illustration of two young men standing in 19th century garb and looking at one another

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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Themes and Characters

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The title character in David Copperfield presents himself, his life, and the people and experiences who have helped shape his personality by reconstructing them from memory. Copperfield becomes a novelist, after following a career in journalism for a number of years. Henry James insisted that a novelist is someone who forgets nothing in his lifetime. From childhood onward his mind closely observes the world about him. Every child is a close observer, Dickens also insists. Feeling that he is a mature writer, Copperfield wishes to learn how he became the unique individual he knows himself to be. David's first statement, "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else these pages must show," seems to indicate a certain modesty and is quite different than what one might expect for a story which contains a partial autobiography of Charles Dickens. Dickens has to be considered one of the most flamboyant of English writers, a man who loved theatrical performances which he often directed and in which he played leading roles.

Copperfield's father died before his birth. Young David was quite content spending his early years with his mother and the family's beloved housekeeper, Peggotty. He was the center of their lives, but this situation was not to last. Edward Murdstone, a character akin to the stereotypical Victorian villain, woos his mother. Dickens combined the works "murder" and "stone" to form the name, and Murdstone is murderous in his attitude toward the small boy and his overly pliant mother, Clara. Upon returning from his first visit to Peggotty's home in Yarmouth, David learns of his mother's marriage, and Murdstone immediately takes charge of the boy. He has the firmness of stone, and firmness is the quality he expects in the people around him. The relationship between children and parents is a theme in many of Dickens' books. David and his mother are in the hands of a sadist, of two sadists because Murdstone's sister, who is cast in the same mold as her brother, soon joins the family. David is soon informed that any resistance to his stepfather will lead to a beating. The threat is carried out a few days later when David is whipped within an inch of his life for being slow to learn his lessons. In the process he enrages Murdstone further by biting his tormentor's hand.

The contrast between Peggotty's kindly family and the Murdstones is striking. Dan'l Peggotty, the housekeeper's brother, is kindliness personified. He has adopted a young niece, Em'ly, who is David's age, and an older nephew, Ham, who like this uncle has become a fisherman. Dan'l is an ideal father. David loves the members of this family as he does their home, a home in the shape of a boat. Dickens had carefully studied a book on the Suffolk dialect to give the Peggotty's authentic speech. David's own home, Blunderstone Rookery, no longer has even a trace of the gaiety and laughter he finds in Yarmouth, and used to know before with his mother and Peggotty. A child is helpless when forced to deal with malignancy and evil.

Shortly after biting Murdstone's hand, David is sent to a school, Salem House Academy, whose headmaster, Creakle, is not only sadistic but stupid as well. Incapable of either learning or teaching, all Creakle knows how to do is wield a cane at the slightest provocation. Since Creakle speaks only in hoarse whispers, his assistant, the one-legged Tungay, roars out the headmaster's orders. Dickens shows his usual skill in creating a duo...

(This entire section contains 2449 words.)

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of grotesque monsters. Why such a pair should be running a school, and with such unmitigated brutality, a modern reader might wonder. But sadistic schoolmasters have been all too common in the history of education. Saint Augustine in hisConfessions tells us the fear of being beaten was a threat he had to live with during his early schools days. Dickens used this theme in Nicholas Nickleby. His own education was all too sketchy, but education was a lifelong concern for him. Salem House does not really educate David or anyone else. Cowed with fear the students profit little from their lessons. David makes two friends however: Tommy Traddles, a kindly, gentle boy who is one of Creakle's favorite victims, and James Steerforth, a young aristocrat whose presence in the school is never explained. He befriends David, and is the only student who stands up to Creakle and Tungay. He also exploits Copperfield, spending the younger boy's money and, even when David is tired, has him read stories aloud late into the night. Only much later does David realize why Steerforth asks him if he has a sister. David sees him as a truly superior being as noble as he is handsome. But he also watches as Steerforth destroys the career of an inoffensive teacher, Mr. Mell, by an arrogant charge against him made to Creakle.

David's mother dies as a result of the tyranny of the Murdstones, and the new baby succumbs soon afterward. After the funeral, David does not return to Salem House. Murdstone sends him to London to work in his warehouse in the lowliest job available, washing and labeling bottles. He boards with the Micawber family, Wilkens and Emma Micawber, two of the novel's most memorable characters. The firm of Murdstone and Grimby, and Copperfield's work there, is based on the most humiliating experience in Dickens' life, the several months he had spent at Warren's Blacking Factory, Hungerford Stairs, London. It was menial, monotonous work Dickens neither forgot nor forgave. His parents, deep in debt, could no longer afford to keep him in school.

