on September 24, 2006
Somehow, I'd graduated from college - with a degree in English, no less - and had never had to read a single thing ever written by Charles Dickens. I read quite a bit on my own, but still found David Copperfield to be the height of ambition - my copy was 1001 pages long, and I hadn't ventured into a book over a thousand pages since I'd read The Stand at age 12. I cannot imagine that I am alone in completing my education and sidestepping Dickens altogether, so I think it's important I share my experience. In truth, the only reason I chose David Copperfield over, say, Great Expectations or Hard Times was the passing comment made by Jeff Daniels in The Squid And The Whale - dismissing a Tale of Two Cities as "minor Dickens," saying David Copperfield was "much richer."
It is rich. I tend towards modern fiction nowadays, fiction that, unexpectedly, takes you deep inside the heart of its characters sometimes bewildering behavior and humanity. What strikes me about the complex nature of the characters in Copperfield is the way it seems that no effort at all has been used to distinguish each of them, yet there is no doubt as to how vivid they are. Each character speaks in a tone that is a perfect elucidation of who they are - you can hear, just in the dialogue, the calm wisdom of Agnes, the parasitic obsequiousness of Uriah Heep, the punctilious rambling of Micawber, the pleasantries that barely mask the aggression of Miss Dartle, the rigid boredom of the Murdstones, the spoiled impishness when Dora speaks (so precise I heard her voice in cloying and nasal babytalk in my head). It's a delicate balancing act to keep this level of detail so hidden in his work, and it makes the plot machinations speedy and exciting. The varied heights in this book astound - moments of drama, whimsy, intrigue, romance abound, and the book is even prone to its bit of slapstick - midgets falling over into umbrellas, or extreme umbrage taken when donkeys appear on lawns.
What I mean is that it's easy to know you "should" read David Copperfield, but as anyone who's ever had a reading assignment knows, that doesn't necessarily make it something you'd want to do. I know, in a way, that David Copperfield is considered a standard - a book Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf, for example, hold as the pinnacle of English fiction - but then again, I slogged my way through supposed classics in school that, over time, have turned out to appear dull and unsurprising. David Copperfield is so underread these days that I had no idea what to expect, no notion of the amazing surprises within, the sublimely addictive cadence of Dickens' prose, the dazzle of his language. Reading it for no particular reason, then, was a triumph all around - a book that doesn't require a degree to "understand," that moves breezily through its pages, and that teaches a thing or two (or twenty) about the rich heights capable in fiction. It's as rich and winning as you've heard and then some.
on October 30, 2003
David Copperfield uses the story of Copperfield's life from birth through middle life to introduce and explore some wonderful personalities. Look more for deep and penetrating character studies than a fast moving plot line. It is not character study alone, however. Again and again, through many characters and many instances, he seems to really explore "the first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart", and that "there can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose". Look for these themes to come in from the very beginning and continue until they are actually spelled out by one character and contemplated by another.
When David is born, his father is already buried in the churchyard nearby. He, his mother, and their servant Pegotty live happily enough as a family until his mother remarries. The new husband does not like frivolity or friendly association with servants but more than that, he does not like David. David is sent off to boarding school and then sent out to work. Barred from his mother's affections by his stepfather, Pegotty becomes a full mother figure and his ties to her and her family only deepen with time. Through her, he meets her brother, Mr. Pegotty; her nephew?, Ham, the widow Mrs. Gummidge and Mr. Pegotty's niece, Emily. At school, he makes fast friends with many boys but most especially with the privileged James Steerforth and the not so privileged Tommy Traddles, both of whom show up again in David's adulthood. In the bottling warehouse where he is sent to work as a child, he lodges with Mr. And Mrs. Micawber who are always in debt. They also show up again in his adulthood. When the station of life that he is being forced into at his tender age becomes too much for him, he escapes to seek out his eccentric great aunt Betsey Trotwood who takes him in and provides for him. Through her, he meets her lawyer, Mr. Wickfield, his daughter Agnes, Dr. Strong and his youthful bride, Annie and we mustn't forget Uriah Heep. He marries, works hard and becomes successful. These are the majority of the characters and it encompasses more than half of the novel to get to this point. (In my copy, that was just over four hundred and forty pages).
