David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

4*

All I knew about David Copperfield: The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) by Charles Dickens is that it is said to be his most autobiographical novel. I think I must have watched a TV serialisation years ago but I remember very little about it. It was first published as a serial in 1849 and 1850, and then as a book in 1850.

It’s a long novel with a multitude of characters, including David’s cruel stepfather, Mr Murdstone, the family housekeeper Peggotty, his school friends Steerforth, who he mistakenly idolises and, my favourite character, Tommy Traddles, who has a heart of gold, and a remarkable upstanding head of hair. Then there’s another favourite character, David’s great aunt Betsey Trotwood, who wages war against marriage and donkeys and her companion, the simple-minded Mr Dick; Mr Micawber, always in debt and in and out of the debtor’s prison, and the odious and nauseating Uriah Heep are both memorable characters.

I was totally immersed in their world, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian England, the living conditions of the poor contrasting with the decadent wealth of the rich, and the dramatic intensity of episodes such as the terrible storm at sea off Yarmouth. There’s drama, comedy and tragedy, melodrama and pathos as the story follows David’s life from his birth to his adulthood, covering his childhood, early schooldays, his time as a young boy working in a factory, then as a student in Canterbury where he lodged with the lawyer Mr Wickfield and his daughter, Agnes.

Betsey later established him in London where he worked in the Doctor’s Commons, under the tutelage of Mr Spenlow, whose daughter, the beautiful, frivolous and to my eyes, the utterly pathetic Dora totally captivated him. The sections of the book involving Dora are rather too sentimental for my liking. Then there’s Pegotty’s family – her brother Daniel, a fisherman, their nephew Ham and niece, Little Em’ly who is David’s childhood friend and sweetheart. They live in a converted boat on the beach at Yarmouth. And not forgetting Barkis, who marries Pegotty, after telling David to tell her, ‘Barkis is willing‘. Their sections of the book are the ones I enjoyed the most. I could go on and on, not forgetting David himself as describes the misfortunes and obstacles he met and the friends he makes.

I enjoyed reading David Copperfield, which was Dickens’ own personal favourite of all his novels, but it is not mine – it’s a bit too long for me. I think my favourite is Bleak House, which I read after seeing the TV adaptation in 2005 with Anna Maxwell Martin, Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson, and Charles Dance. Maybe I’ll read it again to see what I think of it now. These days I prefer shorter books and Bleak House, like David Copperfield is long with many characters and sub-plots.

12 thoughts on “David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

  1. This was the first of Dickens’ work that I read, Margaret, so I have a soft spot for it. You’re right about all the characters, but I think he fleshes them out well enough that they add to the story, if that makes any sense. Interesting he liked this one the best of all of his work.

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    • I love A Tale of Two Cities as well. It is so dramatic – and Sydney Carton is such a wonderful character, ‘idlest and most unpromising of men’ who because he loved Lucie Manette sacrificed his life to save Charles Darnay from the Guillotine,

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  2. Hi Margaret! I have read David Copperfield many years ago and I remember that it made absolutely no impression on me at all. But reading your review now, I think it’s time for a reread. Perhaps an audio version will be a good idea.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  3. Bleak House is the greatest book ever written! And I’ll fight a duel with anyone who disagrees… 😉 But I love this one too, except for the Dora section which frankly is like being slowly poisoned by an overdose of saccharin. Yuck! Of all his heroines, and they’re a soppy lot, she is by far the soppiest! Am I a bad person for being glad she dies?? Uriah Heep, Micawber and all the rest are wonderful though. Did you ever see the adaptation which had Nicholas Lyndhurst as Uriah Heep? He was so good that I always see him as the character now when reading the book…

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  4. I read David Copperfield when I was younger, ‘much’ younger, but I can’t remember whether I was in my teens or twenties. I do remember that I loved it to bits, really adored it. Now of course is another matter as I’m older and (hopefully!) wiser. My plan is to read it again at some stage and it will be very interesting to see what I make of it.

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