David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

★★★★★ (5/5)

Starting my 2019 by revisiting an old classic, Charles Dickens’ magnum opus “David Copperfield”. This shall be a stroll down memory lane. I first came across this masterpiece as an abridged version, back when I was in Grade 5. It has been ten years since I last read the whole novel and vowed to come back to it once every decade. I recall Miss Peggotty’s cheeks so red that David often wondered why birds didn’t mistake them for apples.

The first objects that assume a distinct presence before me, as I look far back, into the blank of my infancy, are my mother with her pretty hair and youthful shape, and Peggotty, with no shape at all, and eyes so dark that they seemed to darken their whole neighbourhood in her face, and cheeks and arms so hard and red that I wondered the birds didn’t peck her in preference to apples.

I fondly remember Peggotty’s boat house, a cozy little home built out of a shipwreck.

After tea, when the door was shut and all was made snug (the nights being cold and misty now), it seemed to me the most delicious retreat that the imagination of man could conceive. To hear the wind getting up out at sea, to know that the fog was creeping over the desolate flat outside, and to look at the fire, and think that there was no house near but this one, and this one a boat, was like enchantment.

I remember Master Davy’s first love Little Emily. I also remember Uriah Heep as the first evil villain I had come across and how David’s Aunt reprimanded Heep for twisting like a snake. “Control yourself my good Sir!” Oh how that passage gave me chills!

He jerked himself about, after this compliment, in such an intolerable manner, that my aunt, who had sat looking straight at him, lost all patience. “Deuce take the man!” said my aunt, sternly, “what’s he about? Don’t be galvanic, sir!…If you’re an eel, sir, conduct yourself like one. If you’re a man, controul your limbs, sir! Good God!” said my aunt, with great indignation, “I am not going to be serpentined and corkscrewed out of my senses!”

On Dora

The Dora of my yesteryears was the loveliest, most innocent and primed creature of all, well deserving of David’s love and betrothal. But the Dora Spenlow I read of now comes off as childish, stupid and in no way deserving of David’s affections. Yes, she still retains her loveliness but she can never be a pillar of strength for David, for there is a wide chasm between them in regards to understanding of the world and David’s own harsh life.

I don’t usually admire romance in novels, but the chapter where David Copperfield married Dora Spenlow had me bursting in tears and smiles. Damn you Mr. Dickens!

The remembrance of her pretty joy when I said yes, brings tears into my eyes. The next time I sat down to write, and regularly afterwards, she sat in her old place with a spare bundle of pens at her side. Her triumph in this connexion with my work, and her delight when I wanted a new pen

The church is calm enough, I am sure; but it might be a steampower loom in full action, for any sedative effect it has on me. I am too far gone for that. The rest is all a more or less incoherent dream.

We drive away together, and I awake from the dream. I believe it at last. It is my dear, dear, little wife beside me, whom I love so well!

On the Micawbers

The Micawbers, despite their goodliness, gradually became tiresome, so much so that I awaited their departure eagerly, awaited for a time when the dullness of Mr. Micawber’s tirades wouldn’t weigh down upon the prose, especially when it punctuated David’s own grief.

<b>A selection of my favourite passages from the book</b>

On Agnes

  • for I felt that in the very difference between them, in the self-denial of her pure soul and the sordid baseness of his, the greatest danger lay.
  • Somehow, as I wrote to Agnes on a fine evening by my open window, and the remembrance of her clear calm eyes and gentle face came stealing over me, it shed such a peaceful influence upon the hurry and agitation in which I had been living lately, and of which my very happiness partook in some degree, that it soothed me into tears.
  • And Agnes laid her head upon my breast, and wept; and I wept with her, though we were so happy.

On J. Steerforth

  • There was no noise, no effort, no consciousness, in anything he did; but in everything an indescribable lightness, a seeming impossibility of doing anything else, or doing anything better, which was so graceful, so natural, and agreeable, that it overcomes me, even now, in the remembrance.
  • And on that part of it where she and I had looked for shells, two children—on that part of it where some lighter fragments of the old boat, blown down last night, had been scattered by the wind—among the ruins of the home he had wronged—I saw him lying with his head upon his arm, as I had often seen him lie at school.

On Boyhood

  • Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
  • He knew it was the mark of tears as well as I. But if he had asked the question twenty times, each time with twenty blows, I believe my baby heart would have burst before I would have told him so.
  • God help me, I might have been improved for my whole life, I might have been made another creature perhaps, for life, by a kind word at that season. A word of encouragement and explanation, of pity for my childish ignorance, of welcome home, of reassurance to me that it was home, might have made me dutiful to him in my heart henceforth, instead of in my hypocritical outside, and might have made me respect instead of hate him.
  • Whatever I had within me that was romantic and dreamy, was encouraged by so much story-telling in the dark
  • That little fellow seems to be no part of me; I remember him as something left behind upon the road of life—as something I have passed, rather than have actually been—and almost think of him as of some one else.

