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David Copperfield Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5668 words Published: 5th Jun 2017

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Introduction to the background, Charles Dickens and his work- David Copperfield

Charles Dickens, the most popular writer of the Victorian age, was born near Portsmouth, England, in 1812 and he died in Kent in 1870. When his father was thrown into debtors’ prison, young Charles was taken out of school and forced to work in a shoe-polish factory, which may help explain the presence of so many abandoned and victimized children in his novels. As a young man, he worked as a reporter before starting his career as a fictional writer in 1833. In his novels, short stories and essays, Dickens combined hilarious comedy with a scathing criticism of the inhuman features of Victorian industrial society. Many of his novels – Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, etc., have been made into first-rate TV and film versions. David Copperfield is the story of the narrator’s life from early childhood to adulthood. In it, David describes all the obstacles he had to overcome in order to acquire peace of mind and economic stability.

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Review of the literature David Copperfield


The story begins with the widowed Clara Copperfield awaiting the birth of her first child. She receives a surprise visit from her husband’s aunt, Betsey Trotwood, who insists the child will be a girl, and should be named after her. The child is, in fact, a boy, and she leaves, greatly disappointed. The boy who is born is David Copperfield, the protagonist. His early years are happy, as he lives with his mother and her housekeeper Peggotty, but when Clara falls in love with Edward Murdstone, David’s life takes a turn for the worse. When David is sent off with Peggotty to Yarmouth to spend a few weeks with her brother, he meets Emily, his first love, and her cousin Ham, both of whom are under Mr. Peggotty’s care. When he returns, he finds that his mother has married Murdstone. Murdstone is a harsh, cruel man who beats David and browbeats Clara into submission with the help of his sister Jane. After David resists Murdstone’s harsh treatment, he is sent off to Salem House, a miserable school under the oversight of Mr. Creakle, a brutal and incompetent master. There he meets Steerforth and Traddles – the first a hero to the youthful David, though completely unworthy of his admiration, and the second a kindly and cheerful boy who will become a lifelong friend. After a semester at Salem House, David receives word that his mother and her newborn son had died, and he returns home. It is obvious that the Murdstones want nothing to do with him. Peggotty is fired as housekeeper, and she marries the coach-driver Barkis and moves back to Yarmouth.

David, meanwhile, is sent to work in a factory in London at the age of ten. He hates his job and feels that the men and boys around him are beneath him, though he gains some consolation from the Micawber family, with whom he lodges. Micawber is an incompetent optimist, totally incapable of handling money, but constantly certain that “something will turn up.” When the Micawbers leave London, David runs away from the factory and walks across the country to Dover, seeking shelter from his eccentric great aunt Betsey Trotwood. She takes him in and adopts him, refusing the claim that the Murdstones stake to him, and he lives happily with her and her feeble-minded friend Mr. Dick. She then sends him to Canterbury to the school of Dr. Strong, a capable and kindly instructor. While in Canterbury, he lodges with Mr. Wickfield, who is Betsey’s lawyer, and meets his daughter Agnes, who becomes his dearest friend. He also encounters Wickfield’s clerk, the simpering and hypocritical Uriah Heep, who hides behind a mask of humility. Potential trouble looms on the horizon as we observe that Wickfield drinks too much, and that Dr. Strong’s very young wife Annie may be too fond of her cousin Jack Maldon. When David completes school, he again encounters Steerforth. The two of them visit Yarmouth, where David introduces Steerforth to his friends the Peggottys. By this time, Ham and Emily are engaged, but Steerforth notices the lovely Emily. He acts in a friendly manner toward the Peggottys and becomes popular among the townsfolk, but inwardly despises them as his inferiors.

