By Marcy on
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I read several essays I found online regarding the character of Agnes Wickfield, the confidante and eventual wife of the protagonist, David Copperfield.
My question is, why are people so indifferent towards the character of Agnes? What is that people don't like about her? And most importantly, why would anyone ever prefer David's first wife, Dora Spenlow, over Agnes?
Dora is childish and completely dependent on her father, and later David. She does not know how to keep house or cook. David is at first infatuated by her charms and girlish beauty. As their marriage wears on, he does indeed truly love her because one obviously has to love Dora as much as David loves her to not loose their temper towards such an incompetent young woman. But soon enough, David does express doubt about their marriage. When he visits the Doctor and Annie Strong, he realizes that his marriage to Dora is not perfect or fulfilling and never will be.
Part of Dora's charms to the reader, I assume, is that she acknowledges the fact that she is a completely useless wife. She even tells David to think of her as only a child wife. When she meets Agnes during her engagement to David, she realizes how much she pales in comparison. It is even implied that Dora wonders why David does not choose to marry Agnes instead.
Unlike Dora, which I gradually liked a little more as the book progressed, I immediately liked Agnes. She is the ideal woman: independent, intelligent, and sincere. Perhaps Agnes represents too much of the traditional, idealized wife, but there is no doubt in my mind that a woman such as Agnes would do fine in the twenty-first century while Dora, on the other hand, would have to rely solely on her girlish charms that may or may not go a long way.
An essay that has struck a particular chord with me is an article from The New York Times, written by Peter Gay, titled, "The Legless Angel of 'David Copperfield': There's More to Her Than Victorian Piety." Here are several excerpts that speak unfavorably of Agnes:
In his authoritative three-volume "Life of Charles Dickens," published from 1872 to 1874, even the adoring John Forster, Dickens's closest friend and best-informed apologist, preferred Dora, David Copperfield's first "Loving little child-wife," to his second, the "angel wife, Agnes," with her "too unfailing wisdom and self-sacrificing goodness."
George Orwell's scathing dismissal is perhaps the best known. Agnes, he wrote in this long, admiring essay "Charles Dickens," published in 1939, is "the most disagreeable of his heroines, the real legless angel of Victorian romance..."
I've also read in another essay (I've lost the link) that E.M. Forster also preferred Dora to Agnes, insisting that David falls in love with the "wrong" woman by the novel's end.
How can that be? I fail to comprehend how people would ever consider Agnes the wrong woman for David. Agnes is everything David could ever ask for and only with Agnes, David finds true happiness in life. He would never have found total satisfaction if he remained married to Dora.
Perhaps Agnes is "too perfect." Forster criticized that many of Dickens's characters are "flat" and not "round." I haven't read enough Dickens novels to argue the point, but I find many of the characters in David Copperfield to be very well-developed and alive.
If Agnes has any flaw, it is this: She does not have the courage to admit her true feelings anyone, not even to David. She tries to sustain chaos by quietly doing what she is expected while her own chance at happiness slips away from her. In that way, Agnes is every bit as human as Dora. Dora just appears more human because her flaws are much more apparent to the reader. While Agnes is David's "angel," she has very human desires.
So I was just wondering what are your opinions regarding Agnes? Please discuss. I look forward to reading the responses!