In David Copperfield, Dickens constructed the Micawbers from certain traits of his parents' characters. Mr. Micawber, although shabbily dressed, always projects an air of gentility. His speech patterns are heavily loaded with Latinate terms and are said to reflect John Dickens' manner of speech. Grandiloquent sentences are always followed by "in short" a translation into everyday English. He is always expecting "something to turn up," but nothing does. His wife, Emma, never doubts that her husband has many talents, and she always insists "I will never desert Mr. Micawber." Here is a typical bit of Mr. Micawber's conversation: "It was at Canterbury where we last met. Within the shadow, I may figuratively say, of that religious edifice, immortalized by Chaucer, which was anciently the resort of pilgrims from the remotest corners of—in short," said Mr. Micawber, "in the immediate neighborhood of the cathedral." The Micawbers provide some relief from the misery the young boy is experiencing.

David remembers that his mother had talked about a great aunt who had visited Blunderstone Rookery the night he was born. Furious that he was not born a girl, she vanished like a "fairy," and the family heard nothing more from her. Dickens liked to give some of his characters certain traits of the people in fairy tales that had been among his favorite reading as a child. Aunty Betsey Trotwood is a sort of fairy godmother. She is blunt in her speech, tolerating no nonsense in anyone. The Murdstones may be seen as the cruel monsters that are also part of fairy tale tradition. David walks from London to his aunt's cottage near Dover, and he presents himself to her. She already has one protege, Mr. Richard Bably, usually called Mr. Dick. Essentially a very simple person, he has, according to Aunt Betsey, depths that only she can see. She consults Mr. Dick about what she should do about David. He provides practical advice, a bath, bed, and clean clothes. She writes to Murdstone that David is with her. They are willing to take David back to the life he has fled. Betsey Trotwood is more than a match for them. She unmasks Murdstone and shows that she instinctively knows him for the sadistic brute he is. He does not try to contradict her. Evil has met its match in this frail older woman. A bully can be faced down by simple goodness. Aunt Betsey decides to adopt David and makes Mr. Dick his guardian as well.

Copperfield is sent by his aunt to Dr. Strong's school in Canterbury, a sharp contrast to Salem House Academy. The Doctor is the most humane of teachers and unlike Creakle, a distinguished scholar. He boards with Mr. Wickfield, a lawyer who manages his aunt's finances. His housekeeper is also his daughter. Agnes Wickfield impresses David even at their first meeting as a saintly figure, as someone who might be represented in a radiant stained glass window. Wickfield's clerk is Uriah Heep.

Heep writes and belittles himself constantly. He will eventually be seen as a diabolical figure with the satanic ability to insinuate himself into a position of power. A grotesque skeleton of a man, his malignancy is not immediately apparent beneath his "umble" manner. The forms that evil can assume fascinated Dickens although he cannot equal Shakespeare or even his contemporary Robert Browning in penetrating its depths. James Steerforth is another manifestation of it. He has irresistible charm and complete assurance in his own superiority. Beneath the charm is almost total egotism. Nobody has ever opposed Steerforth, and everybody easily succumbs to the spell of his personality. Uriah Heep, on the other hand, is the product of a foundation school for boys, a charitable institution that placed him at the bottom of the class system and attempted to forge his will into as abject a mold as possible. This formula could only produce a hatred of all those people who assumed they were his betters.

Mr. Wickfield, an alcoholic, allows Uriah to take over his business affairs. Heep also aspires to make Agnes his own. David instinctively loathes Uriah, who, as he constantly watches Agnes, reminds him of an "ugly and rebellious genie watching a good spirit."

David receives an excellent education at Dr. Strong's school. Agnes Wickfield, who seems to have attained early in life a maturity that David achieves much later, is his confidante during these years. He admires deeply her goodness and serenity. His Aunt Betsey, watching their relationship, is more aware of Agnes' devotion to David than he is. He is too self-absorbed to notice.