The only slow part is after David finishes school and before he meets his wife. That part did seem to move slowly but, apart from that, the story moves very, very well and -after all the characters are set up and well developed - it takes off like a rocket and is difficult to put down without worrying about the various characters predicaments and wondering how he is going to pull all of these strings together. This IS Dickens after all. I won't spoil the meat of the plot line for you. Again, look for those themes - "the first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart", and "there can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose".
David Copperfield is, if such things are possible, like a "Best Of" Dickens. It is one very substantial novel and stands alone as an exquisite masterpiece. Yet so many characters from his other novels seem to return here to be rounded out and more deeply developed. David Copperfield (himself) reminds me of Pip of Great Expectations, Betsey Trotwood of Miss Havisham, Mr. Micawber of Magwitch, and Agnes of Biddy. Mr. Murdstone seems to be of the Gradgrind line from Hard Times. One character reminded me not of another character in Dicken's work but of the vile character from Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) who repeatedly attempted to extort or do harm to Jean Valjean and Marius. It would be fun to have read all of Dicken's work before reading David Copperfield just to see Dicken's feelings of the various character types and what time has done to them in his mind. Of course, like any "Best Of", you could read only this one work and have a deep and abiding appreciation of Dickens without having read any of his others.
on September 25, 2005
This is a first-person life-story of David Copperfield ("DC") that draws large on Dickens ("CD") own life. It was his "favorite child" and hailed as his best work by Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf. It includes a cast of over 50 characters. For its time it was one of the greatest works, and still is.
To enjoy Dickens you have to let go, sit back, and enjoy the ride and not worry about the destination. Because although you can see the destination early on, like a mountain far off in the distance, the road to get there is entirely unpredictable and the distances traveled are deceiving to the minds eye. The trick is to enjoy the here and now, wherever the story happens to be, because Dickens will never follow the predictable path, and can leave one exasperated waiting for a plot closure. Consider a Dickens journey never-ending and you can just relax and enjoy the ride.
The primary theme of the novel is how Copperfield learns to have a disciplined heart and morals. In other words, he grows up and becomes a man. This is seen throughout all the relationships in the book: love, business, friendship -- the mistakes of an "undisciplined heart". He learns self control to do the right thing even if his initial impulse is something else (Dora versus Agnus). He learns confidence in his dealings with the world (his innocent days of being ripped off all the time such as by waiters and cab drivers "my first fall"). He learns respect through the mistakes of others such as Steerforth. Self control, Confidence and Respect are all hallmarks of a grown man and we see Copperfield develop a sense of these, and the misfortunes that happen otherwise, to himself and those around him.
on August 19, 2007
I had read the Chinese version of "David Copperfield" when I was about 14, and enjoyed it very much, though it didn't leave much trace in my mind after I grew up. I was glad to be able to enjoy it a second time recently. This time I read the English version, that is, the original work of the great writer Charles Dickens. I was immediately subdued by Dickens' mastery of the language. Reading the book is just like having someone very talented in telling stories talking to you. The rhythms in the language of this book are simply beautiful. Very, very beautiful. Although there're a lot of long sentences in this book (the longest one seemed to be the one in the chapter of Copperfield's wedding, about 2-3 pages for a single sentence. Can you imagine that!), it seems very natural to read -- just like having someone very smart, very passionate and very eloquent talking to you. Although it's about 900 pages, although it's a novel published more than 150 years ago, it's not boring at all to read! I was taken by the story at the first page, and continued enjoying it during these several months, and finished the last page tonight with a satisfied smile, as if I had just finished a gorgeous banquet! No wonder Dickens was deemed one of the best English writers ever! He really had a wonderful mastery of the language, and was really good at telling stories!
on May 5, 2006
Writing a review of Dickens is very daunting. What can you say that's new? The greatest minds and writers of each generation are compelled to offer their opinions of his writings. Well, I feel compelled as well, simply because his writing has moved me so much.
I have come to Dickens late in life, right on the cusp of 50 years of age. When younger, I feared him to be cloying and contrived and it never took more than a page or two to confirm these fears. Besides, for English speaking readers, "Charles Dickens" is such a household word, his works so well known, it's almost as if he comes pre-read.
In a happy circumstance, I recently picked up a copy of "Great Expectations" on a whim, which has been in my girlfriend's bookshelf forever (isn't a copy of some Dickens' novel always close at hand?). A raced through Great Expectations and moved quickly to this novel, David Copperfield.
