On David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
Sadly, the West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club lost momentum after our first meeting in March 2020 on Emma, due to the covid-19 lockdown during the months of April–July 2020. I didn’t make a quiz, because I had no idea if people would still be willing, outdoors, to join me in August 2020 for a discussion of David Copperfield. (They did! and our discussion ranks among my peak life experiences.)
Instead of a trivia quiz for David Copperfield, I offer some favorite bits from the novel that I copied down just for fun.
1. The wisdom of the child: a capacity of being pleased
“This may be fancy, though I think the memory of most of us can go farther back into such times than many of us suppose; just as I believe the power of observation in numbers of very young children to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. Indeed, I think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity of being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood.”
–pp. 24-25, Penguin Classics edition of David Copperfield
2. Childhood idyll: David’s bedroom in the little house of Mr. Pegotty, on the seashore
“It was the completest and most desirable bedroom ever seen—in the stern of the vessel; with a little window, where the rudder used to go through; a little looking-glass, just the right height for me, nailed against the wall, and framed with oyster shells; a little bed, which there was just room enough to get into; and a nosegay of seaweed in a blue mug on the table. The walls were whitewashed as white as mild, and the patchwork counterpane made my eyes quite ache with its brightness.” (p. 42)
[Ed. note: the bright patchwork may have been something like my first quilt, circa 1974, below]
3. Love calls: Mr. Barkis woos Pegotty
“On the very first evening after our arrival, Mr. Barkis appeared in an exceedingly vacant and awkward condition, and with a bundle of oranges tied up in a handkerchief. As he made no allusion of any kind to this property, he was supposed to have left it behind him by accident… After that occasion he appeared every evening at exactly the same hour, and always with a little bundle, to which he never alluded, and which he regularly put behind the door, and left there. These offerings of affection were of a most various and eccentric description. Among them I remember a double set pig’s trotters, a huge pin-cushion, half of bushel of apples, a pair of jet earrings, some Spanish onions, a box of dominoes, a canary bird and cage, and a leg of pickled pork.
Mr. Barkis’s wooing, as I remember it, was altogether of a peculiar kind. He very seldom said anything, .. contenting himself now and then asking her if she was pretty comfortable; and I remember that sometimes, after he was gone, Pegotty would throw her apron over her face, and laugh for half-an-hour.” (pp. 154-155).
4. Mr. Dick, on the dissemination of knowledge
Loved the introduction of Mr. Dick, in the part where David has re-found his Aunt Betsey (and is waiting to know what will be done with him). Mr. Dick is the eccentric and very pleasant man who lives upstairs at Aunt Betsey’s house.
When little David visits Mr. Dick in his room, and finds him working on a manuscript about King Charles I, he notes a kite in the corner. As Mr. Dick explains, “I made it. We’ll go and fly it, you and I.”
Then the narrator shows the detail:
“it was covered with manuscript, very closely and laboriously written; but so plainly, that as I looked along the lines, I thought I saw some allusion to King Charles the First’s head again, in one or two places.
‘There’s plenty of string,’ said Mr. Dick, ‘and when it flies high, it takes the facts a long way. That’s my manner of diffusing ’em. I don’t know where they may come down. It’s according to circumstances, and the wind, and so forth; but I take my chance of that.’
His face was so mild and pleasant, and had something so reverend in it, though it was hale and hearty, that I was not sure but that he was having good-humored jest with me. So I laughed, and he laughed, and we parted the best friends possible.” (p. 213, Penguin edition).
[Ed. note: As author of a few scholarly tomes whose utility has never been exactly clear, though they certainly provide interesting thoughts from obscure and famous sources, and share beautiful images from rare books. During my time in academe, they provided the all-important “cultural capital” to retain employment as a professor. Yet I can think of no better way to disseminate facts than to throw them to the winds! * see the comment and next steps below]
5. Aunt Betsey’s marriage advice: not bad for a grumpy frumpy wayward woman!
“I have been a grumpy, frumpy, wayward sort of a woman, a good many years. I am still, and shall always be. But you and I have done one another some good, Trot,–at all events, you have done me good, my dear; and division must not come between us, at this time of day.”
“Division between us!” cried I.
“Child, child,” said my aunt, smoothing her dress, “how soon it might come between us, or how unhappy I might make our Little Blossom, if I meddled in anything, a prophet couldn’t say. I want our pet to like me, and be as gay as a butterfly. Remember your own home, in that second marriage; and never do both me and her the injury you have hinted at!”
I comprehended at once, that my aunt was right; and I comprehended the full extent of her generous feeling towards my dear wife.
“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 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!” (p. 645)