Review: “Metamorphoses of the Sublime: From Ballads and Gothic Novels to Contemporary Anglo-American Children’s Literature”

My review of the book “Metamorphoses of the Sublime: From Ballads and Gothic Novels to Contemporary Anglo-American Children’s Literature” is up here.



“Nothing is more tedious than asking a book about x why it is not a book about y, as though the ideal book is some kind of monstrous gesamtkunstwerk. But even so, it is odd to read a book about the sublime and gothic in primarily-British fantasy fiction and never once encounter Peake, even in the form of a dismissal.”

Big Finish Short Trips: Blue Boxes

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“Blue Boxes by Erin Horakova is based around the culture of ‘Phreaking’ – short for phone line hacking – which is an area, I must confess, I knew nothing about. Firmly rooted in the early days of the Third Doctor, it’s a story of intrigue, horror and heartbreak.”

Blue Boxes, written by Erin Horakova, performed by Mark Reynolds

“Death stalks the phone lines.

UNIT’s been inundated with prank calls. Bored, the Doctor agrees to help Liz investigate. Quickly immersed in the world of phone line hackers, it is revealed that they’re being killed, one-by-one. With the death toll rising, the Doctor will have to use all his cunning and wits to defeat a foe he can’t even talk to.

He’ll also have to use a blue box. Just not the one you’re expecting.”

You can order my radio play Blue Boxes here.

What I’ve Read, Seen and Played in 2019

Games we got this year, liked and didn’t trade on:

out in 2019:
Underwater Cities
Everdell expansions
Root expansion
Wingspan Expansion

out earlier:
Star Trek Fleet Captains
Terraforming Mars expansions

A very light year for plays:
Worst Witch (touring and then West End, both great)
Operation Mincemeat (great)
Cinderella panto
Joseph (West End revival, mediocre)
Benjamin Button
Edward II, Globe
Richard II, Globe (all female)
All Male Pirates of Penzance (good)
Director’s Cut (good)

Starkid musicals we saw this year:
Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals (v good)
Twisted (good)
Harry Potter: Senior Year (phenomenal)
Starship (fine)
Trail to Oregon (uneven, fine)
Firebringer (fine)
Black Friday (awful recording)
Me and My Dick (bad)
Ani (bad)

Western TV:
Miraculous Ladybug (phenomenal)
more Steven Universe (the film was strong)
What We Do in the Shadows, series
Terror (part through)
Gentleman Jack
Series of Unfortunate Events (against my will)
Worst Witch
She Ra
Dragon Prince

Ghosts isn’t one of the stronger projects of a team I do really like. Terror, I’m hoping will pick up. So far it’s got some strong elements but the writing isn’t quite where I’d like it to be. Gentleman Jack was somewhat disappointing; I found Katy’s patience for Series inexplicable. Worst Witch sucked this year, probably because they ditched their female writing team so that All Dudes could write stories about girls hanging out together and coming of age. For some reason. Dragon Prince is nice but meh. She Ra is fun but deeply bad at core thematics.

Western Films:
Knives Out*
The Favourite
Kid Who Would Be King
The Knight Before Christmas

There are more, I’m sure. I just don’t remember them rn. Favourite was almost great? Katy also made me watch “Return to Oz”, which sure was something.

This is the year Katy FINALLY accepted subtitles, so at last I could start watching anime again.

Japanese films (none from this year):
Your Name (great)
The Cat Returns (great)
When Marnie Was There
Porco Rosso (I feel bad not rating this higher, but ultimately I don’t think I fully GET it, you know?)
Ocean Waves

2019 anime:
mob psycho
one punch
my hero academia
Haikyu!! (against my will, I don’t give a shit if they win nationals, volleyball is a dumb sport)

These series were exceptional, but Mob is probably best.

Older anime I watched this year (all strong, imo):
Heidi (partway through)
cowboy bebop
sound euphonium
full metal alchemist: brotherhood
yuri! on ice
rakugo s1

I probably forgot some, but these are the books I remembered to tell Goodreads about this year:

Jolly Foul Play
First Class Murder
Arsenic for Tea
Murder Most Unladylike

You can get through Robin Stevens’ YA mysteries in a few pleasurable hours. They’re fun.

Martin Chuzzlewit
Barnaby Rudge
The Magic Fishbone (short)
Dombey and Son (good)
reread David Copperfield (excellent)

A bigger commitment, both because serial novels tend to be LONG and because this is stuff I’d left sitting on my Unread Dickens pile for ages, as I didn’t expect to love it (and often didn’t.)