When David returns to London, he pursues a career as a law clerk, and becomes reacquainted with his old friend Traddles, who is now studying to become a lawyer. David accepts employment a Spenlow and Jorkins, and soon falls in love with Spenlow’s daughter, the lovely but weak Dora. He courts her secretly, but when he declares his intentions, Spenlow denies his permission. Shortly thereafter, Spenlow dies and Dora is given into the care of her elderly maiden aunts. Meanwhile, David hears that Barkis is dying and returns to Yarmouth. While he is there, Barkis dies, but the greater tragedy is that Emily, despite being engaged to Ham, has run away with Steerforth to become a lady. Daniel Peggotty vows to spend the rest of his life, if necessary, to find her. When David calls on Mrs. Steerforth, she insists that she will never allow her son to marry Emily, and will disown him if he tries. To her way of thinking, the whole thing is Emily’s fault for seeking to rise above her status in society. Her companion, Rosa Dartle, who has long been in love with Steerforth, flies into a jealous rage.

David, no longer able to work at Spenlow and Jorkins, takes a job as secretary to Dr. Strong, while Micawber has become a clerk at Wickfield and Heep (Uriah has insinuated himself into the business by blackmailing Wickfield, and has been named a partner). David soon marries Dora. Though they love each other dearly, it soon becomes obvious that she is totally helpless as a homemaker, and is intellectually unsuited to her husband. David, meanwhile, becomes a newspaper reporter, writing about the debates in Parliament, and ultimately a famous novelist. Meanwhile, Steerforth has cast Emily aside and tried to give her to his manservant Littimer. Emily runs away and finds her way to London, where she encounters Martha Endell, a “fallen woman” whom she had helped many years before. Martha tips off David and Mr. Peggotty, and Emily is reunited with her foster father, who plans to take her to Australia, where her shame is unknown.

With the help of Micawber, Traddles, Betsey, Mr. Dick, and David, Uriah’s perfidy is exposed and his attempt to marry Agnes is prevented. In gratitude, Betsey offers to finance a trip to Australia for the Micawbers, who decide to emigrate along with Daniel Peggotty, Emily, Daniel’s boarder Mrs. Gummidge, and Martha Endell. Betsey also regains her home in Dover, which was thought to have been lost through the machinations of Heep. Ultimately, both Heep and Littimer wind up in jail because of fraud and theft, respectively.

Following a miscarriage, Dora dies. Meanwhile, Ham is killed in a terrible storm off the Yarmouth shore; ironically, the man he dies trying to save is Steerforth, who is also killed. Peggotty, now left alone, becomes the housekeeper for Betsey, while David travels abroad for three years to assuage his grief. When he returns, he inquires about Agnes, and his aunt leads him to believe she has “an attachment.” David is convinced that he has ruined any chance he had of gaining Agnes’ love by treating her like a sister for all these years and seeking her advice when courting the objects of his many romantic attachments. When questioning Agnes about her”attachment,” it soon becomes obvious that he is the object of it. The two profess their love and soon marry, living happily ever after.

main characters

David Copperfield – The protagonist of the novel, David’s father dies before his birth, and his mother follows when he is still quite young. He is treated badly by his stepfather Mr. Murdstone and her sister. They send him to work in a factory at the age of ten. He later runs away to live with his great-aunt, from whence he goes to school, becomes a law clerk, then a court reporter, and finally a famous novelist. Among the many loves of his life, he marries Dora Spenlow, who dies a few years later, then Agnes Wickfield.

Clara Copperfield – David’s mother, a kind but weak-willed woman who is dominated by her second husband and dies shortly after the birth of her second child.

Clara Peggotty – The Copperfields’ housekeeper, she is unfailingly kind and loyal to David. She marries Barkis, lives for a while in Yarmouth, and later becomes Betsey Trotwood’s housekeeper after Barkis dies.

Edward Murdstone – Clara Copperfield’s second husband, he is cruel and harsh to both David and his mother. He beats David after he resists his harsh treatment, sends him off to a pitiful school, then makes him work in a factory.

Jane Murdstone – Edward’s sister, she assists her brother in completely breaking the will of Clara Copperfield. She later becomes the hired companion of Dora Spenlow.

Mr. Barkis – A kind cart-driver who transports David on many of his childhood journeys, he uses David to communicate his marriage proposal to Peggotty, who finally accepts him.

