Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lexie's davy blog-along!

As promised, here's my older sister Lexie's blog-along. I made myself wait until I'd written mine to read hers. I really enjoyed reading her thoughts, and seeing where our thoughts overlapped and what new points she brought to light.

Thanks for being my Davy buddy, Lex!

The Personal History, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the younger
of Blunderstone Rookery (which he never meant to be published on any account)

By Charles Dickens

From the preface to the ‘Charles Dickens’ edition:

“Of all my books, I like this one the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.”

David Copperfield is the story of a boy (not the magician), as described by himself, from his very earliest days all the way to manhood, in England during the late Industrial Revolution/early Victorian era. He encounters adversity through many harsh trials, perseveres and forms lasting friendships, learns to stand up for himself, and above all, to be true to himself. I don’t want to give too much away, because if there is one Dickens novel you should read, it’s this one.

 I won’t say it’s a quick read, with my edition topping out at a little over 800 pages, but I enjoyed immensely the care Dickens takes in crafting the characters, the masterful way he weaves their stories together, the genuineness of Davy himself, and the laugh out loud humor. I think it would be difficult to convey here the extent of the endearing qualities of Davy, or how well the characters come together, so I’ll just share a few of my favorite passages and leave it at that.

Davy’s great-aunt is one of my favorites of the large cast of supporting characters. She is a determined lady, and rather eccentric. One of her eccentricities is that she always takes wine cut with water and toast as a bedtime snack. The toast has to be cut in strips, so she can dip it into the wine. She also has a great aversion to donkeys, which Davy discovers when he first comes to live with her at about ten years old.

-       “Janet had gone away to get the bath ready, when my aunt, to my great alarm, became in one moment rigid with indignation, and hardly had voice to cry out, ‘Janet! Donkeys!’ Upon which, Janet came running up the stairs as if the house were in flames, darted out on a little piece of green in front, and warned off two saddle-donkeys, lady-ridden, that had presumed to set hoof on it; while my aunt, rushing out of the house, seized the bridle of a third animal laden with a bestriding child, turned him, led him forth from those sacred precincts, and boxed the ears of the unlucky urchin in attendance who had dared to profane that hallowed ground.”

When Davy has just finished grammar school, and setting off for London, he’s about 17, and like most boys (and girls) at that age, eager to be considered “grown up.”

-       “I got away from Agnes and her father, somehow, with an indifferent show of being very manly, and took my seat upon the box of the London coach. […] The main object in my mind, I remember, when we got fairly on the road, was to appear as old as possible to the coachman, and to speak extremely gruff. The latter point I achieved at great personal inconvenience; but I stuck to it, because I felt it was a grown-up sort of thing.”

Later, he is studying to be a proctor (which seems to be a kind of lawyer in the English House of Commons), and is renting a set of rooms. His childhood housekeeper and friend, Peggotty, comes to stay for a while, and his current housekeeper takes offense.

-       “… Mrs. Crupp had resigned everything appertaining to her office (the salary excepted) until Peggotty should cease to present herself. Mrs. Crupp, after holding diverse conversations respecting Peggotty, in a very high-pitched voice, on the staircase – with some invisible Familiar it would appear, for corporeally speaking she was quite alone at those times – addressed a letter to me, developing her views. […] that at all periods of her existence she had a constitutional objection to spies, intruders, and informers. […] After this, Mrs. Crupp confined herself to making pitfalls on the stairs, principally with pitchers, and endeavouring to delude Peggotty into breaking her legs. I found it rather harassing to live in this state of siege, but was too much afraid of Mrs. Crupp to see any way out of it.”

As a child Davy becomes a lodger of Mr. Micawber and his family, and retains their friendship through adulthood. Mr. Micawber is an over-the-top drama queen, always lamenting of his “pecuniary liabilities,” but he’s a good man, and loyal to his wife and children. He does secure a paying job for some time, but his employer is one of the villains of the book, and he takes pleasure in reminding Mr. Micawber how much he owes him for taking him in. I greatly enjoyed Mr. Micawber’s flair in sharing this information.

