James Steerforth

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James Steerforth
David Copperfield character
James Steerforth. Art by Frank Reynolds.
Created by Charles Dickens
Information
Gender Male
Nationality British

James Steerforth is a character in the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. He is a handsome young man noted for his wit and romantic charm. Though he is well liked by his friends, he proves himself to be lacking in consideration for others.

Role in novel[edit]

David Copperfield first meets James Steerforth as a boy attending Salem House boarding school. He is a few years older than David, and is first seen when dealing with a group of younger boys who are taunting David about biting his stepfather. David quickly comes to admire and respect him, as the other boys at the school do, and a friendship begins to develop between the two. As Steerforth is several years older than he, David looks up to him as a sort of protector. Steerforth is said to be the only boy at the school bold enough to stand up to Mr Creakle, the school's strict headmaster, and to make Mr Creakle feel intimidated.

Several years later, after moving to London, David encounters Steerforth, and the two resume their friendship. Steerforth takes David to his home in Highgate and introduces him to his mother, Mrs. Steerforth, and her companion, Miss Rosa Dartle, an eccentric young woman who resides with the mother at her home. Miss Dartle was Steerforth's carer when he was a boy, and the two have had a troubled relationship, as is seen from the scar on her lower lip which she received from Steerforth throwing a hammer at her.

David later invites Steerforth to Yarmouth to meet Daniel Peggotty, a fisherman who is the brother of his former housekeeper Clara Peggotty. During this vacation, Steerforth catches sight of Dan's niece Emily (known by her family as "Little Em'ly"), and becomes attracted to her. Some time later, shortly after visiting Steerforth at his home again, David makes another trip to Yarmouth and learns to his great surprise and dismay that Emily has run off with Steerforth to live a life of luxury in Europe. This news greatly distresses both the Steerforth and Peggotty families.

Emily is regarded as a seductress by Miss Dartle, while Mr Peggotty and his nephew Ham, who was also Emily's fiance, consider Steerforth to have stolen Emily from them. Mr Peggotty leaves home on a quest to find his niece, searching all through Europe for her. Eventually, Emily returns to England, where she is found by her uncle.

A while later, David makes another visit to Yarmouth and is caught in the midst of a great storm. When he reaches Yarmouth, this storm has reached the peak of its ferocity. The storm causes a ship to be wrecked near the coast, with sailors stranded aboard. Eventually all but one lone sailor have been washed away. Ham sees this and attempts to get on board the ship to rescue the sailor. After reaching the ship, he and the sailor are crushed and killed by a strong wave. Their bodies are afterwards dragged ashore. The sailor whom Ham sought to rescue is found to be Steerforth; his death brings grief and shock to both his mother and Miss Dartle. At this point Miss Dartle confesses that she had always loved Steerfoth and desired to be his wife; she angrily blames Steerforth's associates (including his mother) for having corrupted him and led him to his demise.

Film and television portrayals[edit]

Year Title James Steerforth played by:
1935 David Copperfield Hugh Williams
1969 David Copperfield Corin Redgrave
1986 David Copperfield Jeremy Brudenell
1999 David Copperfield Oliver Milburn/Harry Lloyd
2000 David Copperfield Paul Bettany

External links[edit]