Daniel Peggotty – Peggotty’s brother, he is fisherman in Yarmouth. He is a widower who adopts his niece Emily and his nephew Ham after their parents die, and takes Mrs. Gummidge, a widow, into his home. He gives up everything to search for Emily after she goes astray, and, after he finds her, immigrates to Australia with her and Mrs. Gummidge.

Emily Peggotty – “Little Emily,” a beautiful young girl, is David’s first love. Because of her desire to rise above her station in life and become a lady, she runs off with Steerforth instead of going through with her planned marriage to her cousin Ham. After years of disgrace living abroad, she returns to London, where her uncle finds her and takes her off to Australia.

Ham Peggotty – Daniel’s nephew and Emily’s cousin, he is a fine, simple young man who wants nothing more than to marry Emily and live the life of the sea. When Emily runs off with Steerforth, he recklessly throws himself into every rescue party that is required at Yarmouth, and finally dies in a horrendous storm. Ironically, the man he swims out to save is Steerforth, who also dies in the tempest.

Martha Endell – A young Yarmouth woman who has fallen into immorality, she is treated kindly by Emily, and plays a key role in helping Daniel to find Emily after her own fall. She, too, emigrates to Australia, where she later marries.


David Copperfield, probably because it is partly autobiographical, was Dickens’ own favorite among his novels. Whereas he usually concentrates on a specific social problem, which becomes his main theme, here the theme is personal. In David Copperfield he attempted to come to terms with the trials and humiliations of his childhood and youth, writing as a man who had overcome his humble beginnings and become the most successful novelist of his time. David’s life does not directly reflect Dickens’ life, but important incidents that had left a lasting impression on him are reproduced with little alteration. Dickens was taken from school at the age of 12 when his father was committed to the debtors’ prison, and put to work in a relative’s factory, like David (p.20). Shortly afterwards, when his father received a legacy that set him free, this also allowed the boy to resume his education. Dickens pictures his father in David Copperfield as the eternally optimistic, improvident Mr. Micawber, but he told his biographer, Forster, that he had never forgotten the humiliation of working in the factory, or forgiven his mother, who thought he should go on working. In the novel, the angelic mother of David’s early childhood is replaced by the harsh, cold Miss Murdstone. The second main theme of the novel is that goodness has nothing to do with social position, and social position is too often equated with wealth. Here again, Dickens’ personal experience was relevant. As a poor young shorthand writer, he had fallen in love with the daughter of a banker, whose father sent her abroad to keep her out of Dickens’ way, as Mr Spenlow plans to do with Dora. Spenlow’s attitude towards David changes when David’s aunt loses her money. When he says ‘I thought you were a gentleman’ he implies that being a gentleman is a matter of money, not of being ‘a gentle man’, as David is.

This tendency to equate money and social position with virtue corrupts characters’ judgment and behaviors. The proud rich boy, Steerforth, could have been a good man but has been spoilt by an indulgent mother. Consequently, he looks down on poor fishermen, ignoring their human qualities, and takes advantage of Emily (‘ruins her’ in the language of the time) but will not marry her. In contrast, Ham, the humble fisherman who loved Emily, dies trying to save him. At the other end of the social scale, envy of others’ social position leads Uriah Heep, who always emphasizes that he is ‘humble’, to cheat Mr Wickfield and dream of marrying Agnes. David himself is not corrupted. From the beginning, he judges everyone on their merits, refusing to accept that people are inferior because they are poor.

3. Definition a semi-biographical novel

A semi-autobiographical novel is loosely based on the experiences of the author’s own life. A semi-autobiographical novel may be written to protect the privacy of the author’s family, friends, and loved ones; to achieve emotional distance from the subject; or for artistic reasons, such as simplification of plot lines, themes, and other details.

Charles Dickens and David Copperfield

A lot of critics think of David Copperfield as Dickens’s autobiographical novel. To read David Copperfield is to understand Dickens, which will further deepen the understanding of Dickens’s other works. David Copperfield is regarded by many as the author’s masterpiece. Dickens began to write David Copperfield in l849. David Copperfield was thus produced under such constructed and well planned writing, which, added special dramatic affect to the stories. Autobiographical elements in David Copperfield include Dickens’ experience working in a factory as a child, reflections on his father’s influence in his life (Micawber is largely based on Dickens’ father), his work as a newspaper reporter writing on the debates in Parliament, his development as a novelist (the book is written in the first person by a writer looking back on his formative years), and his experiences in matters of the heart. Near the end of his career, Dickens admitted that, of all the “children” he had produced, he loved David Copperfield the most.