I won't re-hash too much what millions have felt and said about Dickens, except to say that it was a real thrill to feel that rush of excitement again about a writer - that tremendous feeling that makes you want to tell everyone you know about your discovery. I can't ever remember feeling this much concern for a group of characters before in any novel. In David Copperfield, Dickens created a character driven page-turner of over 1000 pages.
No writer before or since has been able to create an emotional bond between book and reader the way Charles Dickens could. One of the great pleasures of the book is the depiction of Uriah Heep, a villain that ranks up there with the demons of Milton or the murdering kings of Shakespeare. His power of others is astonishing and very creepy. The book is full of great characters, though, and for me one of the most memorable was James Steerforth: one of life's charming, natural winners. Dickens insight into this character is phenomenal, subtle, and somehow haunting. Steerforth is one of those characters that will forever seem "modern" and knowable.
For pure descriptive writing, a reader could search the classics of literature forever and not find anything to best "the storm scene" near the end of the book. Nothing I could say will come close to the feeling of reading these particular pages. I don't know anyone that has read this book without commenting on its power.
There must be other readers out there like me, thinking Dickens one of those classic writers from another age; worth knowing about but not worth reading. For those readers considering David Copperfield, I envy you. You are about to make one of those exciting discoveries that make life worth living. --Mykal Banta
My review here is not of the novel, but rather of the Nonesuch edition of Dickens' classic. The book itself is a facsimile edition of the 1937 Nonesuch Dickens, and is published by Barnes and Noble. The book itself is in quality hardback. The "David Copperfield" Nonesuch edition has the spine bound in leather and the rest of the cover is cloth-bound [the color is orange].The dust jacket is clear quality plastic. The paper quality is of good stock and is cream in color.
The text is set in Martin's Type and the illustrations are from the original plates by A. Alexander and Sons. This is a beautiful and affordable classic [I own six of them and plan to get the rest] and the Nonesuch Dickens Classics will enhance any collector's library.
on July 2, 2007
** This review is a synthesis of the three Charles Dickens books that I've read: A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics),Great Expectations (Penguin Classics), and David Copperfield (Penguin Classics). The rationale for reviewing in this manner is to provide a foundational point of reference for those new to Dickens' work.
In the last two years I have read, in this order, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield. All three of these books were exceptional reads, and if you are thinking about dipping your toes in the waters of Charles Dickens you can't go wrong with any of them. However, notwithstanding the fact that these three books are all in the upper echelon of world literature, I have no difficulty in distinguishing between them and coming to the conclusion that they are properly ordered, from "most best" to "least best": David Copperfield, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations.
It seems generally to be the case that, for those who have read just one of Dickens' books, Great Expectations is the book most people have been exposed to. And most people who read Great Expectations love it. The genre is probably best described as romance meshed with individual tragedy among numerous characters. However, perhaps the strongest part of the book is the manner in which the secondary characters present a contrast to the primary story. I liked the book very much, but I think it suffers from two flaws not present in the other works reviewed here. First, the characters are not as believable as in the other two works. Second, the plot follows an unlikely path, especially in the end. Concerning this second point, it should be noted that Dickens struggled with the ending of this work, and I think it shows.
Tale of Two Cities ranks second in this group in my mind. This book is a combination of political intrigue, romance, and personal triumph. I rank this book above Great Expectations for the sole reason that the characters in this book are so strongly developed. I don't think I have been exposed to more memorable characters in any book I've ever read. The story is interesting, too, because it takes place against the backdrop of a historical event, the French Revolution. I think Dickens had an easier time writing a convincing plot in this story than in Great Expectations because he had the aid of a real historical event.
Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities are both excellent books, but David Copperfield is simply the best piece of literature I've ever read. To be sure, I'm only 24 and have only read 10 pieces of classic literature since my high school years. However, David Copperfield so outdid anything I've read that I feel more than comfortable in recommending it as certainly one of the best books of all time. Dickens did a remarkable job of capturing a wide variety of human emotions and mindsets. He was aided in this by two things. First, the length of the book gave him space to fully develop his sentiments. Second, the book is written in a first-person autobiographical voice, which I think made capturing sentiments much easier than in attempting to narrate them in the third-person. Further, because the book chronicles David's life from childhood through middle-age the reader is exposed to a wide variety of human thoughts. The characters, for the most part, are more believable and the plot is generally good; I took offense to only one chapter in the whole book.