Copperfield leaves Canterbury for London and decides that he wants a legal career. He is apprenticed to a Mr. Spenlow in the Commons. Spenlow has a daughter, Dora, who has been educated in France. Copperfield meets and falls in love with this beautiful little woman. "She was a fairy, a sylph." His infatuation with her is based on Dickens' earliest great love for Maria Beadnell, a banker's daughter, who could not have taken seriously a youth under nineteen, a mere shorthand reporter in the law courts. But he was rapturously in love with her, and found her absolutely flawless, and David's feelings for Dora Spenlow mirror these emotions. Maria would later dismiss Dickens as a "boy"; her fictional counterpart, Dora, lacks Maria's malice, and she and David are finally married. Aunt Betsey, being told of her nephew's wedding plans, comments "blind, blind, blind." She knows whom he should marry. David continues to love Dora, but soon learns that she lacks most practical skills. She can neither cook nor manage household finances. As his career progresses she cannot share any of his intellectual interests. She dies after they have been married for only a few years.

Meeting his old school friend Tommy Traddles, David learns that Tommy lives as a lodger with the Micawbers. Traddles is such a gentle, sweet natured person that he even looks back on Creakle with affection despite the man's brutality. Dickens uses an alliance between Mr. Micawber and Traddles as a means of exposing Uriah Heep. Heep, a full partner with Mr. Wickfield, has hired Micawber as his clerk. Micawber, however improvident he may be, is anything but stupid and he soon learns how dishonest Heep is. He tells Tommy what he has discovered and together they reveal the total scoundrel that Heep, below his hypocritical claims of humility, really is. Micawber reads the indictment that he has written up as one of the letters he habitually writes. It is his finest hour and illustrates one of Dickens' favorite themes: the good and the brave can triumph over treachery and cruelty.

Having taken his friend Steerforth down to Yarmouth to meet his fisherman friends, David has innocently set the Peggottys up for a tragedy. Em'ly, his childhood playmate, has become a beautiful young woman. She had said years ago that she wanted to become a lady, something that could only happen if she married someone such as Steerforth, who is in a social position much higher than hers. He plans her seduction soon after they meet. His egoism is only occasionally revealed during David's acquaintance with him. Visiting Steerforth's mother, David meets her companion, Rosa Dartle, whom Steerforth had disfigured in a childish rage throwing a hammer that left her mouth deeply scarred. Rosa gets Steerforth to admit his contempt for people of the lower classes. Despite everything, Rosa adores Steerforth. He knows himself, and wishes he had a father who might have helped him build a better character. He buys a boat that he renames "The Little Em'ly." Em'ly elopes with him only to be discarded in Italy where Steerforth gives her to his valet, Mr. Littermer, who had assisted in the elopement. She eventually makes her way back to England and is rescued by her uncle from the London slum where she is living. Steerforth drowns off the Yarmouth coast as a result of one of worst storms that people on the coast can recall. Ham, trying to rescue him, perishes as well.

Copperfield himself emerges as a fully rounded character who finally comes to terms with his "undisciplined heart." After a period during which he finds solace in the wild beauty of the Swiss Alps, he goes back to England and marries Agnes, who has loved him all of her life. Like most of the other characters in the novel, she changes little, if at all. She seems almost too good to be human. Tommy Traddles, who takes up law and finally becomes a judge, has an equally angelic personality. Most of the other characters are two-dimensional at best. Copperfield, while sharing some of Dickens' experiences, is too mild and passive to be an exact replica of the fiery, bustling Dickens. He becomes a novelist, but the exact nature of what he writes is never given. He is writing his autobiography ten years after his marriage to Agnes, and he enjoys a serenity that Dickens himself was never to achieve.


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Richard BableySee Mr. Dick

Mr. Barkis Mr. Barkis, whom David meets when he drives David to his boarding school, woos Peggotty and later marries her. He is a man of few words and is quite miserly. But Peggotty has a happy life with him, and he leaves her a large inheritance after he dies. He serves mainly as a plot device, providing some comic relief in his courtship of Peggotty.

Clara Copperfield David’s mother, Clara Copperfield, is loving but weak, definitely not strong enough to protect David from the cruelty of Murdstone and his sister. Clara appears quite “timid and sad” as she approaches David’s birth after her husband dies, “very doubtful of ever coming alive out of the trial that was before her.” She defers to everyone, including Peggotty, whom she often treats more like a mother than a servant.

Occasionally Clara shows some strength of character as when she defends her husband against Aunt Betsey’s criticisms. Yet, her fear of losing Murdstone’s love and protection weakens her to the point where she cannot protect her son. At one point, she tries to insist to Miss Murdstone that she is capable of running her own household, but she crumbles when Murdstone chastises her and thus relinquishes all control to him and his sister. She tries to make life easier for David by imploring him to love his new father and to obey him, and she tries to help David surreptitiously by whispering answers to his lessons. Yet she is not strong enough to intervene when Murdstone beats David or sends him off to school. Murdstone breaks her down to the point where she can only cover her ears to David’s screams as Murdstone beats him, and she is afraid to show any kindness toward David for fear of offending her husband and so getting a lecture afterwards. At the end of her life, “a hard word was like a blow to her,” and she ultimately could not survive under her husband’s domination.

