David Copperfield (novel)

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David Copperfield or The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (which he never meant to publish on any account)[1] is a novel by Charles Dickens, first published as a novel in 1850. Like most of his works, it originally appeared in serial form a year earlier. Many elements within the novel follow events in Dickens' own life, and it is probably the most autobiographical of all of his novels[2]. In the preface to the 1867 Charles Dickens edition, he wrote, "… like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield." [3]


Plot summary

The story deals with the life of David Copperfield from childhood to maturity. David is born in England in about 1820. David's father had died six months before he was born, and seven years later, his mother marries Mr Edward Murdstone. David is given good reason to dislike his stepfather and has similar feelings for Mr Murdstone's sister Jane, who moves into the house soon afterwards. Mr Murdstone thrashes David for falling behind with his studies. Following one of these thrashings, David bites him and is sent away to a boarding school, Salem House, with a ruthless headmaster, Mr. Creakle. Here he befriends James Steerforth and Tommy Traddles, both of whom he meets again later on.

David returns home for the holidays to find out that his mother has had a baby boy. Soon after David goes back to Salem House, his mother and her baby die and David has to return home immediately. Mr Murdstone sends him to work in a factory in London, of which Murdstone is a joint owner. The grim reality of hand-to-mouth factory existence echoes Dickens' own travails in a blacking factory. His landlord, Mr Wilkins Micawber, is sent to a debtor's prison (the King's Bench Prison) after going bankrupt, and is there for several months before being released and moving to Plymouth. David now has nobody left to care for him in London, and decides to run away.

He walks all the way from London to Dover, to find his only relative, his aunt Miss Betsey. The eccentric Betsey Trotwood agrees to bring him up, despite Mr Murdstone visiting in a bid to regain custody of David. David's aunt renames him 'Trotwood Copperfield', soon shortened to "Trot", and for the rest of the novel he is called by either name, depending on whether he is communicating with someone he has known for a long time, or someone he has only recently met.

The story follows David as he grows to adulthood, and is enlivened by the many well-known characters who enter, leave and re-enter his life. These include Peggotty, his faithful former housekeeper for his mother, her family, and their orphaned niece Little Em'ly who lives with them and charms the young David. David's romantic but self-serving schoolfriend, Steerforth, seduces and dishonors Little Em'ly, triggering the novel's greatest tragedy; and his landlord's daughter and ideal "angel in the house," Agnes Wickfield, becomes his confidante. The two most familiar characters are David's sometime mentor, the constantly debt-ridden Mr Wilkins Micawber, and the devious and fraudulent clerk, Uriah Heep, whose misdeeds are eventually discovered with Micawber's assistance. Micawber is painted as a sympathetic character, even as the author deplores his financial ineptitude; and Micawber, like Dickens's own father, is briefly imprisoned for insolvency.

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