Friday, August 30, 2013

David Copperfield

David Copperfield  by Charles Dickens

I read David Copperfield in 2005 or so and am posting the original review I wrote about it here.  I'm not sure what frame of mind I was in at the time, but I do recall finding Dickens to be a little too thorough for me, particularly in this instance.  I've since developed a much better appreciation of Mr. Dickens and his work.  Now, let's see what I had to say about it back then.

For the majority of the book, I found myself overwhelmed by the desire to slap some sense into the little idiot. I get that he had a hard life and Dickens certainly grilled in the fact that an awful lot happened to him when he was really young. It seemed there was always someone in his life that could soften up at least some of his hard knocks.

David Copperfield was born to a young and pretty widow. He never knew his father. His aunt, on the father's side, was so distraught by his not being a girl, she fled the premises and promptly began to ignore Davey and his mom.  Mom remarries, a major league creep, Mr. Murdstone, who, along with his sister, torment and abuse the boy.  He makes one attempt to fight back and bites Mr. Murdstone. For this he is considered criminal and dangerous and shipped off to boarding school.

A bright spot in Davey's young life is Peggoty, his nurse.  Her brother, Mr. Peggoty lives on a ship on land with the family he's adopted because of his good nature. Mrs. Gummidge is the widow of a fisherman friend; Ham is his orphaned nephew and Little Emily an orphaned niece.  These people continue to hold a place in DC's life and they always look out for him.  When David is alone at school, Mr. Peggoty and Ham come to visit, bringing bushels of fish and lobsters.

DC's school experience is short lived, due to the death of his mother and her infant son. David is forced back home, suffering under the rule of Mr. and Miss Murdstone. Soon after they ship him off to work in his stepfather's (although he is referred to as DC's father-in-law) wine business. He rents a room in the home of a bankrupt family, the Micawbers. Gradually, the house empties of furniture and DC is forced to find new lodgings when the Micawbers go offf to live in the debtor's prison. This family, also remains in DC's life through all sorts of travels, trials and tribulations.  And, despite their problems, I was always amazed that they never asked him for anything. He would not have been able to say no, and that kind of involvement would have surely ruined him. (I guess I've always over-analyzed everyone, including myself and fictional characters)

Eventually he takes off with only the clothes on his back in an attempt to find the long lost aunt. He manages, at long last, to find her and she takes him in. It turns out that she's a really good person who puts him through school and gets him started in a profession. She also cares for her cousin, Mr. Dick, who, although he has a pretty frail mental constitution, is a very good, kind and intelligent man. The three of them make a very good family.

DC's adventures continue.  His social circle continues to grow. There are plenty of good and bad people in it. The horrible Uriah Heep, the two-faced spoiled brat, Steerforth, Agnes Wickfield and her father, with whom he lives while in school, Dr. Strong the schoolmaster.... It isn't until the end (well, almost the end, because this book went on forever) that David managed to take a stand and set things right for everybody.

What got me was the way the characters crossed paths over and over. I have known a lot of people.  I have tons of relatives crawling all over the place within a half hour of my home. I never run into anyone I know. I mean, really, practically never ever. He walked down a street and ran into friends from his short time at boarding school, or old teachers, or people he once lived with. This guy couldn't turn a corner without falling into his past. His life is made up of interlocking circles, each representing a turning point for him.

Now, I'm sure I've left out many important things in this book. It's just that it was so all encompassing that I can't possibly extract all the necessary pieces. There were some things that really struck me. One was that horrible Rosa woman who lived with the Steerforths. She didn't fool little, naive DC, so how was she getting away with the crap she was pulling?  Along the same lines, but far more insidious, is Uriah Heep. No on liked him. He was repulsive to all and yet they let him boss them all around. 

Steerforth, on the other hand, is the kind of character who usually gets away with this behavior, but Agnes sees through him and calls DC's attention to what he's really like and he's a goner after that. But Steerforth was smooth and wealthy and attractive. He was popular; said all the right things. Yet, one person saw through him and piped up and it made all the difference. That never happens in real life, but I so wish it would.

I think the other thing that affected me most was Ham dying while trying to rescue a man that turned out to be Steerforth. Steerforth was the man who dashed all of Ham's hope for future happiness. Then to top it all off, neither of them survives.  Of course, DC, who the fates deposit in the center of everything, is the one who must take care of it all. He has to take care of Ham and keep his family from finding out, so they can start their new life in Australia, which I disagree with completely, for the record.  Not Australia, but the keeping of Ham's death from the Peggotys and Emily and Mrs. Gummidge. He also has to take Steerforth's body home to his mother and that terrible Rosa.

Wow! I feel like I've been writing forever and I've left out half the characters whose lives were detailed in full.  As far as my feelings about the book, I thing they are pretty clear as you read this.  This book definitely felt like it just had too much information.  I complain about books that don't tie up loose ends and just run to a "the end" but this was absolutely the complete opposite of that.  Every single character, major and minor, had their life story told in great detail. Microscopic detail.

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