Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
David Copperfield is a stark portrait of poverty in 19th century England, a coming of age tale, and a story of triumphs won through dedication, hard work, and the unswerving support of family and intimate friends. It chronicles the life of David (aka Trotwood) Copperfield, from his earliest sorrows and childhood woes to young love, painful loss, and a hard-fought victorious happy ending. David is formed in front of our eyes, and his humility, sensitivity, and audacious spirit are born before us. David Copperfield is much more than the story of one young boy on a path to greatness; it paints a picture of what makes up a person. Each trait of Davy's, each action he takes, can be traced to the influences of a faithful servant, a loving (if eccentric) aunt, or a dedicated boyhood friend, to name a few. Davy is a stand-in for Dickens, and if you like to admire not just the book, but the author of it, run out and grab David Copperfield today. You won't be disappointed.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here
I really enjoyed this book. I'm not sure it quite eclipsed my love for Great Expectations, but I consider it a very dear friend now. I thought the best way to share my experience of Davy with you was by helping you get to know a few of the actors.
Allow me to introduce you to our cast of characters:
Clara Peggotty, Davy's childhood nurse
Peggotty's reaction after Davy is sent away to school as a punishment: "Looking out I saw, to my amazement, Peggotty burst from a hedge and climb into the cart. She took me in both her arms, and squeezed me to her stays until the pressure on my nose was extremely painful, though I never thought of that till afterwards when I found it very tender. Not a single word did Peggotty speak. Releasing one of her arms, she put it down in her pocket to the elbow, and brought out some paper bags of cakes which she crammed into my pockets, and a purse which she put into my hand, but not one word did she say. After another and a final squeeze with both arms, she got down from the cart and ran away." this reminded me of all the times Hagrid pulls something soft and squishy out of his pockets, and when he pulls a whole birthday cake and a pack of sausages out of his pocket at the cabin on the sea. :)
Mr. Peggotty, Clara P's brother:
- Mr. Peggotty is a self-proclaimed 'bacheldore', which I found highly amusing.
- "His was not a lazy trustfulness that hoped, and did no more. He had been a man of sturdy action all his life, and he knew that in all things wherein he wanted help he must do his own part faithfully, and help himself." he reminded me of Mr. Light, always hard at work on something, and knowing his work is to a good end. :)
Mr. Barkis, future husband of Clara Peggotty:
"On the very first evening after our arrival, Mr. Barkis appeared in an exceedingly vacant and awkward condition, and with a bundle of oranges tied up in a handkerchief. As he made no allusion of any kind to this property, he was supposed to have left it behind him by accident when he went away; until Ham, running after him to restore it, came back with the information that it was intended for Peggotty. After that occasion he appeared every evening at exactly the same hour, and always with a little bundle, to which he never alluded, and which he regularly put behind the door, and left there. These offerings of affection were of a most various and eccentric description. Among them I remember a double set of pigs' trotters, a huge pin-cushion, half a bushel or so of apples, a pair of jet earrings, some Spanish onions, a box of dominoes, a canary bird and cage, and a leg of pickled pork." hehehehee. I wouldn't mind if someone courted me with those things!
Aunt Betsey Trotwood, Davy's (deceased) father's sister:
Aunt Betsey was one of my favorite characters - she's a no-nonsense, independent woman, and I loved that Dickens wrote such a strong female character considering the time period he lived and wrote in.
- her first words on Davy's unexpected arrival at her house: "Go away, no boys here!"
- donkeys: Aunt Betsey's Biggest Pet Peeve is when people let their donkeys trot all over her front lawn. This leads to some hilarious hijinx. When she goes on vacation to London and leaves Mr. Dick at home, she intimates to Davy that Mr. Dick is Not Trustworthy re: keeping away the donkeys.
- "His sister, Betsey Trotwood, would never have run away." Aunt Betsey originally cuts off contact with Davy because she wanted a girl, whom she would have called Betsey Trotwood Copperfield. She comes to love Davy eventually, but frequently compares him to the imaginary "Betsey Trotwood" and her pristine presumed behavior. She also decides she can't call Davy David because David is what his father's name was; instead, she calls him Trotwood Copperfield, or sometimes Trot, for short. haghaghahgah.
Mr. Dick, trusted advisor to Aunt Betsey, and definitely not all there in the head:
- his memorial, and King Charles I: Mr. Dick is writing a memorial (for the entire duration of the book) but King Charles I keeps popping up in it, uninvited. King Charles becomes synonymous with bouts of mild madness in Mr. Dick, and there are frequent re-designs of Mr. Dick's work to "keep King Charles out of it."
- When Davy first arrives at Aunt Betsey's (after walking quite a long distance on foot), Aunt Betsey is kerfuffled, and decides to ask Mr. Dick what to do. Mr. Dick, though a bit touchy in the head, makes the following reasonable suggestions at critical junctures which will drastically affect Davy's future:
on what to do with him when he first arrives:
- "Wash him!"
on what to do after he's been washed:
- "Put him to bed!"
on whether to send him back to the care of his evil father-in-law who had sent him to work in a factory (at the ripe old age of 11 or so):
- "Measure him for a suit of clothes!"
