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Seventh Day of Dickens: The Character I Most Identify With

In prior posts, I concentrate a lot on villains. There's a reason for that: most of the Dickensian "heroes" (and heroines) are really, really boring.

Indeed, the title character of David Copperfield, who is the first person narrator of the novel, wonders if he's even the hero of his own story.

Spoiler: he's not.

Now, I'm not saying that David is entirely passive (though he is, at points) - he does take various actions. He is pretty active in getting certain things done. But he never does anything heroic -- he goes about his business, but the only time he really does something extreme and definitive is as a child, after his mother dies (he himself is a posthumous child). He runs away from the degraded situation he is in to his Aunt Betsey Trotwood.

Aunt Betsey is the Dickensian character I most identify with.

Mind you, I have almost nothing in common with Aunt Betsey other than being female and an English-speaker. When we first encounter Aunt Betsey in the novel, in the very first chapter, she is not as all attractive. She shows up right before David's birth, assuming that Mrs. Copperfield will be providing Aunt Betsey with a niece.





'I tell you I have a presentiment that it must be a girl,' returned Miss Betsey. 'Don't contradict. From the moment of this girl's birth, child, I intend to be her friend. I intend to be her godmother, and I beg you'll call her Betsey Trotwood Copperfield. There must be no mistakes in life with THIS Betsey Trotwood. There must be no trifling with HER affections, poor dear. She must be well brought up, and well guarded from reposing any foolish confidences where they are not deserved. I must make that MY care.'
.....

'Well, ma'am,' resumed Mr. Chillip, as soon as he had courage, 'I am happy to congratulate you. All is now over, ma'am, and well over.'

During the five minutes or so that Mr. Chillip devoted to the delivery of this oration, my aunt eyed him narrowly.

'How is she?' said my aunt, folding her arms with her bonnet still tied on one of them.

'Well, ma'am, she will soon be quite comfortable, I hope,' returned Mr. Chillip. 'Quite as comfortable as we can expect a young mother to be, under these melancholy domestic circumstances. There cannot be any objection to your seeing her presently, ma'am. It may do her good.'

'And SHE. How is SHE?' said my aunt, sharply.

Mr. Chillip laid his head a little more on one side, and looked at my aunt like an amiable bird.

'The baby,' said my aunt. 'How is she?'

'Ma'am,' returned Mr. Chillip, 'I apprehended you had known. It's a boy.'

My aunt said never a word, but took her bonnet by the strings, in the manner of a sling, aimed a blow at Mr. Chillip's head with it, put it on bent, walked out, and never came back. She vanished like a discontented fairy; or like one of those supernatural beings, whom it was popularly supposed I was entitled to see; and never came back any more.






Yeah, she doesn't sound very promising.

I skipped over some info on Aunt Betsey earlier in the chapter: she had been married to a man who beat her (and threw her down the stairs) -- and that Aunt Betsey had independent means and paid money for her husband to get shipped to India.

When David does see Aunt Betsey again, he's definitely worse for wear.  David discovers that Aunt Betsey has a maid, Janet, and a relative, Mr. Dick, living with her. Aunt Betsey's dealing with her household is important: Janet helps Aunt Betsey in her campaign against donkeys on the hill, and Mr. Dick is a mentally impaired relative that Aunt Betsey took in as other relatives had been taking advantage of his money and not properly caring for him.

So why do I find Aunt Betsey to be the Dickensian character I see myself in the most?

Aunt Betsey knows her mind, though her reasons are not always explained. She does not want donkeys on her hill (note: she doesn't actually own the hill in question), and she makes sure those donkeys and the boys who keep taking them up the hill go away.



To this hour I don't know whether my aunt had any lawful right of way over that patch of green; but she had settled it in her own mind that she had, and it was all the same to her. The one great outrage of her life, demanding to be constantly avenged, was the passage of a donkey over that immaculate spot. In whatever occupation she was engaged, however interesting to her the conversation in which she was taking part, a donkey turned the current of her ideas in a moment, and she was upon him straight. Jugs of water, and watering-pots, were kept in secret places ready to be discharged on the offending boys; sticks were laid in ambush behind the door; sallies were made at all hours; and incessant war prevailed. Perhaps this was an agreeable excitement to the donkey-boys; or perhaps the more sagacious of the donkeys, understanding how the case stood, delighted with constitutional obstinacy in coming that way. I only know that there were three alarms before the bath was ready; and that on the occasion of the last and most desperate of all, I saw my aunt engage, single-handed, with a sandy-headed lad of fifteen, and bump his sandy head against her own gate, before he seemed to comprehend what was the matter. These interruptions were of the more ridiculous to me, because she was giving me broth out of a table-spoon at the time (having firmly persuaded herself that I was actually starving, and must receive nourishment at first in very small quantities), and, while my mouth was yet open to receive the spoon, she would put it back into the basin, cry 'Janet! Donkeys!' and go out to the assault.




