I came to David Copperfield with very little prior knowledge of the novel; I knew it had been adapted for TV with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, and I knew the DVD was on my shelf, but I wanted to avoid it until I had read the book…a wise choice I like to think!
David Copperfield is a bildungsroman/coming of age novel (I always remember that first term from my A Level days and Jane Eyre and I love it) following David’s life from his poor and somewhat cruel childhood throughout the trials and tribulations of his adult life and culminating in his success as a novelist. Dickens explores the life of David and also the lives of various people he encounters along the way; this is a novel of many narrative threads, all of which are tied together at the end of the novel, some happily, some not.
This was definitely a novel of two halves for me, perhaps something that seems obvious considering it leads from childhood to adulthood, but that is beside the point. Although I enjoyed reading about David’s childhood and I loved how he created little hints and mysteries with comments such as ‘this may be premature. I have set it down too soon, perhaps. But let it stand.’, it was the second half of the novel that won me round. For me the pace of the narrative picked up in the second half of the novel; the problem with having several storylines is the time it takes to introduce and set up the characters and their separate struggles. Luckily Dickens is a master at characterisation, I especially loved Peggotty and her flying buttons! But yes the second half of the novel made the narrative come alive for me through all the interlinking storylines and my (failed) attempts to second guess what was going to happen next – I couldn’t put it down and wanted to race to the end to find out everyone’s fate, despite the fact the character of Dora drove me up the wall – she was just a little too immature and for want of a better word, sappy for me.
One of the things I enjoy with Victorian novels, and perhaps novels in general, is the choice of a character’s name, again something I remember from A Level and Jane Eyre, and there were two names in particular that I felt epitomised the characteristics of the person involved: Murdstone and Steerforth. Murdstone immediately brings connotations of murkiness for me, of someone harsh, perhaps with an ulterior motive, but it is Steerforth who has the most explicit name in the whole novel. As soon as he was introduced I knew he would be a cad – his name seems to suggest that you need to steer clear of him, and the fact that he is handsome, admired and powerful enough to have a schoolmaster sacked and have the ominous Mr. Creakle (Head of Salam’s House School) under control only helps to reinforce this notion. I look forward to my next Victorian novel and the mysteries a new set of names will hold.