mark monday's Reviews > David Copperfield

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
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Sep 18, 12

bookshelves: alpha-team, time-to-come-of-age

Status Report: Chapters 1 - 8

i had forgotten how much i love Dickens. the man is a master at the immersive experience. it is really easy for me to get sucked into the world he is so carefully constructing, to revel in all the extensive details, the lavish description, the almost overripe imagination at work. his strength at creating a wide range of entirely lived-in settings (both brief snapshots of places in passing and crucial places like David's home and school) is equalled by his even more famous skill at sketching the characters - often, but not always, caricatures - that live and breathe in his world. this is the kind of deep-dish experience that i love to have when traveling, on a plane or a bus or in some plaza, a second world to live in while taking a break in exploring the immediate world around me.

i can't help but also remember how many people dislike Dickens. i'm remembering an ex who told me he was her least favorite author, and how her resentment at being forced to read him in high school almost put her off reading for pleasure in general. it is hard to reconcile such a strong distaste for Dickens with my own easy enjoyment of his novels. my automatic reaction is that the reader who isn't enchanted by him either dislikes the style of writing or is simply the sort of idiot who should stick to reading facebook. well i don't date idiots, so i assume her reaction is based around the writing style. maybe that is the basic rationale for most folks who don't care for him.

or maybe it is based on something else. there is something that i've found to be off-putting about David Copperfield, at least so far. namely, the incredibly passive and naive behavior of David himself (and his mother, of course). it's more than just my automatic distaste for reading about victims, although that is certainly a part of it. what it feels like at times is that Dickens is stacking the deck a bit, making miserable situations even more potentially miserable, by having his protagonist (and that wretched mother, of course) be almost developmentally disabled in his inability to understand even basic things about the world around him. it sorta drives me up the wall.

well, that complaint aside, this has still been an awesome time. first and foremost, even more than the world-building and juicy characters, i love the dry and sardonic humor that is constantly working double-time. not only does it create some distance between reader and book in regards to the various horrors visited upon young David... it is fookin' hilarious!

favorite parts so far:

- that brilliant opening chapter "I Am Born"

- the Peggotty boat-house and the warmth of that wonderful family. i would like to live there!

- Steerforth. ugh! what a charming monster.

- the sadly minor note tragedy of Mr. Mell



Status Report: Chapters 9 - 26

i think i was expecting a bit more evil from the Murdstones. the way they treat David is certainly unkind verging on cruel - but i suppose i thought it would be a lot more brutal. this is not a complaint! if anything, i appreciate that Dickens makes David's predicament a much more realistic one. the Murdstones are cold, cold people. and they certainly drive David's tedious mother to an early grave (i shed no tears on that one). but i was surprised that their primary action is to simply send David away to a boring job, one that no child his age should have (and here i am viewing the narrative through my 21st century lense). a callous decision yet not a vicious one. David is merely an irritation that they want to dispense with, rather than harm. interesting.

that brief segment was certainly enlivened by the depiction of the marvelously goofy Mr. Micawber & Family. and by a fascinating look into life in a debtor's prison. i assume this is the classic Poor House?

but then... good grief, poor David Copperfield goes through hell to escape this life of tedium. many emotions on my part, all centered on the idea of such casual cruelty towards a runaway. brought back some unsettling memories of my brief time as a homeless youth counselor.

and then - at last! - some decency. even better, eccentric rather than mawkish decency. Aunt Betsey & Mr. Dick are two more wonderful Dickens creations. especially that tough old broad Aunt Betsey - each and every one of her appearances are a delight. when David finally gets to the safety of his Aunt's house, i felt a lot of tension drain out of me. it is like his story is now truly about to begin, now that the Gothic horrors slash neglected childhood bits are out of the way.

- an introduction of the best character yet: Uriah Heep! this is the role that Crispin Glover was born to play. what a wondrously creepy and perfectly realized little villain. all that supplicating, all that writhing! brilliant stuff.

- interesting: David is rarely called by his actual name. two more nicknames are added to the list: Trotwood and Daisy. David is rather a tabula rasa of a character.

- the relationship between Mr. Wickfield and Agnes is not heartwarming. it is downright creepy.

and now the tension is ratcheted up again, but in a way that doesn't make me sorta squirm with discomfort (tales of child neglect ≠ a good time for me). three sets of increasingly dire circumstances...

