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David Copperfield
Charles Dickens
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1849-1850



refered to by:
The Castle
Franz Kafka

The Sorrow of Belgium
Hugo Claus

Crime and Punishment
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky

The World According to Garp
John Irving




Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe


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"Even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time of my life."

Charles Dickens composed this passage between 1845 and 1848 referring to the dark times of his youth when his family moved to London in the early 1820s. The imprisonment of his father forced the family to send the twelve-year-old Dickens to work in a blacking factory. This disruption to Dickens's childhood and education remained a source of intense grief throughout his life. Dickens found these memories too painful to continue his autobiography; in fact, he jealously guarded the facts of his London youth. It was only after his biographer John Forster published his Life of Charles Dickens in 1872 that readers learned of Dickens's difficult youth and of the autobiographical nature of one of his finest creations, David Copperfield.

Originally published in serial form from May 1849 through November 1850, David Copperfield is the first of Dickens's novels written entirely in the first person. Converting his autobiographical impulse into fiction allowed Dickens to explore uncomfortable truths about his life. David Copperfield's time at Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse, his schooling at Salem House, and his relationship with Dora all have their bases in Dickens's own life. But, it may be Dickens's most autobiographical novel, David Copperfield is a work of fiction.

Dickens divides the life of Copperfield into two distinct parts, the first recounting the untimely loss of his innocence. In this orphan tale, Copperfield endures the hardships of his mother's death, a wretched education at Salem House, the toiling at Murdstone and Grinby's, and a desperate escape to his aunt's. Made aware of the vicissitudes of life, Copperfield also learns of the cyclical patterns of life as "David Copperfield of Blunderstone" is reborn at his aunt's as "Copperfield Trotwood"; the barbarous schooling of Mr. Creakle is replaced by the kind instruction of Mr. Wickfield and Dr. Strong; the callous neglect of his stepfather is replaced by the solicitude of his aunt. The practical lesson for Copperfield is to eschew the sternness of Murdstone as well as the carelessness of Micawber, the grandiloquent and improvident father figure who lodges Copperfield.

In the novel's second part, Copperfield establishes himself first as a legal clerk and parliamentary reporter, and later as a novelist. But his professional matters are of less importance than Copperfield's two emotional attachments that frame this part of the novel: his relationships with James Steerforth and Dora Spenlow. Both relationships are portrayed as the "mistaken impulses of an undisciplined heart," and we are meant to second Betsey Trotwood's comment, "Blind! Blind! Blind!" In retrospect, Copperfield confesses that he "loved Dora to idolatry." Dora, who resembles Copperfield's mother in looks and manner, lacks the maturity required to share actively in David's life or
to take up the Victorian burdens of housekeeping. The relationship falters and Copperfield begins to see parallels with the marriage of the aging Dr. Strong and his "child wife" Annie. When the marriage dissolves, Dora dies in labor—quite conveniently, some critics have charged, for her death releases Copperfield of his conjugal obligations. Idolatry also characterizes his relationship with the Byronic James Steerforth, whom Copperfield unwittingly assists in the seduction of young Emily away from her uncle's care at Yarmouth.

The concluding chapters function as an epilogue to the first two parts. Copperfield, now a famous novelist, takes his sufferings to Europe in a listless journey. He eventually returns to London with renewed vigor to learn of the emigration to Australia of the Micawbers, Peggotty, Emily, and Martha, and of the imprisonment of Steerforth's servant, Littimer, and Uriah Heep. The novel concludes with Copperfield marrying Agnes.

Throughout the novel, Dickens addresses several important social issues of his time: the problem of prostitution in nineteenth-century London, lack of professional opportunities for women in Victorian England, need for humane treatment for the insane, the injustice of debtors' prison, and indictments against the rigidly conventional, purse-proud nineteenth-century English middle class. Against these dilemmas, Dickens offers the intuitive wisdom of Mr. Dick, the genuineness of the Micawbers, and, above all, the simple earnestness of Peggotty.

