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Quotes

Quote #4

The Doctor was very fond of music. Agnes sang with great sweetness and expression, and so did Mrs. Strong. They sang together, and played duets together, and we had quite a little concert. But I remarked two things: first, that though Annie soon recovered her composure, and was quite herself, there was a blank between her and Mr. Wickfield which separated them wholly from each other; secondly, that Mr. Wickfield seemed to dislike the intimacy between her and Agnes, and to watch it with uneasiness. And now, I must confess, the recollection of what I had seen on that night when Mr. Maldon went away, first began to return upon me with a meaning it had never had, and to trouble me. The innocent beauty of her face was not as innocent to me as it had been; I mistrusted the natural grace and charm of her manner; and when I looked at Agnes by her side, and thought how good and true Agnes was, suspicions arose within me that it was an ill-assorted friendship. (19.79)

David suddenly stops trusting Annie, when he notices that Mr. Wickfield suspects her and that Annie herself is aware of Mr. Wickfield's suspicions. Blame appears to be contagious, and it's the easy spread of blame that keeps Doctor Strong and Annie apart needlessly for so long. We're also interested in the fact that sin also seems to be contagious – David remarks that Mr. Wickfield doesn't like "the intimacy between [Annie] and Agnes," perhaps because he worries that Annie will be a bad influence on Agnes. This protective instinct echoes Mr. Peggotty and Ham Peggotty's concern when Emily meets with Martha Endell (before Emily runs away). At the same time, we later discover that Agnes visits Emily repeatedly before she sails to Australia. Sure, people can influence you to do the wrong thing, but Agnes's morals are so firmly grounded that we seriously don't think just talking to Annie, Emily, or Martha Endell is going to change them. Do women appear to be particularly vulnerable to certain kinds of social crimes? What does it say about the society in the book that it thinks that women are so easily "corrupted?"

Quote #5

'Oh, pray, aunt, try to help me! Ham, dear, try to help me! Mr. David, for the sake of old times, do, please, try to help me! I want to be a better girl than I am. I want to feel a hundred times more thankful than I do. I want to feel more, what a blessed thing it is to be the wife of a good man, and to lead a peaceful life. Oh me, oh me! Oh my heart, my heart! (22.215)

When Emily meets poor Martha Endell, she foreshadows her own near future. In a fit of hysteria after seeing Martha, she promises that she wants "to be a better girl" than she is. She wants to be happy as "the wife of a good man" – Ham Peggotty. But like Steerforth himself, who also seems to recognize that he's doing something wrong by seducing Emily away, Emily appears to know the right thing to do. She just cannot bring herself to do it. It's like Steerforth is a whirlpool and Emily is caught in the current. What exactly compels both Emily and Steerforth to do the wrong thing, even though they know that they are doing wrong? Why can't Emily just choose to be "a better girl"? What's stopping her from being "a hundred times more thankful"?

Quote #6

It rarely happened now that Mr. Maldon accompanied them. Sometimes my aunt and Dora were invited to do so, and accepted the invitation. Sometimes Dora only was asked. The time had been, when I should have been uneasy in her going; but reflection on what had passed that former night in the Doctor's study, had made a change in my mistrust. I believed that the Doctor was right, and I had no worse suspicions. (45.16)

David's mind is so easily changed: he suspects Annie of being a cheater when Mr. Wickfield shows his suspicions, but he changes his mind about Annie when Doctor Strong refuses to doubt her. What are we to make of this social component of blame? Why can't David make his moral judgments of Annie on his own, without input from those around him? Does David make any moral judgments without looking to the responses of his friends? Does David ever disagree with the moral judgments of his friends? And do you ever disagree with David's assessments?

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