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Subject Two Questions on the Novel

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Publication 1246 By Nibs on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 07:44   
Location: United States   Registered: Wednesday, May 6, 2009  Posts: 48    Search for other posts by Nibs Search   Quote
I don't ask questions about this novel much as I generally feel I have a good handle on what is going on, but a few points have me mystified, so maybe you can help me out.

1) First of all, did Emily become a prostitute when she arrived in London? The writings I've found on the internet seem contradictory. Sparknotes and a few other sites like that say she didn't become a prostitute, but was right on the edge when she was saved - her "shame" was just the elopement and the pain she caused her family. But when I read the book I got the impression she was in Martha's profession. Does anyone know?

Also 2) I would like to know what, exactly, is Uriah's motive in his intentions towards Agnes. At first glance, and according to David, Uriah has a purely physical attraction. But Uriah is only 15, and Agnes only 11-12, when David joins the household and Uriah has already develped feelings for her. Also, Uriah IS wanting to do the "respectable" thing and marry her. I'm just kind of wondering why David is so appalled by Uriah's feelings for Agnes (I mean obviously Uriah's way of going about it is wrong but David just seems to object to the relationship), unless it is simply jealousy. I have a feeling I'm missing something there so any input or ideas are appreciated!

Oh, I just remembered a bonus third question. Can anyone tell me the significance of this passage - it seems important that he mentions Uriah Heep (positively) in conjunction with the Wickfields, somehow:
Opposite to the tall old chimney-piece were two portraits: one of a gentleman with grey hair... the other, of a lady, with a very placid and sweet expression of face, who was looking at me. I believe I was turning about in search of Uriah's picture...           

Publication 1247 By absent-minded on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 12:36   
Location: Greece   Registered: Friday, June 29, 2001  Posts: -166    Search for other posts by absent-minded Search   Quote
My darling boy, for your second question. I think that David is not appalled because of some objective reason - as it would be Uriah's not willing to marry Agnes, etc. He is appalled (I believe) because he perceives (even unconsciously) Uriah to be a far inferior creature compared with Agnes. Think of someone most precious, as David thinks about Agnes. You would prefer for that the most noble treatment and companion - which of course is not Uriah.

For your Emily question. My impression is that she was 'degraded' not by becoming a prostitude, but by just leaving her home following a man she did not marry with, who, in the end, even abandoned her.

Publication 1248 By Nibs on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 13:28   
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^ ^
Thank you! That makes sense in both cases and confirmed my suspicions on Emily.
On a side-note, what did YOU think about Uriah's attraction to Agnes? Do you think he really did love her or just wanted her, like David thinks? It seems to me that, even if they were screwed up and twisted, Uriah did have genuine feelings for Agnes, at least at the beginning.

Publication 1249 By absent-minded on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 15:35   
Location: Greece   Registered: Friday, June 29, 2001  Posts: -166    Search for other posts by absent-minded Search   Quote
That is also an interesting question. I don't believe that Uriah ever had "genuine feelings" for Agnes, because, the way he is presented by Dickens, which is the only way we have to know him, he is not capable of such feelings. We can understand this even if we don't agree on what exactly Dickens says about Uriah, since Agnes, a person rather open to love and anything noble, never wanted him. There is no real love that exercises force, that violates, the beloved. Uriah was never the recipient of Agnes' love, which means that Agnes never realised in him anything good, and that all of his feelings for her were just a violation and offence against Agnes.

Publication 1250 By Nibs on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 16:15   
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Oh, I never looked at it that way. You are right that no real love violates or forces. However, I had two different thoughts I think I'll add for your consideration:

1) I fully believe that Uriah and other characters are presented to us through DAVID, not Dickens, which I think is a difference. This is why the narration also never completely blames Steerforth who behaves almost exactly like Uriah, and speaks of Agnes so glowingly - Dickens specifically wrote it as though David is telling us. I wonder how it would have sounded if Dickens had written it third-person, and if there would have been any allowances for Uriah's behavior which David as character/narrator would never know about or accept if he did.

