Monday, 13 May 2013

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Note to self: While taking books you want to reread and write reviews for and putting them in the bathroom to be read over a month or so is a good idea, before you embark on this in the future, take a good look at the book. Is it monstrously long? Then it may not be ideal bathroom reading.

Not only is it heavy, that means I took around 6 months to read this, which, on first read, took me maybe two weeks. Maybe.

While this may have accidentally meant I read it much like his original readers did, when it was released in 19 monthly installments (or so wikipedia says), it did mean that now, having finished it a few days ago, I'm struggling to remember the beginning. Would this have been a problem Victorian readers had? Or would they have gone back and read favourite bits to refresh their memories?

David Copperfield is one of my favourite Dickens' books, and I tend to enjoy Dickens quite a lot. It's not a perfect book by any means, and on this read, I noticed that it lagged in the middle. (I suddenly found it much harder to pick up and was more easily distracted by the graphic novels that are my husband's bathroom reading materials.) But it picked up again by the end.

The characters are what make these books sparkle. You could accuse some of them of being caricatures, and you wouldn't be far wrong. But, oh, what wonderful caricatures they are! While not, perhaps, fully fleshed out humans, they fairly leap off the page. It's like I came into the world with spots for Mr. and Mrs. Micawber and Uriah Heep and Mr. Murdstone and Betsey Trotwood and Peggotty already in my brain, and just had to discover the characters that fit there.

When I first sat down to start this reread, I remembered very little of the book. But as I was reading, every sentence was like deja vu. I recognized even as I read, and even small events, even characters like Traddles who had somehow slipped my mind, emerged again as old friends.

Semi-autobiographical in nature, David Copperfield is thrust unkindly out into the world by fate - first rejected by his aunt, as he wasn't a girl, then subject to cruel discipline and alienation by his stepfather.

As David grows up, he finds both bad and good in the world, runs into people who help him and who hurt him. Some of the time the worst blows are dealt by those in whom he had the most faith.

But the story isn't the story here. Yes, David Copperfield is a wonderful book, but it's not because it has a driving plotline. This is a book for those who enjoy meandering, the textures of the world he creates, and characters he populates it with. I reread this simply to follow along again as David wends his way in the world, and to shudder and cheer his setbacks and successes.

I did find that, after David Copperfield moves to London and takes up his place as a clerk at the ecclesiastical court, my attention lagged. It picked up again when the Micawbers reentered the picture, and the storyline about Uriah Heep is probably my favourite, because it's so satisfying to see such an unpleasant character get his comeuppance.

I can see these characters, and that's unusual for me. In David Copperfield, Dickens was at the height of his powers for creating memorable people and setting them loose to live their lives.

Now to pick something much shorter for my next reread.

Read as part of the BBC Big Read

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