MOOR-EEFFOC

October 10, 2008 at 7:34 am (Nineteenth-century novel) ()

People don’t seem, yet, to have gotten into the habit of commenting on this blog. It’s just a question of getting over your initial reticence. Now’s your chance; this is a post that specifically requests your comments. Don’t be shy!

So: yesterday’s Nineteenth-century novel class on David Copperfield and the ‘Autobiographical Fragment‘ (reprinted by Forster in his posthumous Life of Dickens) threw up some contentious readings of the novel. I’ll run through one of the areas of our discussion, and you–whether you’re taking this particular option or not–can click on ‘comments’ to contribute your ha’pennorth to the debate.

We talked about various things linking Dickens’s autobiographical fragment and his fictionalised version of the same material in David Copperfield, including food, externalisation, his mother and other stuff. But we also discussed the MOOR EEFFOC:

The coffee shops to which I most resorted were, one in Maiden Lane; one in a court (non-existent now) close to Hungerford Market; and one in St Martin’s Lane, of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with ‘COFFEE ROOM’ painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood. [Forster, Life of Dickens, I:ii, ‘Hard Experiences in Boyhood 1822-4‘]

We talked about the ‘principle of inversion’ that Dickens often uses in converting life to art; the life of CD becoming the life of DC; pleasant helpful young Bob Fagin from the Blacking Factory becoming the evil elderly Fagin in Oliver Twist, the great number of children who are compelled to act as adults in Dickens’s novels, and the equally large number of adults who, in various ways, are nothing more than superannuated children. Then we talked about the way some women, like Betsey Trotwood, act as men, and the way some male characters–David himself, say–are feminised (Betsey acting out upon him her fantasy of having a girl child by renaming him, for instance). This is where the group became less minded to follow my suggested reading: which is to say, a queer reading of the novel as, in a buried, secret way, being the love story of David and Steerforth, or perhaps even more counter-intuitively the love of David and Uriah Heep: the weirdly unsettling and strangely (repulsively) sensual quality of Heep— that wriggle he has. We discussed the not-so-buried violence against women that sees the major female characters in the novel either killed-off or packed away to Australia. I tried to link this in with a reading of the notions of ‘secrecy’ and ‘shame’ in the novel, specifically the hyperbolic rather unaccountable shame that CD felt about the blacking factory incident and that prompted him to keep it secret throughout his life from everybody except Forster. Why was he so ashamed? Was it a (social, class-based) shame? Or was it a more complicated, buried or repressed guilt? If so, of what? What is it, precisely, that sends the ‘shock’ through the blood of the adult man? I then, tentatively, floated the idea that Moor-eeffoc, in addition to being a rebus of reversal and inversion, connects in CD’s punning method with a repressed homosexual yearning for ‘more he-fuck’. The group as a whole was, shall we say, unconvinced of this reading. Does it go too far? Is there a buried narrative in which eros and thanatos are intertwined running through the novel? Or does it import a post-Freudian, 21st-century perspective to read the novel in these terms? What do you think?  [AR]

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5 Comments

  1. Sarah Gundry said,

    Hi everyone

    So I’m going to be brave and have a stab at this…pehaps I’m being a prude, or maybe it’s because I don’t want to, but I just don’t buy the ‘more he fuck’ reading. The fact that I’m not that keen on Freud probably doesn’t help either! I’m more inclined to believe that the shock that runs through CD’s blood is more to do with the resurfacing of his miserable memories of childhood than anything else. I do feel a bit like we’re imposing 21st century theory on 19th century texts…if you look hard enough for something can you find it?

    Apart from that, I do understand and agree with the concept of inversions and the homoerotic relationship between David and Steerforth (and David and Edward Murdstone?). Carrying on from that, I was wondering whether Murdstone could be an inverted representation of Dicken’s mother? Both sent him away, neither of them seem particularly maternal/paternal, and the Freudian idea of the boy being in love with the mother can be seen in David’s descriptions of Murdstone’s (sexual) attractiveness. Anyone agree? Or am I out on a limb here?!

    Sarah

  2. Sarah Gundry said,

    Me again!

    So I’ve been thinking about Dickens’ shame and guilt about his past and I was wondering whether it had anything to do with his sense of his own identity. CD’s identity was inverted from a boy from a respectable family who obviously thinks a lot of his own abilities and potential, to a valueless, unwanted (by his mother at least) and easily replaceable part of a manufacturing process.

    Purely from my own point of view, if I my dad went to prison and I had to drop out of this course to go and work in a blacking factory, I probably wouldn’t want to advertise this if I became a celebrity in the future (not that I’m planning to!). I would imagine that in the 19th century, it would have meant more to be a celebrity than it does now (Jade Goody anybody?!) so presumably the pressures on CD to be a would have been quite a burden. Particularly to someone who was so intent on managing his own public persona. Can you imagine Tom Cruise, who’s notorious for being controlling (apart from the embarrasing sofa jumping episode), revealing something that rocked his sense of identity, social standing and self worth to today’s tabloids? Just a thought…

  3. Anna said,

    I’m not doing the Nineteenth Century Novel module, but while I was reading Oliver Twist for the Victorian London class the idea of homosexuality did cross my mind. I was mainly thinking of Fagin and his boys, and the way that Oliver seems to have a lot of relationships with older men. I thought I was just reading too much into it as I’ve read a lot of Oscar Wilde and I’m used to looking for all the homosexual suggestions, especially with older men and younger boys… but maybe I wasn’t reading too much into it after all!

  4. Adam Roberts said,

    Hurrah for Sarah’s bravery! The comments here so far seem to me very interesting (and it’s very far from compulsory that you, or anybody, be ‘keen on Freud.’)

    if I my dad went to prison and I had to drop out of this course to go and work in a blacking factory, I probably wouldn’t want to advertise this if I became a celebrity in the future …

    We only insist upon this for students who miss essay deadlines. Otherwise you’ll be safe.

    Can you imagine Tom Cruise, who’s notorious for being controlling (apart from the embarrasing sofa jumping episode), revealing something that rocked his sense of identity, social standing and self worth to today’s tabloids?

    Well, we’ve all heard the Tom Cruise rumours …

    More seriously, I’d agree that “the shock that runs through CD’s blood is more to do with the resurfacing of his miserable memories of childhood.” I’m just not so sure that this is a straightforward or simple answer to the question. The point here, I think — and this also has to do with Anna’s fear of ‘reading too much in’ to the novels — is that Copperfield in particular is about the weird shapes desire take (amongst other things). Dickens understands (as did Freud) that desire is rarely simple, that it doesn’t follow the rules; that it is all tangled up with our childhoods; and that it often manifests in ways that seem, superficially, remote to what we might think of as desirable. The point is not to read things ‘into’ the novel, any more than it is to take a literalist approach to e.g. homosexuality (arguing, for instance, that David and Steerforth are in some modern sense ‘gay lovers’: I don’t think that’s a very useful way of looking at things). It seems to me that a more fertile way of apprehending this text is to delineate the contours of its complex representation of desire, and the ways it seems continually to intersect with taboo, with death and with inversion.

  5. MOOR-EEFFOC « The Royal Holloway Victorian MA Blog said,

    […] but, to get to my point: I mentioned, I think, that this came up last year. And here is the link to the blog post from last year, where this is discussed a little more. […]

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