-       “ ‘The subsistence of my family, ma’am,’ returned Mr. Micawber, ‘trembles in the balance. My employer – […] once did me the favour to observe to me, that if I were not in the receipt of the stipendiary emoluments appertaining to my engagement with him, I should probably be a mountebank about the country, swallowing a sword-blade, and eating the devouring element. For anything that I can perceive to the contrary, it is still probable that my children may be reduced to seek a livelihood by personal contortion, while Mrs. Micawber abets their unnatural feats by playing the barrel-organ.’ ’’

(Translation: Be thankful I gave you a job, because if I hadn’t, you and your family might have to leave the city and become traveling circus performers!)

Of the several works by Dickens that I have read, I must say that I loved this one best. I remember picking it up when I was in high school, I think, or maybe a summer during college, and putting it down again, finding it difficult to get into. But this time, once I’d started, I couldn’t stop. Dickens drew me in with his charismatic characters, his way of starting in on a tale, then stopping briefly by the side of the story to fill in a little background, never going too far as to lose your interest, and then dropping you back in to continue on. The book is narrated by David himself, and I felt as he went along that I was there with him, that I felt his hardships and tribulations sorely, and rejoiced with him in his successes. I was happy to see it all come out right for him in the end, but also sorry to have to put the book down, because it meant that I had to say goodbye to Davy.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
David Copperfield is a stark portrait of poverty in 19th century England, a coming of age tale, and a story of triumphs won through dedication, hard work, and the unswerving support of family and intimate friends. It chronicles the life of David (aka Trotwood) Copperfield, from his earliest sorrows and childhood woes to young love, painful loss, and a hard-fought victorious happy ending. David is formed in front of our eyes, and his humility, sensitivity, and audacious spirit are born before us. David Copperfield is much more than the story of one young boy on a path to greatness; it paints a picture of what makes up a person. Each trait of Davy's, each action he takes, can be traced to the influences of a faithful servant, a loving (if eccentric) aunt, or a dedicated boyhood friend, to name a few. Davy is a stand-in for Dickens, and if you like to admire not just the book, but the author of it, run out and grab David Copperfield today. You won't be disappointed.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I really enjoyed this book. I'm not sure it quite eclipsed my love for Great Expectations, but I consider it a very dear friend now. I thought the best way to share my experience of Davy with you was by helping you get to know a few of the actors.

Allow me to introduce you to our cast of characters:

Clara Peggotty, Davy's childhood nurse
Peggotty's reaction after Davy is sent away to school as a punishment: "Looking out I saw, to my amazement, Peggotty burst from a hedge and climb into the cart. She took me in both her arms, and squeezed me to her stays until the pressure on my nose was extremely painful, though I never thought of that till afterwards when I found it very tender. Not a single word did Peggotty speak. Releasing one of her arms, she put it down in her pocket to the elbow, and brought out some paper bags of cakes which she crammed into my pockets, and a purse which she put into my hand, but not one word did she say. After another and a final squeeze with both arms, she got down from the cart and ran away." this reminded me of all the times Hagrid pulls something soft and squishy out of his pockets, and when he pulls a whole birthday cake and a pack of sausages out of his pocket at the cabin on the sea. :)

Mr. Peggotty, Clara P's brother:
- Mr. Peggotty is a self-proclaimed 'bacheldore', which I found highly amusing.
- "His was not a lazy trustfulness that hoped, and did no more. He had been a man of sturdy action all his life, and he knew that in all things wherein he wanted help he must do his own part faithfully, and help himself." he reminded me of Mr. Light, always hard at work on something, and knowing his work is to a good end. :)

Mr. Barkis, future husband of Clara Peggotty:
"On the very first evening after our arrival, Mr. Barkis appeared in an exceedingly vacant and awkward condition, and with a bundle of oranges tied up in a handkerchief. As he made no allusion of any kind to this property, he was supposed to have left it behind him by accident when he went away; until Ham, running after him to restore it, came back with the information that it was intended for Peggotty. After that occasion he appeared every evening at exactly the same hour, and always with a little bundle, to which he never alluded, and which he regularly put behind the door, and left there. These offerings of affection were of a most various and eccentric description. Among them I remember a double set of pigs' trotters, a huge pin-cushion, half a bushel or so of apples, a pair of jet earrings, some Spanish onions, a box of dominoes, a canary bird and cage, and a leg of pickled pork." hehehehee. I wouldn't mind if someone courted me with those things!

