By the time that Dickens began writing David Copperfield he was already a profound author with great popularity. I believe he wanted to portray life as best he could, he wanted to show what life was to him: and what better way than a biography closely related to Dickens himself.
We could call it a ‘Novel of personal memory’ but we have to keep in mind the full original title: ‘The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield, the Younger, of Bluderstone Rookery. (Which he never meant to published on any account.)
This complete title strongly suggests that this is one man’s story written for himself. It was also supposed to ‘never have been published on any account.’ Later in chapter 42 this condition is repeated: ‘this manuscript is intended for no eyes but mine.’
Of course, this is part of the fiction, after all, we are reading David’s story ourselves when we reach this sentence. What is David Copperfield about?
I pose myself this question to help illustrate how much of an autobiography this book really is, the simplest answer is of course that it is about David Copperfield himself and his development as a man.
Although after having read several biography’s done on the author Charles Dickens, I was led to believe that this book is very near Dickens own life, for example, his father, John Dickens does seem to have been a warm and pleasant father, but his lack of responsibility, especially with money, later led his family into serious difficulties.
This is very much like Mr.Micawber. In fact, his unhappy loves in life were portrayed also, similarly, he wanted to become a journalist and later as David Copperfield a well-known author.
Referring back to the discussion title I’d like to give a few examples that show how the terms applied actually relate to the novel. ‘Passionate jealousy,’ this can be seen majorly in Uriah Heep who throughout the entire novel displays a strong jealousy towards David. Hidden behind his ‘umbleness he despises society and is very disagreeable therefore he applies to most negative words used in the discussion title. One example of his jealousy was when he thought that David was trying to steal the love he dreamed of: Agnes. So Heep forced his own mother to spy on David.
Another character who came across as having passionate jealousy was Ms.Dartle who loved Steerforth dearly all her life even though he had been cruel to her and even ruined her beautiful face by breaking her nose when he was younger. When Steerforth fled with lil’Emily, Ms.Dartle took it to heart that Emily had stolen her Steerforth. There was a lot of jealousy on Rosa Dartle’s part.
‘Sniveling hypocrisy,’ again we see Heep classified under this category but more so there are two other very evil characters which are very hypocritical: Mr.Creakle, the cruel headmaster of Salem house school.
Initially, he is the cruelest most disrespectful headmaster alive but towards the end of the novel he has turned into a very nice, polite warden at a jailhouse who has respect even for the greatest criminals such as Heep and Littimer, Steerforth’s despicable servant.
Similarly, Mr. Murdstone seems at the beginning to be very polite and a great gentleman; until he gets what he wants! He marries rich young widowed women whom he slowly destroys with his odious ‘firmness’
‘Cold-hearted fraud’ is probably the most serious offense that is committed in David Copperfield because it actually means: trickery or scheme to deceive. In other words, it is a crime, there were only a few occasions where this occurred and mostly they were to do with Heep: firstly the way the evil and slimy character deceived Mr. Wickfield accounts on several occasions with the faking of his signature to transfer documents, once he even managed to take all of Aunt Betsey’s money that was supposed to have been her life savings and ‘all’ she had.
Also under serious offense, we see Littimer’s name appearing once again for his robbery to the bank of England, it is even suggested that both Heep and Littimer were in on things together. But luckily, with the help of Mr. Dick and the spirituous Miss. Mowcher they are both caught and put into Mr. Creakle’s prison.
‘Sexual degradation’ is also portrayed and again I’d like to step back and point out how important it is that we understand that these describing terms apply to real life, and therefore if they come up in Dickens biographical novel, he has been successful in describing how ‘real’ life is like.
Mainly the characters who acted with sexual degradation are Steerforth towards Emily by lying to her and basically tearing her away from her home and Murdstone towards David’s mother.
‘Selfish exploitation’ is done by quite a lot of characters mainly: Steerforth-thinks he’s at the top, Heep-disguised beneath his ‘humbleness’; he’s actually very conceited,
Jack Maldon-the way he thinks only of himself and takes full advantage of Doctor Strong’s caring heart, the Old Soldier (Annie’s mother)-again taking selfish advantage of Doctor Strong, and lastly Mr. Murdstone-thinking only for what’s best for him; he even abandoned David to his Aunt Betsey who was a complete stranger for him, just because he wanted to get poor David out of his life. Would an unselfish step-father do that?
The initial title also says that: ‘the final impression is one of joy tempered and mellowed with wisdom.’ This is very true and it is what has given this book the success that it has: when we begin to read David Copperfield we start to feel as if the bad luck is all happening to him, his mother re-marries a cruel man, he goes to an awful school, his mother, he has to work unfairly, etc… Steerforth’s servant Littimer once calls David ‘young innocence’ (chapter 32). This name is appropriate. David is sensitive, honest, and loving as a child, and remains so all his life.
He is intelligent and observant, but he learns the harder facts of life very slowly. That is why we can say all those describing terms about this novel are correct and that is why we can say it ends marvelously with great expected achievement from David.
In fact, also because it was written as a series rather than a novel, Dickens manages to settle everything left hanging between characters, in the last chapter.
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