David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield was Dickens’s eighth novel. It was first published in 1849.
The novel held a special place in Dickens’s heart. In the preface to the 1867 edition, Dickens wrote, “like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.”
Dickens’s Life at the Time
- In July of 1848 Dickens’s sister, Fanny, is terminally ill.
- Fanny dies in September of 1848
- The Haunted Man, his last Christmas book is published in December of 1848.
- In January of 1849 Dickens begins to write David Copperfield and his son Henry Fielding Dickens is born.
- In August of 1850 daughter, Dora Annie Dickens is born. She is named after Dora in David Copperfield.
In 1848 Dickens’s beloved sister, Fanny was terminally ill. She had been his childhood companion, the model for Fan in A Christmas Carol and now she was dying of consumption.
Her death was painful and lingering. She finally passed away in September of 1848. After her death Dickens and some of his friends went on a walking tour of some of Dickens’s childhood haunts. His thoughts naturally turned to Fanny and to their childhood.
It seems natural that in early 1849 he began to write what he later called his favorite child, the novel David Copperfield.
Autobiographical Elements of David Copperfield
David Copperfield contains many autobiographical elements. At a surface level it is easy to notice that even the name of the main character, David Copperfield, has the inverted initials of its author, Charles Dickens.
David’s employment at Murdstone and Grinby’s is drawn from Dickens’s own painful experiences at Warren’s Blacking Factory. Even their careers, reporter and then novelist are similar. David’s love for Dora Spenlow is modeled after Dickens’s youthful fascination for Maria Beadnell.
Various versions of Dickens’s parents surface in the novel. Both his father and Mr. Micawber were imprisoned for debt. Mr. Dick, good hearted but unable to deal with the world, may represent another incarnation of Dickens’s father.
David’s pretty young mother, whose character was inspired by Dickens’s mother, who attended a ball on the very night she gave birth to her son Charles. Perhaps also the death of David’s mother represented the change Dickens felt toward his mother when she was eager for him to work at Warren’s Blacking Factory.
Themes of David Copperfield
Dickens, through the voice of David Copperfield, shares with us some of the values that he believed lead to his success in life:
My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.
I have been very fortunate in worldly matters; many men have worked much harder, and not succeeded half so well; but I never could have done what I have done, without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one object at a time, no matter how quickly its successor should come upon its heels, which I then formed.
Some happy talent, and some fortunate opportunity, may form the two sides of the ladder on which some men mount, but the rounds of that ladder must be made of stuff to stand wear and tear; and there is no substitute for thorough-going, ardent, and sincere earnestness.
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