Aunt Betsey Trotwood, Davy's (deceased) father's sister:
Aunt Betsey was one of my favorite characters - she's a no-nonsense, independent woman, and I loved that Dickens wrote such a strong female character considering the time period he lived and wrote in.
- her first words on Davy's unexpected arrival at her house: "Go away, no boys here!"
- donkeys: Aunt Betsey's Biggest Pet Peeve is when people let their donkeys trot all over her front lawn. This leads to some hilarious hijinx. When she goes on vacation to London and leaves Mr. Dick at home, she intimates to Davy that Mr. Dick is Not Trustworthy re: keeping away the donkeys. 
- "His sister, Betsey Trotwood, would never have run away." Aunt Betsey originally cuts off contact with Davy because she wanted a girl, whom she would have called Betsey Trotwood Copperfield. She comes to love Davy eventually, but frequently compares him to the imaginary "Betsey Trotwood" and her pristine presumed behavior. She also decides she can't call Davy David because David is what his father's name was; instead, she calls him Trotwood Copperfield, or sometimes Trot, for short.  haghaghahgah. 

Mr. Dick, trusted advisor to Aunt Betsey, and definitely not all there in the head:
- his memorial, and King Charles I: Mr. Dick is writing a memorial (for the entire duration of the book) but King Charles I keeps popping up in it, uninvited. King Charles becomes synonymous with bouts of mild madness in Mr. Dick, and there are frequent re-designs of Mr. Dick's work to "keep King Charles out of it."
- When Davy first arrives at Aunt Betsey's (after walking quite a long distance on foot), Aunt Betsey is kerfuffled, and decides to ask Mr. Dick what to do. Mr. Dick, though a bit touchy in the head, makes the following reasonable suggestions at critical junctures which will drastically affect Davy's future: 
on what to do with him when he first arrives: 
- "Wash him!"
on what to do after he's been washed:
- "Put him to bed!"
on whether to send him back to the care of his evil father-in-law who had sent him to work in a factory (at the ripe old age of 11 or so):
- "Measure him for a suit of clothes!"
I loved that Mr. Dick was the one to make all of these major life decisions for Davy. Adorable!

"Mr. Dick was very partial to gingerbread. To render his visits the more agreeable, my aunt had instructed me to open a credit for him at a cake-shop, which was hampered with the stipulation that he should not be served with more than one shilling's-worth in the course of any one day. This, and the reference of all his little bills at the county inn where he slept, to my aunt, before they were paid, induced me to suspect that he was only allowed to rattle his money, and not to spend it." Mr. Dick often happily rattles his money loudly in his pockets :) 

Mr. & Mrs. Micawber, an impoverished couple with whom Davy boards during his time at the factory, and later, a set of very dear friends:
- letters: Mr. Micawber has a penchant for writing elaborate letters on all sorts of occasions. He also frequently hangs out with Davy and seems to be having a great time, only to forward a letter not 5 minutes after his departure that claims he is "RUINED forever and there's No Hope for him."
- debtor's prison: The Micawbers move into debtor's prison while Davy is boarding with them (he ends up finding an apartment nearby and visiting them quite frequently) and they have a much better time in prison than out of it, what with not being hounded by bill collectors and all. I found this amusing and a bit too close to home, in that I would Certainly be in debtor's prison right now if we lived in Dickens' time. Any extra room in there, Micawbers? A nice cozy spot by the fire, perhaps? ;)

a taste of Mr. Micawber's fondness for grandiose prose:
"Emma [Mrs. Micawber]! The cloud is past from my mind. Mutual confidence, so long preserved between us once, is restored, to know no further interruption. Now, welcome poverty! Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!"

Tommy Traddles, a friend of Davy's first at school, then later in life:
- flower pot and stand and little round table: Traddles saves up for his future marriage to "the dearest girl in the world", as she is referred to, aka Sophy, and starts off his collection of items with a flower pot and stand and a little round table. After lending money to the Micawbers (Big Mistake!), the flower pot and stand and table are seized. Traddles eventually saves enough to buy them back, but has Peggotty help him so he won't be gouged. 

