Monday, February 24, 2014

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

What an astounding book, I was sorry it had to end. After months of reading I was so involved with the characters that I did not want it to stop.

I will agree that Dickens can run on and sometimes you knew you were in for a long slog but what is reading for? The turns and twists are delightful.

My nice old copy was inexpensive at a local estate sale. Probably from 1895, unfortunately no illustrations.

Life lessons; many that would have served well me in my younger days! There is no doubt that David was a mama's boy but no problem... we all have our character defects, if we would only admit them.

Two 420 page books in one! Unbelievable! I thought for sure the second halve would be just a drag on the first but oh no, it has it's adult life charm all to itself. The ending, by the way reminded me of the ending of "Raising Arizona."

I know for sure I am not the 1st person to be blown away by Dickens; and am certainly not the last.

We wait a long time for David to grow up enough to chastise Mr. Murdstone; but oh it felt good.

Some of my favorite excerpts:

   A trifle of good advise from Betsey:
'Trot,' said my aunt in conclusion, 'be a credit to yourself, to me, and Mr. Dick, and Heaven be with you!' 
I was greatly overcome, and could only thank her, again and again, and send my love to Mr. Dick. 'Never,' said my aunt, 'be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.'
   Ah, to say this to someone, and have them listen...

   The good Doctor states prophetically:
'Annie, my dear,' said he, looking at his watch, and filling his glass, 'it is past your cousin jack's time, and we must not detain him, since time and tide—both concerned in this case—wait for no man. Mr. Jack Maldon, you have a long voyage, and a strange country, before you; but many men have had both, and many men will have both, to the end of time. The winds you are going to tempt, have wafted thousands upon thousands to fortune, and brought thousands upon thousands happily back.'
   Dickens purposefully leaves out the part about those winds swallowing a few good men too.

   David recalls seeing an old schoolmate:
Adams is going to be called to the bar almost directly, and is to be an advocate, and to wear a wig. I am surprised to find him a meeker man than I had thought, and less imposing in appearance. He has not staggered the world yet, either; for it goes on (as well as I can make out) pretty much the same as if he had never joined it.
   Hmm, "pretty much the same as if he had never joined it."

    And now a little insight into the mind of the "Privileged" from Steerforth:
'It's a bad job,' he said, when I had done; 'but the sun sets every day, and people die every minute, and we mustn't be scared by the common lot. If we failed to hold our own, because that equal foot at all men's doors was heard knocking somewhere, every object in this world would slip from us. No! Ride on! Rough–shod if need be, smooth–shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!'
   Mustn't be afraid of the common lot!

   Oh the wicked and broken Miss Dartle, another example of privilege cloistered in an Ivory Tower:
'Oh, shame, Miss Dartle! shame!' I said indignantly. 'How can you bear to trample on his undeserved affliction!'
'I would trample on them all,' she answered. 'I would have his house pulled down. I would have her branded on the face, dressed in rags, and cast out in the streets to starve. If I had the power to sit in judgement on her, I would see it done. See it done? I would do it! I detest her. If I ever could reproach her with her infamous condition, I would go anywhere to do so. If I could hunt her to her grave, I would. If there was any word of comfort that would be a solace to her in her dying hour, and only I possessed it, I wouldn't part with it for Life itself.'
   David is shocked and offended by the "true" Miss Dartle's inner rage; she being another in a rather long list of Steerforth's victims. 

   And again as with the other Elite portrayed by Dickens we have a very detached statement by Jack Maldon:
'There's a long statement in the papers, sir, about a murder,' observed Mr. Maldon. 'But somebody is always being murdered, and I didn't read it.'
A display of indifference to all the actions and passions of mankind was not supposed to be such a distinguished quality at that time, I think, as I have observed it to be considered since. I have known it very fashionable indeed. I have seen it displayed with such success, that I have encountered some fine ladies and gentlemen who might as well have been born caterpillars. Perhaps it impressed me the more then, because it was new to me, but it certainly did not tend to exalt my opinion of, or to strengthen my confidence in, Mr. Jack Maldon.
   David's "education" regarding the privileged class continues. Don't get me wrong, I can be as indifferent as the next guy but this is evidence that the problem goes along with the beast.

