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Book Review: "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens

Since retiring, Paul has taken to reading classical English literature. British romantic classics from the 19th century are his favorites.

Book Cover of "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens

Book Cover of "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens

Published in 1850, David Copperfield is regarded by many readers and critics as the best novel by Charles Dickens.

Drawing on events in Dickens' early life, it is the story of a boy orphaned at an early age who must struggle and work hard to make his way and find an identity in the world. It is a beautiful and enjoyable novel packed with unusual and interesting characters as well as an excellent plot that will hold your interest throughout the book.

David Copperfield is also a social commentary on Victorian life in England during the 19th century.

A Short Biography of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, England. His parents first moved to Kent, and then at the age of 10, Dickens was living with his family in London. A short while later after Dickens' father was arrested and sent to the debtor's prison, Charles Dickens went to work in a London factory.

Experiencing the plight of the poor and child labor, Dickens started to write about social injustice and the need for social reform after he was forced to quit school at the age of 15. By the age of 21, Charles Dickens' first writings were published in 1833. In addition to David Copperfield, his other popular and successful novels include Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens was a humanitarian who opposed slavery in the United States. In England, he established a home for the redemption of fallen women. During his life, Dickens was comfortable intermingling with both the lowest to the highest class of people.

Biographical information about Dickens is taken from HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

The Setting

The setting of the novel is England during the first half of the 19th century. The action of the characters takes place initially in Blunderstone in Suffolk County and then in Yarmouth three kilometers away on the North Sea.

Later, the story unfolds in Dover and Canterbury in Kent County, and then in London. Characters in the novel also travel to mainland Europe, India, and Australia.

Major Characters in David Copperfield

The major characters throughout David Copperfield include:

  1. David Copperfield also known as Trot, Davey, Doadie, and Daisy is the hero of the novel. The story of David as an orphan from the age of nine and his maturation into an adult in his mid to late 30s is chronicled in this novel.
  2. Clara Peggoty or Peggoty is David Copperfield's nurse and later friend and confidant from David's birth throughout the book. She is from Yarmouth and for about ten years is married to Mr. Barkis.
  3. Mr. Peggoty or Daniel Peggoty is Clara Peggoty's brother and a fisherman living in Yarmouth. He is a kind generous man caring for an orphaned nephew and niece as well as the widow Mrs. Gummidge.
  4. Emily is an orphaned girl living with her uncle, Mr. Peggoty, in Yarmouth. David has puppy love for Emily when he is about nine. After Emily runs away, Mr. Peggoty spends many years searching for her.
  5. James Steerforth David Copperfield meets Steerforth upon studying at Salem House in London. Steerforth is a spoiled playboy of a rich London widow. David patronizes Steerforth throughout most of the novel because he is a protector and a big brother figure.
  6. Traddles David also meets Traddles when going to school at Salem House. Traddles becomes a lawyer when older and David's very good friend.
  7. Betsy Trotwood is David's great-aunt who he first meets when David runs away from a London factory and comes to her in Dover. Aunt Betsy is an eccentric and kind woman who has money when David is a boy.
  8. Agnes Wickfield is the daughter of a lawyer, Mr. Wickfield, who lives in Canterbury. David gets to know Agnes while lodging in the Wickfield home while going to school in Canterbury. Agnes is a lifelong soul mate.
  9. Uriah Heep is one of the chief villains in the novel. Copperfield meets Heep when Uriah is Mr. Pickfield's clerk. Heep is intent on becoming Pickfield's partner and marrying Agnes.
  10. Mr. Micawber Wilkens Micawber is an unemployed "gentleman" who can not provide for his family throughout most of the story. He eventually spends some time in the debtor's prison. David lives with the Micawber family while working in a London factory.
  11. Dora Spenlow Dora is David's first true love who he marries at around the age of 21. Dora who is the daughter of Proctor Mr. Spenlow for whom David is apprenticed is very naïve and childish. David appropriately calls her a child-wife.

