Friday, June 15, 2012

Door Stop: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

This book is long. Like The Brothers Karamazov kind of long. But like a lot of door stops out there, it is so very worth the time and trouble and anguish and drama and even frustration. This is the book I chose for my initiation into Dickens' writing, and I thought it worked out well. It may seem like it would make more sense to try One of his shorter books first, but I decided that if I was going to try him out and then I was going to dive in all the way. And I really thought I had, until I read Bleak House...but I have already posted about that experience. 

The Situation: The story follows the life of David Copperfield from childhood to adulthood. In true Dickensian fashion, David finds himself to be an orphan at a young age. His father died before he was born, and his mother dies shortly after having her second child while David is away at a boarding school. And really, that is as far as I fell I can go in this section, because really I have already bypassed several problems that have popped up even in the very early stages of this book. And as David grows older, only more crop up as he attempts to live his life. 

The Problem(s): Well, first off, David's stepfather, Mr. Murdstone (gotta love Dickens' way with names), is the reason David is sent to a boarding school in the first place. He is also the reason David is sent away to live in a factory after the death of his mother. But even after David manages to escape the harsh factory conditions and find his eccentric aunt to live with, Murdstone attempts to regain custody of him, but the aunt manages to hold onto him. And even as David manages to grow up, get married, work, and live his own life, problems follow him in the form of down and out acquaintances, false friendships (that are brought to light in some of the most awful ways imaginable), a regretful marriage, a ruthless but charismatic enemy, and loss of fortune for close friends and family. While David may be the main character of the novel, Dickens provides the reader with many colorful characters that we cannot help to either come to care for, or wish for their immediate demise and ruin. At one point I found myself (and after polling friends and family I realized I was not alone in this) wishing for the ruin and obliteration of a perfectly nice and sweet character in the novel whose only real fault is being incredibly stupid. Yeah, it is that bad. 

Genre, Themes, History: This novel is a classic example of the Bildungsroman. Dickens takes us from David's birth and on into adulthood where he has kids of his own. And while the novel is definitely not an autobiography, there are elements of David's childhood that are similar to that of Dickens himself. There are general themes of greed, control, justice, and even financial ineptitude in industrialized England. Another major theme is family, as David is surrounded and supported by a few since he no longer has one of his own, and his first attempt to build one is a regrettable failure. And David is surrounded by families of all types: rich, poor, noble, despicable, loving, unforgiving, etc. In the end, most of the novel's issues are resolved with everyone more or less getting what they deserve. 

My Verdict: As I mentioned before, this novel is definitely worth reading, but it will most likely take a considerable amount of time. And even after having read three other Dickens novels, I would still recommend this one as a good starting point if you haven't read anything else by him. I have heard Oliver Twist mentioned as a recommendation for first-time Dickens readers, but as I haven't read that one I can't make a judgement either way. I do recommend that an edition with the original illustrations be used. The one pictured above has both the illustrations and notes as to how the original story was serialized when Dickens first published it. 

Favorite Moment: When David realizes what the reader has been thinking for several pages: that his wife is an idiot and he was a fool for basically going after a pretty face with no functioning brain matter in her head. Yeah, it is that bad. 

Favorite Character: David's eccentric Aunt Betsy Trotwood seems like a harsh and cold person when she is first introduced, but she is soon shown to be delightfully offbeat and actually cares for David a great deal. 

Recommended Reading: I think I will go ahead and recommend another Dickens door stop, Bleak House. This one has even more characters (if you can imagine that) and even more tangled plot lines that link the characters together in sometimes unusual ways (view my blog post on the Bleak House cast of characters). Oh yeah, and there is a spontaneous combustion. Yep, that happens.

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