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David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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Compare and contrast David's wives, Dora and Agnes, in David Copperfield.

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Dora represents the idealized figure of female beauty, while Agnes is a practical beauty.

David’s first wife, Dora, is angelic.  She is young, small, cheerful, helpless, and pretty.  She is also silly and weak.  She can’t keep house, and she certainly can’t survive childbirth.  She is a doll more than...

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a woman.  David’s first description of Dora says it all.

She was more than human to me. She was a Fairy, a Sylph, I don't know what she was - anything that no one ever saw, and everything that everybody ever wanted. I was swallowed up in an abyss of love in an instant. (Ch. 26)

This is a physical attraction, and David idolizes Dora.  She can do no wrong in his eyes, even though she is an irresponsible little thing sometimes.  She does not last very long because she is too perfect.  Youth and beauty were her strengths, and she was spared the pain of losing them by dying young.

Dora’s death gave David a chance to choose a wife more wisely the second time.  This time he chose someone who was more practical.  Agnes was simple and kind, and his intellectual equal.  His attraction to her was her personality, not her looks.  This is something a wife can sustain, unlike beauty.  Still, it takes David quite a while to realize that Agnes is “the one” and marry her.

I see her, with her modest, orderly, placid manner, and I hear her beautiful calm voice, as I write these words. The influence for all good, which she came to exercise over me at a later time, begins already to descend upon my breast. (Ch. 16)

David gets to right a wrong in marrying Agnes.  He marries the right person the second time around.

There are many autobiographical elements to David Copperfield’s story.  Dickens seems to have felt that he married the wrong person.  He married his Dora, but he wished he had married an Agnes.  Dora was young, beautiful, and fragile.  None of those traits can last.  Marrying for them is bound to end in heartbreak.  Dickens gave David a gift, having silly Dora die young and beautiful.  David wasn’t saddled with her when she became old and fat, but remained silly.

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