4 of Fire - Betsey Trotwood
with Mister Dick
Richard Babley aka Mister Dick;
Roman à Clef:
Mary Pearson Strong
Betsey Trotwood barges into the opening scenes of David Copperfield, just in time to assist Clara Copperfield's labour and David's introduction to the world. Upon discovery that she has been made great-aunt by the birth of a boy, she exits as abruptly as she appeared.
As gruff and assertive as this introduction was, young David has no one else to turn to when he runs away from the bottle labelling factory his stern father, Edward Murdstone, has indentured him to. We the reader are uncertain how Betsey Trotwood will receive the young David, and are almost as surprised as he when she embraces the boy. She places David in a good school in Canterbury with opportunity for a career in Doctor's Commons.
Also living with Betsey Trotwood is a plump man known as Mr. Dick, in every way still a child. Able to entirely lose himself in boyish pastimes such a kite-flying, Mr. Dick's primary concern is an almost obsessional preoccupation with the writing of his Memorial. His efforts, however, are repeatedly thwarted by compulsive thoughts of King Charles and his decapitated head. When we remember that David and Dickens are both in the midst of writing a memoir of their childhood, we can see in Mr. Dick an amalgam. The ugliness of history, encapsulated in King Charles' head which keeps intruding and impeding Mr. Dick's work, signifies the dark realities in (King Charles) Dickens' own head, from his time at Warren's Blacking factory to the sudden death of Mary Hogarth. When Dora dies, the grieving David turns to writing as a way to work through the grief. For Dickens, the novel David Copperfield was something of a catharsis, but by its end both David and Dickens have come to perceive a disquieting deception intrinsic in the act of writing. This is something Mr. Dick will never come to see, just as he will never finish his Memorial and will remain forever a boy.
Betsey Trotwood is one of the most self-reliant and willful women in all of Dickens. Eventually revealed is the fact she was wed to a younger man who proved himself a gambler and a cheat. Her disdain for the male sex is understandable then, but Dickens may be having some fun at Betsey's expense by populating a prized piece of lawn in front of her Dover house with donkeys. She keeps vigil over her lawn day and night, chasing away every donkey she sees. Donkeys, of course, are well-established symbols of the libido and the male sexual organ specifically. The name Mr. Dick may also be a pun on this, as well as Dickens' own name.
Betsey Trotwood is based on Miss Mary Pearson Strong, an aptly named spinster living in Broadstairs, Kent, where Dickens occasionally sojourned. Also fittingly for the Four of Fire, her former home now houses Broadstairs' Dickens House Museum.
Shorthand : Quite self-reliant - fortitude of character - shelter in the proverbial storm - unexpected home – odd family – totally unexpected - fine landing place from which to take off - indubitable agency - very foundation stones of a vocation - proposition: befits a career in the arts - flirts with snobbishness - suffers rigidity - indulges infantilism - posits work is an end in itself - smacks of avoidance - grandiloquence of art as a way to falsify the past - creativity exhausted - enthusiasm grown hidebound - a personal history which ends in prejudice.