Friday, February 28, 2014

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens can be excessively dreary. I avoided him for years based on the depressing movie versions of his books. But then I read A Christmas Carol and delighted in the sly humor on every page. Hard Times was another Dickens' title that I found to be hard-hitting yet amusing at the same time. I learned that his books are less heavy than the movies because they are balanced by witty asides that are impossible to convey on film.

Still, I found the beginning of David Copperfield to be slow-going and even painful. (One of my siblings was often mistreated for her handicaps so I have a very low tolerance for meanness. And the first chapters of DC pay homage to some of the meanest people I've ever encountered in literature.) If it hadn't been for Sherry at Semicolon who told me this was one of her favorite Dicken's titles, I'm not sure I would have persevered.

Thirteen was a lucky number in this case since that's the chapter when things began to turn around for our suffering hero. Dastardly characters continue to come on the scene, but they are counterbalanced by virtuous and loving people. By the middle of the book there was an impending sense of doom that kept me reading, but I still wasn't sure I loved it. Later, however, I suddenly realized that Dickens had cast me under his spell. My misgivings about the heavy dose of villainy were dissipated by the irresistible charm of Dr. Strong's faithful love, Micawber's loquacious letters, Traddles amazing hair, and Mr. Dick's simple kind-heartedness. (Not to mention the "iron true" Mr. Peggoty, noble Ham, and Copperfield's guardian angels in the form of Miss Trotwood and Agnes Wickfield.) Without any effort I had learned to love these characters with all my heart.

And, of course, the writing is splendid. Describing Miss Murdstone's luggage, we understand her perfectly: She brought with her two uncompromising hard black boxes, with her initials on the lids in hard brass nails. When she paid the coachman she took her money out of hard steel purse, and she kept the purse in a very jail of a bag which hung upon her arm by a heavy chain, and shut up like a bite. I had never, at that time, seen such a metallic lady altogether as Miss Murdstone was. (p. 58)

This book, with its host of unforgettable characters, highlights the many kinds of love: shallow, filial, and romantic, but especially the deep, self-sacrificing kind. Like other chunksters I've read (Count of Monte Cristo and Middlemarch), this took almost a month to get through, but it was worth the effort.


Farm Girl said...

Oh so glad you wrote about Mr.Dickens. I am always drawn in and enthralled by his writing. It does take such a long time to get through his books but what a lovely feast. I felt the same about his books until I decided I would read them one by one for a year.
At the end of the year I still hadn't accomplished my goal of reading them all but I felt happy that I had made a start. I do have my favorites and I have Our Mutual Friend waiting to be read now.
I loved your review.

Sherry said...

I'm so glad that I was able to encourage you to start this one and persevere. I haven't read it through in a long time, but I would like to read it again at least once or twice before my reading days are over. I'm not a lone, lorn creature, but I do meditate sometimes on the fact that my reading days are numbered.

Barbara H. said...

David Copperfield is my second favorite Dickens book after Tale of Two Cities. I thought it was a little easier to get into than some of his others. I'm listening to Bleak House now and appreciating that sly humor. DC has some truly memorable characters.

Carol said...

David Copperfield has some of the most memorable characters In Literature for me. Also loved Hard Times, Bleak House & Our Mutual Friend. The last one does have sections that were hard to get through but I think the plot was one of Dickens's best.

Anonymous said...

I love that David Copperfield uses reading to help himself endure the miserable days of Murdstones.