- hair like Harry Potter:
Davy, on the first time he met Dora's aunts and wanted to make a good impression: "Excellent fellow as I knew Traddles to be, and warmly attached to him as I was, I could not help wishing, on that delicate occasion, that he had never contracted the habit of brushing his hair so very upright. It gave him a surprised look - not to say a hearth-broomy kind of expression - which, my apprehensions whispered, might be fatal to us.
   I took the liberty of mentioning it to Traddles, as we were walking to Putney; and saying that if he would smooth it down a little -
   'My dear Copperfield,' said Traddles, lifting off his hat, and rubbing his hair all kinds of ways, 'Nothing would give me greater pleasure. But it won't."
   'Won't be smoothed down?' said I.
   'No,' said Traddles. 'Nothing will induce it. If I was to carry a half-hundredweight upon it, all the way to Putney, it would be up again the moment the weight was taken off. You have no idea what obstinate hair mine is, Copperfield. I am quite a fretful porcupine." ahghagaghaghahgagha. 

Dora, Davy's lady-love, and her silly but darling dog, Jip:
- the cookery-book: Davy tries to teach Dora about how to keep house and buys her a cookery book, but she has a very hard time with it, and after drawing all over the pages, finds the best use of it to be teaching Jip how to jump onto it. 
- the pens: When Davy starts writing and earning some money from it, Dora wants to be helpful, so she ends up asking if she couldn't possibly, just Maybe, hold his pens? And he happily obliges, using far too many pens and "accidentally" breaking them so she can provide him with a new one. adorbs :)
Aunt Betsey, on Dora:
"Our dearest Dora is a favourite child of nature. She is a thing of light, and airiness, and joy."

Agnes, dear friend of Davy's from youth, confidant, and maybe something more (no spoilers here! just heavy-handed foreshadowing, à la Dickens!)
Davy, to Agnes: "Whenever I have not had you, Agnes, to advise and approve in the beginning, I have seemed to go wild, and to get into all sorts of difficulty. When I have come to you, at last (as I have always done), I have come to peace and happiness. I come home, now, like a tired traveller, and find such a blessed sense of rest!"

Davy, on not realizing sooner how much he cares for Agnes:
"I had thrown away the treasure of her love."

Davy: "What I am, you have made me, Agnes. You should know best."

Steerforth, friend and role model at school, and later handsome daredevil:
- Think Tom Riddle meets Wickham meets Willoughby. Nuff said.

Uriah Heep, employee of the Wickfields (Agnes and father), master manipulator, and all-around no-good-very-bad-guy:
Davy, on one of his first encounters with Uriah:
"I found Uriah reading a great fat book, with such demonstrative attention, that his lank forefinger followed up every line as he read, and made clammy tracks along the page (or so I fully believed) like a snail."
"He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly; and which diverted my attention from the compliment he had paid my relation, to the snaky twistings of his throat and body."

Aunt Betsey, on meeting Uriah for the first time and seeing him gesticulate wildly:
Aunt Betsey: "Deuce take the man, what's he about? Don't be galvanic, sir!"
Uriah: "I ask your pardon, Miss Trotwood, I'm aware you're nervous."
Aunt Betsey: "Go along with you, sir! Don't presume to say so! I am nothing of the sort. If you're an eel, sir, conduct yourself like one. If you're a man, control your limbs, sir! Good God! I am not going to be serpentined and cork-screwed out of my senses!" ahgahgahgahgh. one of my favorite lines.

Davy, hero of our novel:
when I first knew I would love Davy; his reaction to being quarantined in his room by his nasty father-in-law:
"My father had left a small collection of books in a little room up-stairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company [...] this was my only and my constant comfort."

- Davy as "The Book of Ecclesiastes": Davy's appetite for books serves him well in school, and he shares the stories and plots with all the boys late into the night. It reminded me of the end of Fahrenheit-451 when Montag becomes the back-up responsible for the Book of Ecclesiastes (should anything happen to the existing bearer). I think the only thing I know by heart is "Jabberwocky". What could you share, my friends?

