David Copperfield

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David Copperfield

1yarb
Dez 29, 2007, 2:01am

I've recently finished reading David Copperfield. A lot of people (including geniuses like Dostoyevsky and Kafka) rate this as a great work of literature. Dickens himself apparently thought it his best novel.

As far as I can see, these are the main pros and cons:

Pro

- Occasionally vivid (e.g. Chapter 55, "Tempest") and always economical narration;
- An excellent ear for language, dialect and discourse: every communication (verbal or written) between characters is instantly believable.

Con

- A plot so contrived as to be laughable. There are very few incidental characters, no passing attachments, very little background noise or colour beyond the main action. It's as if the hero lives in a bubble with about ten other people, all of whom collide with each other endlessly to the exclusion of the rest of the world. When Dickens is wrapping things up at the end, having DC's former schoolmaster conduct him on a tour of a prison containing two other previously unconnected characters in adjacent cells, I'm sure he must be winding me up. All the exactitude and realism of the narrative style is undermined by the author's obvious obsession with knitting every last yarn of plot into a ball so tight it is only six inches across, yet weighs more than Saturn;
- Characters which are cardboard cutouts. Hardly any (the hero, his aunt) have any moral nuance. There is more subtlety of motive in a pantomime. Very few people are all good or all bad, yet in 'Copperfield' very few are anything but. Even the narrator confesses his failings as if at a job interview - the tone is always "I was wrong then but I've seen the light now". By the end, the implication is, he's perfect, the natural end-product of a perfectly-plotted bildungsroman.

I've got nothing against transparent characters and plots, but in conjunction with what seems to be a genuine desire in the narrrative style to show things as they are, they make no sense. It's almost as if there's one person in charge of the writing and another, with diametrically opposed views on art, supervising the book's structure.

Anyhow, I just can't see why it's regarded as a masterpiece. Can any of you lot see something I can't or maybe show me where I'm going wrong?

What other Dickens should I read to feel better about the guy? Just what's so great about David Copperfield?

And did he really make the Statue of Liberty disappear?

2enevada
Jan 3, 2008, 12:44pm

Dickens doesn't age well - or rather, readers who read Dickens early often find the exercise later in life to be anti-climatic, or disappointing. Maybe it is just me, but I fell in love with David Copperfield (the character not the novel) early, early - and so many of the over-drawn characters: Micawber, Peggoty, Heep - and lovely Agnes, are still quite close to me. Dickens sticks to you like the smell of warm pudding.

For a child, the world that Dickens creates: hapless heroes, insular paths, surmountable poverty - is a great comfort. It may be difficult to swallow as an adult, but wonderful to re-read with a child.

Disappear? No, he merely palmed it.

3atimco
Jan 3, 2008, 3:57pm

I recently read this book and went through stages with it. When I would pick it up I'd get engrossed and read 200 pages in a sitting, but parts dragged and I would be reluctant to pick it up again. Then when I would, of course, I would become enthralled again. I did enjoy the book very much, but I agree it's too long.

4kaelirenee
Jan 3, 2008, 8:26pm

About his books being too long-I remember reading some time ago that Dickens was paid by the word and that whenever he gave a reading of his works, he heavily edited his writing to shorten things. With that in mind, I only read Dickens abridged and I feel no qualms about that. And yes, his novels seem so contrived now-but then, so do Shakespeare and the Bible. We've heard the stories so much. The stories we haven't heard have still been used by many other authors over time. I agree with enevada's assessment-Dickens doesn't age well (at least, not when compared to many other classic authors).

5vanjr
Mar 5, 2019, 2:12pm

Part (OK, a LARGE part) of enjoying Dickens is the length of the story. Arriving at the final destination is nice, but if you cannot enjoy meandering then he is not for you.

6Cecrow
Editado: Mar 6, 2019, 7:21am

I think Dickens does fantastic characterizations. For sure they're often exaggerated and built around one or two adjectives, but they become loveable for so well encapsulating that image. All the Dickens plots I've read so far hinge on massive coincidence, which can drive you bonkers since it isn't tolerated now like it was then. But at the time of writing it was considered perfectly acceptable. That's a case of "time's they are a-changin'".

My problem with the novel was that vast portion in the middle where all the drama is with the non-David characters. Nothing happens in his own life, only in the lives around him, for about 200 or 300 pages.

(And nope, he just turned the stage.)

7kac522
Jul 11, 3:05am

>6 Cecrow: I love David Copperfield, especially the first part of the book centered on young David. But I agree with you completely: at the end of the book I feel I know very little about adult David--how he really thinks and feels. Even so, I love the journey.

8asurbanipal
Editado: Ago 14, 12:46pm

Dickens is readable and still surprisingly fresh. He's a bit like Shakespeare in analyzing various human emotions. This is a bit rural, once people had time for such emotions. But all these situations, patterns are still encountered today. Also The Bible is often about emotions, and it's also rural. Of course Dickens describes life in a large city, London, but it's London on the Thames, still a bit medieval, like Chaucer's London. I would say that Dickens is some authority for me.

9kac522
Editado: Set 2, 1:36pm

I just finished a fantastic book about Dickens: The Artful Dickens: The Tricks and Ploys of the Great Novelist by John Mullan. Citing examples from all of the novels, Mullan explores topics like: use of present vs. past tense to create tension (an innovation at the time), foreshadowing ("foreseeing"), humor juxtaposed with dark themes, speech, character names, ghosts, drowning, and what Mullan calls "fantasizing"--the similes, metaphors and "as if"/"as though" phrases found everywhere in the novels.

Just one of the many interesting stories was how Dickens as a young adult was fascinated by a London entertainer named Charles Mathews, who was a brilliant imitator. Dickens would watch this man perform every night for almost a year, he was so enthralled. Dickens himself loved to imitate and mimic people's speech and mannerisms, and worked hard to make his written speech and details of each of his characters immediately recognizable and discernable from other characters. This book makes me want to go back and read all of the novels again, even the ones I didn't like as well, just to experience his amazing writing techniques.