By Charles Dickens
Oxford University Press 1948
From that beautiful library place
I'm finished, I'm finished! Yes, I might be doing a small dance. It has taken me almost a month to read this ginormous tome, but I'm glad I did. Reading David Copperfield has convinced me of the genius of its author.
This novel is, as the title suggests, about the life of one David Copperfield. We begin at his birth and follow him through his childhood as his widowed mother remarries a terrible man who controls the family with an iron fist. We follow David as he goes to school, makes new friends, chooses a profession and falls in love.
This sounds like a simplistic plot, but it is greatly enriched by the crazy cast of characters that inhabit the pages. The protagonist is sweet, naïve, and downtrodden, but never cloying. He is a great protagonist and it’s a pleasure to follow him as he grows from a child to adulthood. Mr. Dickens has surrounded David with some of the most delightful characters and despicable villains that you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. David’s stepfather is truly menacing and Uriah Heep is a sniveling creep. My absolute favorite character is David’s eccentric aunt Betsy Trotwood. Her constant comparison of David to the sister he should have been is hilarious and delightful. This book is supposed to be rather autobiographical and I think it shows. You can tell that Dickens really loves (or hates) these characters.
The only part that drove me (and many other readers) crazy is David's love for a young woman named Dora. Dora is ridiculously childlike and although their relationship progresses, it is always an uneven relationship. Far from being a mistake, I think this is Dicken's examination of the difference between the naivete of first love and the endurance of true love.
It’s important to keep in mind the original format of a book when reading it. David Copperfield was serialized, meaning that people could buy installments of the novel monthly. I can imagine families gathering around to hear what happened to David next. While this book seems incredibly long at first glance, it works. This is an epic story, but it is one to be read at your own pace. I would not suggest that you get it out from the library, and then put off starting it for a week or two…not that I know anything about that.
In an almost 900 page novel, I had to laugh a little at Dicken’s depiction of Mr. Micawber. He is a man who is often short of money but never short on words. Dickens writes that “we talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannise over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them.”
If you have the time to read it slowly without pressure, I would highly recommend you pick up David Copperfield. Dickens writes amazing characters and if you haven't experienced one of his novels yet, there is no better time than his 200th birthday!