Minor Characters

Significant minor characters in David Copperfield include:

  1. Mr. Murdstone is David's cruel step-father. Murdstone and his sister eventually destroy David's mother, Clara Copperfield.
  2. Miss Jane Murdstone is the sister of Mr. Murdstone. She comes to live with David, Mr. Murdstone, and David's mother after they get married.
  3. Dr. Strong is the chief schoolmaster of the Canterbury School which David attends. Strong has a wife who is much younger than he is.
  4. Rosa Dartle is the cousin and companion of Mrs. Steerforth, James Steerforth's widowed mother.
  5. Martha is a friend of Emily. After leading a vagrant life when younger, she helps Mr. Peggoty and David look for runaway Emily.
  6. Lattimer is the personal valet of James Steerforth.
  7. Mr. Dick is an eccentric mentally ill relative of Aunt Betsy. He lives with Aunt Betsy Trotwood in Dover.

The Plot of David Copperfield

As the novel unfolds, David Copperfield begins narrating in the first person the recollection of his first seven or eight years of life. David is born in Blunderstone only a few months after the death of his father. A personal nursemaid, Peggoty, takes care of David, and he is quite content until after returning home from a trip to Peggoty's brother in Yarmouth. At that time, David learns that his mother has remarried Mr, Murdstone who takes his sister to live with them. After David bites Murdstone in response to a severe beating, his step-father sends him away to school at Salem House in London.

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Upon enrolling at Salem House, Copperfield meets James Steerforth, an older boy, who becomes David's protector against other students and a severe headmaster, Mr. Creakle. David is taken out of Salem House after about a year when his mother passes away.

Following the death of David's mother, Murdstone dismisses Peggoty and sends David to work in a factory in London cleaning wine bottles. While in London, David meets and lives with the Micawber family. After Micawber goes to the debtor's prison and David can't endure working in the factory any longer from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., he runs away from the factory and walks to Dover in search of his aunt.

After David reaches Dover, he finds his great-aunt's home and is accepted by her, Betsy Trotwood, who listens to his heart-wrenching story as an orphan. When the Murdstones attempt to take David back to Blunderstone, David refuses to go, and Aunt Betsy supports her great-nephew by becoming his guardian.

David is next sent to school in Canterbury to learn in a school run by Dr. Strong. Strong is introduced to Betsy by Mr. Pickfield who is Trotwood's lawyer. Pickfield agrees to take in David as a boarder while he attends school. While in the Pickfield home, David meets Agnes, Pickfield's young daughter, and Uriah Heep, a clerk.

After David graduates from Strong's school at the age of about 17, Aunt Betsy gives David a month's vacation to decide what he wants to do with his life. While on vacation, David reunites with James Steerforth, Both of them travel to Yarmouth to visit Peggoty who is now married, and her brother Mr, Peggotty, Emily, and Ham.

A month later, David takes Aunt Betsy's advice and is apprenticed to be a proctor with Spenlow and Jorkins in London. While David is learning to become a proctor, he meets and falls in love with Mr. Spenlow's young daughter, Dora. At around this time, Emily runs away from her uncle in Yarmouth.

While David courts Dora, he learns shorthand and becomes a newspaper reporter. He also embarks on a writing career.

Dark clouds start appearing in the novel after David marries Dora. Many unexpected events happen which will keep you guessing up until the end of the story.

Themes in David Copperfield

I strongly feel that these are major themes in David Copperfield:

The Plight of the Weak

The plight of the weak is a recurring theme in the novel. This is reflected in the unfortunate situation of the orphan David Copperfield before great-aunt Betsy Trotwood becomes his guardian. It is also shown in the difficult circumstances of the schoolboys and David when they attend Salem House in London.

Equality in Marriage

In 19th century England, husbands, and wives weren't on equal footing in marriage. This is demonstrated in how a cruel, conniving husband, Mr. Murdstone, dominated and eventually caused the death of David Copperfield's mother.

Class and Wealth

Clear distinctions between the rich upper class and the poor lower class are present throughout the novel. One example is shown in how Rosa Dartle views a possible marriage between her rich privileged cousin, James Steerforth, and the orphan Emily.