Stuff I read under coercion/for academia and hated:
Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life
Life in the UK Test Handbook
Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek
Metamorphoses of the Sublime: From Ballads and Gothic Novels to Contemporary Anglo-American Children ́s Literature (simply did not like)

The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser (turns out Beardsley is a way better illustrator than writer)
Objects For A “Wunderkammer” (interesting)
Blue Trout, Black Truffle (fun food memoir of pre-war Europe, including East Europe)

Currently Reading:
Pickwick Papers (part through, loving it)
Mysteries of Udolpho (part through, jesus shitting christ)
Don Quixote (part through, enjoying it)

David Copperfield Read-Along, Chapters 60, 61, 62, 63 & 64 (THE END)


Chapter 60

  • Betsey says that shockingly, Micawber has been paying her back money on the sum she gave the family to enable them to move to Australia, which Micawber insisted should be a loan rather than a gift. She and David are both bemused by this.
  • Betsey hints that Agnes is interested in someone, and it’s reciprocated; David doesn’t get that she means him. RomCom shit. David goes to visit Agnes. Their Thing works better in these pages than anywhere else in the book. Dickens works really hard here to make this a marriage of equals who better each other. In the moment he does well, but if you pull back and think of it at all, their union offers an unchallenging, sterile conception of ‘bettering.’ Agnes as we know her isn’t a very dynamic person, capable of depth or growth. David tells Agnes she ‘makes him better’, but we as readers don’t ever actually see that. David’s sense of moral responsibility and ambition come very much from him, though he attaches such traits to his idea of her. He tells Agnes she made him, but there’s an important difference between a person and your internal idea of their representational signification (and if David doesn’t know that, then he’s a bigger Boy than I thought him).
  • There’s no productive friction here? It makes me think of Keguro Macharia’s thoughts on friction/frottage in terms of both eroticism and generative complication. Does David want Agnes here, or is he yearning for simplicity, solace, to return to childhood or at least the part of his that was safe and happy, because he still feels lost or insecure? There’s a lot to be said for morality and safety, but should a satisfying literary, romantic marriage (or even a real one) be a homily or a security blanket?
  • Mr Wickfield spends all his time gardening in an allotment now. He’s sober? Yay? He’s not thriving, though. David thinks he looks like the shadow of his portrait on the wall. Eesh.
  • David’s still resigned to never being with Agnes, and tells himself that maybe they’ll love one another Differently in heaven 🤗 . So static, sterile and after you are LITERALLY DEAD, bra? U need therapy and less Jesus. I am full Ronnie the Bear here, I reject the eternal death of paradise, I will go no further than my mortal flesh will carry me.Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 22.32.14.png

Chapter 61

  • Traddles and Sophie go on dates where they show each other the expensive jewellery and homewares they’d buy one another if they could afford them. While practicing law, Traddles doodles the judges as wigged skelletons. They are the best.
  • David gets a letter from he and Traddles’ terrible old school master Creakle. There’s a big dash where David called him something unprintable. Shit is Pure David:


  • You can lose sight of the degree to which this novel’s POV–all the jokes, observations and self-reflexivity–are David’s. It’s a common problem with narrator-characters (the Jam Watson reading).
  • Treadles and David visit the model prison Creakle now runs. This reads bizarrely to modern audiences who lack the then-contemporary context of Dickens’ long-standing, complex and highly situated critique of the emergent prison industrial complex. The first time I read this novel I did not know about that. The other day I saw someone’s full-ass academic book Read this section, without any of that context, as ‘Dickens loves prisons smug conservatism make u think I ❤️ decadence’. It was so embarrassing I wondered why no one had loved him enough to stop him? But idk, as a decadence scholar he possibly deserved this. giphy.gif

It’s a stunning failure of scholarly process, though. This is the sort of thing you’d make a note in an undergrad paper about, it’s like if someone cavalierly assumed Swift was a lobbyist for baby meat farms. It’d have been different to argue that, underlying Dickens considerations of economic justice, there’s a fundamental unwillingness to declare Dombey a bigger criminal against society than Carker, who ought to face greater consequences. That’d be something to explore. And it’s no problem that this guy didn’t have this information initially. But to PUBLISH A BOOK OF ASS-TALKING is typical decadence bullshit, wherein those scholars are very ready to claim and exploit an apolitical, fetishised form of Otherness (‘I’m queer because I’m into waterspouts, my kink is ‘deep dicking!’ 😊’ libertarianism.).

Perhaps we need a more rigorous academic conversation about the cardinal importance, when you disagree with historical materials, asking yourself whether you’re certain you understand them. Sometimes we meet the past with condescending assumptions of mastery. Authors are too often treated as Sage Authorities on Everything by virtue of existing, but in this case, Dickens visited every new style of prison in the country, interviewed men imprisoned for Sodomy and scheduled for execution, and ran a halfway house and skills training program for imprisoned sex workers for two decades with his friend Angela Burdett-Coutts. He was also motived by his personal experience of his parents’ incarceration. So you’re stepping into a really dedicated activist practice and just assuming you can gauge Discourse 150 years on? Like. Ooookay. I wouldn’t do that with a slightly different field than my own on Twitter right now, but go on, show your entire ass if you fancy.

