Monday, March 26, 2007

David Copperfield

As the novel closes David's story has ended and his new journey, with Agnes by his side, has begun. Dickens deftly brings the novel to a climax, as David narrates the resolution of each of the novels main characters' fates. But I was most impressed by Dickens's use of the theme of nature and how it signals the final true maturation of David. While nature and the sea have been recurring motifs throughout the novel, in the final section we have nature brought home to David as he meditates on his life (following the deaths of Dora and Steerforth). We get the first intimation of this in Chapter LII(p. 747):

Early in the morning, I sauntered through the dear old tranquil streets . . . The rooks were sailing about the cathedral towers ; and the towers themselves , overlooking many a long unaltered mile of the rich country and its pleasant streams, were cutting the bright morning air, as if there were no such thing as change on earth.

Then in Chapter LV, Tempest, natures brews a storm leading to the shipwreck and discovery of Steerforth's dead body. But it is three chapters later while David is travelling in Switzerland that he narrates (p. 821):

I think some long-unwonted sense of beauty and tranquillity, some softening influence awakened by its peace, moved faintly in my breast.

I believe David's feeling here which is followed swiftly by a reassuring letter from Agnes, allows him to regain his artistic vigour leading him to write once again after a hiatus. It also signals his final maturation; and the reader delights in his return to England and the ultimate moment when he and Agnes share their long delayed testaments of love for each other.

David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (Penguin Classics, revised edition, 2004, London)

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