(1) Lil' Em'ly and the despicable villain Steerforth
(2) Agnes and the despicable villain Uriah Heep
(3) Aunt Betsey and a mysterious, blackmailing unknown despicable villain

will David be able to intercede in any of these troubling situations? i am doubtful, but also hopeful. go, David, go!



Status Report: Chapters 27 - end

exhilarating, wonderful, awesome, etc, etc. all the good words. i laughed (a lot), i cried (just a little, and in a manly sort of way), i wouldn't change or subtract a single word. perfect!



Final Report

okay this will be less of a Final Report and more of a collection of final thoughts as i think back on the novel and consult with the various threads in Serials Serially - the group that started me reading this novel.

first, the division in the novel. the first third or so, all about young David and his fairly awful travails: vivid and powerful. the remainder of the novel, all about David in his young adult years and following the growth of all those narrative seeds planted in that fertile first third; an excess of details veering on repetitious, and so that the book becomes less of a frightful gothic tale and more of a slow-burning assortment of mysteries (and many, many instances of pure comedy): less vivid and perhaps less powerful. looking back, i have to say that i am in the minority and preferred the last two-thirds. not only was the tension of potential situations involving child abuse and neglect now gone (a personal bugaboo of mine that will quickly render almost any literary or cinematic experience into something hugely uncomfortable and unappealing)... but it somehow all felt more real to me. the first third was visceral but almost cartoonish while the rest of the novel felt as if i was actually living in the novel. such was the extent of the detail and the effect of following these characters as they move throughout many different situations and changes in their lives.

"cartoonish". or better yet, "Dickensian". what does that really mean? a peculiarly stylized version of caricature? i understand the rep that Dickens has with his characters. they are stylized, obviously. but very few of them remained caricatures to me. ultimately, most ended up feeling very real and i was impressed at Dickens' ability to provide multiple dimensions to his characters - although he does it in a rather subtle way. his heroes do not get strong criticism and his villains do not get endearing moments of humanity. and yet it is there. David Copperfield is kind and good, but he is also a passive, foolishly naive fellow whose kindness and naivete often does nothing but make situations worse - especially in nearly every instance involving his relationship with Steerforth. Agnes is also kind and good, but her passivity makes her function as a sort of enabler to her father. Steerforth is a callous and feckless villain, but has moments of genuine warmth and kindness. Rosa Dartle is a heartless shrew - but look at that poor bitch's entire life with Steerforth & mom - i'd become a heartless shrew in that situation as well. Uriah Heep is an unctuous, slimy kiss-ass and back-stabber... but look where he comes from, his context, the kind of person his father was and the ideals he was raised up to worship. and of course Micawber, who would be pure pathos but whom Dickens treats with an extraordinary amount of affection. Dickens is not necessarily an 'even-handed' author, but he is one who is clearly aware of context.

there are some comments in this review's thread about women in Dickens - comments that i initially agreed with. but in retrospect, i actually don't agree. looking back on this novel, the women are often just as full of life as the men. perhaps folks are mainly thinking of the rather anemic Agnes. but now - when i think of dim Dora and vicious Rosa and ferocious Aunt Betsey and tragic Emily and loveable Peggotty and maudlin Mrs Gummidge and pathetic Martha and the eccentric 'two little birds' (Dora's aunts) and pretentious Julia Miles and dignified-under-pressure Mrs Strong and hilariously faithful-to-a-fault Mrs Micawber - i think of characters who leap right off of the page and stay to live in my mind. so, no, i am not critical of how women are portrayed in Dickens.

except, maybe, Dora. she is surely one of the most bizarrely stupid characters ever created in classic literature. when she first baby-talks David's nickname "Doady", i practically wanted to barf. she's so stupid that many times i found myself thinking She's Not Stupid - She's Mentally Disabled! good grief! and so i felt bad about my contempt and i started having mixed feelings about David even being with her. it seemed somehow wrong. there is also something so sexless about her character - it was impossible for me to imagine her capable of any sort of genuine intimacy. but i have to give it to Dickens - he doesn't present her as an ideal (unlike David), he satirizes her mercilessly in scene after scene, and in the end, invests both her marriage and her death with such genuine, palpable emotion that i became genuinely, palpably moved. her marriage scene (practically every paragraph beginning with "Of") was one of the most dreamily written passages i've ever read. and her death - not explicitly described, but paralleled with Jip's death - wow. amazing scene.

