one weekend when boy number one didn't. When he came back all his clothes were out of his closet and in the freezer. Boy number one soaked them all in the tub and then threw them in the freezer, so now he had only frozen clothes to put on. Finally he had enough. He packed up all his things, frozen and all and moved into another apartment as far from boy number one as he could get and refused to see him or talk to him. If he called he ignored the phone, if he knocked on the door, he ignored the knock. Boy one now was the one following boy two and he would have nothing to do with him. As far as I know he still doesn't speak to him if they happen to be in the same place at the same time somehow and they are now in their 60s. Oh, and boy number one couldn't take it, shortly after boy two moved out and refused to see him, he dropped out of college and went home. That's how that Steerforth and David pair ended up.

message 21: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
Tristram wrote: "It’s certainly not a nice thing to put a woman on a pedestal, thus making her a slave to one’s own overblown expectations and to rob her of her own wishes and instincts, is it?"

No, it's not. Earlier he made some sort of comment about a stain glass window in church reminding him of her, some such thing. Can't David just like people a normal amount? First he was head over heels about Steerforth, now it's Agnes. These people sure have a lot to do living up to David's expectations of them.

message 22: by Julie (last edited Sep 09, 2020 10:23PM) (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1140 comments Tristram wrote: "Ham came over as a dork - but then there is Dickens's penchant to icky sentimentality."

It's a little too easy, isn't it, to agree with Steerforth that "That’s rather a chuckle-headed fellow for the girl"? I'm not sure whether we're supposed to feel like Steerforth is right so we can be properly educated out of our failure to appreciate virtue? Or if we're supposed to feel Steerforth has underestimated Ham. (Either way, Ham sounds like a better prospect for Em'ly than Steerforth would be.)

Funny thing is, I felt the same way about Peggoty and Barkis--I thought he was too dim for her. And yet the novel appears to think she made a good call in marrying him.

And I guess Aunt Betsey felt the same way about David's mother being too chuckle-headed for her nephew. Lots of mismatched but potentially happy couples in this book.

message 23: by Julie (new)

Julie Kelleher | 1140 comments Kim wrote: "Can't David just like people a normal amount? First he was head over heels about Steerforth, now it's Agnes. These people sure have a lot to do living up to David's expectations of them."

Oh, but you know Agnes will manage it.

I know this isn't quite what you were talking about, Kim, but I kind of like David for his propensity to fall in love with people, even though it is clearly being presented as a foolishness he must outgrow. Much better to be too much in love with people than too little. The boy has a heart.

message 24: by Tristram (last edited Sep 10, 2020 08:02AM) (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "Funny thing is, I felt the same way about Peggoty and Barkis--I thought he was too dim for her. And yet the novel appears to think she made a good call in marrying him. "

What's there not to love about a husband that is easy to handle? ;-)

I think we are supposed to take sides against Steerforth on the question whether Ham is chuckle-headed. By the way, this is a word I have never come across before. I recently learned another mysterious word from Anthony Trollope: "shandy-pated", which is probably close to "addle-brained", although I don't know for sure.

message 25: by Ulysse (new)

Ulysse | 73 comments Tristram wrote: "Julie wrote: "Funny thing is, I felt the same way about Peggoty and Barkis--I thought he was too dim for her. And yet the novel appears to think she made a good call in marrying him. "

What's ther..."

Shandy-pated probably refers to your namesake, Tristram. Would it refer to somebody who cannot stick to the point and loses himself in endless digressions?

message 26: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
Leave it to Tristram to come up with strange words.

message 27: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

My first fall in life

Chapter 19



"My first fall in life," the first illustration for the seventh monthly number, containing chapters 19, 20, and 21, illustrates the following textual passage from chapter 19:

I have always considered this as the first fall I had in life. When I booked my place at the coach-office I had had "Box Seat" written against the entry, and had given the book-keeper half-a-crown. I was got up in a special great-coat and shawl, expressly to do honour to that distinguished eminence; had glorified myself upon it a good deal; and had felt that I was a credit to the coach. And here, in the very first stage, I was supplanted by a shabby man with a squint, who had no other merit than smelling like a livery- stables, and being able to walk across me, more like a fly than a human being, while the horses were at a canter! (Ch. 19)

