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Archived Group Reads 2013 > David Copperfield Chapters 1 - 6

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Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) To discuss these chapters


message 2: by Meg (new)

Meg | 4 comments I love the beginning. The first sentence is the best.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Cauls aren't very much considered today, so that reference may glide by some readers. The primary meaning is a close fitting cap or net for the hair. The meaning in birth terms is the last of several definitions in the OED. Here's what the OED says about it:

The amnion or inner membrane enclosing the fœtus before birth; esp. this or a portion of it sometimes enveloping the head of the child at birth, superstitiously regarded as of good omen, and supposed to be a preservative against drowning.
1547 A. Borde Breuiary of Helthe i. f. Cxxv, A skyn or a cal in the which a child doth lie in the mothers bely.
1612 B. Jonson Alchemist i. ii. sig. Cv, Yo' were borne with a Caule o' your head.
1798 T. Morton Secrets worth Knowing i. 9 Was he not born with a cawl?
1826 T. Hood Sea Spell, In his pouch confidingly He wore a baby's caul.


Sigmund Freud and Napoleon were two famous people born with cauls. Will David Copperfield wind up being as famous as these other caul births? We'll just have to read on and see!


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments The whole start of the novel is comic. From that first sentence, to "as I have been informed and believe" -- of course we don't know of personal knowledge when we were born, but of course Dickens has to point that out -- to the situation with the caul to Aunt Betsey Trotwood, there is virtually nothing serious in the entire first chapter. Does this suggest that this will be a comic novel throughout? Why does Dickens start in such a lighthearted, non-serious manner? Can he maintain this flippancy throughout?


message 5: by Meg (new)

Meg | 4 comments I was thinking the same thing. Dickens is bound to have something happen to surprise us all.


message 6: by Sara (last edited Jun 05, 2013 10:05AM) (new)

Sara Weather (saraweather) Do not like: the mom(she is coming out kind of weak but I can see that she actually cares for him and wants to help him) and the moms new beau and his sister.
I initially thought that the mom was abandoning the son for her new husband. I cannot decide his mom getting a new husband and keeping David is better than her just abandoning him. His step dad and step-aunt are not nice people.

I am happy that David is able to be happy and get something he was not getting at his home at the boarding school.


message 7: by Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) (last edited Jun 05, 2013 03:41AM) (new)

Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) There are such wonderfully vivid characters that Dickens has written of. Seems like one would recognize them readily if you meet them on the street. I, too, feel David's mom is extremely weak willed and minded. Although even today many woman blindly follow a cruel husband or boyfriend who abuses their children, there is a certain chilling attitude presented by the way the majority treat David, particularly his step father and her sister. In. a way, it was better for David to be sent away to school. His step father seems brutal enough to eventually kill David. He does suffer some abuse, the wearing of the sign for one, but at least towards the end of chapter six, he seems to have a protector and possibly a friend. I get the impression that the teachers were a rag tag bunch, not much educated themselves.

There is a sense of forboding though, one that even though David's life initially seemed carefree and he felt loved, that all is changing.


message 8: by Sara (new)

Sara Weather (saraweather) I had some Jane Eyre vibes from how and when he was sent to the school. I am happy that the similarities pretty much ended there.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Marialyce wrote: "I, too, feel David's mom is extremely weak willed and minded. Although even today many woman blindly follow a cruel husband or boyfriend who abuses their children,"

I understand and in part share this feeling. But looked at in the context of the times, should we be surprised at a young widow with not much life experience other than being raised in a Victorian family and being married for a fairly brief period being fairly helpless against the forces of society? I actually thought she was doing fairly well up to her remarriage. And wasn't it almost essential that she get remarried? Did she have the resources, either financial or emotional, to live as a single parent for the rest of her life in a society where it would be virtually impossible for her to find any employment, being saddled with an infant and therefore being unsuitable for the main employments for women, service, governess, or companion?

