David Copperfield (Review)

Labels: Great Works


David Copperfield
Charles Dickens, 1850
700-800 pp. (varies by publisher)

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January, 2014

Dickens is wordy—that we know. Yet to read him is to revel in the abundance of the English language. Then there's the length and pacing: plotlines piling up one after another after another, propelling us forward until at last, nearly done in, we reach the end!

And finally—Dickens is funny, very funny. As dire as things get for little Davey Copperfield, it's impossible not to guffaw at the characters and many turns of phrase that flow from the author's gift for wordplay. All of it makes this work one of the most extraordinary, most exuberant reads of all time. It's pure joy.

Born into a comfortable household, David's earliest years are spent with his widowed mother doting on every whim. But earthly paradise is never forever: at the age of seven, David acquires a stepfather, and things go from bad to worse...to awful. He is sent away to school, then endentured to a London warehouse...until finally he runs away. A great aunt agrees to take him in, and there his fortunes improve. Through it all, we stick with our young hero as he finds love and fulfillment, marriage and family.

Dickens introduces us to an array of indelible characters—some 35 in all—which allows him to showcase his mordant brand of humor. He limns their hypocrisy, humility (false or excessive) clumsiness, and their downright silliness—in short every conceivable human foible, and then some.

From early on, David turns to books to transport him to a better world, one where he's the hero and his stepfather the villain. "This was my only and my constant comfort," he tells us. Years later, having been caught up in the romance of a London stage play, he steps outside the theater door only to encounter a "bawling...muddy, miserable world"—the hard bump of reality.

Clearly, Charles Dickens understood the power of fiction and our universal desire to be swept away by a great story—because that's what happens when we pick up a Dickens novel. He gives us a universe so complete, so absorbing, at once realistic and fanciful, that he has captivated millions of us for over 150 years.

A caveat: Dickens sometimes stretches out the narrative, putting a drag on the pace. But stick with it because he'll suddenly pick it back up again and propel you forward.

See our David Copperfield Reading Guide.

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