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Dickens' Autobiography
Dickens began writing an autobiography in the late 1840s which he shared with his friend and future biographer, John Forster. Dickens found the writing too painful and burned what he had written. He opted instead to work his story into the fictional account of David Copperfield.

In the novel Dickens' painful memories of being taken from school to work at Warren's Blacking Factory while his father is in prison for debt are told through David's account of Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse. The financial troubles of the Micawbers, with whom David was boarding at the time, mirror Dickens' parents, John and Elizabeth Dickens, financial difficulties.

When David is asked by Mrs Micawber to take some of their treasured possessions to the pawn shop to help meet their obligations, Dickens is recalling painful memories of having to pawn off the very books he read and treasured as a child to ease his family's financial woes.

On Dickens' death Forster wrote The Life of Charles Dickens, which is still the definitive biography of Dickens, although many of the more negative aspects of Dickens life are glossed over or missing altogether. Forster's biography included the autobiographical fragment Dickens had given him. This was the first the public knew of Dickens' difficult childhood that had so heavily shaped his early work.

Miss Mowcher with Steerforth - Phiz
Dickens originally introduced the character of the dwarf, Miss Mowcher, as an aid to Steerforth's plan to elope with Emily. Mrs. Jane Seymour Hill, Dickens' wife Catherine's chiropodist, recognized herself as the original for this character and threatened a lawsuit . Dickens changed the character, in later monthly installments of the novel, to an honest friend who abhors Steerforth's actions. She later assists in the capture of Littimer.

Traddles makes speeches while David practices his shorthand
Like Dickens, David teaches himself shorthand and becomes a parliamentary reporter. David laments on the difficulties encountered mastering this art:

"I bought an approved scheme of the noble art and mystery of stenography (which cost me ten and sixpence); and plunged into a sea of perplexity that brought me, in a few weeks, to the confines of distraction. The changes that were rung upon dots, which in such a position meant such a thing, and in such another position something else, entirely different; the wonderful vagaries that were played by circles; the unaccountable consequences that resulted from marks like flies' legs; the tremendous effects of a curve in a wrong place; not only troubled my waking hours, but reappeared before me in my sleep."

Dickens hints at his feelings for politics when David says of his parliamentary reporting:

"Britannia, that unfortunate female, is always before me, like a trussed fowl: skewered through and through with office-pens, and bound hand and foot with red tape. I am sufficiently behind the scenes to know the worth of political life. I am quite an Infidel about it, and shall never be converted."

During the writing of David Copperfield Dickens was actively involved in the day-to-day operation of Urania Cottage, a home for homeless women, which he administered on behalf of his friend, philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts. The home helped to separate homeless, and "fallen", women from previous lifestyles, educate them in the execution of household duties and self-discipline, and then help them emigrate to Australia to begin new lives.

In David Copperfield, Dickens has several of the major characters emigrate to Australia: the Micawbers, Mr. Peggotty, Emily, Martha, and Mr. Mell. Each of these characters are successful in beginning a new life in the English colony.

Did Dickens visit the birthplace of David Copperfield? Visit the modern Blundeston where the debate rages and David Copperfield lives on.

Pentonville Prison
Dickens lampoons "the separate system" used at the new Pentonville Prison, which opened in North London in 1842, by having David tour the prison. Dickens laments the fact that the prisoners are better fed than the poor, or even the common soldier.

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Mr. Micawber's Favorite Punch

Juice ½ lemon
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 clove
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon honey
1 large measure sweet dark madeira
1 large measure dry gin
Grated nutmeg

Into a warm tumbler put the juice of half a lemon, the cinnamon and clove, and the sugar and honey. Threequarters fill the glass with boiling water, add the madeira and gin and stir with a stick of cinnamon, Grate nutmeg thereon and drink quickly.

From Drinking with Dickens by Cedrick Dickens

Dickens' life during the serialization of David Copperfield
May 1849 - Nov 1850

Dickens' age: 37-38

May 1849

July 1849

Rents a summer home on the Isle of Wight for the family

August 1849

Bicentenary of the execution of Charles I, Mr Dick, in the novel, is obsessed with this beheaded monarch.

March 1850

Dickens' weekly magazine Household Words starts publication

August 1850

Daughter Dora Annie, named for David Copperfield's wife, is born (always sickly, Dora died in April 1851).

