I finished reading Dickens’ classic, David Copperfield, for the first time and was struck by its ideas of gender equality, especially in regards to marriage. It surprised me to see Dickens’ respect towards women and the criticism of an unequal marriage in a book written in 1850. But maybe it shouldn’t have. Equality isn’t a new idea; it’s a timeless truth. The classics are considered great because of the truths they hold, so it makes sense to find true ideas, even the idea of equality, in them. Because of this, we should listen to the classics instead assuming we know better than them.

The contrasting characters of Dora and Agnes reveal Dickens’ perspective on women. Dickens uses the character of Agnes as a role model for his women readers and the character of Dora as an example of who not to be. Dora, David’s wife, is silly and immature. She cannot relate to David on serious matters, so David misses having a true companion to confide in. Dora is concerned about superficial things such as money. In the middle of David’s engagement to her, David loses a lot of money and warns her she will have to be more frugal once they are married. She cries over the thought of being a poor man’s wife. After David marries her, she struggles to change her spending habits, always going over budget. Dora also lacks confidence. David tells her about the trouble the servants have been causing and encourages her to reprimand them. Dora refuses, too scared to assert her authority. She throws a fit when David criticizes her, taking it personally instead of using it to become better. She tells David to call her his “child wife,” to remind him of her weak spirit and to not be too hard on her. This criticism of Dora is not a criticism of women in general since Dickens praises the character of Agnes. Dickens recognizes the potential of women and encourages them, through both Dora and Agnes, to mature.

Dora weighs David down while Agnes, David’s close friend, makes him a better person. David calls her his “good angel” because of this. She is someone he can trust and confide in. She offers him wise advice, such as warning David about the dangers of David’s friend, Steerforth, who would later harm David and his friends. Her steady love contrasts with the impulsive passion that made David marry Dora.

Dickens not only blames Dora, but also David, for their unequal marriage. Mrs. Strong, the wife of David’s former schoolteacher, shared a similar experience to David. As a young woman she liked an attractive yet immature man named Jack Malden. Later in life she finds herself grateful for her marriage to Mr. Strong “for having save me from the first mistaken impulse of my undisciplined heart,” since “there can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.” These words stick with David, eventually making him realize the disparity in his own marriage. Unlike Mrs. Strong, he was unable to avoid “the first mistaken impulse of his undisciplined heart” and now suffers the consequences of his actions. Dora also recognizes the flaws in their marriage later in life and wonders aloud if “it would have been better if we had only loved each other as a boy and girl and forgotten it” instead of marrying. Dickens uses David and Dora’s marriage as a warning to readers to not make the same mistakes.

The feminist movement did not come up with the idea of equality between men and women. Like all other truths it has been around since the beginning of time. Progressivism assumes that the future holds the truth and that past ideas are outdated and need to be discarded. This is an arrogant perspective because it assumes we are smarter than those who came before us. The assumption that the past inherently holds bigoted ideas leads progressives to not only cancel books with ideas they disagree with, but actively seek out for things in past literature to attack.

However, we should actually be more suspicious of newer ideas, since the timeless nature of truth makes it so truth is most likely to repeat itself rather than be newly discovered. Because of this, progressives miss out on the wisdom of the past. Even classics that do have problems do not deserve to be cancelled most of the time. They usually still contain other important truths, even if some wrong ideas are in mixed in there too. If we keep disregarding the classics we will lose the truths past down by these books, and the truths we do happen to hold on to we will assume are original instead of recognizing where they came from. Therefore, the classics and the truths they hold need to be preserved rather than cancelled.


Photo by garryknight