Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Spenlow's Spaniel: Voicing Dissent in David Copperfield

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

Spenlow's Spaniel: Voicing Dissent in David Copperfield

Article excerpt

Much as David dismisses Jip, Dora Spenlow's cossetted spaniel and constant companion in David Copperfield, so critics have largely overlooked Jip's significance within the novel. Laura Brown provides the most sustained analysis of the Dora-Jip relationship. Brown suggests that conflict arises as Dora focuses her erotic attentions on Jip rather than David, but does not consider that it is David who portrays the Dora-Jip relationship to the reader. The absence of any other extended analysis seems to indicate that Jip, by virtue of his association with Dora, has remained concealed within the artifice of David's narrative. (1) When reconsidering the importance of Jip, it is thus essential to remember that Dora and Jip's actions and words always come to the reader through David.

Even though David predominantly depicts Dora as amusing or exasperating, for all her "silliness," Dora possesses the ability to disconcert. So does Jip. In her essay, "Dora and Doady," Margaret Flanders Darby asserts that "virtually no one has seen Dora for what she is throughout David Copperfield: clearheaded, wise, and realistic." As Darby contends, "readers have colluded with David's refusal to listen" (155; 158). Yet David's text does not remain silent; it is Jip who voices that which David's narrative attempts to suppress. (2) Jip embodies an instinctive awareness of David and Dora's ill-fated relationship and anticipates the ways in which David will assume a role reminiscent of Mr. Murdstone: a middle-class man who consumes the lives and resources of his spouses. Jip and Dora's relationship, when compared with that of Dora and David, suggests that a young lady may be brought up, trained and indulged as a sort of expensive pet. Most significantly, Jip acts as an extension of Dora, allowing her to express ideas and voice concerns without having to speak them directly.

Having determined that canines possess a heightened sense of smell, humans seem to rely on dogs for their presumed ability to recognize character and distinguish "good" from "bad." The reader might thus assume that any dog David encounters should like David, thereby reaffirming his moral character. Jip's reaction to David subverts this expectation (David Copperfield. 401; ch. 26). Though comical, Jip's fervent dislike of David continually reasserts the fatal incompatibility that exists between David and Dora. Barking thus becomes a crucial sound of dissent. David, though he writes the occurrence of barking into his narrative, does not acknowledge its significance. David's disregard of Jip is one instance of a "blindness" that characterizes much of his storytelling. Having proclaimed that he will love only Dora, David recounts that Aunt Betsey responds, '"Ah, Trot!' said my aunt, shaking her head, and smiling gravely; 'blind, blind, blind!"' (509; ch. 35). Aunt Betsey's assessment of David, though pertaining to his infatuation with Dora and his "brotherly" affection for Agnes, is likewise applicable to Jip. David notes and still fails to consider Jip's objections thereby revealing that David does not understand that he will never be able to discipline Dora into the wife he wants.

As a creation of David's pen, Dora remains largely inaccessible to the reader. Darby questions whether "Jip's barking [is] the refusal Dora might speak if she could, or an excitement she might express if allowed?" Darby continues, "David has not stopped to find out. He has asked no questions, made no observation of her" (161). Yet glimpses of her interiority do emerge through moments of dialogue. Jip's presence enables Dora to express her thoughts in situations where asserting herself directly would be socially inappropriate. For example, in response to having Miss Murdstone as her chaperone, David recounts Dora's remark of, "'Who wants a protector! I am sure I don't want a protector. Jip can protect me a great deal better than Miss Murdstone,--can't you, Jip dear?"' David continues, "He only winked lazily, when she kissed his ball of a head" (403; ch. …

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