Thursday, February 16, 2012

David Copperfield

I am trying to get things cleaned up before I start teaching on Sunday, and I have just finished reading the Norton Critical edition of David Copperfield. For nearly $30, it's pretty scanty on the notes. It does reproduce all of Phiz's illustrations, which I liked.
The first David Copperfield I read was the Classic Comics edition; I can still see the panel in my head where Dora dies. And some time after that I saw the MGM movie, so W.C. Fields will always be Micawber, and Edna Mae Oliver will always be Aunt Betsy to me.
I hadn't read the book in so long, I was kind of amazed at how, particularly in the first half, accessible and fast-moving it is. The second half bogs down in Emily's story, which particularly if you already know what happens to her, takes a great deal of patience to wade through.
The preface (by Jerome Buckley, the editor) zeroes in on Dickens' seeming inexhaustible ability for "negative capability," which I think is the most winning thing about his writing, and something that I have tried to emulate in my work.
I had forgotten about Brooks of Sheffield, which is the handle of Vanishing New York (I could never place the reference, though I knew I ought to know it). And the "Take care of him. He bites." sign that David is forced to wear at Mr. Creakle's school. At first, poor David reads the sign and is looking around for the dog. And the way that just when you think you're free of the Murdstones, they pop back up like corks in a tub. Or the scene where Jip (a rather annoying dog, in many of his appearances) dies in front of David, at the same time that Dora does. And were there ever friends in real life so loyal as Mr. Dick and Tommy Traddles? A lady's companion so malevolent as Rosa Dartle? Or such as noble reference to a pachyderm as Mr. Micawber makes: "Gentlemen ... do with me as you will! I am straw upon the surface of the deep, and am tossed in all directions by the elephants". Heep's put-down of David, just before the former's fall: "You were always a puppy with a proud stomach" (I can think of a few people I'd like to say that to). But the novel is mostly concerned with, as its author states, "the undisciplined heart."

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