“A Greater Loss”- Its Foreshadowing

Paul Fischer
February 21, 2006
“A Greater Loss”- Its Foreshadowing
“A Greater Loss,” a chapter in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, details the romance of Steerforth and Emily. Because Emily is beautiful, young, and refined with dreams of joining the upper echelons, Emily is hardly the girl to settle down among Ham’s humble settings. Instead Steerforth seems much better suited to Emily because of his handsome appearance and charm. So what makes Emily even consider staying with Ham? The all important class system of Victorian England. Throughout the book small hints are dropped by the narrator referring to Emily’s desire to become a lady and to Steerforth’s flawed character. When it becomes clear how easily Emily and Steerforth get along one begins to suspect that something is afoot. An exceptionally astute reader would almost certainly guess that Emily is planning something with Steerforth though I did not draw that conclusion from the evidence at hand.
Of course even as a child Emily was always attracted to the higher class and wished to join the upper echelons. This is made obvious following her remark, “If I was ever to be a lady, I’d give [Uncle Peggotty] a sky-blue coat with diamond buttons, nankeen trousers, a red velvet waistcoat, a cocked hat, a large gold watch, a silver pipe, and a box of money” (34). Steerforth naturally sweeps her off her feet because his role of a charming, respectable gentleman is exactly what Emily admires. And though Agnes warns David (and the reader) about the dangers of Steerforth, I did not see how Steerforth, who is quite the upstanding figure throughout the book, could suddenly become a villain. Only after Steerforth’s seduction of Emily did I recognize the hints and foreshadowing that Dickens packed into the story.
Most of the foreshadowing comes not from the narrator but instead flows from the mouth of his illustrious characters. For me the biggest foreshadowing comes from Steerforth himself. Repeatedly, he remarks about how ill suited Emily is to a man such as Ham. These remarks certainly grabbed my attention, and during David’s first dissipation, Steerforth proves that he could be quite an immoral character because of the characters and influences that he introduces to David. Despite this foreshadowing it comes as a dismal surprise for Steerforth to cast aside his doting mother and expectations for the sake of Emily. Perhaps more tragic, however, is his ability to draw Emily away from her equally doting father and friends.
For unlike Steerforth, Emily is perfectly contented with her life, and before meeting Steerforth her only wish is to be able to shower her father in gifts that as a lady she would have the wealth to bestow upon her father. The thought that Emily is preparing a daring escapade completely surprises me. Though Steerforth certainly charmed her, she does not seem immoral enough to run away from her father. There is one passage in particular that alerts me to the possibility of Emily and Steerforth running off together. When Peggotty’s family is sitting around a fire and Steerforth brings Emily from her tears to become animated is the best example of Emily’s affection for Steerforth. That is when suspicion of Emily’s character made itself present in my mind.
I believe, given the evidence provided, that it is quite believable that Emily and Steerforth would run away. It is a testament to Dickens’ superior writing ability that he could include so many small foreshadowing hints and still not alert me to the real situation. For, in fact, there are many occasions in which Dickens foreshadows, even being so blunt as to remark on the virtue of Emily’s possible death rather than disgrace that alerted me to naught. It is obvious that a lesser writer would never be able to do this.

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