  • Remember when I said sis was in maximum security prison? I think you already know what time it is.


  • So Uriah Heep leaves the narrative pretty much as he came, putting on a giant drag show for David’s benefit and bitchily wishing David was in prison with him. He’s getting deported to Australia. But wait… that means Uriah, the Micawbers (who he swore vengeance against), the extended Peggotty Clan (including Martha and Mrs Gummidge), Steerforth’s former servant Littimer and even David’s well-liked old school master Mr Mell are all in the same place (and given settlement patterns, very likely in the same area of the country, re settlement patterns), and at liberty (that’s often the policy for model prisoners–Uriah is working towards a purpose, here) at the end of the book? What a bizarrely fun sequel set up Dickens never takes advantage of?? (Trollope would.)
  • Littimer is very much the ‘and Peggy!!’ of this chapter. He tried to abscond to America with a gentleman employer’s money. He almost did it, except Mowcher spotted him, ‘ran betwixt his legs to upset him and hung onto him like grim death’. Everyone’s like, damn. Fair: Mowcher is a motherfucking boss.
  • Gotta write a fic called Unsound Hobby now:

Chapter 62

  • This scene is doing real emotional work I’m kind of feeling, but overall auuuuugh, it’s the absolute fucking worst???? I SEE MY DEAD INFANTILISED WIFE IN YOUR FAAAAACE.D7Q7p9lXYAAqn9m.jpg
  • Calm. Still. Tranquil. Winter. Frost. Hard-frozen snow on dead fields. Silent. Quiet. GOD. Eternal. Are you getting married or being buried?D7Q8Tw3XkAMk_OJ.jpg
  • Agnes is always accompanied by images of stars, shining celestial bodies, reflection and removal. There’s nothing human&close until the oblique intimacy of their hearts beating together, and then she’s subsumed in an embodiment that refuses her specific personhood.
  • I really appreciate what Dickens is trying to do here, but the whole conceit is so grim, sad and not-quite-workable. For Agnes to be ‘the source of every worthy aspiration I had ever had; the centre of myself, the circle of my life’, she would have to be more her own person, with her own quest that he changed her on as well. UR DEAD WIFE SAID I SHOULD SCHTUPP U. Yeah okay sure. D7Q99uUWkAAAfRH.jpgD7Q99uYXYAEW516.jpg
  • It’s like being stuck in a conversation where a friend you love defends their terrible relationship at length, with all their passion and rationalisation brought to bear on a bad conceit. What this justifying semi-autobiography obliquely implies about Dickens’ marriage is pure extract of yikes.
  • David and Agnes are married now, and she’s not destined for an early death. I guess you could say that, in the end of this 900 page harem anime dating SIM, Agnes Wickfield has won, the Game of Bones. giphy.gif


  • Let’s take a look back to honour all the fallen combatants in The Thirst Games:


    – get low with Spenlow

    – Legally Blonde

    – dog-fancier

    – can’t math won’t math

    – too susceptible to death by Victorian literary cliche



– in it to win it

– 2 calm 2 furious

– homebody/not allowed to leave

– enjoys recreational dusting



– marry a prosperous dealer in hops&yeast byproducts, get dat bread

– gave David the Cold Shoulder/did not wrap up warm

– a fucking adult, so not into moony 16 year old David



– no less than 6 bastard children in Europe

– grease-proofed against any form of commitment

– bisexual disaster that happens TO you, like a tsunami

– speaking of

– rock u like a hurricane (sorry)



– the spiciest take

– voted most dangerous gay in Kent for 7 consecutive years running

– inarguably the contestant most obsessed with David

– ugly-hot, or ugly-thot?

– knew he was never gonna win; tried to take the bildungsroman genre down with him



– not to be discounted

– has only ever bottomed for Steerforth

– David has absolutely murmured ‘step on me mommy’ in his sleep while dreaming about her and Agnes has been like ‘why would he want his dear departed mother to–‘

– Everyone else wishes they’d been played by Jacqueline Pearce.



– only Robert Graves ships this

– that’s right, the ‘I, Claudius’ guy

– for some reason



– the only way to win is not to play

– Tommy MVP Traddles did not come to play.




I’m not including Murdstone’s weird Lolita fixation on David (why does he always want David in the drawing room, under his eye?), which is creepily rounded off by his subsequently marrying a girl David’s age, because I respect myself. He was once played very well by Gareth Thomas, and still, I respect myself.

Miss Shepard cut herself out of the running early by rejecting David’s weird little gifts and objecting to his staring moonliy after her (they were like, 12 at the time).

Truly tragic that so many love-warriors had to die and/or be deported to Australia in the quest for David’s fair writin’-hand.