David Copperfield David, the narrator of the novel, chronicles his movement from innocence to experience as he traces his life from birth to middle age. As a youth, he is trusting, idealistic, and devoted to friends and family. He continually defends those he loves against others’ attacks, even when it would be expedient to do otherwise, as when Aunt Betsey criticizes Peggotty, when he needs to please his aunt so she will let him stay with her.

He is also a romantic, envisioning himself as a hero, much like those he has read about in his father’s adventure novels; he falls in love with every pretty girl he meets, insisting that he will kill himself if his love is not requited. In his innocence, he often trusts others too much. His forgiving nature allows him to accept his mother’s abandonment of him after her marriage to Murdstone. When he matures, he recognizes that he has been blind to the true character of others, such as Steerforth, and to the workings of his own heart with regard to his choice of Dora for a bride. After Dora’s death, he realizes that Agnes is a more appropriate companion for him.

Mr. Creakle The cruel proprietor of Salem House, Mr. Creakle, frightens David during his time there. When he is an adult, David discovers that Creakle has become a prison warden, who self-confidently extols the virtues of the prison system.

Rosa Dartle Rosa Dartle is a distant relative of Steerforth. Her “thinness seemed to be the effect of some wasting fire within her, which found a vent in her gaunt eyes.” Rosa lives with Mrs. Steerforth as her companion. Steerforth gave her the scar on her lip when he was young during a moment of rage when he threw a hammer at her. David soon discovers that “she never said anything she wanted to say, outright; but hinted it, and made a great deal more of it by this practice.” She cleverly keeps saying how ignorant she is, which tends to disarm others to the point where they give her the information she wants, often against their will. Steerforth insists that she is “dangerous,” most likely due to her desire for power and her ability to get information. She shows her bigotry when she calls the Peggottys “a depraved worthless set” and insists that Em’ly should be whipped for seducing Steerforth. Her love for him becomes evident in her tirades against Em’ly and Mrs. Steerforth at the end of the book.

Mr. Dick Aunt Betsey claims that Mr. Dick, an eccentric man who lives with her, is a “distant connexion” or relative of hers. Mr. Dick’s “vacant manner, his submission to [his] aunt, and his childish delight when she praised him” causes David to “suspect him of being a little mad.” David also sees evidence of mental problems in the fact that as Mr. Dick works on his autobiography he has difficulty keeping King Charles I from creeping into it. Mr. Dick later admits to David that he considers himself to have a simple mind. Aunt Betsey explains that “he has been ill-used” due to others’ having bad opinions of him.

Aunt Betsey claims that he is not mad as some people think and is “the most friendly and amenable creature in existence,” who gives wonderful advice. He has maintained a childhood innocence that allows him to thoroughly enjoy other people. Mr. Dick reveals his compassion and cleverness when he acknowledges that “a simpleton, a weak-minded person” like himself “may do what wonderful people may not do” because he will not be blamed for his actions and thus is able to bring Dr. Strong and Annie together.

Mrs. Gummidge Taken in by Mr. Peggotty after her husband, his partner, dies, Mrs. Gummidge has “rather a fretful disposition,” especially when she thinks of her drowned husband. She often feels sorry for herself, as evidenced by her insistence that “everythink goes contrairy with me.” She acknowledges that she irritates others because she feels more emotions and shows them. Mrs. Gummidge takes charge of the household, showing her gratefulness and compassion.

Uriah Heep Conniving and deferential, Uriah Heep is fifteen when David first meets him. His goal is to gain power in a world that has denied him any, due to his position in the lower class.

Little Em’ly David falls in love with Little Em’ly, Peggotty’s niece, when they play together as children. She is a shy child but develops a desire to move up in class and become a lady. She is aware of the class differences between her and David, even as a young girl. She is good natured and affectionate with her family, but her desire to move up in class, coupled with her feelings for Steerforth, cause her to abandon them and break her engagement to Ham. After moving to Australia with her uncle, she devotes her life to helping others.

Jack Maldon Annie Strong’s cousin, shallow, handsome, and confident Jack Maldon, serves as a plot device to complicate the Strongs’ marriage, which allows Uriah an opportunity to meddle in others’ affairs. His relationship with Annie also emphasizes the theme of loyalty.