   In affairs of the heart David too easily falls in love but is devoted to the end. In this scene Dora's new minders (after the accidental death of her father) expound a concise opinion of young Love.
'The light—for I call them, in comparison with such sentiments, the light—inclinations of very young people,' pursued Miss Lavinia, 'are dust, compared to rocks. It is owing to the difficulty of knowing whether they are likely to endure or have any real foundation,
   Lifelong sometimes irrevocable decisions made when we are very young...

   David expounds on his own "theory of life:"
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. I have never believed it possible that any natural or improved ability can claim immunity from the companionship of the steady, plain, hard–working qualities, and hope to gain its end. There is no such thing as such fulfilment on this earth.
Some happy talent, and some fortunate opportunity, may form the two sides of the ladder on which some men mount, but the rounds of that ladder must be made of stuff to stand wear and tear; and there is no substitute for thorough–going, ardent, and sincere earnestness. Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could throw my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules.   I especially like the "two rungs" concept.

   Never a more concise description of the object or outcome from marriage could be made:
'These are early days, Trot,' she pursued, 'and Rome was not built in a day, nor in a year. You have chosen freely for yourself'; a cloud passed over her face for a moment, I thought; 'and you have chosen a very pretty and a very affectionate creature. It will be your duty, and it will be your pleasure too—of course I know that; I am not delivering a lecture—to estimate her (as you chose her) by the qualities she has, and not by the qualities she may not have. The latter you must develop in her, if you can. And if you cannot, child,' here my aunt rubbed her nose, 'you must just accustom yourself to do without 'em. But remember, my dear, your future is between you two. No one can assist you; you are to work it out for yourselves. This is marriage, Trot; and Heaven bless you both, in it, for a pair of babes in the wood as you are!'
   The truth as only Betsey can provide it, however, David's own description later on stuck with me even more.

   This goes to illuminate Dickens's "facts of marriage" theory:
When I walked alone in the fine weather, and thought of the summer days when all the air had been filled with my boyish enchantment, I did miss something of the realization of my dreams; but I thought it was a softened glory of the Past, which nothing could have thrown upon the present time. I did feel, sometimes, for a little while, that I could have wished my wife had been my counsellor; had had more character and purpose, to sustain me and improve me by; had been endowed with power to fill up the void which somewhere seemed to be about me; but I felt as if this were an unearthly consummation of my happiness, that never had been meant to be, and never could have been.
   I suspect many if not most marriages give little or no consideration such as this.

   An interesting note regarding the nature of ones "eventual outcome:"
Having some foundation for believing, by this time, that nature and accident had made me an author, I pursued my vocation with confidence.
   As much as we would like to believe in our guiding our own destiny I am afraid that "nature and accident" with a sprinkling of nurture and environment have far more to do with how most of us turn out.

   Here is Dickens taking on the righteous using his Murdstone character:
'Mrs. Chillip does go so far as to say,' pursued the meekest of little men, much encouraged, 'that what such people miscall their religion, is a vent for their bad humours and arrogance. And do you know I must say, sir,' he continued, mildly laying his head on one side, 'that I DON'T find authority for Mr. and Miss Murdstone in the New Testament?'
'I never found it either!' said I.
'In the meantime, sir,' said Mr. Chillip, 'they are much disliked; and as they are very free in consigning everybody who dislikes them to perdition, we really have a good deal of perdition going on in our neighbourhood! However, as Mrs. Chillip says, sir, they undergo a continual punishment; for they are turned inward, to feed upon their own hearts, and their own hearts are very bad feeding. Now, sir, about that brain of yours, if you'll excuse my returning to it. Don't you expose it to a good deal of excitement, sir?'
   Indeed their own hearts are bad feeding!

More to come...