In the preface Dickens wrote, “like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.“ David Copperfield is Dickens’ eighth novel and, coincidentally, the eighth of his novels that I have read, but I haven’t been reading them in chronological order. My first impression of Charles Dickens came with a BBC TV adaptation of David Copperfield back in 1974, my parents watched it and I caught a couple of the six episodes. I remember Arthur Lowe’s tremendous performance as Mr Micawber. I also remember the fawning obsequious character of Uriah Heap and Barkus telling David to pass a message on to his nurse, Peggoty, that “Barkus is willing”. I remember little else of the story from that time. My next encounter with Dickens was at school in my teenage years, when we had to read “A Tale of Two Cities“, this put me off Dickens for a very long time, not because of the story but because of the way literature was taught in school, destroying the magic of reading. I was in my thirties when I picked up “Great Expectations” and I loved it. In the past few years I’ve set myself the task of reading through all of Dickens’ novels. I started by rereading “A Tale of Two Cities“, which didn’t impress me as much as Great Expectations as it lacked the humour that characterises Dickens’ work. David Copperfield has such humour in abundance.
“We went downstairs, one behind another. Near the bottom, somebody fell, and rolled down. Somebody else said it was Copperfield. I was angry at that false report, until, finding myself on my back in the passage, I began to think there might be some foundation for it.”
David Copperfield after having rather too much to drink (Chapter 24)
David Copperfield has so many wonderful memorable characters. Mr Micawber is “a man who labours under the pressure of pecuniary embarrassments”, but no matter how bad things get he is forever optimistic, thinking his luck about to turn for the better (it is surely no coincidence that Dickens’ father also knew pecuniary embarrassments).
The protagonist, David Copperfield we see as a boy and a young man, this is supposedly the most autobiographical of Dickens’ novels, it is the first of his novels described in the first person. David as a boy goes to work in a factory for a time cleaning bottles, Dickens worked in a blacking factory as a child. David as a boy, like Oliver Twist, makes a long journey with almost no money, whereas Oliver walked to London, David walked away from London to Dover to seek out his aunt. Charles Dickens also enjoyed walking at night to stimulate his imagination. As a young man David begins a writing career and meets with early success as did Dickens.
David is much more convincing as a child than Oliver Twist. David’s childhood friends James Steerforth and Tommy Traddles are both intriguing characters. The fawning Uriah Heep, who claims to be “ever so humble” rises by devious means and provokes David to strike him at one point. David’s eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood, is a wonderful character and provides comic relief when chasing donkeys off her land.
Aside from his aunt, there are some other interesting female characters: Little Emily, Dora Spenlow, Clara Peggoty, Agnes and Martha. Martha and Emily show how society shunned “fallen” women at the time. David falls madly in love with Dora on first meeting her but later rues the lack of intelligence of his “child-wife”, some suggest this might also reflect on Dickens own marriage, which wasn’t happy. Agnes, David’s childhood companion in Kent, attracts the unwanted attention of the obsequious, Uriah Heep. Peggoty, looks out for David and his frail mother as best she can at the start of the novel and introduces David to her brother in Suffolk, Mr Daniel Peggoty, and his strange family of strays, an adopted son, Ham, an adopted daughter, little Emily and Mrs. Gummidge, a widow.
There are echoes of other dickens novels, the plotlines rely much on coincidence, characters meet, part and meet up again in unlikely circumstances. Australia, where Magwitch made his fortune in Great Expectations is seen as a place to start again. Barkus like Fagin and Scrooge has a miserly character. The dark River Thames features as it does later in Our Mutual Friend as a brooding melancholy presence. The book shows David coming from an impoverished troubled childhood to make his way in the world. There is far too much in the 800+ pages to condense into a simple review, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire novel.
My rating : 5 out of 5
My reviews of other Dickens novels:
I have also read “Great Expectations” but that was before I kept a blog.