Contrary to popular belief I do read some fiction. My favorite fiction author is John Steinbeck. I have also read and love the books of Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair and Charles Dickens. Dickens books were all written in with very similar circumstances to them. My favorite book of Dickens was DAVID COPPERFIELD. The character of David seemed to parallel my thoughts and wishes quite a bit. It is a good story of the life of a boy who grows into manhood and makes something of himself in spite of all odds stacked against him.
Recently I had the opportunity to view the 1935 film version of the novel. While watching the movie it occurred to me what an idiot David Copperfield really was. He surrounded himself with people who were con artists, totally mad, or immature beyond belief. You realize that these people are this way when you read the book but when you see the movie it totally comes at you like a blinding light.
First you have Aunt Betsey. She is delusional and the one thing that she can not stand are donkeys walking down the road in front of her house. As far as I know it is a public road but each time a donkey comes by her house she grabs a broom and runs out to chase the animals, and their owner, away getting them away from her house as quickly as possible. She does not seem to mind any other form of life walking down the road, just donkeys. Where does this aversion to donkeys come from? We do not know but it does show that she is a little off by her actions.
She lives with her boarder Mr. Dick. Personally I think Mr. Dick may be a metaphor of some sort but none the less Mr. Dick is more than a few bricks shy of a full load. He is a full load shy of a full load. This is the person that Aunt Betsey goes to for advice on a constant basis throughout the book. Mr. Dick has to stop and think about the simplest of questions and brings forth the most common easy answer that there could be. Mr. Dick is a total loser.
These are the two people that begin to raise David as a child. Soon he is discharged to the services of Mr. Murdstone who is in charge of Davids education. He is a hard man who forces David to study every waking minute of the day. If David does not prove that he has learned his lessons, he is whipped with a cane of sorts. Perhaps this did help David learn but it had to effect him mentally a bit which can perhaps explain why he continues to hang around this cast of outcasts, as it were. He meets Agnes Wickfield somewhere along in here and she falls in love with David at a very early age. She is the daughter of a man that David goes to work for. A stockbroker in modern times I would assume. Agnes will be the most sane and proper person of all of the characters in David's life.
David then meets Mr. McCawber. In the film McCawber is rightfully played by W.C. Fields. He is a procrastinator extraordinaire who has an strong aversion to work and is always hiding from his creditors. At one point he does end up in debtors prison but David is there to get him out. David spends all of his time during the whole of the book keeping McCawber out of trouble and McCawber never seems to change..
Then there is Uriah Heep. He is a slimey dog of a character who is extremely manipulative and is the one person that David does not seem to stay friends with. Not to say that David did not try to be friends with Heep because he did. It isn't until late in the movie that David realizes what scum Heep is and turns on him to save Mr. Wickfields business.
There is Steerforth who David went to boarding school with, or college we would call it these days. Steerforth is a very bright man with no morals at all. He ends up running off with Alice Peggoty, stealing her away from her fiance only to dump her in the middle of Europe when he got tired of her. Alice tries to kill herself and ends up committed for life in an asylum. The Peggoty family were another of the few normal characters in the book. Peggoty was Davids nurse when he was young and living with his Aunt Betsey.. She took good care of David and gave sound advice to him. Problem was that there aren't many opportunities for her to give David advice so her worth is mostly discounted through out the novel.
Then there comes the lovely Dora. David falls in love with her at first sight. This presents probably the best argument for not falling in love at first sight. Dora was one of the most immature people I have ever read about in a novel. I am counting Mr. Dick in this novel as well as Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN and a host of other immature characters. The woman, or girl, that David decides to marry is a total waste of space and she plays David like a fine violin. When she dies towards the end of the book you almost want to applaud. It is here where David makes his most intelligent move during his whole life. After Dora dies, he marries the mature and down to earth, free yet right thinking Agnes Wickfield. He should have been with her during the entirety of the book.
Now, there is a lot more to this novel than what I have written. I have just hit upon some of the more obvious things that David went through that really made his life more difficult than it had to be. He started out behind and down. He had a long road to travel before becoming successful but he kept hanging around all of these people who dragged him back into the situation he had pulled himself out of. I determined after watching that movie that David Copperfield was one of the most idiotic success stories ever written in literature. If he had a half of a brain he would have left and never come back in order to live a sane life with mature people who didn't have half their wits gone.
I know what will be said, it was his strength to hold onto to the love of the people who formed his life and to help those people when they had difficult times. Maybe so. How many times is one man expected to continue to bail out those who refuse to do for themselves? Mr. McCawber is a fine example of that.
What really hangs the crown of an idiot on David's head is marrying that immature baby named Dora when Agnes was right there ready to become his wife at the drop of a hat. That one event shows the blindness of David Copperfield to reality and what he should have done to have a safe and happy life.
I like to think that after he discovered the immorality of Steerforth, after Dora had finally died, After Heep had finally been put in his place and the Wickfields saved, and after McCawber finally seemed to take a little responsibility, that David and Agnes Copperfield went to England and lived a quiet and productive life together, putting the entire past behind him. Unless he could put the entire past behind him, he would be miserable on a daily basis worry about all those quirky people he had left behind in his child hood. I would like to think he didn't even go back to visit Dora's grave. If he did go back to visit her grave I would hope it would be to put a head stone down that said something to the effect of "Here lies Dora, a totally selfish and immature girl who sucked my soul almost dry before she finally died."
Maybe I am cynical. Maybe I was just in a bad or strange mood when I watched the movie. I know I had never seen David Copperfield this way before. I had always admired him for getting out of his dire situation and making a success of himself. That is part of the joy of reading a Dickens novel. But the night I watched this movie from 1935, all I could think of was what an idiot he was and continued to be until the closing credits.