the combined death scenes of brave Ham and horrible Steerforth was almost equally moving. that last line describing Steerforth at his final rest: superb.

okay i think i'm spent. this is one of those novels that i can probably talk on and on about, so i should just make myself stop. i'll close by saying that the novel is, in a word, brilliant. i loved the language, the humor, the whimsy, the drama; the characters were wondrously alive; the narrative both surprisingly subtle and excitingly larger-than-life. so many scenes were indelible - too many to recount.

David Copperfield is one of my favorite novels.



David Copperfield: An Alternative Perspective
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 70) (70 new)


Richard This is one of Dickens' better novels. Looking forward to updates/comments/review.


mark monday loving it so far. i'm reading it for Brad's Serials Serially group. based on that group's reading timetable, i'll be reading it for a long while.

...updates/comments...

didn't think about that. this is such a long one and i'll be stretching out the reading for such a long time... putting in updates as i read is a really good idea.


Richard mark wrote: "loving it so far. i'm reading it for Brad's Serials Serially group. based on that group's reading timetable, i'll be reading it for a long while.

...updates/comments...

didn't think about that. ..."


There are a lot of memorable lines (even some "quotable quotes") and vividly drawn characters in this. Part of the reason is that Dickens included a lot of details from his own life.


mark monday i'm about 6 or 7 chapters in. favorite part so far was the short and relatively idyllic time spent in Pegotty boat/house.


Richard mark wrote: "i'm about 6 or 7 chapters in. favorite part so far was the short and relatively idyllic time spent in Pegotty boat/house."

A good time is had by all. Mas'r Davey develops a bad case of puppy love for Little Em'ly who is already at her age playing hard to get. Dan Pegotty is a hearty sea-dog type, Ham grins and says little, and Mrs. Gummidge moans in the corner: "I'm a lone lorn creetur and everythink goes contrairy with me."


mark monday Mrs. Gummidge! rather hilarious and rather sad too.

looks like the future bodes ill for Little Em'ly.


Richard mark wrote: "Mrs. Gummidge! rather hilarious and rather sad too.

looks like the future bodes ill for Little Em'ly."


Re: Mrs. G.: No doubt Dickens intended her to be both sad and funny as you said. When I read this as a teen, I also thought she was a bit whiney and contemptible. Now that I've gotten older and more familiar with death, that scene looks different.
Re: Little Em'ly. Hope I haven't said too much!


mark monday re. Little Em'ly... not at all! her sad future is hinted at in the book itself.


message 9: by Spacewanderer (new)

Spacewanderer Have you gotten to the part where he makes the Statue of Liberty disappear? Wait, wrong David Copperfield.


Richard Spacewanderer wrote: "Have you gotten to the part where he makes the Statue of Liberty disappear? Wait, wrong David Copperfield."

LOL!


message 11: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday Spacewanderer, i think that is probably in the sequel, which no doubt details Copperfield's later career in the treacherous world of stage magic and tv-special spectacle. my gosh, what a life!


message 12: by Wendy Darling (new)

Wendy Darling Don't forget the sham relationship with the supermodel, gents. There's definitely enough material for a sequel.


message 13: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday he's so complicated! this is not just tv-movie potential - this is a whole miniseries!


Richard Wendy Darling wrote: "Don't forget the sham relationship with the supermodel, gents. There's definitely enough material for a sequel."

Maybe he hooks up with the Crummleses from Nicholas Nickleby. Wouldn't that be fun? Imagine the Infant Phenomenon as David's assistant!


Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly Fun discussion here.


Petra X "i can't help but also remember how many people dislike Dickens. i'm remembering an ex who told me he was her least favorite author, and how her resentment at being forced to read him in high school almost put her off reading for pleasure in general"

Me too. Only word I would disagree with is 'almost'. One book per term, every term, throughout high school...


message 17: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday my God! i think that would have destroyed Dickens for me. repetition does not make my heart grow fonder.


Petra X I think I had to read something like 15 Dickens books. Had to do a Shakespeare play every term as well, but that was more interesting because I was also in a special English class of only 6 so we went to Stratford a couple of times a year to see the plays. No such light relief for Dickens.


