David Copperfield (1850)

by Charles Dickens

“Of all my books, I like this the best . . . I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield.”

Dickens wrote those words in his 1869 preface to David Copperfield. It’s easy to believe why it was his favorite book. It is his most autobiographical. He wrote experiences into David’s life that echoed those in his own: boyhood work in a shoe-blacking factory; learning shorthand to work as a parliamentary reporter; infatuation with a young coquette who was the model for his “child wife”; establishing himself as a writer. Perhaps regretting what might have been, Dickens also provided David with a happily-ever-after marriage, unlike his own. 

David Copperfield also contains some of Dickens’s most unforgettable characters: Aunt Betsey Trotwood, whose brusque exterior covers a heart of gold; Wilkins Micawber, impoverished but ever hopeful that something will turn up; and Uriah Heep, the repulsive ‘umble hypocrite.

Although a half-dozen deaths occur in the novel, it is a story of hope, determination, and growth. Even as a young orphan, David has the gumption to run away to his great-aunt Betsey with no assurance that she’ll take him in. He learns from his immature judgment and grows, earning a second chance at a happy marriage. He is diligent and persevering in pursuing a writing career and quickly becomes a public success.

Dickens got darker with later books. For the most part, David Copperfield ends as the reader would wish. David’s determination is rewarded; he triumphs over the adversity of his early life through his own efforts, not luck.


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