Sentimentality: in The Novel David Copperfield

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      The majority of the Victorians were partial to the use of pocket-handkerchiefs to wipe away tears. In fact, it was only George Eliot and Emily Bronte who were mostly free of this "general dampness" of the age.

      Dickens's most sentimental works are those which were written between 1837 and 1850. Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop and David Copperfield are some of Dickens's most sentimental works. In the later novels like Great Expectations, the sentimentality is less obvious.

David Copperfield Steeped in Tears

      The sentimentality in David Copperfield is very obvious. The description of David's mother's death is very clearly intended to make the reader cry. Just before writing this description, Dickens wrote to Lemon: "Get a clean pocket-handkerchief ready for the close of Copperfield No.3" The news of the death of David's mother is given to him. Then Dickens gives a description of the boy's reaction: "I had already broken out into a desolate cry, and felt an orphan in the wide world." (Cf. Chap. 9) The trouble is that Dickens dwells too long on the grief of David and Miss Peggotty. "I was in Peggotty's arms before I got to the door, and she took me into the house. Her grief burst out when she first saw me, but she controlled it soon, and spoke in whispers and walked softly, as if the dead could be disturbed..." (Cf. Chap. 9). And the description of the funeral; "We stand around the grave. The day seems different to me from every other day and the light is not of the same color - of the sadder color. Now there is a solemn hush, which we have brought from home... Then I hear sobs, and standing apart among the lookers-on, I see that good and faithful servant... "(Cf. Chap. 9) However different and more effective is the same sort of scene in Dr. Zhivago. In Dr. Zhivago too it is a child's mother who has died but the. description of the funeral which Boris Pasternak gives, leaves an indelible impression on our minds and that without trying to squeeze out any tears from our eyes.

Excessive Sentimentality Restrained by a Sense of Humour

      Dickens is at his best when his sense of the pathetic is mingled with his sense of humor. But in David Copperfield which is more an autobiographical novel in nature, Dickens tends to or rather prefers to positively slips into gross sentimentality, when handling material which comes from his personal experiences of suffering in his earlier days. The character of Mr. Micawber, after Dickens' own father, though hilariously funny does have the pathetic about him. The humiliation of Mr. Mell, the teacher at Salem House and the way Traddles breaks down in tears at the injustice done to Mr. Mell brings the tears to our eyes as well.

      Of all the scenes in which Dickens has excelled in blatant sentimentality is the scene where he describes Dora’s long illness leading to her death and David's state of utter dejection in life, the death of Dora's pet dog, Jip at the same time when Dora expires is a cheap device to impress the readers.


      Thus it is obvious that parts of David Copperfield, if not the whole is steeped in Sentimentality. The only saving grace in Dickens is the humor which goes hand in hand for the most part with the pathetic or else the novel would have been a mere 'tear jerker' which seeks to stamp upon the minds of the less mature reader some sort of a lasting impression.

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