Despite the chagrin that David as narrator conveys in the text, David in Phiz's illustration seems cheerfully established on the top of the carriage. In a pre-Railway Age nostalgia, Phiz imbues the coach journey from Canterbury up to London with a certain romance; his take on the scene is characteristic of those who fondly look back at a bygone era. An enthusiastic horseman, Phiz had shown himself, moreover, an excellent hand at drawing horses ever since his prize-winning "John Gilpin's Race" (1832) brought him to critical and popular notice some years before his association with illustrating The Pickwick Papers for Chapman and Hall after the suicide of the initial principal illustrator, Robert Seymour. Memorable scenes involving life-like, highly spirited horses occur throughout Phiz's illustrations, notably for the Irish novels of Charles Lever. In the Dickens canon, one need look no further than the dark plate "On The Dark Road" in Dombey and Son (1848) or the Marquis' unruly and destructive steeds who trample a child in "The Stoppage at the Fountain" in the August number A Tale of Two Cities (1859). But here Phiz, unable to communicate the ironic humour of David's conversation with the driver about Suffolk fowling, dumplings, and Punches, has found little of purely visual interest in the coaching scene except the cantering horses themselves in that last sentence of the passage quoted above. The sinister or baleful character of those other teams of horses in those highly dramatic illustrations, however, would be quite inconsistent with Phiz's "romance of the highroad." The four matching coach horses here seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they briskly canter ahead of the heavily-loaded carriage and its convivial driver at the dawn of the Railway Age.

In a single paragraph following the scene realized in the plate, David briefly rehearses the scenes in which he was victimized and traumatized upon his downward journey as he gambled on his aunt's being prepared to receive him hospitably. The present journey marks yet another ending and beginning for David as he leaves behind him happy days at school and fond memories of Agnes Whitfield in the provincial cathedral town, "the tranquil sanctuary of my boyhood", as he calls it in retrospect. Although he regards this loss of his box seat rather than his mother's death, menial work in the bottling warehouse, or desperate flight as an indigent tramp from London to Dover as "his first fall in life," Phiz, fully aware of the irony, makes David a prissy, self- satisfied, miniature adult, and reveals that neither the coachman nor the white-hatted passenger in the box seat above has any duplicitous or malign intention towards the insecure protagonist-narrator.

message 28: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

"Oh, really? You know how ignorant I am, and that I only ask for information, but isn't it always so?"

Chapter 20

Fred Barnard

1872 Household Edition

Text Illustrated:

She was introduced as Miss Dartle, and both Steerforth and his mother called her Rosa. I found that she lived there, and had been for a long time Mrs. Steerforth’s companion. It appeared to me that she never said anything she wanted to say, outright; but hinted it, and made a great deal more of it by this practice. For example, when Mrs. Steerforth observed, more in jest than earnest, that she feared her son led but a wild life at college, Miss Dartle put in thus:

‘Oh, really? You know how ignorant I am, and that I only ask for information, but isn’t it always so? I thought that kind of life was on all hands understood to be—eh?’ ‘It is education for a very grave profession, if you mean that, Rosa,’ Mrs. Steerforth answered with some coldness.

‘Oh! Yes! That’s very true,’ returned Miss Dartle. ‘But isn’t it, though?—I want to be put right, if I am wrong—isn’t it, really?’

‘Really what?’ said Mrs. Steerforth.

‘Oh! You mean it’s not!’ returned Miss Dartle. ‘Well, I’m very glad to hear it! Now, I know what to do! That’s the advantage of asking. I shall never allow people to talk before me about wastefulness and profligacy, and so forth, in connexion with that life, any more.’

‘And you will be right,’ said Mrs. Steerforth. ‘My son’s tutor is a conscientious gentleman; and if I had not implicit reliance on my son, I should have reliance on him.’

‘Should you?’ said Miss Dartle. ‘Dear me! Conscientious, is he? Really conscientious, now?’

‘Yes, I am convinced of it,’ said Mrs. Steerforth.

‘How very nice!’ exclaimed Miss Dartle. ‘What a comfort! Really conscientious? Then he’s not—but of course he can’t be, if he’s really conscientious. Well, I shall be quite happy in my opinion of him, from this time. You can’t think how it elevates him in my opinion, to know for certain that he’s really conscientious!’

message 29: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

We arrive unexpectedly at Mr. Peggotty's fireside

Chapter 21



For the second illustration in the seventh monthly part, for November 1849, Phiz reintroduces James Steerforth (right of centre, in the doorway), paralleling the unexpected reappearance in "Somebody turns up" of Wilkins Micawber in chapter 17. The textual passage realized is this:

