Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, May 14, 2012

David Copperfield for the Young

The month of May is just redolent enough of summer that it's hard to be motivated about anything, but homeschooling is getting especially sluggish. I reassure myself on two points: 1) the math book is almost finished; and 2) we're reading David Copperfield aloud, and Dickens is an education unto himself. 

It has weighed upon me that my girls are getting older, and that their lives have been wholesome, happy, and easy. We are blessed that so far our family has been sheltered from the real ugliness of life. I don't regret that the last death in our family occurred before any of them were old enough to remember, or that we've had little to no serious illness or injury. I'm not sorry that they don't know any families sundered by divorce, except my own. I thank God that none of their friends have been abused or hungry or homeless. But there is a big world out there full of people who don't know such a warm and comfortable life. One day they will encounter the vale of tears personally. I want to shepherd them through their first vicarious brush with the harsh fact that life is not so kind to every child.

Hence, David Copperfield. Young David is emotionally abused and beaten by his cold and controlling stepfather, sent to a brutish boarding school, is bereft of his mother, forced to fend for himself in the big city while working at a degrading job, and has to tramp alone across country, all before he turns 11. There's lots of dramatic potential there, and Dickens works it for the full Dickensian effect. The girls have been following along quite well. At a third of the way through the book, we've had many good conversations about how adults should treat children, about bad forms of education, about trust and self-reliance and people who will take advantage of others. Dickens's prose has settled in their ears and his plot in their imaginations and his themes in their minds.

Until now I've been reading unabridged, but I've run up against my first insuperable obstacle. David, on holiday, has once again met up with Steerforth, his eidolon, and they have traveled to Steerforth's home. There Dickens gives us Steerforth's idolatrous mother and her companion, Rosa Dartle. I cannot get a handle on Rosa. She loves, she hates, she insinuates. She is all smothered intensity and desire and fury. All this is well and good. But I can't find her voice, and if I can't interpret the character for the girls, they lose interest. Rosa's brand of repressed sexuality and rage is not interesting to the 10- and 8-year old, to say nothing of the 6-year-old. When I'm struggling through a passage trying to work out some tactics and motivation while the kids are hanging upside down on the couch with their legs kicking in the air, I know I'm beat.

I consulted YouTube to see what various film adaptions had done with Rosa, only to find that she seems (at least in this early appearance) to have been excised from the story. So I'm doing the same right now. We'll skip ahead to Yarmouth and let Steerforth have his first fateful encounter with Little Em'ly. Miss Mowcher the dwarf comes up in a few chapters, and she too may end up severely edited or on the cutting room floor. We need to move on to Dora, a character so ridiculous that all the young ladies will howl at her silliness, and David's too. Puppy love is a familiar, if goofy, concept to them.

And of course they're already asking when they can see the movie.


Julia said...

The old movie is excellent.

FWIW, when the hard times in real life come, they can serve to create resilience. And that's a life skill that cannot be underestimated.

For a long while I was crushed that my kids' childhoods had been "spoiled" by suffering. That was wasted grief. I mean, I'm sad about all they've had to go through, but I'm not at all sorry that we've had to turn to God for help, and how we've had to move past the "make it go away" prayers to "Thy will be done". There are very good things that come out of very hard things. Had I been able to protect my children from the very hard stuff (and honestly, I would have if I could have!), they wouldn't be as strong -- in faith, and in life -- as they are today. Which isn't to say they're all *that* strong. But still...

Jenny said...

My girls love to say the Hail, Holy Queen. That was one of those prayers that I was never taught as a child so I had to learn it with them. Hearing the line, "to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears," recited by two little girl voices who really have not known much sorrow is a little jarring. I wonder if these little prayers are introducing them to the concept that life isn't always peaches-n-cream.