If no other characteristic, the fact that she wanted the donkeys off the hill, and was vigilant on the matter, makes me see a lot of myself in that character.

There are a few other things, specifically how she deals with unpleasantness in her life.  At one point, it seems her money has been all wiped out, so she packs ups and trots over to London to live with David (or Trotwood, as she calls him). She's pretty resilient:



'Trot,' said my aunt at last, when she had finished her tea, and carefully smoothed down her dress, and wiped her lips—'you needn't go, Barkis!—Trot, have you got to be firm and self-reliant?'

'I hope so, aunt.'

'What do you think?' inquired Miss Betsey.

'I think so, aunt.'

'Then why, my love,' said my aunt, looking earnestly at me, 'why do you think I prefer to sit upon this property of mine tonight?'

I shook my head, unable to guess.

'Because,' said my aunt, 'it's all I have. Because I'm ruined, my dear!'

If the house, and every one of us, had tumbled out into the river together, I could hardly have received a greater shock.

'Dick knows it,' said my aunt, laying her hand calmly on my shoulder. 'I am ruined, my dear Trot! All I have in the world is in this room, except the cottage; and that I have left Janet to let. Barkis, I want to get a bed for this gentleman tonight. To save expense, perhaps you can make up something here for myself. Anything will do. It's only for tonight. We'll talk about this, more, tomorrow.'

I was roused from my amazement, and concern for her—I am sure, for her—by her falling on my neck, for a moment, and crying that she only grieved for me. In another moment she suppressed this emotion; and said with an aspect more triumphant than dejected:

'We must meet reverses boldly, and not suffer them to frighten us, my dear. We must learn to act the play out. We must live misfortune down, Trot!'




Later on, Aunt Betsey's good-for-nothing husband shows up, and she pays him off... and ends up caring for him when he dies:



'I left him,' my aunt proceeded, laying her hand as usual on the back of mine, 'generously. I may say at this distance of time, Trot, that I left him generously. He had been so cruel to me, that I might have effected a separation on easy terms for myself; but I did not. He soon made ducks and drakes of what I gave him, sank lower and lower, married another woman, I believe, became an adventurer, a gambler, and a cheat. What he is now, you see. But he was a fine-looking man when I married him,' said my aunt, with an echo of her old pride and admiration in her tone; 'and I believed him—I was a fool!—to be the soul of honour!'

She gave my hand a squeeze, and shook her head.

'He is nothing to me now, Trot—less than nothing. But, sooner than have him punished for his offences (as he would be if he prowled about in this country), I give him more money than I can afford, at intervals when he reappears, to go away. I was a fool when I married him; and I am so far an incurable fool on that subject, that, for the sake of what I once believed him to be, I wouldn't have even this shadow of my idle fancy hardly dealt with. For I was in earnest, Trot, if ever a woman was.'

My aunt dismissed the matter with a heavy sigh, and smoothed her dress.

'There, my dear!' she said. 'Now you know the beginning, middle, and end, and all about it. We won't mention the subject to one another any more; neither, of course, will you mention it to anybody else. This is my grumpy, frumpy story, and we'll keep it to ourselves, Trot!'


.....

At nine, accordingly, we went out in a little chariot, and drove to London. We drove a long way through the streets, until we came to one of the large hospitals. Standing hard by the building was a plain hearse. The driver recognized my aunt, and, in obedience to a motion of her hand at the window, drove slowly off; we following.

'You understand it now, Trot,' said my aunt. 'He is gone!'

'Did he die in the hospital?'

'Yes.'

She sat immovable beside me; but, again I saw the stray tears on her face.

'He was there once before,' said my aunt presently. 'He was ailing a long time—a shattered, broken man, these many years. When he knew his state in this last illness, he asked them to send for me. He was sorry then. Very sorry.'

'You went, I know, aunt.'

'I went. I was with him a good deal afterwards.'

'He died the night before we went to Canterbury?' said I. My aunt nodded. 'No one can harm him now,' she said. 'It was a vain threat.'

We drove away, out of town, to the churchyard at Hornsey. 'Better here than in the streets,' said my aunt. 'He was born here.'

We alighted; and followed the plain coffin to a corner I remember well, where the service was read consigning it to the dust.

'Six-and-thirty years ago, this day, my dear,' said my aunt, as we walked back to the chariot, 'I was married. God forgive us all!' We took our seats in silence; and so she sat beside me for a long time, holding my hand. At length she suddenly burst into tears, and said:

'He was a fine-looking man when I married him, Trot—and he was sadly changed!'

It did not last long. After the relief of tears, she soon became composed, and even cheerful. Her nerves were a little shaken, she said, or she would not have given way to it. God forgive us all!



In surface elements, I don't have much in common with Aunt Betsey -- I don't have a criminal husband, I haven't lost all of my money due to malfeasance of a financial advisor (yet), I don't have a ragamuffin nephew showing up on my doorstep.....

...but I most definitely don't have any donkeys on my hill. And I intend to keep it that way. 
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