4.1 similar life experiences between David and Dickens

David Copperfield is presented more formally as a semi-autobiography, beginning with the protagonist’s birth. Like Dickens, David was born on a Friday, Because of illness. Little Dickens could not take part in boy’s game. He liked to read books while other boys were playing outside¼ŽDickens always read books in his father’s library¼ŽIn his novel, 1ittle David also liked to read books in David’s father’s library. Dickens worked as a child labor pasting labels onto bottles. David had the same experience after his mother was dead. In Dickens’s career, he had to be first a law clerk, then a reporter and finally a successful novelist. In the book of David Copperfield David had carried the same career, even the same order. David’s complex character allows for contradiction and development over the course of the novel¼ŽDavid also displays great tenderness, as in the moment he realize his love for Agnes for the first time. David, especially, as a young man in love, could be foolish and romantic. This is very same to Dickens himself. As he grew up, he developed a more mature point of view and searched for a love who will challenge him and help his grow¼ŽDavid fully matured as an adult when he expressed the sentiment that he valued Agnes’s calm tranquility over all else in his life.

Any sense of self-importance is immediately deflated however by the digressively self-deprecating humor of the opening (which recalls Tristram Shandy at times) and by the narrator’s desire for his life to speak for itself (which recalls chapter one of Roderick Random). Throughout this novel we sense Dickens’s delight in experimenting with what was for him a new narrative method, and in the opening chapter he demonstrates that working within established literary conventions he can produce a more effective mingling of humor and pathos than any of his predecessors. The first touch of pathos is when David – shifting briefly forward in time – recalls the “indefinable compassion” he felt for his father’s grave in the churchyard “when our little parlor was warm and bright with fire and candle, and the doors of our house were – almost cruelly, it seemed to me sometimes – bolted and locked against it”. This is typical of the novel in that the narrator recalls the ingenuousness of his younger self with a gentle irony that only serves to highlight the sensitivity of the child. In chapter two this effect is reinforced by the often startling immediacy of the present tense (also adopted in four subsequent ‘retrospective’ chapters). Here Dickens reveals the radical otherness of the child’s perception of the world (in the added alertness of certain senses and different awareness of the emotional and physical proportions of things); the anxieties that accompany that perspective (David is even afraid that Mr Chillip must feel unhappy about a church tablet saying that “physicians were in vain”, and the underlying buoyancy of youth that reduces the duration of any painful thoughts (almost Immediately afterwards he thinks “what a good place” the pulpit would be to “play in”). Dickens is particularly subtle in his mingling and contrasting of the points of view of the youthful protagonist and mature narrator.

4.2 Similar flirtatious disposition between David Copperfield and Charles Dickens

4.2.1 David Copperfield’s Flirtatious Disposition

David Copperfield, articled to the proctor’s office of Spenlow and Jorkins in London, fell in love with Mr. Francis Spenlow’s only daughter Dora at first sight, and got engaged to her. He wrote to Agnes, the lawyer Mr. Wickfield’s only daughter and David’s ‘adopted sister’ in Canterbury (Ch. 39), informing her that Dora was such a darling and was very blest; but he, while writing so, remembered Agnes’s ‘clear calm eyes and gentle face’ (Ch. 34). He, it may be considered, is neither devoted to Dora nor single-minded in his affections.

When David suddenly learned that that his great-aunt Miss Betsy Trotwood, who was his guardian, was ruined, he told Dora that he was ‘a beggar,’ asking her if her heart was still his. ‘Oh, yes, it’s all yours,’ cried Dora, though in a childish way (Ch. 37). She, it could be said, was simple-hearted, generous and gentle. Mr. Spenlow, when told by David of his engagement with Dora, would never accept it; but he was to die soon. David visited Agnes and told her of his troubles, kissing her hand, which she had given him looking up ‘with such a Heavenly face!’ After discussing their worries, David said, ‘Much more than sister!’ and Agnes parted ‘by the name of Brother’ (Ch. 39).

