David Copperfield by Charles Dickens—A Book Review
Book Cover of David Copperfield
Overview of David Copperfield
David Copperfield published in 1850 is regarded by many readers and critics as the best novel of Charles Dickens. Drawing on events in Dickens' early life, David Copperfield 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.
Charles Dickens - the Author
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 Harpers Collins Publishers Ltd.
The Setting of David Copperfield
The setting of David Copperfield is in England during the first half of the 19th century. The action of 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 was 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 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 in David Copperfield
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 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.
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 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, 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:
1. 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.
2. Equality in Marriage
In the 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Eccentricity of Characters
Charles Dickens presents many characters with abnormal and unusual tendencies. They include the slightly mentally ill Mr. Dick and Betsy Trotwood who is obsessed with donkeys always coming on her property.
6. 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 really 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 descriptions of Uriah Heep also angered me very much.
3. Social 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
Charles Dickens Novels
Which is your favorite Charles Dickens' novel?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Paul Richard Kuehn