For What It's Worth

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guest Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield (Modern Library Classics)

The treacherous Uriah Heep, the jovial nurse Peggotty, the adorably dim-witted Dora, the improvident Mr Micawber and the egotistic and charming Steerforth come to life in this new adaptation of Dickens’ classic.
From seaside Yarmouth to London and beyond, as plots and counterplots effortlessly interweave into one intricate, grand design, David Copperfield captures the brightness, magic and terror of the world as seen through the eyes of a child: his bafflement turning to self-awareness and his young heart growing ever more disciplined and true.

*Guest review by Alex

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens is Dickens’ most autobiographical work but is, on the surface, a piece of fiction about one man’s life, not dissimilar to a coming of age novel. It is necessary to point out that Dickens, along with Austen, is my favourite writer of Literary Classics. That said, expect some bias and leniency towards the book.

The story is too complicated and changing (and long) for me to even attempt any sort of summary. And the sub-plots; dear God! This book was obviously written in a different time because most modern readers wouldn’t even try to keep up with the plot. When the man Littimer appeared at the end, I had completely forgotten who he was. And, interestingly enough, when I did remember, I recalled how important he was also. I sincerely hope this gives you an idea of the size of the novel and the winding (confusing) road it follows.

Characterization in this book was good for me. I have heard it pointed out that Dickens tends to make characters black and white with no grey and though I can see it, I don’t think we can judge him too much by modern standard. I don’t know a great deal about Victorian era (except what we see in literature) but I wonder if ambiguous characters would have caused a lack of success because he is ‘spreading distrust and causing disarray among the public’. As it happens though, this is more autobiographical than other works, so we see more grey characters than I would expect. In my opinion, characters are influenced more by the protagonist’s opinion so therefore all characters are merely perceived.

Take the Aunt, she seems stern at the start, but alters that perception later to add other aspects of her personality. In the book itself, she probably ended up being my favourite character; if mostly because I found her and her melodrama incredibly amusing to read.

The start of the novel, it must be said, is exceedingly wordy. It’s like, as my English teacher once described *eh-hem* my writing, “Swimming through treacle”. You have to drag yourself through, praying to God that you come out the other side with a meaning and a sense of what just happened. Other readers may feel this more so as well because I happen to be more of a fan of description that most.

On that note, I’ll also point out that Dickens puts a lot of power into his descriptions: from the moment I read them, I generally know what to expect from that place or person or scenario. And I genuinely believe this is excellent, foreshadowed writing, rather than predictability. The same goes for disconnected details about the characters that we can add up and figure out what is going on. Sometime, with descriptive writing by long-gone authors, it is pleasant merely to read the passage for the music of those words. That’s a bit cheesy, I know, but authors back then always seem to speak and write in a much more fluid, attractive way than modern times; and though modern writers can write beautifully, it rarely has the same natural feel to it.

David Copperfield exploits at romance are fairly believable. It’s very love-at-first-sight (read as annoying) originally and that never seems normal to me. Usually, they end up being genuinely pleasant couples, and it’s endearing to watch courting and failures. I was very, very glad with David’s last choice though because I was convinced they would end up together and had been waiting ¾ of the book for it to happen. The only problem I might have is the portrayal of Victorian wives and being overly meek and accommodating with their husbands. I can’t stand Blind Love (though maybe that’s because I’ve never experienced it) so it tends to set my teeth on edge a bit. Victorian wives always seem to need backbone.

As with most classics, you have to want to read them (or had to have read a good one previously) in order to soldier on to finish. Though it never reaches the headache proportions of a Russian novel, there is great deal going on and great deal of people. And it isn’t like these things are forgotten: Mr. Copperfield brings them throughout the novel. With sufficient willpower and patience though, this can easily be a brilliant, relatively believable read. Only the slow start pulls down the rating here.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

I just wanted to say, as well, that I read this in a read-a-long with other bloggers, including Karen, so I read this sporadically over 6 weeks. This may have added to a feeling that it dragged out a little since I tend to read quite a bit faster than that.

The read-a-long was hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

Karen: Thanks Alex! I was a total fail at the read-a-long. I'm STILL on page 150. The slow beginning and seemingly lack of actual plot thing is dragging me down. After reading your review though, I'm going to pick it back up since it seems to get better.

*Alex is a guest reviewer once a month on For What It's worth. You can follow him on Twitter @AlexConno


  1. Awww, David Copperfield. Yeah, I wouldn't be able to read such a ginormous book, but am proud of anyone who can/did!

  2. Eeeep. I've been reading DC on and off again for years. Give me another 10 and I should have it done by then. Coming of age story, indeed.

  3. I ended up loving this book, though it did take about 250 pages for me to get into it (the same thing happened with Oliver Twist). Seems Dickens is slow-going at first, but once you're in - you're hooked. This is ultimately my second favorite of six Dickens novels now, after Great Expectations.