Good Versus Evil

Dickens contrasts good versus evil throughout his book. For example, readers learn to quickly like the kind and generous Peggotty and detest the cruel and selfish Mr. Murdstone. David Copperfield and Uriah Heep are also contrasted between good and evil.

Eccentricity of Characters

Charles Dickens presents many characters with abnormal and unusual tendencies. They include the slightly mentally ill Mr. Dick and also Betsy Trotwood who is obsessed with donkeys always coming on her property.

Broken Families

David Copperfield abounds with orphans like David and Emily, and also characters from one-parent families such as Agnes Wickfield and Dora Spenlow.

Four Reasons to Read David Copperfield

It is a wonder that I have waited almost all of my life to read David Copperfield. If any reader at any age is looking for a great novel to enjoy, I would highly recommend this story for the following reasons:

1. Engaging and Interesting Plot

Starting from page one, the plot of David Copperfield will captivate you so much that it will be difficult to put this book down.

2. Characters Appeal to the Empathy of Readers

I almost came to tears when reading how cruelly David was treated by his step-father. Dickens's descriptions of Uriah Heep also angered me very much.

3. Commentary on Social Ills of Victorian Society

Dickens is very open in describing the wretched poverty of the lower class and the plight of the weak.

4. Importance of Moral Virtue

Dickens stresses the importance of moral virtues such as honesty, hard work, love, and generosity which always triumph over evil deeds

© 2016 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 26, 2020:

I am glad you found David Copperfield very good and interesting. Actually, all of Dickens' novels are very good and interesting.

Gujjar on July 26, 2020:

very good and interesting novel

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 13, 2020:

Thanks for your comment.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 05, 2017:

Thanks for commenting, but how does "ACA is a disaster" relate to my review of David Copperfield?

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on August 04, 2017:

Hint: Just saying "ACA is a disaster" over and over won't make it true.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 03, 2017:

Diana, I have read David Copperfield and just loved it. Yes, Uriah Heep was a scoundrel that I will always remember. I also liked Peggotty and Aunt Betsy. Thanks for commenting!

Diana Harvey from Philippines on August 03, 2017:

I will never forget David Copperfield. I had it as a set work at school about 55 years ago.

The person that has really stuck in my mind until this day was Uriah Heep with his " I am ever so umble" like hell.

If you have not read David Copperfield please do so.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 19, 2017:

Thanks for commenting. I just finished reading "Hard Times" and plan to read "The Old Curiosity Shop" and "Pickwick Papers" next. I have enjoyed all of his stories.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 19, 2017:

I love Charles Dickens. I'm a huge fan of his stories, and glad that so many of them have made it onto television. =)

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 10, 2016:

Au fait, Thank you so much for thinking highly of this book review. You will really enjoy "David Copperfield" if you read it from cover to cover. Thanks for sharing and pinning this hub!

C E Clark from North Texas on March 10, 2016:

A fantastic review! I think I have read parts of this book in English literature, but never the entire book. Your review inspires me to read the book, and you have written it so well, as always. Sharing this with my followers and pinning it to my new "Books Worth Reading" board.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 01, 2016:

For some reason, the only Dickens novel I read in high school was A Tale of Two Cities, and I got absolutely nothing out of it. I have now read Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield and have enjoyed them all. Thanks for the comments and sharing.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 01, 2016:

Hi Paul,

Wow...this really takes me back! I think I first read David Copperfield when I was in high school. Thanks for writing about it and refreshing my memory. Happy to share!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 28, 2016:

Thank you very much for your very supportive comments. I think you will really enjoy reading David Copperfield. I found it better than Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and both of these are also excellent novels

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on February 28, 2016:

This is a great review. David Copperfield is one book I still haven't read even though I have it in my collection. You have just convinced me to finally read it. Well done.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 27, 2016:

I am happy you found this review interesting. Oliver Twist is also another one of my favorites. I will never forget the character Fagin the Jew who I quickly detested in the story.

DDE on February 26, 2016:

You certainly got my attention with this interesting review. Olive Twist is my favorite!

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