Chapter 63

  • This chapter jumps ten years on (which would make David about 36). David and Agnes have 3+ kids. Mr Peggotty comes back to see England one last time, and to visit Ham’s grave and bring Emily back a bit of the earth her brother-figure rests in. Since they last saw one another, Martha’s gotten married to a man who knows about and accepts her past. Emily has either found peace and dignity or is traumatised by Ham’s death and Steerforth’s bullshit forever. It is tough to tell.
  • ‘Because Agnes had never enjoyed anything hitherto in the whole of the book—’D7RRZn6XoAUVTLa.jpg
  • Mr Mell, the teacher Steerforth got fired, is now running an Australian school called Colonial Salem House. WHO RUNS SALEM HOUSE NOW, BITCH?? ❤️ Bless this petty mess, I’m glad he’s thriving.
  • Micawber is now a Magistrate in Podunk, Australia. Yet he is still… very Micawber.D7Rawf2XYAIwqHA.jpg

Chapter 64

  • We’re doing a final big ‘where are they now?’ montage. Rosa and Mrs Steerforth are mired in a horrible, frozen-in-time gothic Grey Gardens vision of hell. So that’s nice.D7RcEk4X4AYkA-T.jpgD7RcEkrXsAIhWCQ.jpg
  • The close is very sweet and well-done. And that’s it! You survived!! That’s THE END!!


  • If you’re looking for fic to read, this fandom unfortunately is sadly underdeveloped, as is most of the Dickens canon. This is a crying shame and a sheer accident of timing and fate.
  • There’s a SelenaK fic, Selkie Bride, which is Emily-focused. I haven’t read it (it’s very Yuletide in its framing, and I’m not into that). I’m sure it’s competent. She always is.
  • There are five well-executed and fun David/Steerforth fics. Though the pairing doesn’t Send me, I think they’re all fairly emotionally true to the text. No one’s written the big reconciliation work that negotiates Steerforth’s failings, digs in and commits to this pairing?
  • There’s criminally little Rosa/Anyone fic, like one drabble. Honestly, if anyone is having bizarre, intense entanglements, it’s absolutely Rosa.
  • There’s hardly a damn thing for Agnes and Dora, save one tepid Agnes drabble. While it’s what that relationship deserves, you hate to see it. (That’s Agnes or Dora with David, not with each other–that could either be a Tour de Force, or Very Yuletide.)
  • David/Uriah has a good turnout, but that’s something of a False Flag because it’s like two writers working overtime, not A Developed Ship. Of these, I think What’s An Apology? is a careful, satisfying, meaty negotiation with the end of the book that does a good job exploring key Dickensian themes of reconciliation.
  • Lastly, there is nothing at all for Clara/Clara, no shameful Creepy Mudstone kinkmeme fill, not a word for wondrous Betsey–a woeful underdevelopment and waste of the material, I must say!

