More on David Copperfield from the Mitchell Classics, this week from Mario
“And if it should appear from anything I may set down in this narrative that I was a child of close observation or that, as a man, I have a strong memory of my childhood…l undoubtedly lay claims to both of these characteristics…”
These twin talents or gifts which Dickens most certainly displayed throughout his writing, powers of OBSERVATION and MEMORY, were nowhere seen better than in David Copperfield arguably his finest work. There is undoubtedly a lot of himself in the book, what he was and also perhaps something he would have wanted to be.
The young David introduces the reader to parents who are less than ideal; his natural father has died before his son is born and is replaced by a cruel and overbearing stepfather, Mr. Murdstone, who makes life very difficult for the child and his mother Clara who although well-meaning is herself dominated by the Murdstones; consequently she is unable to protect David and it falls to the likes of Peggotty his nurse to look after his welfare.
With only nine of the sixty four chapters complete, David, still a young child, finds himself all alone in the world with the tragic death of his mother and
his own newborn baby brother; it was to be a defining moment in his life…
“The mother who lay in the grave was the mother of my infancy;
the little creature in her arms was myself, as I had once been,
hushed forever on her bosom.”
To me this is Charles Dickens affirming that his success in life would be achieved by his own efforts, that he would rise above the adversity into which he had been born. In effect he will bury his childhood and make his own way in the world.
And so the stage is set and the reader is invited to marvel at the progress of a self-made man and his encounters with a cavalcade of never to be forgotten characters whose names may be made up but who almost certainly walked the streets of Victorian London and were the inspiration for a great literary work…names like Peggotty and Trotwood, Heep, Micawber and so many more.
Unlike many of his other novels, David Copperfield doesn’t have a critical or crusading agenda. It is more by way of being a personal memoir but however we may wish to categorise the work it is undoubtedly one of the ‘greats’… and it certainly vindicates the author’s claims regarding his powers of memory and eye for detail.
Next week Brian from the Mitchell Classics concludes the group’s Dickens adventure.