Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Note: I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars, so you’ll probably see it come round again at my end of the year review. However, I wrote a lengthy review for Goodreads and thought it was worth sharing. 

I have finally completed David Copperfield! Huzzah! Time for a celebratory drink (of water.) I would not have made it through the whole thing if it weren’t for the audio book I got. Simon Vance made an excellent narrator. This book is longgggg and feels even longer. I started getting creative on my commute home, trying to stretch it out an extra ten or fifteen minutes to finish a disc. There were moments I loved this book and moments I hated it. However, in the end, I have to say, loving or hating, I really enjoyed David Copperfield. It was kind of a gender-bender Cinderella story.
This is the story of David Copperfield, his entire life story. The plot follows his difficult childhood, happier adolescence, many loves, different occupations, tragedies, and even successes. All of this comes with an entire cast and crew of quirky characters who make their way in and out of David’s life. 

At first, I wasn’t sure I would like it. I was unimpressed with “David’s” desire to narrate his life story. Dickens is not always my favorite (case in point, Great Expectations) and even though I loved A Tale of Two Cities and Our Mutual Friend…the orphan boy story of David Copperfield sounded more Oliver Twist (a book that took me on and off 3 years to read.) I felt an interest in the character of Peggotty and her family (especially Mr. Barkis), but it wasn’t until David met Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, about a third of the way through the narrative, that I really  started loving the story. Almost all my favorite characters get introduced after that (the exception being Traddles, who was introduced before but is more interesting when he is older anyway.) David’s aunt, Betsey Trotwood, was a marvel. Mr. Dick was endearing. Agnes was a little too perfect but I ended up really liking her too.
With all the characters and their random manner of popping in and out of David’s life, you never knew who was going to show up next. There were a lot of characters but it was surprisingly easy to keep them straight. I like how everything was tied up and how everything comes around. The characters balance each other and create interesting contrasts and themes. (I do love a good theme.)
There was one character, I must admit, who I could not stand. Dora. I disliked her from the start and grew to hate her more as story went on. She was so childish. She made no real effort and I suppose the point is no one seriously demanded it of her. Her relationship with David went from ‘passing fancy’ to life commitment only because it faced opposition. Otherwise, it would have quite naturally died. Her nickname for David – Doady – made me want to gag. I couldn’t stand her spoiled dog. In short, I went from ‘This book is amazing! It will get 5 stars!’ to ‘DORA. One star for Dora. Take that, you nincompoop.’ I was surprised and appalled when they actually got married.
But then (spoiler)…Dora gets sick and dies. And I realized I was genuinely sad. Dickens manages to take this character, a person I couldn’t stand, and leave me mourning her death. David’s thoughts about his marriage and his mourning Dora made sense and were emotionally very real. It made me like David, but also pity him. He is a good guy. But also kind of a weak at times…and it all blends together to create a realistic hero.
This book has many improbable moments (okay, basically there are more improbable moments than probable ones) and the characters have a tendency to be Super Good or Super Evil, and always Super Eccentric. However, in this book I really think you see more gray. There is Steerforth, who is ‘evil’ but not. He is covered by David’s pity and love.
I like that the description on the audio book says, “tragedy and comedy in equal measure.” That is David Copperfield. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. And in the end, it is totally worth the 34 hours, or 900 some pages, or whatever else it takes to get through it. Definitely a book I want to re-read someday.


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