David Copperfield Read-Along, Chapters 57, 58 & 59

Chapter 57
  • I totally forgot that Mr Peggotty and Emily take Martha with them to Australia. They make her a part of their family. That’s so nice.  😭
  • There’s this recurring thing in Dickens (perhaps more accurately in Victorian art generally, I’m not sure) where people don’t necessarily think that fully acquainting others with all the facts to honour their agency above all else is the respectful and loving thing to do. These characters value delay, tact, and calculated deference to the other person’s mental state and best interest as you understand it. It’s not exclusively a function of patriarchy. This understanding works, both ways, across gender lines and even age gaps. It’s a different way of thinking about information, choice and how best to help people. While this care-taking approach to disclosure is vulnerable to abuse along the lines of pre-existing power dynamics, it’s also a very serious effort to treat the protection of others as an obligation. For example David keeps the Peggotty family from knowing that Ham has died on the eve of their voyage, charging Micawber to let them know in good time. No character in the narrative disputes this decision at all, then or after the fact. This is one of dozens of such examples in the Dickens canon alone. The very contrast between such actions and how we conceive of ethical behaviour reveals the the neoliberal logic at work in our own perhaps limited contemporary understanding of complete autonomy as the core of meaningful agency and wellbeing.
  • The stage management of information is, or was, a valuable social skill. Failure to do so is at best a proof of ineptitude that can have awful consequences, and at worst an act of cruel stupidity.
  • This is the kind of nuance I probably miss in writing from other geographic and temporal cultures. It’s also the sort of moral or worldview difference that should seriously inflect more SFF worldbuilding.
  • So the entire Micawber family, Mr Peggotty, Emily and even Martha have gone to Australia. Surely that’s all the emigrants? Nope. Wait for it.
Chapter 58
  • With his wife and childhood friends either dead or headed for the Outback, David takes a Eurotrip with his cool friend who’s always there for him when he’s lonely: CLINICAL DEPRESSION!!
  • best gap year ever  💯
  • Traddles is a weird Forster proxy, but he is one. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • By about a year and a half after Dora’s death, David has slightly calmed his raging tits. He’s settled in a small Swiss village and written 1.5 novels. David’s begun to think he should have been with Agnes all along. I’ve begun to think he is lonely, co-dependent and making poor choices on the rebound.
  • Re: his residence in Switzerland, is David supposed to have picked up German or French? Dickens doesn’t mention. Perhaps Dickens, having picked up French so fluidly himself, doesn’t think having done so something of a Deal. Being a shit language learner, I give such acquisitions rather more weight.
  • Time moves weirdly in this chapter. Suddenly it’s been three years since Team Australia left. David’s properly decided he loves Agnes but also that any chance of their being together has been lost irretrievably to The Past. (I know I’m a hater, but to me that vagueness sounds like disinterest in actually realising this union: the ideal, impossible object you never have to actually commit to living with or anything.) David’s also decided to go home. For those playing along at home, he must be either 26 or 27 now.
Chapter 59
  • Ahahahah, bless this mess.
  • Traddles is FINALLY MARRIED! His wife’s family is still taking huge advantage of the new-minted Mr and Mrs Traddles (without necessarily meaning to suck), but nevertheless Tommy the MVP and Sophie are doing okay.
  • Randomly, or from a Doylist POV to close a circle, David runs into the nebbish doctor who opened the novel by delivering him:
  • ‘Erin I’m tied of hearing about this novel’ child do you have any idea how much shit I had to hear about your burny dragon lady and her boyfriend’s dog and Brioche’s hymen no shh it’s Erin time
  • ‘Oh what limbs does jimjams sistertester still have??’ EIGHT YEARS OF THAT you’ll pay you’ll alllllllll pay
  • Dr Chillip tells David, as a nearly-concerned party, the gossip about the Murdstones. Mr Murdstone is still with that fucking child-bride he married when David was 17, so nine years ago now. He and his sister’s regular regime of abuse has reduced the girl, who was probably David’s age herself at the time, to what Chillip refers to as a shadow of herself and a state of imbecility.
  • Chillip thinks the girl’s mom died due to their bullshit it’s not clear whether she was living with the family or simply grieving for her child. David goes to see Betsey, Dick and Peggotty (who’s living with them now, managing the house) and shares this story. Betsey and Peggotty, per usual, are united in fucking hating Team Out of Pocket.
  • Even at second-hand and glanced at quite quickly, this little account is grimly satisfying in its verisimilitude: abusers gonna perform their pattern of abuse, and will always think the consequences are other people’s fault. Their victims weren’t strong enough!! or whatever.
  • Doctor Chillip repeats his wife’s observation that there’s a sort of (half-comforting, but still unsatisfying) justice to all this, in that abusers, in their hatred, ‘are turned inward, to feed upon their own hearts, and their hearts are very bad feeding.’



David Copperfield Read-Along, Chapters 54, 55 & 56


Chapter 54

  • Pfffff


  • Traddles proposes a truly radical urban fantasy AU; even I am taken aback.


  • ALL THE FUCK ALONG Betsey has had £2000 of the £7000 pound fortune that supposedly evaporated?? She’s been saving it ‘in case’. She didn’t want to tell David about this last layer of protection, because she wanted to see how bad a bitch he really was. Pure Betsey shenanigans.
  • Agnes tries to be like, ‘wow Betsey, you didn’t say you thought my dad had totalled your fortune bc you knew it would wreck me?’ Betsey is like ‘SHUT UP, SHUT THE FUCK UP, NEVER MENTION THIS, NO ONE CONGRATULATE ME! GET OFF, HUGS ARE WEAK!!’
  • I love and hate everyone involved in this:


  • Based off his knowledge of both their characters, David entrusts Peggotty and Micawber to one another, hoping they’ll play off each other positively and help each other establish themselves in Australia. It’s a subtle, elegant, hyper-femme soft-power social Arrangement you don’t notice as a plot point. But it is a piece of work, and it goes a ways towards enabling both families’ positive denouements.
  • In some ways you could frame this novel as a rejection of toxic masculinity and heroic protagonism that insists on the collapse of agency into the self. To be a good person, perhaps it’s enough to do your own shit well and to facilitate, help, and become involved in others’ lives without exercising control or centring yourself. That’d be an interesting re-formulation of the conceit that David isn’t doing enough as an adult in these situations, because he is active and useful, he’s just not dominating the stage.
  • Having skipped town, Uriah calls in all his IOUs for Micawber from London. Thus Micawber’s arrested like, literally every hour. David and co. have to keep bailing him out. Uriah’s pettiness is so inspirational. May I one day annoy my enemies even 25% this much.
  • I can’t with Micawber, omfg. I love him, but I also hope a dingo eats him slowly. I hope he is assaulted bi-weekly by belligerent kangaroos.


