Considered by many as Charles Dickens’ best work, David Copperfield is his semi-autobiographical novel based around “a favourite child” that he holds in his “heart of hearts”. Loosely written about Dickens’ life experiences, we follow the main character and narrator David in his trials, triumphs and soaring emotions. From an impoverished childhood, making his way in the world and discovering his talent as a journalist, to finding love (once or twice…), we are given a privileged view into Dickens’ past. The novel was released as a series of magazine instalments which I feel works well as it allowed character progression depending on what his friends, family and critics thought. For instance, I found Miss Mowcher’s character a little hard to take at first due to her grotesque representation – so did Dickens’ readers, and their advice resulted in a kinder portrayal later on where she is no longer “volatile” or mean-spirited.
Due to his varied and interesting history, this novel is unsurprisingly very, very long – reading it on my Kindle meant I didn’t realise until I noticed how long it took to read one percent! However, Dickens’ writing never disappoints with it’s lavishly descriptive style and unlike with many other authors, this novel is full of substance so I wasn’t tempted to give up. Some of it was quite heavy going – David Copperfield himself is by no means the most scintillating character so parts of the first half of the book drag a little as he sinks into the depths of self-pity. He does improve throughout the book and we are rewarded when we see him overcoming his hardships, growing into himself and becoming a respectable gentleman.
Some people have criticised the number of characters in the story, claiming that there are too many to keep track of, but for the most part I disagree. One of the things I love most about Dickens is how beautifully he writes his characters, and there are many intricate subplots that keep the reader hooked as we long to find out what happens! He is justly renowned for memorable people and these characters really are vivid. Angelic Agnes, the idolised and wayward Steerforth, David’s unique and eccentric aunt, the simple and thoughtful Mr Dick – all are such wonderful creations that really impact on the reader and stick in our minds. The black-hearted albino Uriah repulses us, David’s child-wife Dora makes us shake our heads kindly at her innocent foolishness, we amuse ourselves with Mr Micawber’s ludicrous situation as he constantly finds ways to get into debt and Mr Peggoty’s caring determination inspires us to love as strongly as his enduring family bond.
Overall it’s quite difficult to say anything about Dickens that hasn’t been said before, but what struck me most was the sense of timelessness – so many themes explored in this work are still valid now, from ideals and warnings about marriage to his keen, accurate observations of human psychology. I enjoyed the novel and was so glad I stuck with it despite the slow start. Uriah Heep has to be one of Dickens’ greatest creations; his false ‘umbleness to disguise his dark schemes, his skeletal writhing and limp wet hands are so cleverly described that it’s almost impossible not to share David’s ingrained hatred for him – Uriah reminds me of the villainous Steerpike from the Gormenghast Trilogy. His writing is often more like poetry and reading this allowed me to appreciate the true beauty of the English language.