Mr. Mell Mr. Mell, David’s instructor at Salem House, shows his affection for his mother who lives in a poorhouse and his humanity when he tries to deflect Creakle’s cruelty. Mell also appears in the novel to provide Steerforth with an opportunity to reveal his true nature.

Mrs. Micawber Fiercely loyal and supportive of her husband, Mrs. Micawber encourages Mr. Micawber through all of his misfortunes by continually extolling his virtues. Readers come to know her by her often repeated assertion, “I will never desert Mr. Micawber,” which illustrates this loyalty. She has a constant belief that her husband’s difficulties are only temporary, blaming his creditors for not giving him time to come up with payments. Like her husband, she is loquacious as well as kindhearted, evidenced by her treatment of David when he lives with them while working in the warehouse.

Wilkins Micawber Ambitions and proud, Mr. Micawber unfortunately has no knack for making money. Yet he never lets this fact trouble him for long. Although he is often forced to dress shabbily, he always acts above his class, displaying genteel manners, confident that he will indeed rise above his often destitute situation. His home is as shabby as he is, but as David notes, it “like himself, made all the show it could.”

He is good natured and amiable, always ready to give advice to help improve others’ conditions, which he is confident he can do. He is even more loquacious than his wife, often trying the patience of his friends as they wait for him to get to his point, to which he never takes a direct route. Like his wife, he is generous and elastic, taking his misfortunes in stride, assured that his success will appear with the next opportunity. His debts often fill him with the profoundest misery to the point where he contemplates suicide, but an hour later, he is in high spirits again. Under the influence of Uriah, he turns sullen and distant, but he is able to regain his focus and, due to his careful planning, to expose Uriah’s fraudulent activities. Mr. Micawber finally enjoys success when he is made a magistrate in Australia.

Edward Murdstone After cruel and tyrannical Edward Murdstone marries David’s mother, he rules the household autocratically. He forces Clara to distance herself from her son, which eventually destroys her, and abuses David and then sends him away to fend for himself.

Jane Murdstone Edward Murdstone’s sister Jane is “a gloomy-looking lady” who comes to live with David and his mother soon after the wedding. She carries metal boxes with her, which become a symbol of her metallic personality. As rigid as her brother, she takes control of the household after she arrives, manipulating Clara while insisting that she is helping her. David finds her arrogant with a “devil’s humour” like that of her brother. Her cruelty toward David and his mother has more of an Evangelical bent than her brother’s, as she proves when she determines everyone in church to be “miserable sinners,” including David.

Clara Peggotty David’s nanny, called Peggotty, is devoted to him and to Mrs. Copperfield and becomes a surrogate mother to both of them. She is stern but loving as she raises David, frowning at him if he does not pay attention to the Sunday sermon, but listening night after night to him read his book on crocodiles. Before Murdstone and his sister arrive, David admits that he and his mother were “both a little afraid” of her and so “submitted [themselves] in most things to her direction,” yet as soon as she feels that she has been short with them, she showers them with hugs and kisses. She often speaks her mind, as when she tries to persuade Clara not to marry Murdstone, and continually tries to find a way to counteract or soften Murdstone’s decrees and harsh treatment of David by slipping him food or taking him on trips to see her family. Her kindheartedness prompts her to try to ease his and his mother’s suffering.

Her loyalty is evident when she refuses to leave Clara even in the face of the Murdstones’ tyranny and condescension. After Clara dies, she swears her devotion to David and treats him like a son. During his most difficult times, Peggotty reassures David that he will always be welcome in her home and that she will always try to help him in any way she can.

Dan Peggotty Peggotty’s brother Dan is a kind, generous, good-natured sailor who is devoted to his family. He tells David when he first meets him, “you’ll find us rough, sir, but you’ll find us ready.” He has shown his readiness to take on responsibility when, even though he was quite poor, he took in and adopted his nephew Ham and his niece Little Em’ly, both orphans, as well as Mrs. Gummidge, the wife of a sailor who drowned. Peggotty insists he is “as good as gold and as true as steel.” He shows infinite patience with and tender consideration for Mrs. Gummidge; when she gets upset and complains about her lot in life, he tries to make her as comfortable as possible and explains, “she’s been thinking of the old’un,” referring to her drowned husband. He proves his loyalty to his family when he devotes himself to finding Em’ly and then leaves his native England to relocate to Australia with her so that she can start a new life.

