Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fiction Review: David Copperfield

My husband gave me a copy of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens for my birthday this summer, and I was thrilled. I loved reading Dickens in school and thoroughly enjoyed re-reading (listening to on audio) Great Expectations two summers ago. Plus, a bunch of my friends say that David Copperfield is their favorite Dickens ... or even their favorite novel! I read it as part of my 2020 Big Book Summer, and boy, did it fit the challenge! It took me a month to finish it, but I loved every minute.

The framework of the novel is that an old man, David Copperfield, is looking back and telling the story of his life. He begins with what he has been told of his birth, attended by his kind mother, his nurse, Peggotty, and the doctor of their small town. The only important person in his life that wasn't present was his father, who had died recently. His mother and Peggotty also told him that his father's aunt, a formidable woman named Miss Betsy Trotwood, was also present that night and eager to be godchild to her new grand-niece, though she left in disgust upon finding out that the baby was a boy. David didn't see her again for many years. David's first years were idyllic in his cozy home with his warm, compassionate mother and Peggotty to care for him. That came to an abrupt end when his mother remarried a cruel man named Mr. Murdstone. He and his equally cold sister, Miss Murdstone, moved in, and life changed drastically for poor Davy. Mr. Murdstone believed his mother was too soft with him and pressured and manipulated both Davy and his mother to such an extent that both were soon nervous shadows of their former selves. From then, things go from bad to worse for poor David Copperfield, and the novel follows him through boarding schools, being put to work at the tender age of ten, the life-changing summer that he met Peggotty's family, and much, much more. David's life takes many surprising twists and turns over the years--and his luck does turn around later--but to tell any more plot details here would be to ruin the unfolding of the wonderful story.

Once again, I was pleasantly surprised to remember just how clever and witty Dickens' writing is. Throughout the novel, even in the darkest times, certain lines just made me laugh out loud and others were so smart and perfectly said that I stopped to admire them. It's quite clear why his novels have become such classics over the years and why so many of my high school teachers chose his books for our assignments. Here is a brief description of Mr. Chillip, the town doctor, from the beginning of the book, just before he encounters the brash and self-possessed Aunt Betsy:

"He was the meekest of his sex, the mildest of little men. He sidled in and out of a room, to take up the less space. He walked as softly as the Ghost in Hamlet, and more slowly. He carried his head on one side, partly in modest depreciation of himself, partly in modest propitiation of everybody else. It is nothing to say that he hadn't a word to throw at a dog. He couldn't have thrown a word at a mad dog. He might have offered him one gently, or half a one, or a fragment of one; for he spoke as slowly as he walked; but he wouldn't have been rude to him, and he couldn't have been quick with him, for any earthly consideration."

As is typical, Dickens pulled me right into the story from its first pages. David is a classic Dickensian character: a good man who suffers horrible mishaps and mistreatment as a child but perseveres to live a good life. He's someone to root for (and sympathize with). The supporting characters are lively and unique, as well, especially Peggotty and her family, Aunt Betsy (who comes into the story again at a later point), and Mr. Dick, a kind but hapless man taken under Aunt Betsy's wing. The plot itself takes many unexpected turns and easily carries the reader along. Despite its length (my copy had large pages so was only about 625 pages long but many versions are twice that), I was engrossed in the story and couldn't wait to see what would happen to David next. Once again, I was reminded of why I love to read Dickens. Which of his classic novels should I read next? Christmas is coming up ...

1024 pages, Penguin Classics

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible (the sample begins with an excerpt from Chapter 43 but does not contain any major spoilers).


You can purchase David Copperfield from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

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Or you can order David Copperfield from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I haven't read a Dickens novel since high school and it wouldn't occur to me to read another. But, maybe high school isn't where we should be forced to read them, but adulthood when we choose to. Now you've got me thinking...

    1. Give Great Expectations a try, Helen - it's shorter but still features Dickens' wonderful wit and humor.

  2. I must have read an abridged version of Copperfield as a kid because I doubt I would have read a 1000 page book at 11 or 12. Glad to know that it was a delight.

    1. ha ha well, my copy was only 650 pages, but it did take me a month to read it!

  3. You've made me interested in David Copperfield. I remember watching a British TV series on it many years ago and liking it but so long ago can't remember it. I am putting it into my "think about it" for reading.

    1. There's a brand-new movie adaptation out now in the US, Kathryn. And if you want to read some Dickens but maybe aren't ready for such a long one, try Great Expectations!