Daughter of Fire - Dora Spenlow

Characters:

Jane Murdstone; Flora Finching;

Jip [dog]; Dora Copperfield née Spenlow;

Agnes Copperfield née Wickfield.

Roman à Clef:

Maria Beadnell

Books:

David Copperfield; Little Dorrit.

    The Daughter of Fire is beautiful and childish. She has led a pampered existence when David Copperfield – in her father's employ – meets and falls in love with her at first sight. David's passion for her blinds him to her shortcomings; we, the reader, are unlikely to be so enamoured or short-sighted. After David and her wed, it soon dawns on the new groom how unfit his wife is for even the basic requirements of domestic life. She shows no aptitude nor interest in attending to her husband's needs, preferring instead the amusements of her lapdog Jip. While the mongrel's name may be suggestive of how David feels swindled, he nevertheless continues to love his child-wife Dora anyway, coming to accept her frivolousness despite his frustration. A year into their marriage, however, Dora suffers a miscarriage, eventually dying from complications. For some, Dora's presence threatens to ruin not only David Copperfield but David Copperfield, and her demise can hardly come soon enough.

 

 It has been said that art is an artist's attempt to correct the mistakes made in real life. When we remember that David Copperfield is both a memoir and a work of fiction, Dora's death as correction takes on multiple resonances to the author's own life. It has often been asserted that Dora Spenlow was based on Charles Dickens' early love, Maria Beadnell. The young Charles fell madly in love with Miss Beadnell at first sight; Maria in turn toyed with his affections, agreeing all the while with her parent's assessment of the young stenographer as fundamentally beneath her station. Twenty-four years later, when both were unhappily married to other people, Dickens was thrilled to receive a letter from Maria and immediately set about planning a secret rendezvous with his old flame. Despite warning him of the physical changes undergone since last he saw her, Dickens was surprised when they met by the fat, toothless, middle-aged woman she had become. This is especially surprising from an author gifted with acute physical perception, and, in the end, telling of the depth of his desperation and smouldering ardour. This Maria Beadnell, fat and insipid, Dickens unflatteringly caricatured in Little Dorrit's florid and bird-brained Flora Finching. The connection between Dora, Flora, and Maria Beadnell is represented in the Daughter of Fire card by the framed portrait of the portly woman in pink.

 

 Rarely, however, are characters in novels cut entirely from whole cloth. When Dickens, unhappy in his marriage, came to write Copperfield's life story as a way of righting his own, he ascribed to David's wife Dora some of the criticisms and regrets he suffered with his own wife, Catherine Hogarth. Like Copperfield, Dickens was employed by his wife-to-be's father. Like Dora, Dickens found his wife Kate wholly unsuited to the demands of domestic life and, ultimately, to his requisites in a life-long companion. The killing of Dora, then, can clearly be seen as analogous to Dickens' desire for an end to his marriage with Kate. When Dora, on her deathbed, suggests and by so doing consents to the widowed David's remarriage to the ever-faithful and duty-minded Agnes Wickfield, this is yet more pure wish-fulfillment by the author. Kate, unable to manage the Dickens' home, saw her position as mistress of the house adroitly overtaken by her competent sister, Georgina Hogarth, who joined the Dickens household in 1842, aged 15. In the fealty and devotion of Agnes Wickfield, then, can be seen Georgina, who stayed with Dickens through his separation with Kate and remained adamantly faithful to the author after his death and up to her own, 47 years later [cf. Strength VIII Georgina Hogarth].

 

 The other character from David Copperfield represented on this card is Jane Murdstone, the stern spinster sister of David's cruel step-father, Edward Murdstone. She becomes Dora's “Confidential Friend” and is the cause of many of the troubles David encounters with his employer and the father of his future wife, Francis Spenlow. As a type, Jane Murdstone stands as the dark antithesis of the nurturing domesticated angel, Agnes Wickfield. Both are entirely idealized characters, explainable in part by David's immature and rose-coloured perspective, Dickens' own prejudices and proclivities for and against women, and by what the Victorian Era demanded of a woman and a wife.

 

 Just as David and Agnes Copperfield come to name their daughter Betsey after David's indomitable aunt, so Charles and Kate Dickens named one of their daughters after the character Dora; the child died the following year, aged 8 months. That Dora's life was extinguished at such a young age may be suggestive of how difficult and inhospitable the male suit of Fire has grown for its female inhabitants.

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Shorthand : Pep – sparkle – enough prettiness to go around – no stamina – unreasoning and unseasoned – a delightful girl – perhaps overly cute - apt to break into tears – as light as birdsong in spring – pettish – undeniably silly – adorable - something of a bore – unsuited to most things – the unfortunate product of doting – achingly naive – unable to cope – decisions rash and regrettable – idylls gone idle – pure fancy - an opening to something else - in the end, an end which can't seem to come soon enough.