I loved Quebec, but wanted to cut loose the harness and blinders on this beautiful horse. But then what? Would he rear at the car to the left, go wild at the laughing kids to his right? Refuse to follow the lead of the reins? Blinders, they say, keep situations free of upheaval. The horse remains calm, focused, and loyal to the driver.
Loyalty. That’s what connects my Quebec horse to David Copperfield, a novel I read fifty plus years ago (though I may have cheated then by reading the Classics Illustrated Comics version). Months ago, my friend and author Shirley Abbott loaned me the volumes, part of her entire set of Dickens. What a treasure: the 1911 Anniversary Edition with red hardback and embossed gold lettering and flowers on the spine. I could hardly wait to re-read David, image of the loyal friend, the “hero of his own life.”
By the end of the classic, I did not like the character Copperfield all that much. In fact, I found myself thoroughly irritated with his loyalty. Not the fealty he owed to his cowed mother, nor to the inestimable Betsy Trotwood and Mr. Dick, nor even the child-like Dora and angelic Agnes. Where David lost me was in his awestruck loyalty to the manipulative, pampered James Steerforth. Poor David, plowing along Dickens’ streets, loyal, blinders on, oblivious to the destructive fellow holding the reins. How could Copperfield shun the despicable Uriah Heep, whom he hated and refuse to challenge the shallow Steerforth, whom he loved? Through nearly 600 pages I groused, is speaking the truth only for the enemy?
Novels, for the sake of conflict, often let loyalty and honesty clop along on separate rutted roads. But in real life? My better self wants to sever the harness and remove the blinders. What is the harm of a little upheaval among friends?
The tales of Portland can be told in strokes of pink and orange, but that is only part of the story. The homeless couple sleep in Keller Park and wash themselves in the fountain. Young men in scuffed shoes haul bags full of cans and bottles. Down the block from the KOIN, Bridgetown bakers prepare my favorite pumpkin muffins and at PSU Mark readies his cart to sell smoothies. Dogs rise with their owners for the morning walk and both Yorkie and Great Dane mark trees outside City Hall.
I had planned to re-read Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield this year. Instead, I find myself in a classroom, teaching A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens makes sure that 18th century Paris and London have their own stories—tiny ones of self-important lawyers and frightened seamstresses, tales of protectors like Miss Pross and Mr. Lorry, and heroes like Dr. Manette and Sydney Carton.
What remains a constant with Dickens and me is the city. For this one term at St. Mary’s Academy, I rise with the dawn, walk Angel, relish my muffin and coffee, and watch light spread. Then it’s time to go to work. No more gazing from eight stories up. My walk is not only through literature, but on asphalt, part of the bustle and grime, the excitement and sadness that exists side-by side in the heart of any city in any century.
In Copenhagen, I stand next to the bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen whose fairy tales remain key childhood memories. My list of books to re-read in 2017 deal with memory.
- A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller. I recall a deep empathy; cannot remember why.
- Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury. A simple memory of summer and beautiful language.
- David Copperfield, Charles Dickens. Will David stay a favorite Dickens’ character?
- Enemy Women, Paulette Jiles. I loved this novel of women POWs during the Civil War.
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Laura Numeroff. Hope I still smile page after page.
- King Lear, Shakespeare. The manipulative old man, stripped clean, fascinates me.
- Kristin Lavrandatter, Sigrid Undset. For years I’ve said “Someday I’ll read this again.”
- The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi. The camp’s water pipe remains unforgettable.
- The Lemon Tree, Sandy Tolan. I missed too much of the Palestinian-Israeli history the first time around.
- Thrall, Natasha Tretheway. I’ll make sure I have the art piece next to each poem.
Over the holidays I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, beautifully illustrated by Robert Ingpen. I read the story aloud from the beginning “Bah, humbug!” to the ending, “It was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” How often have I savored this book, finding new surprises hidden in the language? Looks as though I have my 2017 New Year’s Resolution ready. On January 1st, I will list ten familiar writings to read again. Perhaps de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” or Faulkner’s Light in August, Freeman’s Corduroy or some of Grimm’s Fairytales. Will my memory of “being hooked” prove true even now? I plan to find out.