Greatly Entertaining

David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

I was thoroughly entertained by this and never found it a slog reading through its 800 plus pages--and that actually came as a surprise to me because I am by no means a Dickens fan. I decided to read this one because it's on the the list of 100 Significant Books I've been reading through--and because a friend told me that I should at least try this one before giving up on Dickens. This was actually his own favorite among his novels, and the one most autobiographical. Even knowing as little as I do of his life, I could certainly see plenty of parallels between the young Charles Dickens and David Copperfield. And especially given this was written in first person, this book has a confessional quality that drew me in and propelled me forward.

The thing is this novel I so enjoyed is guilty of every sin that so often drove me batty in Dickens: the rambling plot riddled with unlikely coincidences, the long, long length, the at times mawkish sentimentality, the phrases repeated again and again, the characterizations that often seemed more caricatures, and above all, the women characters that convince me Dickens thinks of the female gender as not quite human--or at least I felt so at first. David's mother Clara in particular drove me up the wall--I wanted to reach into the book and throttle her. It seemed to me in my reading of several of Dickens novels that his women run to four types or combinations and at first David Copperfield seemed no exception. There is the angelic creature who is often a victim, such as Clara, Little Em'ly, Agnes and Dora. There is the evil harridan such as Miss Murdstone or Rosa Dartle. There is the sacrificing Earth mother such as Peggoty. And finally, there is the (often rich) eccentric such as Betsy Trotwood. But ah, often the eccentric characters are so richly comic--and in the case of Trotwood there is more than initially met the eye--in fact I wasn't a third way through the novel before I loved her. And Agnes grew on me too. Not everyone's reaction--George Orwell, among others, despised the character. But she was the first female character who struck me as being a rational creature. But they're memorable--and not just the women. I don't think I'm ever going to forget Mr Micawber. I know I'll never forget Uriah Heep, the most odious, shudder-worthy villain I've met in literature.

So yes, after this book I got more of a sense of Dickens' charms. A Christmas Carol has been a favorite since childhood. And I did love Great Expectations--till the end, which I found a bit of a cheat. But I hated Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. It's David Copperfield that's convinced me I should try more of Dickens. It was worth traversing its long and winding length.