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Thread: On re-reading David Copperfield

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    On re-reading David Copperfield

    I’ve just re-read David Copperfield, and very glad to do so.

    Like Great Expectations, the gripping part is the opening quarter describing a boy’s emotionally deprived childhood in the first person. I was not so interested thereafter.

    DC used to be regarded as Dickens’ masterpiece (it was his own favourite) but seems to have lost favour recently. I was struck that after we get past childhood, there is no sinister sense of society being itself threatening – the evil is from Uriah Heep’s individual plotting, rather than the corrosive effect of money or class, as in the other mature novels (the Law in Bleak House, the debtor’s prison in Little Dorrit, Pip’s pretensions, etc.)

    Little Emily makes a very interesting constrast with two other “fallen women” I’ve read about this year, Hetty Sorrel in Adam Bede and Lydia Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. (Lydia just avoids being fallen because Wickham is bought off. Unlike Emily, she has absolutely no regrets).

    Any other thoughts?
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    I probably should give David Copperfield a re-read. I read it about ten years ago now, and remember not getting much from the second half of it (while the first half was one of the best things by Dickens' that I have read). When it comes to his larger volumes, I prefer Pickwick Papers, Bleak House or Little Dorrit - but perhaps this is because I (re)read these more recently.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    First third, really. Betsey Trotwood sees off the Murdstones a third of the way through.

    Pickwick Papers is the one I'm in no hurry to re-read. It must have been wonderful to read when it was coming out in episodes, but it will never be as funny again.

    Dickens and plot is odd. He either seems to have too much plot (Dombey and Son) or none worth speaking about (Picwick or Copperfield).

    I once read American Notes and Pictures from Italy on the basis that Dickens' plots were so crummy and his descriptions were so wonderful, it might be better just to have descriptions. They were a bit of a bore. Dickens did characters (and the grotesque ones - Mr and Mrs Micawber, Uriah Heep, Mrs Gummidge, Mr Creakle, Miss Mowcher, Mr Dick, Betsey Trotwood - are so much more interesting than the serious ones - Annie Strong, Mr Peggoty, Agnes, Mr Wickfield, Martha Endell) and he needed a plot to string them on to.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    I agree that his characters are his strengths, but I think you give him too little credit when it comes to his plots. Granted, his shorter novels tend to have stronger plots: A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Hard Times - but there are some of the longer ones that do not rely solely on character: Bleak House, Barnaby Rudge, Little Dorrit - these are just the ones that come to mind right now. In these examples he does a great job of building suspense, creating a web of stories and simply being entertaining.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    but there are some of the longer ones that do not rely solely on character: Bleak House, ...Little Dorrit - these are just the ones that come to mind right now. In these examples he does a great job of building suspense, creating a web of stories and simply being entertaining.
    I'd agree with that, but it is above all creating an imaginative world, individual to each work, with a whole view of humanity and society. At the moment I find those with a more worked out plot, (ie Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities, sorry to say Charles) are less satisfactory than the baggy novels.

    I noticed the difference in the effect of the debtors' prison on Mr (and Mrs) Micawber and on Mr Dorrit. The prison taint effects Mr Dorrit throughout his life. The Micawbers are totally irrepressible. Both Micawber and Dorrit are irresponsible, but somehow, despite his sponging, it is difficult to think of Micawber as selfish.

    That is what I mean by the sunniness of Copperfield.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I found it uneven. The whole Mr Peggotty/Emily/Ham plot-line became a bit of a bore. I ended up liking Uriah Heep most as a character, and the Dora Spenlow plot-line the most out of the story. I really felt for Uriah Heep at the end when Copperfield comes across him in prison. How humiliating for him!
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Gosh, I'd forgotten I'd started this thread. Thank you, kev, for bringing it up again.

    I haven't changed my mind about the book and it is the mature Dickens I'm least likely to re-read soon (although for me preferable to Tale of Two Cities).

    I can imagine a feminist critique of Mr Peggotty's reaction to Emily's elopement - does he just want to exercise power over her? Perhaps she is having the time of her life as Steerforth's mistress and glad to escape an upturned boat in Great Yarmouth. (I bet he's good in bed.)

    What did you think of the Micawders, kev?
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Yes, it's difficult to read the Mr Peggotty/Emily plot-line without thinking what the feminists would think about it. I actually wondered what C19th working class people would think about it. From reading Henry Mayhew's book, London Labour and London Poor, the lower orders weren't particularly religious or sexually pure. They often lived in common law marriages for example. However, Great Yarmouth was out in the sticks so maybe they were a bit different.

    I liked the Micawbers, but would be wary of having them for friends. That £20 that Traddles signs for as security is quite a bit of money for someone who is struggling themselves, about £2000 in today's money. Micawber is a very articulate person It is said that Dickens based him on his father, who was often in debt. I wondered whether his father was equally articulate. If so, maybe that's where CD got his way of words from.
    Last edited by kev67; 03-06-2017 at 02:33 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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