2) You are entirely right that no real love exercises force or violates, which is where I think Uriah as an adult deviates from what is a right feeling he may have had at 15. However, just because "Uriah was never the recipient of Agnes' love, which means that Agnes never realised in him anything good, and that all of his feelings for her were just a violation and offence against Agnes." - well I don't know if that's quite fair. After all, Miss Larkins never liked David but he was not violating or offending her.   

These were just a few points I thought I'd add though I do see your side entirely. This is a good discussion!

Publication 1251 By absent-minded on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 18:19   
Location: Greece   Registered: Friday, June 29, 2001  Posts: -166    Search for other posts by absent-minded Search   Quote
You have to suffer a just (in my opinion) penalty! You can not compare the Great Agnes with Miss Larkins. Now you also decide how cruel your punishment should be for comparing David with Uriah! (Not to mention that David never loved Miss Larkins, violating her or not!)

Publication 1252 By Nibs on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 20:07   
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I'd like to challenge that penalty, sir! :P

I can compare the Great Agnes with Miss Larkins in that we only hear David's gushing descriptions of both of them. We don't really know either of their characters apart from what David tells us of them, and he can see no wrong when it comes to either of them. And like Uriah, David had a misplaced affection for Miss Larkins. That's what I meant there.

Now I can CERTAINLY compare Uriah to David - it does not make sense to ignore the blatant similarities between them. Both are young suitors with destructive father figures, both are highly attached to their mothers, both are working in law and are in love with their employer's daughters (and are jealous of outside intervention), both are deemed unworthy by their loved one's fathers, the list goes on. (And Steerforth also has huge similarities to both of them.) That's what Uriah was trying to point out - David just was better socially placed and had more advantages. And that's what my point was. How would the story be different if told from Uriah's point of view? But we hear it from David's perspective. I think a lot of people overlook that and just take the story at face value. But to say Uriah is a soulless villain without human feeling is just going by David, and David is unreliable. What do you think? (Know what I think? I think I'm getting rather off-topic...)


Publication 1253 By absent-minded on Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 23:22   
Location: Greece   Registered: Friday, June 29, 2001  Posts: -166    Search for other posts by absent-minded Search   Quote
I think that you go too far in ascribing all of our knowledge to David, as if David was a source extremely different from Dickens himself. How are you so sure that David does not express Dickens' own views? Dickens chooses to write David's narration in order to give us a distorted knowledge of his characters, or rather the knowledge he himself has and wants to communicate?

On the comparison. I didn't mean the kind of comparison that you make. This way of course they can be compared. What I meant is that when we say "they are both in love" the problem is on what each of them understands as love. Their different understanding makes the comparison impossible. Again, accepting what Dickens wants us to know (all the rest is guessing) according to the narration of David and according to Uriah's relationships, the way all of the characters (excepting of course his mother) are not only distant from him but even appalled, we see that Uriah is not capable of loving anyone.

Publication 1254 By Nibs on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 07:14   
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^ ^
Oh, sorry, I misunderstood what you were meaning about the comparison; now I see what you were saying. Whoops.

On David's narration, I don't think David expresses all of Dickens' views, although of course they are both very much alike. But David is what my English classes would call an unreliable narrator, and he in many ways shows us this himself by the fact that he tells us his aunt calls him "blind", he is so easily duped, etc.

Here's an example (in my head, at least!). On the point of Uriah Heep, of course he's a villain and David is not, but Steerforth is just as much a villain as Uriah - they are a lot alike, mainly different in looks and social standing. Dickens wrote it this way and intended the similarities, but David never points out or recognizes that they are very much like each other or himself; he abhors Uriah and never misses a chance to call him an "ape", but idolizes Steerforth and never totally abandons him. Why? Would Dickens say that Uriah is so much worse than Steerforth? Or is it David telling us that? And if he is so off on that point, how can we be sure his judgment on other matters is correct?

