Sunday, July 12, 2015

David Copperfield

I'd been meaning to reread David Copperfield by Charles Dickens for several years now.  My enjoyment of Dickens novels has been rekindled after lying dormant for awhile, and having enjoyed Little Dorrit and Dombey and Son, all it took was catching sight of a read-along on GoodReads Pickwick Club group to get me all rev'ed up.

The read-along had a wonderful leisurely schedule (roughly 3 chapters a week), and I only fell behind a few times and was able to catch up quickly.

I think I prefer reading long novels in this way, which is very similar to the serialization format in which many of the novels of Dickens and his fellow Victorian authors were originally published.  You can really get to know the characters over a period of time, internalize their story, feel their pain or joy or hope or despair.  The goal is to experience the story not just rush on to the next book.

This was either my fourth or fifth time reading the book.  I know I read it at least twice as a teenager and at least once as an adult, but the last time was a good 25 years ago, so while I remembered most of the story arc and many of the characters, some of the side stories were fresh.

I also really enjoyed reading DC along with the Pickwick Club.  I believe they are reading all of the novels in order, and have now plunged on into Bleak House.  I just popped in for the DC read.  I learned so much from all the comments. My fellow readers did a lot of research that really enhanced the reading for me.  Info about the illustrations, including details about the painting and furnishings shown in the illustrations that pertain to the story, extracts from letters CD wrote to his friend John Forster during the writing of DC that detail his feelings about the story and the writing process, and interpretations of symbolism, patterns, and comparisons between the characters.

I really enjoyed comparing the different characters to each other with David as the center.

Various villains - compare Steerforth to Uriah Heep, one beautiful and one ugly, both contemptible in their absolute disregard for the feelings or welfare of anyone else.  And then compare both to Mr. Murdstone--he sort of is a combination of both Steerforth and Heep--at times attractive, at times ugly and forbidding, but always manipulative and cunning.

Parental figures - compare Clara, David's mother, and dead father, with Peggotty and Daniel Peggotty, the first of his several surrogate parents.  Other parents include the Micawbers, Aunt Betsey and Uncle Dick (as odd a pair as ever there was, but an effective partnership), and Mr. Wickfield and Agnes.  And then there's Mr. Spenlow and Dora's two aunts, and Mrs. Steerforth and her dead husband , whose scenario parallels David's parents but resulting in markedly different sons.

Heroines - there's Dora and Agnes, of course, but also Emily and Martha, two virtuous and two fallen wome, who exhibit various shades of helplessness and capability, who show contrasting states of being active and being passive.  And then there's Rosa Dartle.  She's as devoted to Steerforth as Agnes is to David, but Steerforth's selfish nature literally and figuratively disfigures Rosa.

Friends - Steerforth (again) and Traddles.  I never really thought much about Traddles before, but it struck me on this reading that he was most likely modeled after John Forster, Dickens's closest friend, confidant, and first biographer.  I imagine this never occurred to me before because it's only in the intervening years since my lasting reading of the book that I've read any bios of Dickens and learned about his friendship with Forster.

David Copperfield is a rich, deep book, a classic of the first order, and definitely my favorite Dickens novel.  I know that I'll be rereading it again someday as it is an immensely satisfying book to read, to discuss, and to think about.


  1. I think Jo calls Laurie Traddles in Little Women!

    I haven't read much Dickens since I've been reading Trollope, but I do love David Copperfield - character and book, though reading your interesting comparisons, I realize how much I've forgotten, since I can't even remember all of the characters you mention.

    1. I hadn't remembered that in LW! Thanks for mentioning it, Lisa.

      Dickens doesn't skimp when it comes to characters. There are a lot in each of his books!

  2. I knew that we were reading this book roughly parallel to each other. By coincidence we both have commentary up on it together Jane!

    This was actually my first read. It is indeed an extraordinary novel.

    I like the way that you classified and broke down the characters, looking at parallels and contrasts. Like many Dickens novels there is indeed something odd, even about the ones who are not all that eccentric. I sense that there is a lot going on under the surface with them as well as in David's subconscious in regards to them.

  3. I'd love to conquer DC someday. I really loved Dickens' Oliver Twist and Great Expectations but I need to read more of his.