David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
„Of all my books,“ says Charles Dickens in his preface to this immortal novel, „I like this the best. . . . Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield.“ When „David Copperfield‘ appeared in 1850, after „Dombey and Son“ and before „Bleak House,“ it became so popular that its only rival was „Pickwick.“ Beneath the fiction lies much of the author’s personal life, yet it is not an autobiography. The story treats of David’s sad experiences as a child, his youth at school, and his struggles for a livelihood, and leaves him in early manhood, prosperous and happily married. Pathos, humor, and skill in delineation, give vitality to this remarkable work; and nowhere has Dickens filled his canvas with more vivid and diversified characters. Forster says that the author’s favorites were the Peggotty family, composed of David’s nurse Peggotty, who was married to Barkis, the carrier; Daniel Peggotty, her brother, a Yarmouth fisherman; Ham Peggotty, his nephew; the doleful Mrs. Gummidge; and Little Emily, ruined by David’s schoolmate, Steerforth. „It has been their fate,“ says Forster, „as with all the leading figures of his invention, to pass their names into the language and become types; and he has nowhere given happier embodiment to that purity of homely goodness, which, by the kindly and all-reconciling influences of humor, may exalt into comeliness and even grandeur the clumsiest forms of humanity.“ …
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Plot summary of David Copperfield (from Wikipedia):
The story follows the life of David Copperfield from childhood to maturity. David was born in Blunderstone, Suffolk, England, six months after the death of his father. David spends his early years in relative happiness with his loving, childish mother and their kindly housekeeper, Peggotty. When he is seven years old his mother marries Edward Murdstone. During the marriage, partly to get him out of the way and partly because he strongly objects to the whole proceeding, David is sent to lodge with Peggotty’s family in Yarmouth. Her brother, fisherman Mr. Peggotty, lives in a house built in an upturned boat on the beach, with his adopted relatives Emily and Ham, and an elderly widow, Mrs. Gummidge. „Little Em’ly“ is somewhat spoilt by her fond foster father, and David is in love with her. On his return, David is given good reason to dislike his stepfather and has similar feelings for Murdstone’s sister Jane, who moves into the house soon afterwards. Between them they tyrannise his poor mother, making her and David’s lives miserable, and when, in consequence, David falls behind in his studies, Murdstone attempts to thrash him – partly to further pain his mother. David bites him and soon afterwards is sent away to a boarding school, Salem House, under a ruthless headmaster, Mr. Creakle. There he befriends an older boy, James Steerforth, and Tommy Traddles. He develops an impassioned admiration for Steerforth, perceiving him as something noble, who could do great things if he would.
David goes home for the holidays to learn that his mother has given birth to a baby boy. Shortly after David returns to Salem House, his mother and her baby die, and David returns home immediately. Peggotty marries the local carrier, Mr. Barkis. Murdstone sends David to work for a wine merchant in London – a business of which Murdstone is a joint owner.[note 2] David’s landlord, Wilkins Micawber, is arrested for debt and sent to the King’s Bench Prison, where he remains for several months, before being released and moving to Plymouth. No one remains to care for David in London, so he decides to run away.
He walks from London to Dover, to his only relative, his eccentric yet kind-hearted great-aunt Betsey Trotwood. She had come to Blunderstone at his birth, only to depart in ire upon learning that he was not a girl. However, she takes pity on him and agrees to raise him, despite Murdstone’s attempt to regain custody of David, on condition that he always tries to ‚be as like his sister, Betsey Trotwood‘ as he can be, meaning that he is to endeavour to emulate the prospective namesake she was disappointed of. David’s great-aunt renames him „Trotwood Copperfield“ and addresses him as „Trot“, and it becomes one of several names which David is called by in the course of the novel.
David’s aunt sends him to a far better school than the last he attended. It is run by Dr. Strong, whose methods inculcate honour and self-reliance in his pupils. During term, David lodges with the lawyer Mr. Wickfield, and his daughter Agnes, who becomes David’s friend and confidante. Wickfield has a secretary, the 15-year-old Uriah Heep.
By devious means, Uriah Heep gradually gains a complete ascendancy over the aging and alcoholic Wickfield, to Agnes’s great sorrow. Heep hopes, and maliciously confides to David, that he aspires to marry Agnes. Ultimately with the aid of Micawber, who has been employed by Heep as a secretary, his fraudulent behaviour is revealed. At the end of the book, David meets him in a prison, for attempting to defraud the Bank of England.
After completing school, David learns to be a proctor. During this time, due to Heep’s fraudulent activities, his aunt’s fortune has gone down. David begins struggle for his life. He joins in employment under his former teacher Doctor Strong, as a secretary and also starts to learn shorthand, with the help of his former school-friend Traddles. Upon learning shorthand, he joins in a newspaper for parliementary debate reporting. With considerable help from Agnes and his own great diligence, hard work and discipline, David ultimately finds fame and fortune as an author, by writing fiction.
David’s romantic but self-serving school friend, Steerforth, seduces and dishonours Emily, offering to marry her off to one of his servants before finally deserting her. Her uncle Mr. Peggotty manages to find her with the help of London prostitute Martha, who had grown up in their county. Ham, who had been engaged to marry her before the tragedy, died in a storm off the coast in attempting to succour a ship; Steerforth was aboard the same and also died. Mr. Peggotty takes Emily to a new life in Australia, accompanied by Mrs. Gummidge and the Micawbers, where all eventually find security and happiness.
David marries the beautiful but naïve Dora Spenlow, but their marriage proves unhappy for David. Dora dies early in their marriage. After Dora’s death, Agnes encourages David to return to normal life and his profession of writing. While living in Switzerland, David realises that he loves Agnes. Upon returning to England, after a failed attempt to conceal his feelings, David finds that Agnes loves him too. They quickly marry and in this marriage, he finds true happiness. David and Agnes then have at least five children, including a daughter named after his great-aunt, Betsey Trotwood.
(The text of the last section was taken from a Wikipedia entry and is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)
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