The Mitchell Classics are championing Dickens this year. Here Rosalind finds good and bad in David Copperfield.
With its rambling structure, I’m not sure that this is a successful NOVEL. Had I read it, as its original readers would have done, in serialisation form, I think I would have grown less exasperated. One moment I would be entranced by Dickens’ power of visual description of setting and of character or caught up in a fast-moving piece of action (both combined in Chapter 55, “The Tempest”) and then the next, really fed up with, in particular, the Micawbers and just wish that they would get a move on and emigrate and never be heard of again. I had the impression that Dickens felt under some strain to keep the episodes going and to pad them out – why else the digression into prison reform so near the end in Chapter 61? I thought Uriah was completely off the scene by then anyway. Was the sub-plot involving Miss Trotwood’s husband necessary? David’s and Agnes’s conciliation was pretty tedious also. Come on, both of you and throw off those inhibitions! We knew it was going to happen, so why didn’t you?
Which leads me to David’s naivete and lack of emotional intelligence. While all the other characters were richly drawn (I particularly loved Traddles and his hair), I didn’t have a strong picture of the narrator. He just seemed to be a mouthpiece and plot device. (Yes, I know Dickens was using his own experience and maybe he didn’t want to reveal too much about himself). I was saved from dismissing Dora as an uninteresting character, however, by the thought that Dickens was describing someone who, nowadays, might be thought of as having learning difficulties – dyslexia, dyscalculia, possibly autism?
However, I can say that my enjoyment outweighed the longeurs. Dickens is very, very funny, especially about Dora’s little dog, Jip. I also liked reading about characters like Mr Peggotty who are “steadfast”; there is a great spirit of friendship, loyalty and solidarity among the “good” characters to offset the villains, which is heartening, and all the good ones thrive (except Dora, who really had to disappear, so that David could develop, and she was too silly to count anyway!) and the bad ones come to a gloomy end. (But was Rosa Dartle resurrected by Ian Fleming as Rosa Klebb?).
So all in all, a memorable writing achievement but I do feel I need a reader’s reward for going back to it again and again and then … finishing it! As somebody else has mentioned on the [Reading Groups for Everyone] blog in relation to Little Dorrit, I think this needs a rigorous edit, which is probably why most people first encounter it through shortened adaptations.
Reviews from other members of the group to follow at a later date.