A murmur of voices had been audible on the outside, and, at the moment of our entrance, a clapping of hands: which latter noise, I was surprised to see, proceeded from the generally disconsolate Mrs. Gummidge. But Mrs. Gummidge was not the only person there who was unusually excited. Mr. Peggotty, his face lighted up with uncommon satisfaction, and laughing with all his might, held his rough arms wide open, as if for little Em'ly to run into them; Ham, with mixed expression in his face of admiration, exultation, and a lumbering sort of bashfulness that sat upon him very well, held little Em'ly by the hand, as if he were presenting her to Mr. Peggotty; little Em'ly herself, blushing and shy but delighted with Mr. Peggotty's delight, as her joyous eyes expressed, was stopped by our entrance (for she saw us first) in the very act of springing from Ham to nestle in Mr. Peggotty's embrace. In the first glimpse we had of them all, and at the moment of our passing from the dark cold night into the warm light room, this was the way in which they were all employed: Mrs. Gummidge in the background, clapping her hands like a madwoman.

This is one of two plates from the original monthly serial numbers that depict the interior of the Peggottys' boat-house as thoroughly commodious and cheerful; the second plate for the first instalment ("I am hospitably received by Mr. Peggotty") and the second for the seventh instalment ("We arrive unexpectedly at Mr. Peggotty's fireside") imply by the curvature of the ceiling beams that the boat is upside down, so that the floor is actually the underside of the deck. The breadth of the room and the arching beams in "I am hospitably received by Mr. Peggotty," a scene involving four adults and two children), indicate that the ceiling is the inverted keel, reinforced by a thick cross-beam at the top of the plate. The curvature of the walls as they blend into the ceiling is once again evident in "We arrive unexpectedly at Mr. Peggotty's fireside," (but the room seems to have expanded vertically to accommodate Steerforth's height and the size of the social gathering (six adults disposed in three groups of two each), and the window, curtained over (right), seems bigger than in either of Phiz's exterior realizations.

While Ham, Mrs. Gummidge, and Mr. Peggotty have not changed in appearance since the day that Clara Peggotty drove off with Em'ly and David to marry the "willing" Barkis, Em'ly, although still "little" compared to the others in her blended family, has grown up. Significantly, Phiz depicts David as "little" for an adult, too, although his beaver hat compensates for his short stature, which is accentuated by Steerforth's height, which in turn suggests his superiority (or, more properly, his own conviction of his intellectual and emotional superiority) to everyone else in the scene. As Mr. Omer, the local haberdasher and funeral director who employs Em'ly states earlier that same day, Em'ly in Phiz's illustration seems "wayward", an all-embracing term consonant with Em'ly's being rather too well dressed for a seamstress, a young woman of the working-classes, coy, and vacillating. In the text, she is unsure whether she should cleave to Ham, almost her brother, because marrying him will be a denial of her aspiration to be a lady. The picture has all the qualities of a tableau-vivant as it realizes every aspect of Dickens's description of the characters as they appear to David as he enters "unexpectedly." The picture has all the qualities of a tableau-vivant as it realizes every aspect of Dickens's description of the characters as they appear to David as he enters "unexpectedly." Steerforth's having exchanged his gentlemanly beaver top hat for a cap may suggest his having prepared for his Yarmouth excursion by dressing himself in the role of a seaside tourist who is enjoying the novelty of mingling with provincials and boatmen rather than Oxford dons and undergraduates.

message 30: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

"Presently they brought her to the fireside, very much confused, and very shy."

Chapter 21

Fred Barnard

Text Illustrated:

So Mr. Peggotty went into my old room to fetch little Em’ly. At first little Em’ly didn’t like to come, and then Ham went. Presently they brought her to the fireside, very much confused, and very shy,—but she soon became more assured when she found how gently and respectfully Steerforth spoke to her; how skilfully he avoided anything that would embarrass her; how he talked to Mr. Peggotty of boats, and ships, and tides, and fish; how he referred to me about the time when he had seen Mr. Peggotty at Salem House; how delighted he was with the boat and all belonging to it; how lightly and easily he carried on, until he brought us, by degrees, into a charmed circle, and we were all talking away without any reserve.