B0nnie I adore Dickens and it's a shame that school causes an aversion to him. One does not pour guinness or jameson down the throat of a child, tsk. David Copperfield is good, but Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit are so much better.


midnightfaerie i finally got to organizing my books this week and have a big pile of dickens to get thru. it takes a lot for me to stop a book before i'm finished, but i had to put this one down for a bit. before i had kids or a dog, i could watch anything. now i have a really difficult time seeing or reading anything bad happening to dogs or children. this book was difficult for me, even tho i love his writing. i promised myself i'd pick it back up tho, and i will.


message 21: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday i have a really difficult time seeing or reading anything bad happening to dogs or children

i have that same problem, but it is much more intense with films than books. it's there for books, definitely (like my experience reading Room), but i won't even see a movie if i know it includes that. i think i am getting more sensitive in my old age!


midnightfaerie lol! me too!


message 23: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason That's such a cool idea, reading "serially". Although at the time, it probably had more to do with economic reasons than for it being artistically the way the author intended to relay the story. But cool, all the same.


message 24: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday it is a cool idea. but i'm embarrassed to say that i am well behind my Serials Serially schedule, even though i've loved what i've read so far. for shame, mark, shame!


message 25: by Richard (last edited May 25, 2012 12:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Richard Jason wrote: "That's such a cool idea, reading "serially". Although at the time, it probably had more to do with economic reasons than for it being artistically the way the author intended to relay the story. Bu..."

Well, the "serial style" did have something to do with economics but I think it also exerted some influence on how Dickens wrote his novels. He would work some sort of cliffhanger or suspenseful event into each segment in order to keep the interest of readers at a higher pitch. In The Old Curiosity Shop, for example, Dickens created great anxiety in his readership about the fate of the heroine Little Nell, and it was (coincidentally!) very good for sales. Also, he would give characters eccentric mannerisms or taglines so that if they disappeared for part of the novel they would be more easily recognizable when they returned. Thus in David Copperfield, the Heeps talk constantly about 'ow 'umble they is, and Mrs. Micawber constantly declares that she never will desert her husband and (I think) bursts into tears.


message 26: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday Mrs. Micawber constantly declares that she never will desert her husband and (I think) bursts into tears

the Micawbers are great characters. they loved the poor-house! funny to think of a debtor's prison as actually being a place of comfort for some folks.


message 27: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Richard, true! A good example of how economics can influence art. I wanna read me some more Dickens...


message 28: by Richard (last edited May 25, 2012 12:50PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Richard mark wrote: "Mrs. Micawber constantly declares that she never will desert her husband and (I think) bursts into tears

the Micawbers are great characters. they loved the poor-house! funny to think of a debtor's..."


To many, debtors' prison was a better alternative than the workhouse. Dickens' father was forced into debtors' prison, and he (i.e. the young Dickens) was very ashamed of this fact. (BTW, not sure if you knew this, but Mr. Micawber is based on Dickens' own father.) I don't know if the prison is named in D.C. but in Little Dorrit, Dickens makes a big deal of the fact that the Dorrit family are in the Marshalsea prison, where the father of the family is something of a celebrity. But they both must have been pretty bad, because one of the Ghosts in A Christmas Carol says that many people would rather die than go to either of them.


Richard Jason wrote: "Richard, true! A good example of how economics can influence art. I wanna read me some more Dickens..."

I recommend David Copperfield and Great Expectations which are already on your shelves. I also like Nicholas Nickleby.


message 30: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday BTW, not sure if you knew this, but Mr. Micawber is based on Dickens' own father

i did not know that... and, in retrospect, that makes all of their touching scenes (brief as they may be) even more heartwarming.


Jonathan I think a lot of people dislike Dickens for his language which was lengthy and they think he would have written far better short stories. Personally I appreciate his language usage.


midnightfaerie me too!


message 33: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday me three!


message 34: by Marjorie (new)

Marjorie Friday Baldwin haha, I can see from your review that his prolific tendency to pad the words really rubbed off. Do you get paid by the word,too? LOL

I wish Dickens had not. He was such a master of the craft. If he'd gotten paid for quality and not quantity, he could have tightened his work. I'm sure of it! He probably would have written taut thrillers and gripping page-turners.


message 35: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday think of it as a luxurious word-vacation. i don't want a short one, i want those vacations to be nice and immersive and loooooong.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Gormenghast, LOTR, ASOIF....


midnightfaerie r u sure u don't date idiots? :) just picked this up...loving it...but dickens is one of my favorites...


