Review: David Copperfield

March 24th, 2009

I finished reading David Copperfield on the Kindle a few days ago. This is a review of the novel, not the Kindle.

I’m not an English major, and so I’m not going to pretend to be one. I’m not going to discuss what themes the book touches on, what category it fits in, or generally dissect it to the point where it’s more monotonous than fun.

I read the book because I wanted to, not because I had to write a paper about it.

I must say, first of all, that this has got to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. The vivid descriptions of the characters were just fun to read. One particularly meek man was described like this: “He was so extremely conciliatory in his manner that he seemed to apologize to the very newspaper for taking the liberty of reading it.”

Some of the scenes in the novel are amazingly vivid and memorable. The hilarious and tense scene towards the end where one of the main villains is taken down was one, and of course just about every scene involving David’s aunt is too.

Dickens is a master of suspense. He does it through subtle premonitions in the book. You might not even really notice them as you’re reading. But it sure had an effect on me: I had trouble putting the book down, and stayed up later than I should have on more than one night to keep reading another chapter or three.

Like any good book, this one left me to think even after I was done reading it, and left me wanting to read it again. Right now.

There are some practical downsides to it, though. It was written in the 1850s, and some of the vocabulary and British legal, business, and monetary discussions are strange to a modern American audience. Nevertheless, with the exception of the particularly verbose Mr. Micawber, you can probably make it through without a dictionary, though one will be handy. I read it on the Kindle, which integrates a dictionary and makes it very easy to look up words. I learned that a nosegay is a bouquet of showy flowers. And that Mr. Micawber was fond of using words obsolete since the 17th century, according to the Kindle. If you remember that “pecuniary emoluments” refers to a salary, you’ll be doing OK.

The other thing that occasionally bugged me was that the narrator (David) would comment on some sort of gesture, or comment that wasn’t very direct, and then say something like, “But she didn’t need to be more explicit, because I understood the meaning perfectly.” Well, sometimes I didn’t. Though I usually figured it out after a bit. I was never quite sure if Dickens was being intentionally needling to the reader, or if an 1850s British reader would have figured out the meaning perfectly well. But that was part of the fun of it, I think.

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  1. Steve Kemp

    Its interesting that you notice the foreshadowing – I recently read Great Expectations for the first time, and I was struck by how much it was obviously written in a serial fashion.

    There were moments of foreshadowing, but so many new characters arrived promptly at the start of a new chapter/installment that it was almost obvious how much it was being made up as he went along.

    Still a great read regardless, and I’m definitely planning on reading some more of his books!

    Reply

  2. Jim Hague

    If you’re going to tackle more Dickens, you might find this book helpful. http://www.amazon.com/Austen-Charles-Dickens-Whist-Nineteenth-Century/dp/0671882368. Although it does contain a few errors, and may leave you (unintentionally, I think) with the impression that some items of detail pertain only to 19th century Britain when in fact they are still relevant today, as a concise explanation of the importance of the Quarter Days and what the hell you actually did in Doctors Commons it’s pretty good. Being a Brit who got his primary education in the days of pounds, shillings and pence, I obviously had a head start over the average American, but nevertheless found it valuable.

    I don’t know what’s in the Kindle dictionary, but you will find remuneration to company directors still descibed in accounts here as ‘Directors emoluments’. It almost implies that they didn’t do anything so crass as actually work for it.

    If you’re interested in a snapshot of early 19th century life, Dickens first big hit, The Pickwick Papers, is worth a shot. I particularly remember it for the brief description of a break at an inn during a coach journey – the amount of alcohol consumed is deeply impressive.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Thanks for the tip. That does sound like a good read.

    Reply

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