Friday, July 23, 2010

"My Aunt Makes Up Her Mind About Me"

Thus I began my new life, in a new name, and with everything new about me. Now that the state of doubt was over, I felt, for many days, like one in a dream. I never thought that I had a curious couple of guardians, in my aunt and Mr. Dick. I never thought of anything about myself, distinctly. The two things clearest in my mind were, that a remoteness had come upon the old Blunderstone life - which seemed to lie in the haze of an immeasurable distance; and that a curtain had for ever fallen on my life at Murdstone and Grinby's. No one has ever raised that curtain since. I have lifted it for a moment, even in this narrative, with a reluctant hand, and dropped it gladly. The remembrance of that life is fraught with so much pain to me, with so much mental suffering and want of hope, that I have never had the courage even to examine how long I was doomed to lead it. Whether it lasted for a year, or more, or less, I do not know. I only know that it was, and ceased to be; and that I have written, and there I leave it.
A passage like that ought to make even the most thickheaded reader (Hi, how's it going?) stand up and take notice. Personally, I crinkled my nose, played thoughtfully with my beard and said: "I should write a blog post now!"

The above-quoted passage is the very last paragraph of chapter 14 of Charles Dickens by David Copperfield, or vice versa. The young Charley/Davy has run away from his drudge job at his stepfather's warehouse to take refuge with his eccentric Aunt Betsey. The two "met" only once before, when David was a very small, posthumous child. She, shocked and disappointed at his being a boy not a girl, quickly fled from his life and formed a new quiet life for herself in a small cottage of those towns with an Englishy name.

Some years later --maybe 6 to 8 years-- when David flees to her, he finds his aunt to be nice enough, despite being a bit "sharp" and possessing more than a few idiosyncrasies. And, with a penniless, exhausted, filthy nephew at her door, she proves her mettle by taking him in and defending him against the vile Mister and Miss Murdstone, the stepfather and his sister. "My aunt makes up her mind about me"...well, I think I've already gone and spoiled the result of that chapter!

Still, the above paragraph puts to an end one of the most fiery and intriguing passages I have read in a long time (too long to put here but well worth reading). The tongue lashing Aunt Betsey gives Mr. Murdstone, combined with her effective shutting down of Ms. Murdstone's 'picky little comments, render entirely impotent the until now most terrible and powerful influences of David's young life. So impotent for so long, David finally finds a sane and confident guardian -- an eccentric, proto-feminist, hermit lady -- to defend him and look after his future.

It is a new era for David -- a happy time for him, the author, and the reader. All three of us are now set free from youth-stealing drudgery in some anonymous warehouse along the river Thames and are now free to roam among the endearing oddballs of Victorian society.

But we can never forget the events of the previous chapters, particularly Chapter 11, "I Begin Life on My Own Account, and Don't Like It," epitomized by a title so sadly understated --whether on account of bravado or pain or plain English stuffiness, I don't know -- yet so full of grim foreboding towards the chapter it heads up. Charles Dickens never forgot his own two years at a boot-blacking factory, as evidenced by this and so many other books, characters, passages. His experiences at one of the lowest rungs of society at an awfully young age no doubt, the scholar will say, made him a more well-rounded author in future years, made him "worldly" (without lasting long enough to make him world weary) and, finally, created a unique character capable of creating hundreds of others that he used to populate his unique vision of the world. Pity, the things required for such gains...

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