Chapter 55

  • David’s depressed as shit, and restless. He offers to go visit Ham to deliver a farewell letter from Emily.
  • There’s a lush, fantastic description of a really intense storm. I think we might call it a hurricane (technically Britain doesn’t get these, but it’s a nomenclature question).
  • A ship is sinking within sight of people on the beach in Yarmouth. Rather strikingly Dickens has David, who’s not as experienced with nautical catastrophe as the local sailors, flip out and panic at having to just watch people drown. That kind of ‘hysterical’ reaction is usually reserved for women. David is slightly reminiscent of Miranda from the Tempest, here.
  • Ham, who’s been checked out since his engagement fell apart, wades in to try and save a mariner they can all see struggling on a ship that’s going down. He’s slammed by a huge crest of water and thrown back on the beach, lifeless on his safety tether. David’s part of the group that tries to restore him, but like his father and Emily’s, Ham had drowned.
  • It’s important to recall now that Rosa offhandedly mentioned that Steerforth, cut off by his mom or on a whim, was working his passage on a Spanish boat. Like the one that just sank.
  • Yes, it’s a big dramatic coincidence. But this sequence captures the intensely familiar rhythm of horrible things building, cascading into an ever-worse mess. It also catches a phrase/image Dickens has used three times before. This line about the way Steerforth sleeps was always in the book–when they were children, and when they parted as younger men. At first we didn’t know it meant anything. Later, we read it as a comment on Steerfroth’s self-spoiled innocence or boyish heedless cruelty. Now we know what it was always doing: lovingly preparing this body for the grave, and you for this, perhaps the most beautiful chapter in the book.



  • Later, in Dombey for example, Dickens will use repetition and hypnotic passages of prose poetry with more intense concentration, and to very good effect. But I love the oblique horror of this at first unobtrusive, book-length, structural preparation. I can’t care about Steerforth, but I understand David can’t not. And how fucking fabulous to do with via a serial novel you can’t retrospectively revise?
  • This plot line worked better for me when I was younger and had more time for Steerforth himself–when I was less thoroughly exhausted with privileged young white men’s casual violence. It’s still strong, though. I can’t care about Steerforth, but I understand that David can’t not.

Chapter 56

  • David decides to bring the body back to James’ mom and Rosa, and to be the one to tell them, because at least he knew and loved James. It’s the absolute worst. Mrs Steerforth has a breakdown. Rosa raves about how this is his mother’s fault for indulging him and then not forgiving the result (to his mother). She’s not wrong, but she’s also batshit with grief.
  • RIP Steerforth, a fucking awful boyfriend and person.

David Copperfield Read-Along, Chapters 51, 52 & 53


Chapter 51

  • Mr Peggotty gives us the flashback goods. Littimer’s story was that Emily had a break down and that he ‘locked her away for her own safety!’ Emily, represented by Mr Peggotty, doesn’t exactly say as much, but her story leaves open the possibility that he could have meant ‘until she did what I wanted and fucked me–she’s already not Pure because she fucked Steerforth, so what’s the difference?’ Whaaat a creep!
  • However it went down, Emily escaped via a window. She ran down the beach in the night in a fugue state, slashing her feet to ribbons. One of her friends among the local community of sailors (who controlling-ass Steerforth didn’t want Emily to talk to),  fisherman’s wife, finds her.
  • Emily tells her friend what happened. The Italian woman is like ‘listen, my away-at-sea husband doesn’t need to know you were ever at my house or the social implications of any of this. He’s not here, I am. You need some fucking shoes and a lot of wine. Just like, a ludicrous amount of wine.’
  • Earlier Emily asked the sailors not to call her Lady, because she was another fisherman’s daughter like them, and said they could call her just that if they liked. (I find this a kind of sweetly-expressed longing for her community.)
  • Emily gets so feverish/fugue-statey she can’t remember Italian at all. Then one day one of the local kids is like ‘yo fisherman’s daughter, check my bomb shell!’ (except Italian so like, ‘mi bombo shello’ or whatever). Emily’s like oh thank Christ, I understood that.
  • Dickens never met a weird medical state he didn’t like. u got a case of spontaneous combustion? GOTTA WRITE IT. Someone forgot a whole language after a fever due to Feelings?