David and Agnes, it could be considered, trust each other affectionately. How would Dora feel, we wonder, if she looked on this sight? Dora, introduced by David to Agnes, found her ‘too clever’ and was ‘afraid of her.’ She asked David, ‘what relation is Agnes to you?’ ‘No blood-relation, but we were brought up together, like brother and sister,’ replied he. Dora said, ‘I wonder why you ever fell in love with me?’ (Ch. 42). Dora, surely, did know of his flirtatious disposition and she could have left him forever, but she did not. As for David, he himself chose and married Dora, who was ‘a Fairy, a Sylph’ (Ch. 26), not Agnes, who had ‘a very placid and sweet expression’ and was her widower father’s ‘little housekeeper’ (Ch. 15). Soon David often quarreled with Dora over trifles. He said, ‘Dora, my darling!’ ‘No, I am not your darling. Because you must be sorry that you married me, or else you wouldn’t reason with me!’ returned she. Dora, it is clear, was seeing a shadow of Agnes behind him.

However, after such altercations, Dora reflectively told him she would be ‘a wonderful housekeeper,’ polishing the tablets, pointing the pencil, buying an immense account-book, etc., though the figures would not add up. Now David was beginning to be known as a writer, and his ‘child-wife,’ as she asked him to call her, was trying to ‘be good’ (Ch. 44). It might be considered that at this moment David should have said, ‘Dora, my darling, I love you cordially and am very happy; even if you are not good at housekeeping and figures, you should not mind it at all because you are earnestly endeavoring to be good; as you know, I too am “a boyish husband as to years”‘ (Ch. 44). David, without saying such things, tried to ‘form Dora’s mind,’ but in vain, remembering ‘the contented days with Agnes’ (Ch. 48), he even considered that his own heart was ‘undisciplined’ when it first loved Dora, and that there could be ‘no disparity in marriage, like unsuitability of mind and purpose.’ His own heart, it can be suspected, was even now ‘undisciplined’ because he would have been attracted by Agnes’s ‘clear calm eyes and gentle face’ more than by Dora’s efforts to be good; he can be regarded as flirtatious, not as devoted. Such being the case, he was much happier in the second year, the year that Dora fell ill (Ch. 48). She, with ‘nothing left to wish for,’ wanted very much to see Agnes, not her two spinster aunts, adding that she always was ‘a silly little thing’ and ‘too young’ not merely ‘in years’ but ‘in experience, and thoughts, and everything,’ and that she had begun to think herself ‘not fit to be a wife’ to her ‘very clever’ husband. She died leaving Agnes ‘a last charge’ that only Agnes ‘would occupy this vacant place’ (Chs. 53 and 62).

Was Dora ‘silly’ or ‘not fit to be a wife’? By no means! Though she might have been childish and poor at housekeeping and figures, she was blessed with many respectable and lovable virtues; for example, she did not abandon David as a beggar, nor desert him despite her father’s will and David’s suspicious relationship with Agnes. She tried earnestly to be a good wife, accepted Agnes’ and David’s cleverness without defying them, looked down humbly on herself as silly and immature, and left her husband with Agnes foreseeing her death. How serious, benign, gentle and sympathetic! On the other hand, David, even though ‘very clever,’ was obviously flirtatious, intolerant, and cold-hearted. He should not have introduced Dora to Agnes; far from it he should have broken off his relation with Agnes in choosing Dora, should have expressed his gratitude to her for her not abandoning him and for her trying to be good, should have been generous to her faults as Dora had been to his. He should have known that he had much of the responsibility for her feelings of insecurity when she said, ‘I was too young’ and ‘you are very clever and I never was’ (Ch. 53). After Dora’s death, David set out to travel to Europe, and ‘mourned for [his] child-wife, taken from her blooming world, so young.’ He tried to be ‘a better man,’ thinking that he ‘might possibly hope to cancel the mistaken past, and to be so blessed as to marry’ Agnes (Ch. 58). Whether or not he marries her, it can be said, depends on him, but he would have to humble himself and repent, not merely ‘cancel,’ ‘the mistaken past’ or his flirtatious mind.

