Mother of Water - Clara Peggotty
Clara Peggotty; Clara Copperfield.
Clara Peggotty is all heart. She is young David Copperfield's nurse and his mother's housekeeper. She loves David and her mother unconditionally – even as Mrs. Copperfield frequently yells at Peggotty, she never deserts her. Even when the Murdstones try to freeze her out of the Copperfield home, Peggotty stands her ground, vowing to never leave Mrs. Copperfield and her poor helpless son.
After the premature death of David's mother, Peggotty moves to Yarmouth to live with her extended family. She marries Barkis, for whom the phrase “The way to a man's heart is through his stomach” seems to have been coined. Despite his rough and parsimonious ways, Peggotty devotes herself to her new husband. When he dies, Peggotty moves to London, taking up residence with David again and acting as his loyal servant. She is, in short, the model of domestic womanhood – dutiful, competent, and self-sacrificing.
Dickens gives the red-cheeked Peggotty and David's mother the same Christian name, Clara – a device he used with Sam Pickwick and Sam Weller to draw attention to two characters who are variations on one another. Dickens' feelings for his own mother were divided. He felt her at times wishy-washy, jejune, her loyalties divided. By dividing in turn his own feelings for her between the compromised Mrs. Copperfield and the all-heart Peggotty, Dickens he was able to convey both his own and David's conflicted emotional perspective. Some of Elizabeth Dickens can also be seen in Mrs. Micawber, devoted to her husband but dotty. This leaves Peggotty all the more able to represent nothing but the most nurturing, supportive, and affectionate aspects of maternal love.
Peggotty is also representative of a fundamental grounding the bond of unconditional love engenders. Through her careful attention, David Copperfield is given the emotional strength to become a writer. This is symbolized by David's first book – a book about crocodiles – which David reads to Peggotty early in the novel. In the middle of reading about these water-borne reptiles, David asks Peggotty if she ever means to marry. Peggotty, aware of the recent presence of the cold-blooded Mr. Murdstone in David's life, changes the subject. After his mother has passed away, David reads to Peggotty again from the book, “in remembrance of old times.” When David as an adult visits Peggotty in Yarmouth, the crocodile book is sitting on a table in wait for him. And in David Copperfield's last chapter, as he surveys his own happy family, David hears Peggotty reading to his children from the crocodile book. This children's book, then, is the book in miniature Dickens and David have written and we have just read, bound up in his heart of hearts with his and Peggotty's love for their favourite child.
Shorthand : affectionate - blushing - a girl herself - romantic in outlook - dutiful, if not exactly beautiful - capable of unconditional love - instincts which can be relied on - sentimental - a wonderful companion in grief - stronger than she looks - easily influenced by events and people - exudes happiness - may be crushed by malevolent forces - can be all things, if not to all men, at least to all little boys.