  • See also Tale of Two Cities‘ fascination with the father’s PTSD fugue state. (This is a Known Thing in Victorianist crit, not my observation.)
  • Emily’s 22 year-old abandoned ass makes it back to London like she’s just been on the Gap Year With Her Boyfriend from hell. A woman approaches Emily and chats her up about her old needle working apprenticeship. She says she can get Emily work to do and put her up for the night. Emily’s like god, what a piece of luck! But alas, this is a brothel-keeper recruitment pitch aimed at conveying Emily to a secluded area she doesn’t know well, rendering her more vulnerable and indebted, and pressuring her into the work. (I’m not sure they’d stop at pressure, either.)
  • But!! it turns out Martha has been through this whole shitty process. Thus Martha knew to let these predatory pimps search for Emily for her. Martha’s been making regular enquiries at the places they do their hunting for vulnerable girls coming into the country and/or the capital. Thus Martha swooped down like NOT TODAY BITCH!! and got Emily back to her shitty sublet in one piece.
  • Emily had tried to send her family some money while she was with Steerforth, and had some on her person when she ran away. David helps Mr Peggotty send that total sum back to the Steerforths as a concluding ‘fuck you’.
  • Mr Peggotty and Emily are going to emigrate to Australia. Before this book ends 50% of the cast will be: Australian. David and Mr Peggotty head down to Yarmouth to settle the family’s affairs.
  • Nothing ties up a Victorian plot arc like good kush appropriated native land.
  • This chapter has some beautifully, nuanced treatments of the delicate psychological structures of consent.
  • Emily and Martha’s old employer talks about how his daughter is performatively hard on her ‘fallen’ co-workers as a sort of public display. But he believes that in herself, his daughter feels much more kindly to them, and that she, like him, wants to contribute money towards a fund to help the girls re-establish themselves.
  • Ham feels he pressured Emily to say she’d marry him, simply by really wanting it and on the basis of their strong friendship. If he hadn’t done so, he suspects she might have felt able to tell him about her discontent and about the pressure Steerforth was bringing on her.
  • This and the stuff with Dr Strong comprises a considered, thoughtful and loving treatment of how situational obligation or inequality can yield up a ‘yes’ that might not fully mean yes.

Chapter 52

  • Here was are at “Explosion”, the odd semi-climax of the novel. David is largely and strangely uninvolved in His Own Life ™ here. He hasn’t seen the key villain the better part of the cast goes to confront for the year and a half and change of his marriage–not since the morning after the big gay slap. It’s like a boss battle where David’s just a party member, doing Heals in the background.
  • Meanwhile Uriah tragically tries to have a conversation with David, convinced that David hates him back enough to have bothered engineering all this.


  • This is cunty even for Uriah:


  • Like, this is the energy:

  • When only you can remember the time someone patronised you twelve years ago, BUT YOU REALLY, REALLY REMEMBER IT!!!!!



  • The past is a wild ride.


  • Micawber’s convened this episode of Jeremy Springer to reveal the multi-layered financial fraud/soft-power blackmail scheme Uriah’s been crafting and executing over the course of a decade. Uriah is pissed, and trying to keep shit in the sphere of social deniability where he exercises the most power and control.
  • ‘None of your plots against me, I’ll counterplot you’ is very Shakespeare. It’s a fun joke about David as a writer, and a nod to the David and Uriah’s long meta-dispute over the shape of the novel, who has agency and the benefits of protagonism.
  • This is a great mask drop. Again, it’s fairly sad that Uriah’s still trying to directly address David, to Involve him per usual. He can barely be fucked with anyone else present (though all of them save the uninvolved Traddles, he’s wronged more directly).


  • I find the novel’s one hint that Uriah might actually want Agnes (rather than baroquely lying about that for his personal convenience, as he does about so much) thoroughly confused and confusing. It’s coupled with a disclaimer than he can’t appreciate or care for Agnes’ virtues. What’s he want then, her body? Power over her? Social power? Financial power? Only the first and possibly the second could even be read as ‘about Agnes’, heterosexual desire for her. Does Uriah not love Agnes ‘right’, or does he simply not love her?
  • Victorian registers of conversation about sexuality could easily and quickly have conveyed the texture of a venal, ‘lowering’ desire. Dickens is very capable of expressing the idea, and does elsewhere. Instead, we only have the vagueness of Uriah’s ‘odious passions’. His gaze is described as passing from David to Agnes, just as his speech often interpolates David into any reference to or praise of her.
  • It makes me think of all the the stuff about marriage as a financial institution with crippling social costs that alienate disadvantaged parties from themselves with Alice and Edith in Dombey and Son. Uriah’s class status ‘feminises’ him by placing him in that position, by rendering his marriage a toxic necessity, alienated from his feelings, at best a tool for an emotional act of vengeance rather than any kind of reaching towards fulfilment. 
  • It kind of also makes me think of the mess of the infamously confused ‘I’m not fucking Spock, or am I??’ paragraph in the Roddenberry novelisation of ST:TMP. Explanations can break themselves. Mess can be a site of difficult articulation and interpretation. 
  • Micawber has written up a vast call-out post, complete with links. He took the ashes of the Receipts from Uriah’s old fire-grate. He is going to read it all to them. He can do this all day.
  • Micawber attempts to beat Uriah with a ruler, but is prevented by his homies.


  • Uriah: every day I curse the god that made me guzzle dumb bitch juice and endure a twelve-year infatuation with a bougie. I could have gotten so much done without this shit, I could have fucked that girl neither of us actually fancies!!

