After doing time in the ultra-numb world of Jay McInerney’s convincing clubbers, I was relieved to return to David Copperfield. I have spent the afternoon weeping over Dora. It’s odd how feelings change over the years. When I first read David Copperfield, I viewed Dora as a dimwitted twinkie whom David married only because she was pretty. It was so obvious he should have married Agnes. It’s still obvious. But this time around–I don’t know–Dora struck me as having hidden depths. She is more than ditzy–she is funny, charming, and affectionate. Her conversation is often witty, though dismissed as “silly,” and, though she doesn’t have the benefit of an education, she has as good a heart as the naive Traddles, David’s best friend.
Dora’s friend Julia Mills and Aunt Betsey tell David to be gentle with her. They caution him that Dora is not meant to be a housekeeper. She loves to play guitar, teach her darling dog, Jip, tricks, and has never learned cooking. Things got done for her by her father and her aunts.
But David, whom I also love, is in despair over their housekeeping. He wants her to be an intellectual equal. He tries to teach her Shakespeare. He wants her to take care of the servant problem. Their conversations go like this:
“My love,” said I, “it is very painful to me to think that our want of system and management, involves not only ourselves (which we have got used to), but other people.”
“You have been silent for a long time, and now you are going to be cross!” said Dora.
“No, my dear, indeed! Let me explain to you what I mean.”
“I think I don’t want to know,” said Dora.
I’m with Dora. As a bad housekeeper, I know my life would have been misery if I’d had to clean house day and night. No time for guitar. No time for reading. No time for Jip.
It is clever Dora who tells him to regard her as a “child-wife” when he gets annoyed. And I completely identify with Dora when she buys a Chinese house for Jip instead of the furniture she has been taken to see.
If you haven’t read DC, you won’t want to know this, but Dora gets sick. At first I thought she was going to die in childbirth, but she doesn’t get pregnant. She gets sicker and sicker. She is always cheerful.
I cried buckets. I’ve never cried like this over Dora. I cried over Esther’s losing her looks to smallpox (Bleak House). I cry over a lot of literature.
I defy anyone not to cry over this picture. The guitar!
We’re all pretty like Dora when we’re young, we’re all silly, and the daily life of marriage can be startling. It’s not at all like the old flirting days, as we see with David and Dora.
David is a kind, brave, humorous person. And this is the best book I’ve ever read (except for Anna Karenina).
But Dora should be the subject of a novel, too. The Real Dora Copperfield.