This is a nice analysis of the book that goes along somewhat with what I'm trying to say - it may not ramble as much as I do!:
http://www.pinkmonkey.com/booknotes/barrons/dvdcppr.asp

Also, of course, just because I see it that way doesn't make it necessarily true. As my English class also says, there are at least five or six schools of analyzing great literature, from social to literal to feminist viewpoints, and Dickens certainly wasn't catering to all of those. I guess that's what makes it art.

Publication 1255 By absent-minded on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 09:46   
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On my part, I wouldn't say that Steerforth is another form of Uriah. Steerforth is selfish and immature, but he is human and worthy to be loved, as he was loved not only by his mother, but also by his servants, David, schoolmates, Emily....

Publication 1256 By Nibs on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 10:21   
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But what is it in particular about Steerforth's personality that makes him more worthy? He is handsome and has a personal magnetism, and he's wealthy. But he has no behavior (at least I can't think of any, but if you have an example do point it out) that would make him any worthier. I was just thinking that Dickens, being the social writer he is, was making a commentary. Kind of like in Dombey and Son, how he compared the marriage of Edith/Dombey to common prostitution and exploitation. Comparing the same thing and the way it is accepted or appreciated among the wealthy while being despised among the poor.
I think this passage was even an intentional link, substituting Uriah in a childish version of Steerforth's own eventual crime:

This was the proximate cause, I suppose, of my dreaming about him [Uriah], for what appeared to me to be half the night...that he had launched Mr. Peggotty's house on a piratical expedition...he was carrying me and little Em'ly to the Spanish Main, to be drowned.

But maybe I'm giving Dickens too much credit and he didn't mean that at all!

Publication 1257 By absent-minded on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 12:02   
Location: Greece   Registered: Friday, June 29, 2001  Posts: -166    Search for other posts by absent-minded Search   Quote
Besides interpreting the evidence, there is (at least) one more need one has when thinking: we must search for probable thoughts that would open our way to real answers even when we lack enough evidence. Imagine how useful this can be, when we can not have that evidence, or if we want to avoid searching for it at the moment.

By saying that Steerforth is loved by "not only his mother, but also by his servants, David, schoolmates, Emily...", I was not offering any evidence on his character; I offered a 'thinking shortcut', that he must have some qualities Uriah lacks since all those persons love him. We can search for them, if we want, but if we search and we don't find them, then we can be sure that we didn't search enough or ignored the evidence or misinterpeted the evidence, etc. because Steerforth and not Uriah is presented by Dickens as lovable. We are not allowed to find no reason, unless we underestimate our author.

Accordingly, if you still believe you have some right and you feel that you have to fight me, you can not answer this syllogism giving any evidence whatever, but first denying the syllogism itself, i.e., show how is it possible for Dickens to have Steerforth being essentially a second Uriah - and yet featuring all those persons giving Steerforth a love Uriah never dreamed of.

For the reason and evidence, I can recall one case, but I'm sure one can find even more. Think of the years when Steerforth was in school together with David, how he supported the little orphan, in ways and sincerity Uriah could never have, whatever his social status might have been. The very presence of Uriah fills the atmosphere with horror, something Dickens never does for Steerforth.

Publication 1258 By Nibs on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 12:54   
Location: United States   Registered: Wednesday, May 6, 2009  Posts: 48    Search for other posts by Nibs Search   Quote
But wasn't Steerforth hanging around David so he could take his money and buy junk food? And because he could tell David to do whatever he wanted and benefit from it? And didn't he get David drunk a' la the way Uriah got Wickfield drunk? And didn't he throw hammers at people and enticed then left others and lied and was a general wolf-in-sheep's-clothing? Not to mention that the only people who liked him were his virtual "accomplices" (except David and Emily), while worthy characters like Mr. Mell or Agnes disliked him. I'm afraid I'll have to disagree here - there was plenty of evidence against Steerforth!
I hope this isn't considered a fight, just a different way of viewing the book; that's what literature is for and why DC is so lasting, to make you reevaluate your preconceptions.