David: could u, tho?


  • Stop Micawber at all costs.


  • The Drama Liver-For


  • I’m not surprised so many adaptations try to mumble through what’s happened here, because finance crime is vague. But at the same time, it was the future, and Dickens got it. It’s where the money is today/what makes the world go ‘round. It’s also a crystallisation of Uriah’s infiltration of the bourgeois meritocracy/social permissibility shell game. Thus making his crime ‘jewel theft!!’ is dumb as fuck.
  • It took Micawber OVER TWELVE MONTHS OF WORK to run this investigation. He still only really nails Uriah on one stupid mistake (Uriah’s bank book was not burned, only toasted).
  • Some prize bitch moments from Heep, but chiefly I remain embarrassed that he keeps trying to get David interested in this show-down when David’s only here to eat popcorn and get his money back, and he still has a lot of popcorn, thanks!



  • This dense net of fraud is far more complex than simply stealing David’s money, and amounts to a kind of psychological torture.


  • This reminds me of having worked as a paralegal on financial fraud cases. It feels like a massive loan fraud case we undertook, in which a loan officer-cum-forger bankrupted (among others) a family of horse farmers and destroyed that couple’s marriage. The unfathomable, ever-worsening situation caused them to blame themselves and each other, sowing confusion and distrust between them.
  • In a way the feeling of powerlessness, cowed timidity, restriction and guilt, as though you caused all this by being irresponsible, are exactly like being poor and dependent on someone else’s charity? Uriah’s revenge on Wickfield (and the system he’s a proxy for) consists of switching their positions.
  • MVP Tommy Traddles gets shit done here, telling Uriah he can give over the relevant documents or he can go to jail. I’m not sure how Team Protagonism could actually do that, when this hasn’t been proven and brought to trial, and would indeed be very difficult to try. I think they’re implicitly relying on their being posher to carry a good deal of weight. The police may well believe them over Uriah, and may well detain who they say to, at their request. They might not be so compliant if everyone had the same accent. I mean, how do you easily explain this to random cops in 1845 and get them to act fast?
  • I suppose Uriah did need an accurate copy of the books to keep running the firm. He wouldn’t have been terrible foolish to believe that whatever happened, he’d always have time to ditch the evidence. Micawber wanted everyone here because his instinct for am dram is incredible, but it was probably also the only way to pull this off. Alternatively it’s really good evidence of Micawber’s personal preparation for where his narrative eventually goes.
  • Via narration, David says Uriah’s not bold. Given that Uriah just stole this entire house and company and is snarling at people to shoot him before he’ll submit, this is weird. We’re calling back to classed ideas of Gentlemanly responses to conflict (u wanna fucking duel him??). It’s also reminiscent of Three calling the Master an Unimaginative Plodder, even as the Master is shrinking people and hiding them in lunch boxes while making killer daffodils. ‘Unimaginative’ is not. The complaint I would go with. At this time.


  • So Malvolio is like
  1. I never loved you anyway!!
  2. The prosperity gospel is a load of shit.

You’d really think he was leaving the narrative, but in fact he will rebound by trying to destroy the English banking system.


  • We’ll rendezvous with sis later, in Maximum Security Prison.
  • David, shocked that the narrative allowed him to get owned by a good Last Word and has to go to another scene to recover. He hangs out with the Micawbers. Betsey, also present, is like ‘you seem Poor, why not move to Australia?’ The Micawbers are like FUCK YEAHHHHHH!!!


Chapter 53

  • This is a really wrenching chapter. Dora gets sicker, and dies. Jip the dog dies when she does. David cries and feels like shit.
  • As Dora reckons with the end of her life and try to reconcile herself to what’s happening to her, she also thinks about the core issues of her marriage.
  • In Dombey and Son, Little Dorrit and other texts, Dickens is amusingly bitchy about insistent affectations of youthfulness in people old enough to know better. Dora is very much bound for such a womanhood. But here Dickens enters into the psychology of it, giving Dora some real weight.
  • To be honest Dora’s death makes the thinness of Andrei Bolkonsky’s first wife, who’s in the narrative to die, look comparatively insulting (even as I also think her death is affecting). But comparatively fewer people bitch about Tolstoy’s treatment of female psychology?


David Copperfield Read-Along Index


Chapter 1
Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5
Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9
Chapters 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17 and 18
Chapters 19 and 20
Chapters 21 and 22
Chapters 23 and 24
Chapters 25 and 26
Chapters 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31
Chapters 32, 33 and 34
Chapter 35, 36 and 37
Chapter 38, 39, 40 and 41
Chapters 42, 43 and 44
Chapters 45, 46 and 47
Chapters 48, 49 and 50
Chapters 51, 52 and 53
Chapters 54, 55 and 56
Chapters 57, 58 and 59
Chapters 60, 61, 62, 63 and 64 (THE END)