He returned home after three years, and confided to Agnes, ‘I went away, dear Agnes, loving you. I stayed away, loving you. I returned home, loving you.’ How inconsistent! He had said that he ‘mourned’ for Dora when going away! As for Agnes, she replied, ‘I have loved you all my life’ (Ch. 62). How would Dora feel if she lived to hear the conversation? Dora, it may be considered, should have left David when she first met Agnes; it might have been because of Agnes’s covert love for him that Dora was afraid of her! Within a fortnight David married Agnes, after which she confided to him Dora’s ‘last request’ and ‘last charge’ as mentioned above, and they wept together but they would not imagine with what feelings Dora had died; also, David did not utter any words of remorse and repentance for having been unable to make Dora happy (Ch. 62). Ten years after the marriage, they had three children, and David had high income and renown as an eminent author. At this happy home, Dora was not talked of at all (Ch. 63).

It can be concluded that David was a man of a flirtatious disposition for which reason he lacked complete devotion to Dora. As will be discussed, that very disposition was also Dickens’s at that time.

4.2.2 Dickens’s Flirtatious Disposition

Dickens had been looked upon as ‘a very Joseph in all that regards morality, chastity, and decorum’ as Reynolds’s Weekly News wrote on 13 June 1858 (Letters 8: 745n.). He had been accepted as such a man publicly but was rather flirtatious-minded in his private life; in this section it will be revealed how flirtatious Dickens was. Dickens was a serious Christian-minded man, but naturally he was ‘a man’ in the sense that ‘there is no man that sinneth not’ (1 Kings 8: 46; 2 Chron. 6: 36; see also John 8: 37, etc.). He was rather flirtatious; as he said, not so long after his marriage, to his wife Catherine, ‘if either of [us] fell in love with anybody else, [we] were to tell one another’ (Storey 96), and he did show ‘an archly flirtatious attitude towards congenial girls and women of his acquaintance’ (Slater, D & W 122). Six of the ‘girls and women’ are taken up below. First, there was Mrs. David Colden, daughter of a banker of New York, wife of a lawyer and philanthropist of New York, and fourteen years Dickens’s senior, with whom Dickens became acquainted during his first visit to America in 1842. Dickens was ‘deeply in love with’ her, and wrote a love-letter to her (Slater, D & W 122; Letters 3: 30n., 160, and also 242 and n, 219-20). Second, there was Eleanor Emma Picken, a lithographer and a winner of the Societyof Arts silver Isis medal in 1837, by whom Dickens was attracted. He flirted with her on the pier at Broadstairs on an evening in September 1841:

Dickens seemed suddenly to be possessed with the demon of mischief; he threw his arm around me and ran me down the inclined plane to the end of the jetty till we reached the tall post. He put his other arm around this, and exclaimed in theatrical tones that he intended to hold me there till ‘the sad sea waves’ should submerge us….I implored him to let me go, and struggled hard to release myself. (Slater, D & W 115)

Third, there was Christiana Jane Weller, a beautiful eighteen-year-old concert pianist in Liverpool, for whom Dickens conceived an ‘incredible feeling’ in 1844 (Slater, D & W 88-89; Letters 4: 53n., 55, etc.). Fourth, there was Madame Emile de la Rue, wife of a Swiss banker, resident in Genoa, whose nervous disorder Dickens began to treat with his mesmerism from 23December 1844 with so much fascination as to make Catherine very unhappy. This continued for a period of years afterwards (Schlicke 375; Letters 4: 243 and n, 534n.; Letters 5: 11n.; Letters 7: 224 and n).

Fifth, there was Miss Anne Romer, actress and singer. Dickens performed with her, on 20 July 1848, the farce of Used Up, in which Dickens played the bored hero Sir Charles Coldstream, and she played his lover Mary. In Act II, Sir Charles, who is in distress, asks her to say, ‘you love me.’ She replies, ‘Love you!’ Then he ‘seizes her in his arms, and kisses her’; they marry at the play’s end (Thomson 46-49; Letters 5: 362n.).