Jonathan mark wrote: "think of it as a luxurious word-vacation. i don't want a short one, i want those vacations to be nice and immersive and loooooong.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Gormenghast, LOTR, ASOIF...."


I completely agree. I have many seven hundred page books to chew through (or rather allow more time for my literary tastebuds to enjoy them)


midnightfaerie me too...in fact, when i was younger, i remember specifically not choosing books that were too short. if i enjoy it, i want it to be long. and the shorter books seem to be made for ppl who don't want to read too much anyhow...the thicker a book...the happier i am...that being said i didn't realize that dc was so long! pleasantly surprised!


message 39: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday janine aka J9 aka midnightfaerie wrote: "r u sure u don't date idiots? :) just picked this up...loving it...but dickens is one of my favorites..."

as far as the gents go, i only date idiots. however, as far as the ladies go, i only date women who are smarter than me.

this may sound like i'm trying to be funny. but upon review of my dating patterns, it is, sadly, overwhelmingly true.


midnightfaerie *grin* it's ok, u read dickens. we still love u. :)


B0nnie Marjorie wrote: "haha, I can see from your review that his prolific tendency to pad the words really rubbed off. Do you get paid by the word,too? LOL

I wish Dickens had not. He was such a master of the craft. f he'd gotten paid for quality and not quantity, he could have tightened his work. I'm sure of it! He probably would have written taut thrillers and gripping page-turners. ..."


Which words of Dickens's would you cut? :-) Even those will be more valuable than most other writers...fortunately, he did not write taut thrillers and gripping page-turners, but lovely description, hilarious parody and unforgettable characters.


midnightfaerie help! anyone! trying to find the answer to my question without getting the summary of the whole book before i'm done! i'm having a hard time figuring out david's age..maybe i just missed it? so my question is..how old is david when his mother dies? (this is fairly early in the book, so i'm hoping i haven't given too much away by saying that)
ANYONE?


Richard janine aka J9 aka midnightfaerie wrote: "help! anyone! trying to find the answer to my question without getting the summary of the whole book before i'm done! i'm having a hard time figuring out david's age..maybe i just missed it? so..."

My guess is that he's around 8 years old.


midnightfaerie interesting...have any data to back up the belief? if not, it's fine...just curious...


midnightfaerie Mark, it's been awhile since we've heard an update..you still plugging through this? It's one of my side projects as well...really enjoying it though...


message 46: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday yikes, i forgot all about this one. thanks for the reminder! i have to get back to this. i'm at... let's go check the bookmark... page 250, right about to start chapter 19. time for more reading and another status update. although right now i am so entranced by michel tournier's Gemini that i may have to put it off a wee bit longer.


midnightfaerie i understand, i'm making my way thru lord of the rings and the inheritance series by paolini and am loving them...i'm around pg 250 in dc as well.


message 48: by Donna (new)

Donna I rarely open wine without thinking of David Copperfield washing the bottle. Dickens is full of details that get under the skin.


message 49: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday so true! right now i am remembering that entire sequence of David's first Drunk Night Out On The Town. and all the hyperventilating & self-loathing the morning after. the writing in those sequences is just excellent. really funny! and memorable.


message 50: by Aura (new) - rated it 3 stars

Aura I always spend some time when I'm reading one of Dickens's works wondering whether he understood or not that young women are still human beings, that he could apply there the same means of sketching as the one he uses for male characters. They often felt less real to me than his male characters(e. g. David's mother).

The need to exaggerate dire situations or happy ones I think is definitory for Dickens, but heart-warming even when it feels unrealistic, imo. That's what I love mostly about him, along with his talent for humorous scenes and lively descriptions. It happened to me really often to be moved to tears by a scene when previously I've been paying little attention.

I also loved the time spent with the Pegotty family, it felt lyrical and David was so funny as a child, imagining things. When David is forced to grow up the lyrical quality of the prose seemed to fade for me, which was effective for the purpose. Brilliant review, I'm eager for the updates. I read this last summer but I'm not surprised I remember it so well.


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