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Thread: David Copperfield's famous critics

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    David Copperfield's famous critics

    What do you think of George Orwell's criticism of David Copperfield?

    As a matter of course he is on the side of the underdog, always and everywhere... Whenever he departs from this emotional attitude he goes astray. A well-known example is at the ending of David Copperfield, in which everyone who reads it feels that something has gone wrong. What is wrong is that the closing chapters are pervaded, faintly but not noticeably, by the cult of success. It is the gospel according to Smiles, instead of the gospel according to Dickens. The attractive, out-at-elbow characters are got rid of, Micawber makes a fortune, Heep gets into prison — both of these events are flagrantly impossible — and even Dora is killed off to make way for Agnes. If you like, you can read Dora as Dickens's wife and Agnes as his sister-in-law, but the essential point is that Dickens has ‘turned respectable’ and done violence to his own nature. Perhaps that is why Agnes is the most disagreeable of his heroines, the real legless angel of Victorian romance, almost as bad as Thackeray's Laura.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    He's probably right about the happy ending. Shaw felt it was because of Dickens's lack of understanding of himself as a man, though he was able to portray himself as a child very well. He also has some interesting things to say about Dora -

    He now turned from society to the individual for a while. Dombey and Son had led him to make a study of his own earliest experiences for the poet child Paul Dombey. The book did not exhaust either the subject or its fascination for him; and he pursued it in David Copperfield, which is for the greater part a romantic autobiography. It is a book of pain, doubt, anxiety, and unfulfilment. The figures are half laborious unachieved studies from life, half dream figures; and they pass in a panoramic show which at last fades out and is formally announced as closed by a formal winding up which is as conventional as the playing of God Save the Queen at an illusionist's entertainment. David Copperfield, lifelike as a child and as a young man, never achieves complete manhood and self realization. Dickens could describe himself as a boy: he could not understand himself as a man. He has only dealt seriously with one phase of his adult life-the failure and disillusion of his marriage. There is a remarkable combination of tenderness and ruthlessness in the picture of Dora. She is made to appear utterly worthless and useless, so incorrigibly silly and spoiled, that Kant himself would have denied her the right of an individual to be considered as an end rather than as a means, and would have admitted that her death was an inevitable consequence of the absence of any mortal reason why she should live. But after all Dora's failure is only a failure from the point of view which judges the daughter of a Queen's proctor solely by her fitness to act as housekeeper, head nurserymaid and odalisque to a professional gentleman. As an odalisque, Dora was a success; and it was in fact that very success which, until it palled, blinded David to her incapacity as his housekeeper. The moral which Betsey Trotwood draws about "unsuitability" may be the practical moral for a young professional man about to marry; but it is not the true moral of Dora; and that Dickens had not reached the true moral is shewn by the introduction of another young lady named Agnes, who is offered as being in general terms everything that Dora was not, and who is decidedly the most seventh rate heroine ever produced by a first rate artist.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Interesting comment, Mona. I take it that Dora and Agnes represent the two extremes of the Victorian Woman. They had to survive somehow: Childish seductivenes but also ineptness was one possibility; being the Victorian Angel the other:

    Here is an amusing article by Peter Gay on Agnes I found interesting. Unfortunately I couldn´t find the whole text so it remains a one page teaser. Anyway it seems pointing upwards can mean a lot of different things:
    The Legless Angel of 'David Copperfield': There's More to Her Than Victorian Piety
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/2...y-legless.html

    To add to the discussion of Agnes here are Virginia Woolf's words about the Victorian "Angel of the House":

    ... you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, "while I was writing this review, I discovered that if I were going to review books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who coshe took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all — I need not say it —-she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty — her blushes, her great grace. In those days — the last of Queen Victoria — every house had its Angel."

    https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woo...chapter27.html
    Last edited by Danik 2016; 03-09-2017 at 11:52 AM.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    And here is G.K. Chesteron's criticism of Dickens, including David Copperfield. I am rather surprised that the link is in Japan. He says there is an air of fatigue at the end of David Copperfield. He thought he started off writing in a new style, but lapsed back into his earlier style. Chesterton did not like him tidying up his inconvenient characters by sending them off to Australia or killing them off.

    I repeat, then, that this wrong ending of David Copperfield is one of the very few examples in Dickens of a real symptom of fatigue. Having created splendid beings for whom alone life might be worth living, he cannot endure the thought of his hero living with them. Having given his hero superb and terrible friends, he is afraid of the awful and tempestuous vista of their friendship. He slips back into a more superficial kind of story and ends it in a more superficial way. He is afraid of the things he has made; of that terrible figure Micawber; of that yet more terrible figure Dora. He cannot make up his mind to see his hero perpetually entangled in the splendid tortures and sacred surprises that come from living with really individual and unmanageable people. He cannot endure the idea that his fairy prince will not have henceforward a perfectly peaceful time.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Agnes is a bore (as most of the young leads in Dickens are, including David himself much of the time) but at least she isn't a helpless victim.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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