- bear's grease, crushes: Davy, like any young boy, tries to show off and has a number of very silly crushes and emphatuations. He uses quite a bit of bear's grease in his hair, and when he first falls for Dora, admits: "I lived principally on Dora and coffee." I loved the human quality to these crushes.

- drunk and silly: Davy, on the first night he gets really drunk out with Steerforth and friends: "Somebody was leaning out of my bedroom window, refreshing his forehead against the cool stone of the parapet, and feeling the air upon his face. It was myself. I was addressing myself as 'Copperfield,' and saying, 'Why did you try to smoke? You might have known you couldn't do it.' Now, somebody was unsteadily contemplating his features in the looking-glass. That was I too. I was very pale in the looking-glass; my eyes had a vacant appearance; and my hair - only my hair, nothing else - looked drunk." ahgahghaghaghaghaghahgahgahgahgaghagh. 

- courting Dora (like Swann courting Odette): "on that Saturday evening she was to be at Miss Mills's; and when Mr. Mills had gone to his whist-club (telegraphed to me in the street, by a bird-cage in the drawing-room middle window), I was to go there to tea." this reminded me of all of Swann's elaborate signals with Odette during their courtship and his rage when the signal wouldn't happen when it was supposed to. 

- on visiting Dora's aunts: "The clock ticks over the fireplace, the weather-glass hangs in the hall. Neither clock nor weather-glass is ever right; but we believe in both, devoutly." anyone who knows my mother knows that no two clocks in her house are ever the same. the one in the den gets slower throughout the week, while the one in the living room gets faster. the kitchen is always something wildly arbitrary, like 16 and half minutes fast. disturbingly enough, we are all quite used to it, and have no trouble keeping time. visitors, on the other hand, are often quite stymied.

On the whole band and their intimacy, despite hard times, when Dora falls ill: "Jip would bark and caper round us, and go on before, and look back on the landing, breathing short, to see that we were coming. My aunt, the best and most cheerful of nurses, would trudge after us, a moving mass of shawls and pillows. Mr. Dick would not have relinquished his post of candle-bearer to any one alive. Traddles would be often at the bottom of the staircase, looking on, and taking charge of sportive messages from Dora to the dearest girl in the world. We made quite a gay procession of it." I love the way that Dickens makes a family out of his characters, and how by the end, you feel a part of that family. I was truly sorry to relinquish Davy (and Mr. Dick, and Aunt Betsey, and Peggotty) as a companion on my Metro trips to and from work. 

Passages I particularly enjoyed:
  • on the night of Davy's birth: "As the elms bent to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after a few seconds of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms about, as if their late confidences were really too wicked for their peace of mind, some weather-beaten ragged old rooks'-nests burdening their higher branches, swung like wrecks upon a stormy sea."
  • Davy, on his first night at Aunt Betsey's: "I remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams."
  • remembering church: "The earthly smell, the sunless air, the sensation of the world being shut out, the resounding of the organ through the black and white arched galleries and aisles, are wings that take me back, and hold me hovering above those days, in a half-sleeping and half-waking dream."
  • coming out into the rain after his first night at the theatre: "But the mingled reality and mystery of the whole show, the influence upon me of the poetry, the lights, the music, the company, the smooth stupendous changes of glittering and brilliant scenery, were so dazzling, and opened up such illimitable regions of delight, that when I came out into the rainy street, at twelve o'clock at night, I felt as if I had come from the clouds, where I had been leading a romantic life for ages, to a bawling, splashing, link-lighted, umbrella-struggling, hackney-coach-jostling, patten-clinking, muddy, miserable world."
  • Davy, on the early days of authorship: "I wallow in words."
  • "As the receding wave swept back with a hoarse roar, it seemed to scoop out deep caves in the beach, as if its purpose were to undermine the earth."
My dear sister Lexie read along with me, and it was great fun to chat throughout and update each other on our progress and the goings-on. I'll be posting her comments in a little bit. I want to read them first and have them all to myself for a moment :) The offer stands, as always, for you to join me and read along!

Onwards to Twilight, and vampires in the night! (No wait, I'm not at all sure that that's right.)