On Old Friends

  • “Cheer up, Mas’r Davy bor’!” said Ham, in his simpering way “Why, how you have growed!” “Am I grown?” I said, drying my eyes. I was not crying at anything particular that I know of; but somehow it made me cry to see old friends.
  • It was perfectly delightful to behold with what enthusiasm Mr. Peggotty became inspired when he thought of his little favorite. He stands before me again, his bluff hairy face irradiating with a joyful love and pride, for which I can find no description. His honest eyes fire up, and sparkle, as if their depths were stirred by something bright. His broad chest heaves with pleasure. His strong loose hands clench themselves, in his earnestness; and he emphasises what he says with a right arm that shows, in my pigmy view, like a sledge hammer.
  • The strain was new to me, and yet it was so old that it filled my heart brim-full; like a friend come back from a long absence.
  • What with the novelty of this cookery, the excellence of it, the bustle of it, the frequent starting up to look after it, the frequent sitting down to dispose of it as the crisp slices came off the gridiron hot and hot, the being so busy, so flushed with the fire, so amused, and in the midst of such a tempting noise and savor, we reduced the leg of mutton to the bone.
  • how it was one of the main joys and rewards of her life that he was free and happy, instead of pining in monotonous restraint

On Love

  • Ah, how I loved her! What happiness (I thought) if we were married, and were going away anywhere to live among the trees and in the fields, never growing older, never growing wiser, children ever, rambling hand in hand through sunshine and among flowery meadows, laying down our heads on moss at night, in a sweet sleep of purity and peace, and buried by the birds when we were dead! Some such picture, with no real world in it, bright with the light of our innocence, and vague as the stars afar off, was in my mind all the way.
  • She had the most delightful little voice, the gayest little laugh, the pleasantest and most fascinating little ways, that ever led a lost youth into hopeless slavery.
  • Do not allow a trivial misunderstanding to wither the blossoms of spring, which, once put forth and blighted, cannot be renewed.
  • “Affection,” said Miss Lavinia, glancing at her sister for corroboration, which she gave in the form of a little nod to every clause, “mature affection, homage, devotion, does not easily express itself. Its voice is low. It is modest and retiring, it lies in ambush, waits and waits. Such is the mature fruit. Sometimes a life glides away, and finds it still ripening in the shade.”
  • “You never can know what it was to be devoted to you, with those old associations; to find that any one could be so hard as to suppose that the truth of my heart was bartered away, and to be surrounded by appearances confirming that belief.”

On Life’s Tragedies

  • My stripes were sore and stiff, and made me cry afresh, when I moved; but they were nothing to the guilt I felt. It lay heavier on my breast than if I had been a most atrocious criminal, I dare say.
  • What walks I took alone, down muddy lanes, in the bad winter weather, carrying that parlor, and Mr. and Miss Murdstone in it, everywhere: a monstrous load that I was obliged to bear, a daymare that there was no possibility of breaking in, a weight that brooded on my wits, and blunted them!
  • 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 for ever on her bosom.
  • The deep remembrance of the sense I had, of being utterly without hope now; of the shame I felt in my position; of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that day by day what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, would pass away from me, little by little, never to be brought back any more; cannot be written.
  • The face he turned up to the troubled sky, the quivering of his clasped hands, the agony of his figure, remain associated with that lonely waste, in my remembrance, to this hour. It is always night there, and he the only object in the scene.
  • “You are very lonely when you go down-stairs, now?” Dora whispers, with her arm about my neck. “How can I be otherwise, my own love, when I see your empty chair?”

On David’s Observations

  • having invariably observed that of all human weaknesses, the one to which our common nature is the least disposed to confess (I cannot imagine why) is the weakness of having gone to sleep in a coach.
  • If, in the progress of revolving years, I could persuade myself that my blighted destiny had been a warning to you, I should feel that I had not occupied another man’s place in existence altogether in vain.
  • The remembrance of that life is fraught with so much pain to me, with so much mental suffering and want of hope, that I have never had the courage even to examine how long I was doomed to lead it.
  • I was much impressed by the extremely comfortable and satisfied manner, in which Mr. Waterbrook delivered himself of this little word “Yes,” every now and then. There was wonderful expression in it. It completely conveyed the idea of a man who had been born, not to say with a silver spoon, but with a scaling-ladder, and had gone on mounting all the heights of life one after another, until now he looked, from the top of the fortifications, with the eye of a philosopher and a patron, on the people down in the trenches.
  • A display of indifference to all the actions and passions of mankind was not supposed to be such a distinguished quality at that time
  • I had never doubted his meanness, his craft and malice; but I fully comprehended now, for the first time, what a base, unrelenting, and revengeful spirit, must have been engendered by this early, and this long, suppression.
  • “It would be no pleasure to a London tradesman to sell anything which was what he pretended it was.”
  • Never to put one hand to anything, on which I could throw my whole self; and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was; I find, now, to have been my golden rules.
  • It has always been in my observation of human nature, that a man who has any good reason to believe in himself never flourishes himself before the faces of other people in order that they may believe in him.
  • unless we learn to do our duty to those whom we employ, they will never learn to do their duty to us
  • The old unhappy feeling pervaded my life. It was deepened, if it were changed at all; but it was as undefined as ever, and addressed me like a strain of sorrowful music faintly heard in the night.
  • We are all drawing on to the bottom of the hill, whatever age we are, on account of time never standing still for a single moment. So let us always do a kindness, and be over-rejoiced.

Beautifully Constructed Descriptions

  • But, with such a face as I never saw. It was so beautiful in its form, it was so ashy pale, it was so fixed in its abstraction, it was so full of a wild, sleep-walking, dreamy horror of I don’t know what.
  • Her thinness seemed to be the effect of some wasting fire within her, which found a vent in her gaunt eyes.
  • If I hesitated, she was taken with that wonderful disorder which was always lying in ambush in her system, ready, at the shortest notice, to prey upon her vitals.

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