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5 of Water - Rosa Dartle


Rosa Dartle


David Copperfield



Rosa Dartle is the female orphan of David Copperfield. She is the cousin of James Steerforth's late father, brought to live with Mrs. Steerforth as her companion when her husband died. Nobody's fool, the acute Miss Dartle fell into an argument one day with the boldfaced young Steerforth who became so enraged he hurled a hammer at the young woman's head. From this one outburst of violence, Rosa has been left for the rest of her life with a prominent scar bisecting her bottom lip. This scar is a branding, marking her as the property of James Steerforth, for she loves him unequivocally, with an ardour like a gaping wound.


 Rosa's scar is also an outward badge of an internalized pain she carries within, and an unknown power she contains which, when David glimpses it, frightens him to the core. He suffers the sight of Rosa constantly, unable to look away. Her allure causes in David a crisis in meaning, captured in a passage he writes about her harp playing:


“I don't know what it was, in her touch or voice, that made that song the most unearthly I have ever heard in my life, or can imagine. There was something fearful in the reality of it. It was as if it had never been written, or set to music, or sprung out of the passion within her; which found imperfect utterance in the low sounds of her voice... I was dumb”


 David, of course, with his Dora and Agnes, has never encountered such depth of emotion before. Rosa Dartle is a simmering cauldron of rage, misery, and desire. As a woman, she is one of the most powerful and convincing Dickens ever managed – a strange angel clad in black, plucking her harp as though it were her heart-strings. She is allowed something Dickens rarely allows his female characters: mental alacrity along with a seriousness and respect – too often Dickens feels the need to ridicule and deride such outstanding women.


 With her sarcasm and ironic edge, Rosa is also the only character capable of seeing Steerforth for what he is – or at least brave enough to confront him with it. Even David, who fawns over the cad and overlooks his short-comings, cannot conceal from himself the sharpness and accuracy of Rosa's insinuations against Steerforth. When he mentions in passing that the poor are insensitive and incapable of feeling the way the upper class can, Rosa replies: “It's such a delight to know that, when the poor suffer, they don't feel! Sometimes I have been quite uneasy for that sort of people; but now I shall just dismiss the idea of them, altogether.” Rosa is able to underscore the ugliness of Steerforth charms and expose his indifferent cruelty long before his defile of Little Em'ly.


 Despite this, she is painfully jealous and loyal to Steerforth. It is Rosa who unravels Little Em'ly's story and finds her before anyone else can, berating her mercilessly for being undeserving of the great man. When Steerforth dies, Rosa screams "He had a soul worth millions of the friends to whom he stooped!" The passion and remorse in her heart twists her into knots, compelling her to blame Steerforth's mother for having raised him "from his cradle to be what he was, and stunted what he should have been". Rosa Dartle lives out the remainder of her life in a kind of rueful penance, unable to forget her own disappointment and misery, as the constant companion of Mrs. Steerforth - incarnation of all her son's worst qualities.


Shorthand : Happiness gone – strings attached - remorse – hardened heart – sharp edges – cutting - deep grief – cowed but not cowardly - expression and impotence – frame of mind – disfiguring – on high, white; down here, black – cupid and psyche - possible spearhead of art - horrible harping on.

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