I loved that Mr. Dick was the one to make all of these major life decisions for Davy. Adorable!
"Mr. Dick was very partial to gingerbread. To render his visits the more agreeable, my aunt had instructed me to open a credit for him at a cake-shop, which was hampered with the stipulation that he should not be served with more than one shilling's-worth in the course of any one day. This, and the reference of all his little bills at the county inn where he slept, to my aunt, before they were paid, induced me to suspect that he was only allowed to rattle his money, and not to spend it." Mr. Dick often happily rattles his money loudly in his pockets :)
Mr. & Mrs. Micawber, an impoverished couple with whom Davy boards during his time at the factory, and later, a set of very dear friends:
- letters: Mr. Micawber has a penchant for writing elaborate letters on all sorts of occasions. He also frequently hangs out with Davy and seems to be having a great time, only to forward a letter not 5 minutes after his departure that claims he is "RUINED forever and there's No Hope for him."
- debtor's prison: The Micawbers move into debtor's prison while Davy is boarding with them (he ends up finding an apartment nearby and visiting them quite frequently) and they have a much better time in prison than out of it, what with not being hounded by bill collectors and all. I found this amusing and a bit too close to home, in that I would Certainly be in debtor's prison right now if we lived in Dickens' time. Any extra room in there, Micawbers? A nice cozy spot by the fire, perhaps? ;)
a taste of Mr. Micawber's fondness for grandiose prose:
"Emma [Mrs. Micawber]! The cloud is past from my mind. Mutual confidence, so long preserved between us once, is restored, to know no further interruption. Now, welcome poverty! Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!"
Tommy Traddles, a friend of Davy's first at school, then later in life:
- flower pot and stand and little round table: Traddles saves up for his future marriage to "the dearest girl in the world", as she is referred to, aka Sophy, and starts off his collection of items with a flower pot and stand and a little round table. After lending money to the Micawbers (Big Mistake!), the flower pot and stand and table are seized. Traddles eventually saves enough to buy them back, but has Peggotty help him so he won't be gouged.
- hair like Harry Potter:
Davy, on the first time he met Dora's aunts and wanted to make a good impression: "Excellent fellow as I knew Traddles to be, and warmly attached to him as I was, I could not help wishing, on that delicate occasion, that he had never contracted the habit of brushing his hair so very upright. It gave him a surprised look - not to say a hearth-broomy kind of expression - which, my apprehensions whispered, might be fatal to us.
I took the liberty of mentioning it to Traddles, as we were walking to Putney; and saying that if he would smooth it down a little -
'My dear Copperfield,' said Traddles, lifting off his hat, and rubbing his hair all kinds of ways, 'Nothing would give me greater pleasure. But it won't."
'Won't be smoothed down?' said I.
'No,' said Traddles. 'Nothing will induce it. If I was to carry a half-hundredweight upon it, all the way to Putney, it would be up again the moment the weight was taken off. You have no idea what obstinate hair mine is, Copperfield. I am quite a fretful porcupine." ahghagaghaghahgagha.
Dora, Davy's lady-love, and her silly but darling dog, Jip:
- the cookery-book: Davy tries to teach Dora about how to keep house and buys her a cookery book, but she has a very hard time with it, and after drawing all over the pages, finds the best use of it to be teaching Jip how to jump onto it.
- the pens: When Davy starts writing and earning some money from it, Dora wants to be helpful, so she ends up asking if she couldn't possibly, just Maybe, hold his pens? And he happily obliges, using far too many pens and "accidentally" breaking them so she can provide him with a new one. adorbs :)
Aunt Betsey, on Dora:
"Our dearest Dora is a favourite child of nature. She is a thing of light, and airiness, and joy."
Agnes, dear friend of Davy's from youth, confidant, and maybe something more (no spoilers here! just heavy-handed foreshadowing, à la Dickens!)
Davy, to Agnes: "Whenever I have not had you, Agnes, to advise and approve in the beginning, I have seemed to go wild, and to get into all sorts of difficulty. When I have come to you, at last (as I have always done), I have come to peace and happiness. I come home, now, like a tired traveller, and find such a blessed sense of rest!"
Davy, on not realizing sooner how much he cares for Agnes:
"I had thrown away the treasure of her love."
Davy: "What I am, you have made me, Agnes. You should know best."
Steerforth, friend and role model at school, and later handsome daredevil:
- Think Tom Riddle meets Wickham meets Willoughby. Nuff said.
Uriah Heep, employee of the Wickfields (Agnes and father), master manipulator, and all-around no-good-very-bad-guy:
Davy, on one of his first encounters with Uriah:
"I found Uriah reading a great fat book, with such demonstrative attention, that his lank forefinger followed up every line as he read, and made clammy tracks along the page (or so I fully believed) like a snail."
"He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly; and which diverted my attention from the compliment he had paid my relation, to the snaky twistings of his throat and body."