November 1850

David Copperfield 2000
David Copperfield (2000) Sally Field, Michael Richards

David Copperfield 1935
David Copperfield (1935) W.C. Fields

David Copperfield 2000
David Copperfield (2000)
Bob Hoskins

Read Chapter 11
Chapter 11 of David Copperfield contains the fictionalized account of the autobiographical fragment that Dickens gave to Forster.

Read Chapter 41
Read a condensed version of David's visit to Dora's spinster aunts, a brilliant example of Dickens' comic genius.

A small collection of books...

David Copperfield, like Dickens himself, had a small cache of books that accompanied him in his lonely childhood and helped form his character.

"My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time, - they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii, - and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it."

Twain: He pronounced Steerforth "St'yaw-futh"

Mark Twain saw Dickens perform David Copperfield in January 1868 at the Steinway Hall in New York and was generally unimpressed with the reading. He described Dickens as "a tall, 'spry,' (if I may say it,) thin-legged old gentleman, gotten up regardless of expense, especially as to shirt-front and diamonds, with a bright red flower in his button-hole, gray beard and moustache, bald head, and with side hair brushed fiercely and tempestuously forward, as if its owner were sweeping down before a gale of wind."

"He pronounced Steerforth "St'yaw-futh." This will suggest to you that he is a little Englishy in his speech."

Buy Dickens at Huckleberry and Hodge

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David Copperfield

David Copperfield - Published in monthly parts May 1849 - Nov 1850
Read it online | Shop for the Book | Shop for the Video | Illustrations | Locations

Emily and the Boat House in Yarmouth-Phiz Dickens' eighth novel, illustrated by Phiz, is a thinly disguised autobiography with many of the story lines mirroring Dickens' own life. Dickens' friend and first biographer, John Forster, wrote that "Dickens never stood so high in reputation as at the completion of Copperfield", and that in the novel Dickens had cast the suspicion "that underneath the fiction lay something of the author's life."

In telling the story of the child David, Dickens displays the unique ability to make the reader see through the eyes of the child, capturing the very essence of childhood.

In his biography of Dickens, Edgar Johnson notes that "Few novelists have ever captured more poignantly the feeling of childhood, the brightness and magic and terror of the world as seen through the eyes of a child and colored by his dawning emotions."

Norrie Epstein, in The Friendly Dickens, notes that by writing about his parents and reliving his childhood, Dickens triumphed over his past and would never again need to make a neglected child the central focus of a novel.

Near the end of his life, Dickens, describing the characters he had created as his children, said "...like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield."

Plot (contains spoilers)

David is born at Blunderstone in Suffolk. His father had been dead six months. David's widowed mother draws the attention of Edward Murdstone, whom David dislikes. David goes to Yarmouth for two weeks with Peggotty, his mother's housekeeper, where he meets Mr Peggotty, Emily, Ham, and Mrs Gummidge. On his return home he finds that his mother has married Mr Murdstone, whose sister, Jane, moves into the household.

David, under the oppression of the Murdstones, falls behind in his studies and is given a beating during which he bites Mr. Murdstone. David and the Friendly Waiter - PhizHe is sent away to school at Salem House Academy near London run by the cruel Mr. Creakle. Upon arrival at the school he is forced to wear a sign saying: Be careful of him, he bites. David befriends Steerforth and Traddles.

David learns that his mother and his baby brother have died and is removed from school. Peggotty marries Barkis and visits David regularly. Murdstone sends David to London to work in the Murdstone and Grinby warehouse. He takes lodging with the Micawbers. The insolvent Micawbers are continually being harassed by creditors until, finally, Mr Micawber is imprisoned for debt in the King's Bench. After Micawber's release from debtor's prison, the family escapes to the country hoping that "something will turn up." David is miserable at Murdstone and Grinby's and decides to run away to Dover to throw himself on the mercy of his aunt, Betsey Trotwood.

David's aunt adopts him after contacting the Murdstones and verifying their treatment of him. David befriends Mr. Dick, who lives with his aunt. Betsey sends David to Dr. Strong's school in Canterbury where he lodges with Betsey's lawyer, Mr. Wickfield, and his daughter, Agnes. He meets Uriah Heep.

