by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield Family Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
I almost feel as if I had been papa's enemy, instead of his loving child. For I know how he has altered, in his devotion to me. I know how he has narrowed the circle of his sympathies and duties, in the concentration of his whole mind upon me. I know what a multitude of things he has shut out for my sake, and how his anxious thoughts of me have shadowed his life, and weakened his strength and energy, by turning them always upon one idea. If I could ever set this right! If I could ever work out his restoration, as I have so innocently been the cause of his decline! (25.53)
Agnes is doing her best to be a good daughter to Mr. Wickfield, but it's not enough. His obsession with her has caused Mr. Wickfield completely to rearrange his life around Agnes. While this novel clearly values affection and the importance of mutual sympathy, it's not totally soppy. Love isn't enough to fix everything that goes wrong in family life.
What is natural in me, is natural in many other men, I infer, and so I am not afraid to write that I never had loved Steerforth better than when the ties that bound me to him were broken. In the keen distress of the discovery of his unworthiness, I thought more of all that was brilliant in him, I softened more towards all that was good in him, I did more justice to the qualities that might have made him a man of a noble nature and a great name, than ever I had done in the height of my devotion to him. (32.1)
David finds that, once he discovers Steerforth's betrayal, he thinks all the more of his brilliance. David's generosity to Steerforth's memory provides pretty much the only example we ever get of a truly grey character, nearly purely good nor totally bad. Steerforth is like family to David before he runs away with Emily. This means we have some attachment to him too, even though we know he's done terrible things.
My son, who has been the object of my life, to whom its every thought has been devoted, whom I have gratified from a child in every wish, from whom I have had no separate existence since his birth,—to take up in a moment with a miserable girl, and avoid me! To repay my confidence with systematic deception, for her sake, and quit me for her! To set this wretched fancy, against his mother's claims upon his duty, love, respect, gratitude—claims that every day and hour of his life should have strengthened into ties that nothing could be proof against! (32.117)
Mrs. Steerforth seems to think that her love for her son is as great as love can be. He has been "the object of [her] life," "from whom [she has] had no separate existence since his birth." But her love is also profoundly selfish, because she immediately decides that she cannot see him again so long as he stays unapologetically with Emily. Is Mrs. Steerforth alone in the novel in this type of selfish love, or are there other characters who love in the same way she does? And beyond the most obvious contrast with Mr. Peggotty, are there other characters whose love is distinctive because of its unselfishness?