Em’ly, indeed, said little all the evening; but she looked, and listened, and her face got animated, and she was charming. Steerforth told a story of a dismal shipwreck (which arose out of his talk with Mr. Peggotty), as if he saw it all before him—and little Em’ly’s eyes were fastened on him all the time, as if she saw it too. He told us a merry adventure of his own, as a relief to that, with as much gaiety as if the narrative were as fresh to him as it was to us—and little Em’ly laughed until the boat rang with the musical sounds, and we all laughed (Steerforth too), in irresistible sympathy with what was so pleasant and light-hearted. He got Mr. Peggotty to sing, or rather to roar, ‘When the stormy winds do blow, do blow, do blow’; and he sang a sailor’s song himself, so pathetically and beautifully, that I could have almost fancied that the real wind creeping sorrowfully round the house, and murmuring low through our unbroken silence, was there to listen.

message 31: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

My First Fall in Life - Colorized!

message 32: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

Colorized again

message 33: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

Mr. Peggotty

Frank Reynolds

message 34: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod


Frank Reynolds

message 35: by Kim (last edited Sep 10, 2020 01:14PM) (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
Here's Rosa Dartle by Kyd

message 36: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod



message 37: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

Mr. Omer


message 38: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

The Original Peggotty's Hut at Yarmouth, described in David Copperfield. Illustration for The Graphic, 1 November 1879.

message 39: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod

Charles Dickens' Copperfield House, Canterbury, Kent. Dickens supposedly wrote part of David Copperfield in the house. Postcard, early 20th century.

message 40: by Kim (new)

Kim | 5700 comments Mod
And finally for Kyd this week we have Mrs. Steerforth:

message 41: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3033 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "

My first fall in life

Chapter 19



"My first fall in life," the first illustration for the seventh monthly number, containing chapters 19, 20, and 21, illustrates the following..."

Thanks as always Kim. Looking at this picture and thinking back to Dombey and Son and the presence of the railway I am reminded how consistently Dickens sets his novels in the past. Is the reason a longing for the past? Any ideas anyone?

message 42: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3033 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "

Colorized again"

Well, colourizing is OK, but the original plate gives the letterpress a wonderful companion and feel of a 19C novel.

message 43: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3033 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "

Mr. Peggotty

Frank Reynolds"

Unlike the weird Kyd characterizations I find this interpretation of Peggotty to be wonderful.

message 44: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Ulysse wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Julie wrote: "Funny thing is, I felt the same way about Peggoty and Barkis--I thought he was too dim for her. And yet the novel appears to think she made a good call in marrying hi..."

I looked it up online because my dictionaries at home did not contain the term. And an Internet site called defined the word as being used in the 18th and 19th centuries and meaning "wild, boisterous; visionary, empty-headed". Quite the thing that Tristram Shandy was: Wild and boisterous in his digressions, and visionary as a book in general - although not at all empty-headed.

message 45: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Kim wrote: "Leave it to Tristram to come up with strange words."

It's Anthony Trollope comes up with them, not me. :-)

message 46: by Ulysse (new)

Ulysse | 73 comments Tristram wrote: "Ulysse wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Julie wrote: "Funny thing is, I felt the same way about Peggoty and Barkis--I thought he was too dim for her. And yet the novel appears to think she made a good call..."

A jack-o-lantern full of visionary thoughts !

message 47: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "Kim wrote: "

My first fall in life

Chapter 19



"My first fall in life," the first illustration for the seventh monthly number, containing chapters 19, 20, and 21, illustrates t..."

I don't have quotes ready but I think that in general Dickens was quite critical of the past and often made fun of people who advocated tradition and conservatism. That actually makes me wonder why I like Dickens so much because I am growing more and more conservative every day and more and more inclined to think the world, as it is today, a madhouse.

message 48: by Tristram (new)

Tristram Shandy | 4451 comments Mod
Ulysse wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Ulysse wrote: "Tristram wrote: "Julie wrote: "Funny thing is, I felt the same way about Peggoty and Barkis--I thought he was too dim for her. And yet the novel appears to think she..."

Indeed, it's high time I gave it a reread.

message 49: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Peter wrote: "Unlike the weird Kyd characterizations I find this interpretation of Peggotty to be wonderful."

I think Reynolds hit it out of the ballpark with these characters!

message 50: by Mary Lou (new)

Mary Lou | 2308 comments Tristram wrote: "in general Dickens was quite critical of the past and often made fun of people who advocated tradition and conservatism. That actually makes me wonder why I like Dickens so much because I am growing more and more conservative every day and more and more inclined to think the world, as it is today, a madhouse...."

I've often thought about this myself, Tristram. What I've come up with is this:
~ What passes for conservative and traditional in 2020 is very liberal for the Victorian age. While the books' themes were probably very progressive at the time, they're often mainstream and even considered traditional today.
~ Dickens novels are ripping yarns with entertaining characters and the author's keen insight into human behavior. His social commentary is a huge part of Dickens' books, but only one part of many.

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