"I will never desert Mr. Micawber!"
I decided to reread David Copperfield because--well, does one really need a reason to reread David Copperfield? But I've been thinking about rereading it recently because of the new movie version directed by Armando Ianucci, The Personal History of David Copperfield:
It's possible to have seen the movie by now, but it is challenging these days and I haven't. Dev Patel should be a good Copperfield; Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep seems pretty inspired; Peter Capaldi looks promising as Micawber in the clip, though maybe a little Whovian to me. Anyway not Malcolm-Tucker-ish. Capaldi does have to compete with W. C. Fields to be the definitive Micawber. Nevertheless what I'm really looking forward to is Tilda Swinton as Betsey Trotwood, David's aunt. Some day, hopefully soon, I'll manage to see it.
We'll keep the plot summary simple: young David Copperfield is orphaned, he's sent off to be a child laborer, he runs away from that to his Aunt, he makes good, he marries the wrong girl, and finally he gets married to the right girl. You probably knew all that. It's a pretty good read...
A couple of things occurred to me. Maybe it's just because I have Vindication of The Rights of Women in my head, but just as I wondered if Austen knew that book, now I'm wondering if Dickens did, too. Not unlikely, though in googling I didn't find any particular indication. But Dora is educated to pre-Wollstonecraft specifications, with the expected results; Agnes, according to post-Wollstonecraft ideas. It's not that Dora is a bad person, just that she acts as she's been brought up to do.
Marriage, and marrying the right person, is the theme in this. Well, Dickens always has a bit of a message in his novels. Mrs. Strong says she nearly gave way to the 'first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart.' The words register with David who, at the time he hears them, is married to Dora. Dickens wants it to become a bit an ear-worm for us, but it doesn't, not entirely. Instead we remember, "I will never desert Mr. Micawber." Which fits the theme, of course. Emma Micawber's heart's first impulse was equally undisciplined, I guess, certainly her family thought so, but she disciplined her heart to follow Mr. Micawber. She gets rewarded for it in the end. And she's not the only undisciplined heart in the novel. (David, of course, Emily Peggotty, even Betsey Trotwood.) David, through the magic of the omnipotent Victorian novelist, gets to fix that initial error. Dora may be more lamented, but she goes the way of Bertha Rochester and Edward Casaubon.
My edition includes the introduction G. K. Chesterton wrote for the Everyman's Library. Like all of the Chesterton introductions, it's contrary, but written with verve. He writes:
"The reader does still feel that David's marriage to Dora was a real marriage; and that his marriage to Agnes was nothing, a middle-aged compromise, a taking of the second-best, a sort of spiritualized and sublimated marriage of convenience."
I suspect no actual reader of Copperfield other than Chesterton ever thought anything like this. And Dickens doesn't want you to think this. If David's marriage to Dora feels more real than his marriage to Agnes that's because Dora comes across as a real person, and Agnes is the usual, too-good-to-be-true, Dickensian heroine. But David and Agnes are the ideal Dickensian couple, and we're meant to feel warm and fuzzy when they do get married. (And I did...)
I had some other thoughts but I'll stop for now.
David Copperfield was a late sub onto the field for a couple of other books (Decameron, Razor's Edge) but definitely qualifies for a couple of my challenges.
Have you seen the movie? If you've read it, what did you think?
And...I will never desert Mr. Micawber!