Ham Peggotty Peggotty’s nephew, Ham, is kindhearted and selfless, with “a simpering boy’s face and curly light hair that gave him quite a sheepish look.” Ham is a skilled boat-builder who has devoted himself to Em’ly. He is devastated when she runs off with Steerforth but never condemns her for it. He begs David to tell her that he is fine in order to ease her mind and blames himself for talking her into marriage. His selflessness and courage are also evident when he drowns trying to save Steerforth.

Dora Spenlow David’s first wife, Dora Spenlow, is spoiled, petulant, and immature when he first meets her. When they are engaged, thinking about running a household gives her a headache. After they marry, David becomes annoyed when others treat her like a child; he refuses at first to admit that she has never grown up. Neither is a skilled housekeeper, and servants and shopkeepers continually take advantage of them. By the end of her life, all recognize Dora’s goodheartness. She shows some maturity and insight before she dies, understanding that David would have grown to regret their marriage and noting that she was too young and foolish for him to marry her.

James Steerforth Charming and charismatic James Steerforth is David’s best friend until he runs off with Em’ly. Steerforth possesses “an inborn power of attraction” and “carried a spell with him to which it was a natural weakness to yield, and which not many persons could withstand.” David learns too late about the shallow, selfish nature of his friend.

Mrs. Steerforth Mrs. Steerforth considers her son James to be her entire life. She is a proud woman who is concerned only about the welfare of her son, but that welfare is defined along class lines. When Mr. Peggotty begs her to support his marriage to Em’ly, she claims, “Such a marriage would irretrievably blight my son’s career and ruin his prospects.” Miss Dartle blames her for turning her son into a shallow self-centered man.

Annie Strong Annie Strong takes good care of her husband and shows great affection toward him. Even though her mother persuaded her to marry him, Annie develops a strong sense of respect and love for him, which prevents her from being disloyal.

Dr. Strong Kindhearted, amiable Dr. Strong is blind to his wife’s feelings for her cousin Maldon. David claims that he is “the kindest of men; with a simple faith in him that might have touched the stone hearts of the very urns upon the wall.” He displays a fatherly attitude toward his wife and never doubts her fidelity.

Tommy Traddles A good school friend of David, Traddles shows his resilience and loyalty, often taking beatings for refusing to tell on his schoolmates. For this reason, David calls him, “the merriest and most miserable of all the boys.” He shows his sense of justice when he comes to Mr. Mell’s defense after Steerforth tries to humiliate him. As an adult, Traddles becomes “a sober, steady-looking young man of retiring manners,” shy, still good natured and generous, as he reveals when he lends money to Micawber. His success as a lawyer enables him to reclaim the money Uriah steals from Aunt Betsey and Mr. Wickfield.

Betsey Trotwood David’s great-aunt on his father’s side, Betsey Trotwood, is tough but also kind and generous. David finds her to be a “formidable personage,” who was “mortally affronted by [his father’s] marriage on the ground that [[his] mother was ‘a wax doll,’” even though she had never met Clara. She takes charge of every situation, as when she arrives the day David is born, determines that Clara will have a girl, and demands that the child be called Betsey Trotwood Copperfield. Her distrust of human nature, due in part to a failed marriage, prompts her to insist that she will make sure that the child is brought up correctly, “well guarded from reposing any foolish confidences where they are not deserved.” This distrust also causes her to take in young women as servants, “expressly to educate in a renouncement of mankind.”

When he meets her, David notes that “there was an inflexibility in her face, in her voice, in her gait and carriage . . . but her features were rather handsome . . . though unbending and austere.” Yet she respects a show of strength as when David stands up to her, defending Peggotty after Aunt Betsey criticizes his nanny. Her compassion is apparent in the fact that she saved Mr. Dick from an asylum and David from a life of abuse with Mr. Murdstone, eventually becoming a surrogate mother to him. She devotes herself to those she thinks worthy, such as Mr. Dick and David, and does not suffer fools like Uriah.

Agnes Wickfield Agnes Wickfield becomes David’s most trusted confidant and later his wife. She is completely devoted to her father, willing to sacrifice her own happiness for her father’s sake. She offers sound advice and comfort to David, even though it encourages him to marry another woman when she is in love with him. She also shows strength of character when she disagrees with him concerning his opinion of Steerforth.

Mr. Wickfield Mr. Wickfield is Agnes’s father and a friend and lawyer to Aunt Betsey. He is devastated when his wife dies and so lets his daughter take care of him. He is not strong enough to stand up to Uriah and thus allows the man to take control of his affairs, which almost destroys him.




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