Publication 1260 By absent-minded on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 13:19   
Location: Greece   Registered: Friday, June 29, 2001  Posts: -166    Search for other posts by absent-minded Search   Quote
Agnes did not dislike him, he just didn't consider him the best possible friend of a person who she was so much loving. I don't recall Mell's case. I also wouldn' call Agnes "worthy" and David or Emily "not worthy". You still didn't answer the one question you can not avoid: how is it possible for Dickens to have Steerforth being essentially a second Uriah - and yet featuring all those persons giving Steerforth a love Uriah never dreamed of.

Publication 1261 By Nibs on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 14:49   
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I didn't call David and Emily not worthy, I just said Agnes and Mr. Mell were worthy. I was referring to chapter seven.

I personally think Agnes disliked him just because she called him a "bad angel", which is pretty much the harshest thing she says about anyone in the novel.

And I did answer the question of Dickens having Steerforth be a second Uriah - most of the people who loved him were either loving him in a messed up way, the way Uriah's mother loved him (these include Steerforth's mother, Rosa, and Littimer) or were deceived by his looks and charms (Emily and David) and had to suffer for it later.

Publication 1262 By absent-minded on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 15:05   
Location: Greece   Registered: Friday, June 29, 2001  Posts: -166    Search for other posts by absent-minded Search   Quote
You are not willing to think seriously. I hope this is a temporary problem that you will overcome soon.

Publication 1263 By Marcy on Monday, July 6, 2009 at 23:00   
Location: United States   Registered: Wednesday, July 16, 2008  Posts: 7    Search for other posts by Marcy Search   Quote
Sorry to trespass on this awesome discussion. And I did enjoy reading this discussion; rarely do I come across such a lively discussion of David Copperfield.

1) I never got the impression that Emily worked as a prostitute when she lived with Martha. Her innocence only seems temporarily trespassed by her inappropriate relationship with Steerforth, not by any new-found profession. The only "shame" she seems to have experienced was running away with Steerforth while being engaged to Ham. Emily seems to be such a childlike, naive figure throughout the novel; it never seems like she would take up such a career anyway. She would've been too scared. And it seems like Martha became a somewhat maternal, caring figure of Emily's; I doubt that Martha would introduce Emily to her profession.

2) David has always been disgusted by Uriah, so it's no surprise that he is disgusted by Uriah's "love" for his "angel," Agnes. David also feels that Uriah is exploiting Agnes to get closer to the Wickfield business and he doesn't feel that Agnes deserves to be in that kind of marriage. David doesn't think anyone is worthy of Agnes--he definitely puts her on a pedestal. To David, Uriah will always be the equivalent to the scum of the Earth.

It's the coldness David feels when he's around Uriah. Uriah just doesn't have the attractive friendliness that is apparent in all the people David cares about. David clearly doesn't feel comfortable being around Uriah and he isn't comfortable having his "sister" or his "angel" around Uriah either.

We will never know if Uriah truly loved Agnes. We will never know if Uriah is even capable of true love. We only know that David is against such an idea because he cares about Agnes too much to see her marry a man he has always suspected to be a dark, horrible human being.

As for the Uriah/Steerforth comparison, Steerforth has all the manipulative, cold-hearted motives that Uriah possesses, but he carries his plans out with charm, charisma, and warmth. People are often tricked by those qualities; those qualities easily win David's trust. Although Steerforth does dishonor someone David cares deeply about, it's hard for David to blot out the memories of the good ol' days. David's more forgiving portrayal of Steerforth after the Emily scenario is understandable.

It can also be noted that Steerforth is probably infinitely more physically attractive than Uriah will ever be.

I also think Agnes does dislike Steerforth. After the drunk David scenario, she witnesses the negative influence Steerforth has on David. It's not a personal dislike, but a dislike out of pure observation. But dislike, nonetheless.

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