"The most perfect of all the Dickens novels." -- Virginia Woolf
Hugely admired by Leo Tolstoy, David Copperfield is the novel that draws most closely from Charles Dickens's own life.
Its eponymous hero, orphaned as a boy, grows up to discover love and happiness, heartbreak and sorrow amid a cast of eccentrics, innocents, and villains.
It tells the story of David's life from birth through middle life to introduce and explore some wonderful personalities.
When David is born, his father is already buried in the churchyard nearby. He, his mother, and their servant, Pegotty, live happily enough as a family until his mother remarries.
The new husband does not like frivolity or friendly association with servants but more than that, he does not like David. David is sent off to boarding school and then sent out to work.
Barred from his mother's affections by his stepfather, Pegotty becomes a full mother figure and his ties to her and her family only deepen with time.
At school, he makes fast friends with many boys but most especially with the privileged James Steerforth and the not so privileged Tommy Traddles, both of whom show up again in David's adulthood. In the bottling warehouse where he is sent to work as a child, he lodges with Mr. And Mrs. Micawber who are always in debt.
When the station of life that he is being forced into at his tender age becomes too much for him, he escapes to seek out his eccentric great aunt Betsey Trotwood who takes him in and provides for him. Through her, he meets her lawyer, Mr. Wickfield, his daughter Agnes.
Later he marries, works hard and becomes successful.
David Copperfield is like the "Best Of" Dickens. It stands alone as an exquisite masterpiece. Yet so many characters from his other novels seem to return here to be rounded out and more deeply developed.
The primary theme of the novel is how Copperfield learns to have a disciplined heart and morals. In other words, he grows up and becomes a man. This is seen throughout all the relationships in the book: love, business, friendship -- the mistakes of an "undisciplined heart".
It is Dickens's "favorite child" and hailed as his best work by Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf.
Tolstoy regarded Dickens as the best of all English novelists, and considered Copperfield to be his finest work, ranking the "Tempest" chapter (chapter 55 - the story of Ham and the storm and the shipwreck) the standard by which the world's great fiction should be judged.
Henry James remembered hiding under a small table as a boy to hear installments read by his mother.
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