A couple of years ago, starting with A Christmas Carol, I created a bit of a mini-tradition for myself and started to read one Dickens novel per year, usually just in time for winter. For me Dickens’ vastly detailed, evocative, often epic storytelling, along with its often very grim Victorian setting is the epitome of fireside reading… Enter Copperfield.
I must admit I’m still feeling rather abashed at the fact that it has taken over two months for me to read this doorstopper, though glad in many ways since, despite the mini breaks I was reluctantly forced to take to read other things, there is simply no other way of immersing yourself in a world and attaching yourself to its characters than spending weeks of your life alongside them.
So, is this bucket list novel worth the time and effort? Yes, it undoubtedly is. So clearly echoing many aspects of Dickens’ own life story, Copperfield’s world is complex, heart-rending and, most importantly of all, hugely entertaining.
To even attempt to set out the narrative here in any detail would be to fail but, happily, given its success and consequent saturation through the literary world from its publication in 1850, I think we all already have a vague idea. From a lonely and orphaned childhood, browbeaten by those around him, we witness Copperfield’s rise (tribulations alongside) to success as a novelist. The colourful cast of friend and foe who accompany him along the way and their various personal dramas make for a novel of epic proportions that I was, despite some struggles along the way, so sad to leave behind.
All I can really say at this point is that, if you haven’t already read any Charles Dickens, please please do so now before the weather warms up again and the ‘vibe’ just isn’t quite right for it. Here are just two common misconceptions I’ve overheard about the author that, when all is said and done, simply aren’t true and only serve to put people off:
a) that his books are difficult to read – obviously I’m going to tell you that this is a bit of a myth. Many of Dickens’ literature, including David Copperfield, was originally published in serialised snippets on a monthly basis. I’ve often found that there are, as a result, countless cliffhangers and plenty of drama, which keeps the story rolling. This was the popular fiction of its day. The characters may not speak like you and I do nowadays but it is by no means inaccessible. It just takes a little more time….
b) that you won’t relate to any of the characters – Dickens’ characters and their circumstances are truly timeless. The author’s focus on the grim elements of London life in the nineteenth century not only make his novels sing with atmosphere but reflect his personal concerns for the most vulnerable members of society, people that still suffer today as they did 150 years ago. They may just be wearing a beanie instead of a bonnet…
David Copperfield himself is the perfect star of the story; endearing enough for us to feel sympathetic but bland enough not to take over. Characters such as the creeping, cringing Uriah Heep and the loquacious Wilkins Micawber are some of the most inspired Dickens characters I have ever come across. Betsey Trotwood is one of the most spunky, feminist characters I’ve enjoyed in a long time, steering her own carriage with her bonnet askew:
My aunt, who was perfectly indifferent to public opinion, drove the grey pony through Dover in a masterly manner; sitting high and stiff like a state coachman
Like all books from this period I seem to have read recently I did fall foul of my 2015 values with Dora, Copperfield’s wife. Gah she is so irritating. Weak-willed, stupid and entirely (I’m so sorry Dickens) unbelievable as his wife. Although this flakiness does help draw the plot together later on in the book.
For all its excitement; landmark characters, powerful scenery and masterfully drawn plotting, this took a long time to read and, although this has its clear advantages, there were times (particularly after having read something more modern) that I had to rub my bleary eyes and readjust to the dialogue. This, however, I think is pretty much inevitable for the modern reader. Although I found myself rolling my eyes of the countless incidents of melodrama and the ten or so chapters it actually takes to wrap things up, by the end it was all very deserved and appropriate indeed. I loved it.
Allow yourself a few weeks and delve on in. For the sheer enjoyment factor but also to say ‘Guess what?! I’VE READ DAVID COPPERFIELD!’ Hurrah.
It’s in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.
Have you read any Dickens before? Fancy giving it a go?