Aunt Betsey, on meeting Uriah for the first time and seeing him gesticulate wildly:
Aunt Betsey: "Deuce take the man, what's he about? Don't be galvanic, sir!"
Uriah: "I ask your pardon, Miss Trotwood, I'm aware you're nervous."
Aunt Betsey: "Go along with you, sir! Don't presume to say so! I am nothing of the sort. If you're an eel, sir, conduct yourself like one. If you're a man, control your limbs, sir! Good God! I am not going to be serpentined and cork-screwed out of my senses!" ahgahgahgahgh. one of my favorite lines.
Davy, hero of our novel:
when I first knew I would love Davy; his reaction to being quarantined in his room by his nasty father-in-law:
"My father had left a small collection of books in a little room up-stairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company [...] this was my only and my constant comfort."
- Davy as "The Book of Ecclesiastes": Davy's appetite for books serves him well in school, and he shares the stories and plots with all the boys late into the night. It reminded me of the end of Fahrenheit-451 when Montag becomes the back-up responsible for the Book of Ecclesiastes (should anything happen to the existing bearer). I think the only thing I know by heart is "Jabberwocky". What could you share, my friends?
- bear's grease, crushes: Davy, like any young boy, tries to show off and has a number of very silly crushes and emphatuations. He uses quite a bit of bear's grease in his hair, and when he first falls for Dora, admits: "I lived principally on Dora and coffee." I loved the human quality to these crushes.
- drunk and silly: Davy, on the first night he gets really drunk out with Steerforth and friends: "Somebody was leaning out of my bedroom window, refreshing his forehead against the cool stone of the parapet, and feeling the air upon his face. It was myself. I was addressing myself as 'Copperfield,' and saying, 'Why did you try to smoke? You might have known you couldn't do it.' Now, somebody was unsteadily contemplating his features in the looking-glass. That was I too. I was very pale in the looking-glass; my eyes had a vacant appearance; and my hair - only my hair, nothing else - looked drunk." ahgahghaghaghaghaghahgahgahgahgaghagh.
- courting Dora (like Swann courting Odette): "on that Saturday evening she was to be at Miss Mills's; and when Mr. Mills had gone to his whist-club (telegraphed to me in the street, by a bird-cage in the drawing-room middle window), I was to go there to tea." this reminded me of all of Swann's elaborate signals with Odette during their courtship and his rage when the signal wouldn't happen when it was supposed to.
- on visiting Dora's aunts: "The clock ticks over the fireplace, the weather-glass hangs in the hall. Neither clock nor weather-glass is ever right; but we believe in both, devoutly." anyone who knows my mother knows that no two clocks in her house are ever the same. the one in the den gets slower throughout the week, while the one in the living room gets faster. the kitchen is always something wildly arbitrary, like 16 and half minutes fast. disturbingly enough, we are all quite used to it, and have no trouble keeping time. visitors, on the other hand, are often quite stymied.
On the whole band and their intimacy, despite hard times, when Dora falls ill: "Jip would bark and caper round us, and go on before, and look back on the landing, breathing short, to see that we were coming. My aunt, the best and most cheerful of nurses, would trudge after us, a moving mass of shawls and pillows. Mr. Dick would not have relinquished his post of candle-bearer to any one alive. Traddles would be often at the bottom of the staircase, looking on, and taking charge of sportive messages from Dora to the dearest girl in the world. We made quite a gay procession of it." I love the way that Dickens makes a family out of his characters, and how by the end, you feel a part of that family. I was truly sorry to relinquish Davy (and Mr. Dick, and Aunt Betsey, and Peggotty) as a companion on my Metro trips to and from work.
Passages I particularly enjoyed:
- on the night of Davy's birth: "As the elms bent to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after a few seconds of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms about, as if their late confidences were really too wicked for their peace of mind, some weather-beaten ragged old rooks'-nests burdening their higher branches, swung like wrecks upon a stormy sea."
- Davy, on his first night at Aunt Betsey's: "I remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams."
- remembering church: "The earthly smell, the sunless air, the sensation of the world being shut out, the resounding of the organ through the black and white arched galleries and aisles, are wings that take me back, and hold me hovering above those days, in a half-sleeping and half-waking dream."
- coming out into the rain after his first night at the theatre: "But the mingled reality and mystery of the whole show, the influence upon me of the poetry, the lights, the music, the company, the smooth stupendous changes of glittering and brilliant scenery, were so dazzling, and opened up such illimitable regions of delight, that when I came out into the rainy street, at twelve o'clock at night, I felt as if I had come from the clouds, where I had been leading a romantic life for ages, to a bawling, splashing, link-lighted, umbrella-struggling, hackney-coach-jostling, patten-clinking, muddy, miserable world."
- Davy, on the early days of authorship: "I wallow in words."
- "As the receding wave swept back with a hoarse roar, it seemed to scoop out deep caves in the beach, as if its purpose were to undermine the earth."
Onwards to Twilight, and vampires in the night! (No wait, I'm not at all sure that that's right.)