But Copperfield is foremost a novel about memory. Amidst the tumultuous rise and fall of the London cityscape (obsessively cataloged in the novel), Copperfield's memory preserves the links to his past and brings continuity and coherence to his life while the sudden recollection of the past charges the present with meaning. However, memory also proves to be a source of anguish. Copperfield prefaces the time he spent at Murdstone and Grinby by remarking: "I now approach a period of my life, which I can never lose the remembrance of, while I remember anything; and the recollection of which has often, without my invocation, come before me like a ghost, and haunted happier times." The act of remembrance, even uninvoked remembrance, dredges up early trauma to experience anew.

Given the intimate connection between the lives of Copperfield and his author, it is little wonder that Dickens considered this book his "favourite child." And it is little wonder, given its vast array of memorable characters and its brilliant treatment of the quest for self-knowledge, that Copperfield is Dickens's best loved and most quoted novel. The words of the great English critic G. K. Chesterton perhaps best summarize the experience of reading it: "In this book of David Copperfield, [Dickens] has created creatures who cling to us and tyrannise over us, creatures whom we would not forget if we could, creatures whom we could not forget if we would, creatures who are more actual than the man who made them." (from: www.penguinputnam.com)

bookweb    
ON DICKENS' BOOKSHELF

Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605 / 1615
A comic study of delusion and its consequences; Don Quixote, the old gentleman of La Mancha, takes to the road in search of adventure and remains undaunted in the face of repeated disaster.

Tom Jones
Henry Fielding, 1749
The protagonist, Tom Jones, is introduced to the reader as a ward of a liberal Somerset squire, appearing a generous but slightly wild and reckless boy. Misfortune, followed by many spirited adventures as he travels to London to seek his fortune, teach Tom wisdom to go with his good-heartedness.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Laurence Sterne, 1759-1767
Part novel, part digression, this gloriously disordered narrative interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate 'hero' Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters.

Volpone: Or, The Fox
Ben Jonson, 1606
A rich Venetian pretends to be dying so that his despised friends will flock to his bedside with gifts in the hope of an inheritance.

The Alchemist
Ben Jonson, 1610
Seventeenth-century comedy about three swindlers.

Arabian Nights: Book of The Thousand Nights and One Night
Anonymous, 14e eeuw
Originating from India, Persia and Arabia, these tales represent the lively expression of a lay and secular imagination in revolt against religious austerity and zeal in Oriental literature. They depict a fabulous and fanciful world of jinns and sorcerers, but their bawdiness, realism and variety of subject matter also firmly anchor them to everyday life.

Quentin Durward
Sir Walter Scott, 1823
Quentin Durward is a young Scotsman seeking fame and fortune in the France of Louis XI in the 14th century. Walter Scott represents his ignorance and naivete as useful to 'the most sagacious prince of Europe' who needs servants motivated solely by the desire for coin and credit.

Rob Roy
Sir Walter Scott, 1817
This novel is set in the north of England and Scotland in the years before, during and after the first Jacobite rising in 1715. Rob Roy is a swashbuckling chieftain of the clan MacGregor who is forced to become an outlaw for his alleged espousal of the Jacobite cause.

The French Revolution
Thomas Carlyle, 1837
The classic history of the origins, events, and results of the French Revolution from 1774 to 1795.

BOOKS BY CHARLES DICKENS:

Bleak House
1852-1853
A savage, but often comic, indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dickens' s most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to the poorest of London slums.

WHAT TO READ AFTER BLEAK HOUSE?

'NOVELS OF MANNERS' BY 19TH-CENTURY DICKENSIANS
The Wind in the Willows
Kenneth Grahame, 1908
The tales of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad. When Mole goes boating with the Water Rat instead of spring-cleaning, he discovers a new world. As well as the river and the Wild Wood, there is Toad's craze for fast travel which leads him and his friends on a whirl of trains, barges, gipsy caravans and motor cars and even into battle.

