David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Of Dickens I’ve read Bleak House, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, and now David Copperfield. And I think that’s the order in which I’d rank them, personally. I liked Bleak House the most and David Copperfield the least.
People always disparage Dickens for the length of his novels, joking about how he was paid by the word. I didn’t mind the considerable length of David Copperfield as much as the overly credulous narrator, the annoying characters and their tics, and the
The thing that I disliked most about this book can be summed up in one word: Dora. The more I got to know this character, the more irritating she was, and the less I respected the protagonist for loving her. She was nothing but a doll to everyone in her life, to be petted and babied, and that is so sad and pitiable. David kept going on about how adorable she was, but there was nothing in her behavior that I found charming at all. Her little dog was especially grating. I really couldn’t understand why David still wanted to marry her after she flipped out when he asked her to learn about managing a house. That was the biggest bright red flashing warning sign I could have imagined, and he ignored it. I gagged when she asked him to call her his “child-wife.” She actively engineered her own infantilization. It was supposed to be sad when she died, but I wasn’t sad.
Little Em’ly’s character suffers from a lot of the same problems of Dora’s. For example, why does everyone still call her “little” when she’s a grown woman? The whole deal with Little Em’ly’s ruin was a little weird to me, though similar situations are found in Austen and lots of other writers of the period. Em’ly seems to regret her choice to run away with Steerforth instantly, so quickly that it makes me wonder why she goes with him at all, unless it’s to escape being called “little” and assert her adulthood, maturity, and independence. But there is nothing but sorrow in her good-bye letter. Everyone forgives her instantly too, while still talking about her as if she’s destroyed herself. What I don’t really get is why her life is ruined if everyone forgives her. Ham still loves her; why is it so impossible that she could go back to Yarmouth and marry him anyway? But whatever. It’s Victorian; the woman’s worth comes from her purity.
David’s eventual marriage to Agnes was predictable, beginning when she questioned his friendship with Steerforth. So really the insufferable Dora had to die to clear the way for a more suitable wife for the protagonist. Although if I think about it, the fact that Agnes didn’t speak out against Dora’s obvious shortcomings and tell David about her own feelings, rather than allowing him to make such a huge mistake, makes me respect her a little less too.
The best thing about this book is the humor and the cartoonish characters. Mr. Micawber was probably my favorite; I feel like I know people like him today. David Copperfield is over-the-top in lots of ways: slapstick and silly in some parts, sentimental and pathetic in others. It does teach a lesson about mature love versus infatuation, one that’s still definitely worth learning. The plot’s engine is fueled by a bunch of coincidental meetings of all the various people in David’s life, even though they are from very different parts of the country. Oh, well. DC had some fun moments, between the maudlin sentiment. I’m glad to cross it off the list.