“When I think of it, the picture always rises in my mind…”(“David Copperfield”)
Memory is fleeting glimpses of the past(in picture form); memory is, also, elongated and long travails through the past. Dickens deals with both, in “David Copperfield”. Proust argues that memory is Involuntary, (that is unforced); but then if it needs a catalyst (be it a madeleine OR a book, just as Dickens himself goes in and out of HIS own memories, as he writes his semi-autobiographical epic) it is not involuntary. “David Copperfield” has been another stimulus, for me, of memory; reading it, exactly like the narrator(melded, often, into Dickens himself) who, by the very act of narrating in the now(of the writing/narration), elicits the rememberances: reading it has, for me, been a process of re-vivifying those seemingly long-gone early memories.
As I read, I am, contrapuntally, also re-living the 11/12 year old boy I was who read the book, for the first time, 46 years ago;as I, in parallel, again, re-live the act(and enhance with the acretions and diminutions of experience)of reading the tome itself, the very process of reading. Reading British Victorian literature, is, for me-as an openly gay man, (mainly!) happy with himself, now-problematic,because the books symbolise and, to a degree, embody, the self-repression and torture of that era, growing up gay but not being able to utter it(barely to myself, never mind an intolerant world). So, re-reading “DC”, especially with Holly Furnaux’s “Queer Dickens:Erotics, Families, Masculinities”(2009) in mind-especially in relationship to what is, at the very very least, an intense friendship(and probably a homo-erotic love, because children have love feelings even if they do not actualise them till later/at all)between Davy and Steerforth:- and I really cannot be bothered arguing the hermeneutic pros and cons of the likelihood of the queer/gay text here, but it is UNEQUIVOCALLY IS here/there:- re-reading it, now, is a big act of re-clamation, not just, academically, of heterosexualised portions of the text, but for my gay 12 year old self, who, like Davy, had unrealised feelings of love; so that via memory and recall I incorporate my 12 year old, struggling gay self into my CURRENT gay identity, so that I am made whole in retrospect. So, this parallelizing of time-frames is doubly poignant and meaningful and psychologically necessary for wholeness (anyone averring otherwise would be attacking, in a homophobic fashion, my gay selfhood).
So, like David Copperfield,I remember: playing in the “larder”(a cupboard under the stairs), aged about 5, amidst an array of antique(even then!) tea-sets and ornaments and assorted coats, whilst my dear socialist and committed social worker mum made her phone calls. I felt safe. The larder was MY diminutive home..
(Memories float in and out.. in and out..)
.As I re-read “Copperfield”, now, I dimly recall I have read many sections previously; the text is ETCHED there, somewhere, waiting to be unearthed and re-vivified, in the light of the person that boy became. I am sure Dickens would have approved of this madeleine process of his book re-igniting one’s own memories, and linking the past and present, with the awkward disjuncts that entails/ed.
This book dwells in that elusive dim, yet radiant, space between our present selves and our memories; or rather a parallel process between memories and the re-living of them in the now; also in the interstices between the writer and reader and the rememberances of both….. The healing power, via reclamation of the past, of reading and writing.