Monday, February 20, 2012

Book 137: Characters-Dickens at His Best.

I've read a few Dickens novels, but never with more excitement than my current reading of David Copperfield. I think that my own reading maturity level is finally on par with what Mr. Dickens has to offer in his work. I think I have finally set aside my own prejudices from bad reading experiences to see that yeah, all those millions of people who have read Dickens and loved him might be right. Remind me to keep this in mind as I continue teaching because I am sure that this will be great to talk about with students.

Anyway, there is one thing that Dickens excels at and that is creating and developing characters. Even in my negative experiences, I appreciated the fact that Dickens creates the most amazing characters. That continues here in David Copperfield.

You have to admire the diversity in his characters...and it also has to wow you. For a novel that spans over 700 pages (in my edition), it continually astounds me that Dickens can show the growth in multiple characters as the novel progresses forward. Of course the novel is focused on David, being that he IS the title character and all, but I'm going to ignore him for this post and focus on the other characters.

From the beginning, Dickens maintains a large number of secondary characters that wander in and out of David's life. When he is young, that is limited to the Peggotty family, as well as Mr. and Miss Murdstone and his mother. For some reason, after his mother died and he ran away, I assumed I was done with the despicable Murdstones. Imagine my surprised when they BOTH popped up again at various points. I love this description of Miss Murdstone...

"A passing thought occurred to me that Miss Murdstone, like the pocket instrument called a life-preserver, was not so much designed for the purposes of protection as assault," (329).

Buahahaha. That part had me cracking up, and it wasn't because that line was particularly funny, but because Dickens had done such a lovely job of painting Miss Murdstone beforehand! And while I hadn't encountered her in nearly 200 pages, I was again reminded of her snarly face and her manipulative ways. That just made the line come alive for me-because I knew her and could see that description fitting. And even though I really hate both of the Murdstones, I find myself wondering when they will pop back up, simply to see what kind of description Dickens paints them with.

Another of my favorite characters is Mr. Peggotty. In the beginning, I saw him as kind of a goofy uncle...which is just what he is. I didn't take him too seriously because he seemed to happy in life and circumstance (something I think really shaped young David). But when his niece, Emily, runs away, I saw a completely different side to Mr. Peggotty. And I just love him. He is so focused on protecting his family and keeping them together. When he approaches the mother of the son who took her away, he speaks with such passion...

"Hark to this, ma'am," he returned, slowly and quietly. "You know what it is to love your child. So do I. If she was a hundred times my child, I couldn't love her more. You doen't know what it is to lose your child. I do. All the heaps of riches in the wuerld would be nowt to me (if they was mine) to buy her back!" (394).

I wanted to jump and shout "YEAH" right at her face. But I couldn't and didn't.

Here is why else I love him...

"I'm a going to seek her, fur and wide. If any hurt should come to me, remember that the last words I left for her was, 'My unchanged love is with my darling child, and I forgive her!'" (398).

*sigh* That is some level of devotion.

Dickens does such a masterful job with each character that I can't even begin to explain each of them. From Steerforth's sliminess, to Mr. Micawber's weird letters, to his aunt's fear of donkeys on her grass, each character jumps off the page and comes to life. And all of them are so different! Like I said, this is a massive book, and while hundreds of pages may elapse between when David encounters a character, I never mix them up or forget them. That is a high level of skill and one that I am coming to appreciate. By making all of his characters a character, I don't forget them. I love it.

I can't wait to see what happens to each of them as I finish. I have some guesses, but I have 300 pages to go. A lot can happen! :)


  1. I just started The Old Curiosity Shop last night, not what your post is about I realize, only to say I love Dickens, too. This book has lifted me from a rather prolonged reading slump. Also, fyi: PBS is showing The Old Curiosity Shop on February 26; Great Expectations on April 1 and 8; and The Mystery of Edwin Drood on April 15. Go, Dickens!!

  2. Dickens really does do an outstanding job of creating secondary characters, doesn't he? They stick with you and are easy to remember, even if they play very minor roles. I'm so glad you're enjoying David Copperfield. It's one of my favorite Dickens.

  3. Gah, I love reading your thoughts on this novel, it brings back the surge of emotions I felt while reading it. The way you talk about Dickens's characters is dead-on: there's no forgetting them, no matter how much time passes. No matter what they make you feel, they all make you feel something. It's astounding.

  4. David Copperfield is my number 1 favorite book. I love everything about it!

  5. So glad you're loving my favorite! I was in the middle of Bleak House and had to take a break from it because Moby Dick was taking my attention. I'm having a hard time getting back into it. I like it, but not as much as David Copperfield.