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David Copperfield (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 28, 2004
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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.
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.
BUT DON"T GIVE UP!!! You will not be disappointed! I literally set this book aside for a while when it didn't seem very good, but thought better of it and continued reading, and I was very rewarded! It is full of great, colorful characters and an intresting life story. There's a little bit of everything in this book, mistreatment, treachery, adventure, sadness, happiness, romance, drama... the works.
This is my favorite of his books (a very, very close second being "A Tale of Two Cities"), and don't be daunted by it's length. Every page is worth it!