Did she choose badly? We are certainly entitled to think so, and I suspect that most of us do. But he was apparently a good provider, and I am prepared to believe that he really did believe that the way he was trying to raise David was the way a fatherless child needed to be raised in a "children should be seen and not heard" society where so many children (including Charles Dickens himself) were put out to very hard labor at what to us was an unforgivably young age.

At least he wasn't sold out to be the servant in a mortuary (Oliver Twist), or even worse to be a chimney sweeper.

The Chimney Sweeper
William Blake

When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep weep weep weep,
So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep.

Theres little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lambs back was shav'd, so I said.
Hush Tom never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair

And so he was quiet. & that very night.
As Tom was a sleeping he had such a sight
That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack
Were all of them lock'd up in coffins of black,

And by came an Angel who had a bright key
And he open'd the coffins & set them all free.
Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.

Then naked & white, all their bags left behind.
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father & never want joy.

And so Tom awoke and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags & our brushes to work.
Tho' the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) You are correct Everyman. It is often that one runs into such cruelty, (but understandable cruelty), in Victorian times. It was a parcel of the idea that woman had so few choices in the direction their lives took. ....and yes, perhaps David's step father was a firm believer in the "spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy. He probably was a product of that way of thinking himself. Certainly, his "lovely" sister was. My how times have changed!


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Marialyce wrote: "My how times have changed! "

They have indeed. And the implied subtext is "for the better."

But then I look at the juvenile gangs, the school shootings, the drug use among teens, the premarital sex and student mothers, and I wonder.

Not that I want to back to the Murdstone days. But have we gone too far in the other direction?

Which really has nothing to do with David Copperfield, except that one point of literature is to make us think about our own lives, isn't it? So maybe it's relevant after all.


message 12: by Julie (new)

Julie (readerjules) Everyman wrote: "The whole start of the novel is comic. From that first sentence, to "as I have been informed and believe" ..."

I am enjoying the type of humor he uses!

I disliked David's stepfather so much that I was actually rooting for him to be able to leave, even though it meant leaving his mother.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Wondering if anyone has had any surprises so far in the book? I, myself, was a bit surprised by the folks living on a boat. Surely, it makes sense and all, but I never really thought about how it might have occurred. One imagines the smell might have been pretty awful though as I do believe they threw everything including some of the dead, into the Thames.


message 14: by Parvathi (new)

Parvathi Everyman wrote: "Marialyce wrote: "My how times have changed! "

They have indeed. And the implied subtext is "for the better."

But then I look at the juvenile gangs, the school shootings, the drug use among teen..."



I have often thought of this and was of the conviction that it is the "spoilt" children who become the juvenile delinquents.

But then it is the circumstances at home and the attitude of the society that shape young minds. A child coming from secure backgrounds do not usually end up getting involved in juvenile gangs and shootings. If we take the history of the juvenile delinquents, most of them come from broken families or then there are economical problems or passive ostracization from the society for not fitting in.


So I don't think using rods might be a safe alternative. After all the Victorian society also was not free from underage criminals.


message 15: by Denise (new)

Denise (dulcinea3) | 400 comments Marialyce wrote: "Wondering if anyone has had any surprises so far in the book? I, myself, was a bit surprised by the folks living on a boat. Surely, it makes sense and all, but I never really thought about how it m..."

Well, of course, the boat is not actually in the water, which is what makes it even more an interesting home. I'm not sure I remember rightly, but I thought it was near the sea, not the Thames.


Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Could be Denise....I usually do my Copperfield reading at 4am without the benefit of coffee! :)


message 17: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca I am glad you mention that right off Everyman. I started reading last night and I read that and I though oh my gosh I dont know what a caul is. Should I be reading this book? I have to keep my dicitionary at hand to he as he uses words that I am not familiar with. I loved the ending of chapter 1 when Betsey stormed out after the "girl" was a boy. I was greatly surprised by the words assault and battery used by Dicken's. Everyman can you explain the rookery reference to the house for me?