Two days after the play, Dickens wrote a letter to Mrs. Cowden Clarke, member of his Amateur Theatricals:

I have no energy whatever–I am very miserable. I loathe domestic hearths. I yearn to be a Vagabond (i.e. as Coldstream, disguised as a ploughboy, is called by Farmer Wurzel in Act II).

Why can’t I marry Mary! [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]

I am deeply miserable

A real house like this, is insupportable after that canvass farm wherein I was so happy (i.e. Wurzel’s farm). What is a humdrum dinner at half past five, with nobody (but John [i.e. CD’s servant John Thompson]) to see me eat it, compared with that soup [i.e. the pea-soup that Coldstream is given by Mary in Act II], and the hundreds of pairs of eyes that watched its disappearance!

(Letters 5: 374 and n; emphases added)

In this quotation there can be read not only Dickens’s flirtatious mind but also his loathing for domesticity. In the letter of 13 January 1849 quoted below, he even shows his dislike for Catherine:

My Dear Mrs. Clarke.

I am afraid that Young Gas [i.e. Dickens’s name as manager of the Amateur Theatricals Company in 1848] is forever dimmed, and that the breath of calumny will blow henceforth on his stage management, by reason of his enormous delay in returning you the two pounds non forwarded by Mrs. G. [i.e. Catherine]. The proposed deduction on account of which you sent it, was never made.

–But had you seen him in “Used up”,

His eye so beaming and so clear,

When on his stool he sat to sup,

The oxtail–little Romer near

&c &c

–you would have forgotten and forgiven all.

(Letters 5: 476 and n; emphases added)

Sixth, there was Miss Mary Boyle, daughter of Vice-Admiral the Hon. Sir Courtenay Boyle, second son of the 7th Earl of Cork and Orrery; she was a distant cousin of Mrs. Watson’s and a miscellaneous writer and renowned amateur actress, whom Dickens first met at the Watsons’ Rockingham Castle on 27 November 1849. On the 29th he and Boyle played, as part of the house-party entertainments in the Hall, Sir Peter Teazle and Lady Teazle from Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, and also acted, from chapter 41 of Nicholas Nickleby, some scenes of the mad neighbour’s [i.e. Dickens’s] throwing a shower of vegetables to Mrs. Nickleby [i.e. Boyle] to display his affection (Letters 5: 662 and n; Boyle 231-32; Ackroyd 606).

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On November 30 Dickens wrote a letter to Mrs. Watson: ‘Plunged in the deepest gloom, I write these few words to let you know that, just now, when the bell was striking ten, I drank to H.E.R. [i.e., Mary Boyle]!’ adding a picture of a heart shot through by Cupid’s arrow (Letters 5: 663). Three days later he sent to Miss Mary Boyle a parody by him of Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard, ‘inspired by Mary Boyle’s graces in the Rockingham Castle Amateur Theatricals’ (Letters 5: 665 and n, 708-09), part of which is as follows:

No more the host, as if he dealt at cards,

Smiling deals lighted candles all about:

No more the Fair (inclusive of the Bard’s)

Persist in blowing all the candles out.


No more the Fair prolong the cheerful tread

Of dancing feet until the lights low burn:

No more the host, when they are gone to bed,

Quickly retreats, foreboding their return. (Letters 5: 708)

Mary Boyle joined in his theatricals on 15 January 1851 at Rockingham Castle, where she acted Mary, the lover of Sir Charles Coldstream, again played by Dickens in Used Up (Letters 6: 163n., 225 and n, 261n.; Slater, D & W 404).

Dickens wrote a joking, flirtatious letter, based on the play in which he disguised himself as a ploughman, to her on 25 December 1852:

My own darling Mary.

[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ]

you ant no cause to be jealous for all that I am certain beforehand as I shall a Door her O Mary when you come to read the last chapter of the next number of Bleak House I think my ever dear as you will say as him what we knows on as done a pretty womanly thing as the sex will like and as will make a sweet pin


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