Now, if you haven't read any of Dickens' books, I don't recommend starting with David Copperfield. I would start with Great Expectations and work through a couple others before David Copperfield. In terms of the plots, David Copperfield is much more similar to Great Expectations than Tale of Two Cities. So if you loved Great Expectations I think you will be well satisfied with David Copperfield. The plot from Tale of Two Cities is the odd-ball of this trio. In any case, all three of these books are great pieces of literature... enjoy.
In an age when we have not much time to read one short book from cover to cover, few long books will ever be good enough to read twice; David Copperfield is one of those books. It has, perhaps, the most unforgettable cast of characters ever assembled in a work of fiction: Mr. Micawber, Uriah Heep, Aunt Betsey Trotwood, the Murdstones, Mr. Dick, Peggotty, and, of course, David Copperfield himself.
The story is simple enough to start. David's mother marries a man, Murdstone, who makes life hell for her and young David, who has the courage to rebel against the tyrant and is sent off to boarding school and later to a blacking factory. David runs away and finds his Aunt Betsey Trotwood, who takes him in and supports him, with a little help from her wise/fool companion Mr. Dick. This is story enough for many novelists, but it is only the beginning for Dickens. David has yet to meet one of the great villains in literature, that "Heap of infamy" Uriah Heep. Uriah's villainy is terrible because it is hidden under a false pretense of humilty and service to others. The final confrontation between Heap and Micawber is one of the great scenes in literature.
None of what I have said answers the question, Why read this book more than once? The most important answer to this question for the nonacademic reader is "for the fun of it." From cover to cover this novel gives so much pleasure that it begs to be read again. We want to revisit David's childhood and his confrontation with the terrible Mr. Murdstone. Mr. Micawber is one of Dickens's great creations and anytime he is part of the action we can expect to be entertained. When we pair Micawber with Heap we have the explosive combination which results in the confrontation mentioned earlier in this review.
These brief examples only scratch the surface of the early 19th century English world Dickens recreates for the reader. Some other of Dickens' novels like Bleak House may be concerned with more serious subjects, but none lay claim to our interest more than Dickens' personal favorite "of all his children," that is, David Copperfield. Turn off the television, pick a comfortable chair, and be prepared to travel along with David Copperfield as he tells us the story of his life.
Taking my own recommendation, I have just finished reading David Copperfield for the third time. I was surprised by how moved I was by the ending. Without spoiling the story for the reader, it is safe to say that David's life is completely transformed by the tragedy he experiences. David is sadder, wiser, and better; and so is the reader for having read his story.
on January 29, 2010
I am here also to comment on the "Nonesuch" edition, it is more than i expected in all respects, it is a hefty volume, it is very thick as well think the Allan Lee edition of "Lord of the Rings." The front has a bear featured in the oval I didn't notice this when i bought it. I wish they would come out with "Our Mutual Friend" in "Nonesuch." The paper is high quality, it is however thick too, which lends to the thickness of the volume. I am highly considering getting the "Bleak House" version as well.
on January 10, 2003
Phew! This took awhile to read, but fortuantely, I had anticipated that. I gave it 4 stars because that is how I felt about it when I finished it. Knowing that it is a Charles Dickens novel and touted as an all time great, I feel like I should have given it 5 stars. However, I'm sticking with my gut feeling.
David Copperfield is a character that I will never forget. How could I? I lived with him for almost 3 months! I will also remember the many other characters, as Dickens ability to bring them to life is his forte.
Perhaps the reason why I couldn't give it a fifth star is the reason why people gave it negative reviews. There may have been times when a little too much description was given which made it drag slightly. It may well be that due to the fact that he wrote in installments and got paid by the page, that the overall novel is sort of overdone. Some parts were a bit hard to trudge through, which meant I wasn't always compelled to read it. I loved the overall story, the many subplots, and the various personalities. One of my favorite characters is his Aunt Betsy. For anyone who thinks the female characters were all the same, I wonder if they skipped the scenes with the Aunt...or Martha for that matter.
I hope that when and if I have fulfilled my insatiable hunger for the pile of books I haven't read, I can read this again and gain a better understanding of it. I am sure I missed a lot.
I wouldn't have appreciated this book when I was in high school, or probably even college. I think it would take a rare young person to have the patience to stick with it, with all the other crazy things that happen at that time of life. I'm glad that I was able to wait until a point in my life where I was ready to read this book and it wasn't shoved down my throat by some professor.