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Marialyce wrote: "One imagines the smell might have been pretty awful though as I do believe they threw everything including some of the dead, into the Thames.
"


That's true, they did. However, this boat isn't on the Thames, but at Yarmouth (actually Great Yarmouth, on the coast of Norfolk, rather than Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight). The boat had apparently been tossed high up on the beach, probably by some major storm, so that the smells they would get would be from the tidal flats and the sea, which is still a smell but quite different from the horrid smells of London water.


message 19: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Rebecca wrote: "Everyman can you explain the rookery reference to the house for me? "

I can try. Rooks are the English name for crows, or actually I think near relatives of crows. They build nests in colonies, high in trees, often hundreds of nests in a small grove of trees. The collection is called a rookery. Apparently there was once an active rookery at the Copperfield house, so he named the house after that, much as a house might be named "The Laurels" if it has laurel bushes around it, or "The Elms" if there are Elm Trees, etc.

In this case, the rooks have left, but have left behind some weatherbeaten old nests. And such a delightful comment by Miss Betsey:

'The rooks—what has become of them?' asked Miss Betsey.

'There have not been any since we have lived here,' said my mother. 'We thought—Mr. Copperfield thought—it was quite a large rookery; but the nests were very old ones, and the birds have deserted them a long while.'

'David Copperfield all over!' cried Miss Betsey. 'David Copperfield from head to foot! Calls a house a rookery when there's not a rook near it, and takes the birds on trust, because he sees the nests!'


message 20: by Whimsical (new)

Whimsical (goodreadscomb_flowers) | 187 comments Everyman wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "Everyman can you explain the rookery reference to the house for me? "

I can try. Rooks are the English name for crows, or actually I think near relatives of crows. They build ne..."


If I may add to this. I found this meaning in an on line British library that has a copy of a Victorian era dictionary of slangs. The phrase I found was
Crow's Nest" which was the closest to rooks I could find.

"Crow's nest (Soc., 1850 on) Small bedroom for bachelors high up in country houses on a level with tree top; e.g. "Give me a crow's nest, and pray save me from the state bed-chamber."


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Beve wrote: " I found this meaning in an on line British library that has a copy of a Victorian era dictionary of slangs. The phrase I found was
Crow's Nest" which was the closest to rooks I could find."


Interesting meaning of Crow's Nest. I hadn't heard that one before. The only use I knew of for a crow's nest is the little platform, usually with a railing, high up in the mainmast of a sailing ship (especially navy ships) where the look-out stood because it gave him the greatest range of vision to see other ships, whether friendly or otherwise.

When I was a lad I was fascinated with the big sailing ships. Read all the Hornblower novels over and over, and at one point could name every sail on a full-rigged three master, from the moonraker (though few ships actually carried this sail) on down. I could also tell the difference between a barque, a schooner, and a brigantine. Sadly, that knowledge is long gone, but I can still box the compass, a skill that not many can rattle off at full speed today.

But I've learned a new meaning of Crow's Nest. Neat! Goes along with the Widow's Walk which many New England sea captain's houses had. (That was basically a porch-like structure at the top of the house, open with an open railing, where the wife of the captain used to watch for her husband's ship coming in or, sadly too often, not coming in, which is why widow's walk.)


message 22: by Meg (new)

Meg | 4 comments The whole time I'm reading this I think "this is such a Dickens novel" and I watched the movie version of Nicholas Nickelby totally on the same kind of stuff that David's going through. I know it's different but Dickens does go around a central way of life you know?


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Mhoira wrote: "Is rook symbolism for something else in English society? There seems to be some hidden meaning there although I am sure what. I have enjoyed reading the book so far."

If there is, I'm not aware of it. Other than that I think a Rookery on your land is considered good luck (unless you're a farmer).


message 24: by Caroline (new)

Caroline (carolinecarnivorous) Did anyone else forget throughout the story that he is just a child, because of the words used when the story is told? xD


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