How Dickens loves his heroine Bella. When he writes a Bella-infused chapter, he positively effuses. It’s not enough to describe her charming little ways twice, when thrice or more will do.
Bella, putting back her hair with both hands, as if she were making the most business-like arrangements for going dramatically distracted, would enter on the household affairs of the day. Such weighing and mixing and chopping and grating, such dusting and washing and polishing, such snipping and weeding and trowelling and other small gardening, such making and mending and folding and airing . . .
Bella has her good qualities—in particular her sensitivity to the corrosive effects of wealth and her unwavering faith in her husband John (Rokesmith, soon to be revealed as Harmon) as his secret starts to leak out. But I could do with a bit less about her dimples and the investigation of John’s coat button; and her simpering behavior towards her father—the ever-patient R. Wilfer—is revolting:
Her father being more than willing to obey, she dressed his hair in her most elaborate manner, brushing it out straight, parting it, winding it over her fingers, sticking it up on end, and constantly falling back on John to get a good look at the effect of it. Who always received her on his disengaged arm, and detained her, while the patient cherub stood waiting to be finished.
(Poor Rumpty: he gets only grief from his harridan of wife, so I suppose he has to take affection where he can.)
I can only imagine that Dickens wished he was both Bella’s father and her husband—that he had a daughter/wife who would twist up his hair, coo at him, and snuggle up next to him, while still being a serious, accomplished and thoughtful companion (when that was called for). Well, perhaps he found his Bella in Nell Ternan.
For my part, I much prefer Jenny Wren, the dolls’ dressmaker, who has a sharp eye and a sharp tongue, and, despite poverty and crippled limbs, is no one’s fool. Lizzie Hexam is another interesting female character. She loves Eugene but knows she’s beneath him socially and thus retreats to preserve her own honor; she loves her pretentious, self-centered brother but won’t let that love compromise her own sense of self-worth when he tries to coerce her into marrying Bradley Headstone.
I can tell that Dickens likes Jenny and Lizzie—and he admires Mrs. Boffin and poor but proud Betty Higden. But it’s Bella who’s captured his heart.