Copperfield and a Scene of Grief

I think reading D.C. is analagous – bear with me here – to being a child at one’s first funeral.  Why?  Maybe I say this because I just finished a funeral scene in the novel, and felt myself moved and stirred.  Yet the scene seemed an appropriate metaphor for the novel’s vivid elegaic tone, which invests the entire book like a sweltering climate, like weather, like the browns and purples of summer dusk.  At my first funeral – my paternal grandfather’s – I remember, with a haunting starkness, the pale austerity that was my grandfather’s corpse.  It was lying in the coffin, not moving, not speaking; and I remember thinking his face looked waxen and shrunken, more white and creased than normal.  Yet the image, because of the context, seared itself into my memory – and it is that sort of sad brightness, that up-close-and-personal death-haunted aliveness, that D.C. is so filled with.  So I compare D.C. to one’s first funeral for two reasons – 1.) Because the whole novel is shrouded in a tone of elegy that is twilit and dusky, echoing and haunting, like an old school corridor in a dream, and 2.) The novel is without (thus far) a scene that lacks an almost miraculous vivacity that is both shocking and engrossing.

Look for example at this excerpt from the funeral scene:

We stand around the grave.  The day seems different to me from every other day, and the light not of the same colour – of a sadder colour.  Now there is a solemn hush, which we have brought from home with what is resting in the mould; and while we stand bare-headed, I hear the voice of the clergyman, sounding remote in the open air, and yet distinct and play, saying: “I am the Ressurection and the Life, saith the Lord!’

Notice that the whole passage is written in the present tense, as if only the immediacy of that point of view will do to hold and represent the grief that D.C. feels.  Notice also that, for once in the novel, Dickens doesn’t zero in on the most extraordinarily telling detail, but rather stays with the unarticulated haziness of D.C.’s sadness.  The day is “different…of a sadder colour.”  That to me amounts to a kind of perfection on Dickens’s part.  Grief is like that – you lose for a moment the particularities, and everything seems somehow larger, bolder, more important, more sad.  Meaning at times of grieving seems somehow completely absent and completely present simultaneously.  Perhaps that is why, at that moment in the novel, David sees Pegotty,  “that good and faithful servant,” and reflects on the type of reception Pegotty might receive in the afterlife.  It’s as if he needs to see the most meaningful person in his life right then, in order to begin to shape and somehow explain – though of course there is no explanation, and none that would suffice – without words, the enormity of his loss.


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