[Klaasje Zevenster]
Jacob van Lennep, 1865-1866
Foundling grows up in Dutch class society.

Les misérables
Victor Hugo, 1862
France in the first quarter of the 19th century: Jean Valjean, a poor man, steals a loaf of bread and then spends years trying to escape his reputation as a criminal. In later years he rises to become a respectable member of society; but policeman Javert will not allow him to forget his past.

Demons
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, 1871-1872
A powerful political tract and a profound study of atheism, depicting the disarray which follows the appearance of a band of modish radicals in a small provincial town. (Also published as The Possessed and The Devils)

CONTEMPORARY DICKENSIANS
[Publieke werken]
Thomas Rosenboom,
The overconfident violin-maker Vedder and his nephew Anijs, a country pharmacist, walk into a trap of their own making.

The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe, 1987
One night in the Bronx a millionaire, Sherman McCoy, and his mistress have an accident. The next day a young black man is in the hospital in a coma, as McCoy heads for disaster. His humiliation is at the centre of a satire on the decaying class, racial and political structure of New York in the 1980s.

The Road to Wellville
T.C. Boyle, 1981
An account of: Dr John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of the cornflake and peanut butter; his profligate, degenerate and opportunistic son; and the birth of America's first health fanatics.

The Cider House Rules
John Irving, 1985
Set in the rural town of Maine, this tale follows the bizarre story of Hormer Wells, from his apprenticeship in the orphanage surgery to his adult life running a cider-making factory and the strange relationship he has with his wife's best friend.

The Great Fire of London
Peter Ackroyd, 1982
Ackroyd's first novel, The Great Fire of London, is a reworking of Dickens' Little Dorrit.

The Quincunx
Charles Palliser, 1989
A complicated tale of a codacil containing a crucial entail, the possible existence of a second will, and a multiplicity of characters - all mysteriously related - seeking to establish their claims to a vast and ancient estate.

Jack Maggs
Peter Carey, 1997
Jack Maggs, raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush town-house in Great Queen Street?

Oliver Twist
1837-1838
As with most of Dickens' work, Oliver Twist directs the public's attention to various contemporary social evils, including the workhouse, child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals. Full of sarcasm and dark humour, it's greatest triumph was perhaps to reveal the hypocrisies of the time.
The Old Curiosity Shop
1840-1841
A frequently and deliberately sentimental story of pursuit and courage in adversity, of malevolent and vile villains and the plucky and downtrodden characters who oppose them and their evil actions.
David Copperfield
1849-1850
The 'widow and orphan novels'.
Portrait of the artist as an outcast.
Hard Times
1854

Little Dorrit
1857-1858

Great Expectations
1860-1861
'Dark period novels'
Village boy has mysterious benefactor.
Our Mutual Friend
1860-1861
'Dark period novels'
A satiric masterpiece about the allure and peril of money, Our Mutual Friend revolves around the inheritance of a dust-heap where the rich throw their trash.
A Christmas Carol
1843
Scrooge, the most miserly of all misers, is shown the true meaning of Christmas by four ghostly visitors -- his partner Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come. By Christmas day, he has learnt his lesson and is willing to enter into the spirit of things.
The Chimes
1845

Cricket on the Hearth
1846

The Haunted Man
1848

The Pickwick Papers
published in monthly installments March 1836 - Oct 1837
"The Pickwick Papers" began as a literary spoof centred around sketches by caricaturist Robert Seymour. Charles Dickens was recruited to compose the words to accompany the illustrations. This tale is a journey from innocence to experience by the portly middle aged hero and his guide and mentor.
A Tale of Two Cities
1859
'A Tale of Two Cities has the best of Dickens and the worst of Dickens: a dark, driven opening, and a celestial but melodramatic ending; a terrifyingly demonic villainess and (even by Dickens’ standards) an impossibly angelic heroine.'
- Simon Schama
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