Tea with the Heeps - Phiz David meets the Micawbers again in Canterbury, where they have come to look for work, and introduces Mr. Micawber to Uriah Heep. David finishes school and, trying to decide what to do with his life, journeys back to Yarmouth to visit Peggotty. He stops in London on the way and runs into Steerforth who joins him on the trip to Yarmouth. They visit Peggotty and Mr. Peggotty who announces that Ham and Emily are to be married.

David decides to become a proctor in Doctor's Commons and is apprenticed to Spenlow and Jorkins. He takes lodging with Mrs. Crupp in the Adelphi section of London. Agnes warns David against Steerforth and tells him that that Uriah Heep has weasled his way into a partnership with her father, capitalizing on Mr. Wickfield's weaknesses. David falls in love with Spenlow's daughter, Dora and finds that his old guardian, Miss Murdstone, is Dora's "confidential friend."

David runs into his old friend Traddles and visits him in Camdentown where he learns that Traddles is a boarder with the Micawbers, who are still trying to keep a step ahead of creditors.

Barkis is dying and David journeys to Yarmouth to be with Peggotty during this crisis. Steerforth secretly charms Emily away from Ham and they run away together, Mr Peggotty goes in search of her. Betsey Trotwood visits David in London and informs him that she has lost her fortune through bad business deals, she and Mr. Dick move in with David. David goes to work for Dr. Strong, learning shorthand to try to earn money while still apprenticed at Doctor's Commons.

David and Traddles with Dora's Aunts-Phiz David and Dora are engaged in secret. Miss Murdstone finds David's letters to Dora and she and Mr. Spenlow confront David, telling him to forget about Dora. Mr. Spenlow is then found dead, with no will, and Dora goes to live with two spinster aunts.

Mr. Micawber is employed by Uriah Heep who has moved in with the Wickfields and has designs on Agnes, much to Mr. Wickfield's agony. David, like Dickens, becomes a parliamentary reporter and begins to write and have his stories published. His success allows him to marry Dora.

David has his first book published and becomes a successful author. Dora has no grasp of housekeeping despite David's coaxing. She begins to deteriorate with an unspecified illness. With the help of Martha, Emily is found, and plans are made for her to emigrate with Mr. Peggotty to Australia.

Micawbers Reunited-Phiz Mr. Micawber is entangled in the designs of Uriah Heep and becomes estranged from his family. Finally he comes forward and with the help of Traddles, exposes Heep as a cheat and a fraud, responsible for the decline of Mr. Wickfield and Betsey Trotwood's reverse of fortune.

Dora, on her deathbed, secretly asks Agnes to care for David. Betsey, her fortune restored, loans the Micawbers money to emigrate to Australia with Mr. Peggotty and Emily. David travels to Yarmouth to deliver a message to Ham and witnesses a storm at sea in which Steerforth drowns and Ham dies trying to rescue him. Peggotty and Emily emigrate with the Micawbers unaware of the death of Ham.

David travels abroad for three years during which he finds that he has really loved Agnes all along. On his return to England he marries Agnes. Mr. Peggotty and Emily prosper in Australia. Mr Micawber becomes a Magistrate in Port Middlebay. David and Agnes raise a family and David writes his autobiography.

Character descriptions contain spoilers
Captain Bailey
Beadwood, Ned
Benjamin, Thomas
Blackboy, Mr
Mr Chestle
Mr Chillip
Clickett (The Orfling)
Clara Copperfield
David Copperfield
David Copperfield Sr
Mr Creakle
Mrs Creakle
Miss Creakle
Caroline Crewler
Reverend Horace Crewler
Louisa Crewler
Lucy Crewler
Margaret Crewler
Mrs Crewler
Sarah Crewler
Sophy Crewler
Mrs Crupp
Rosa Dartle
George Demple
Mr Dick
Mr Dolloby
Martha Endell
Mrs Fibbitson
Mr and Mrs Grayper
Mr and Mrs Gulpidge
Mr Gummidge
Mrs Gummidge
Mr Heep
Mrs Heep
Uriah Heep
Captain Hopkins
Master Jones
Joe Joram
Minnie Joram
Mrs Kidgerbury
Miss Kitt
Miss Larkins (eldest)
Miss Larkins (youngest)
Mr Larkins
Jack Maldon
Mrs Markleham
Mary Anne
Charles Mell
Mrs Mell
Emma Micawber
Master Micawber
Miss Micawber
Wilkins Micawber
Julia Mills
Mr Mills
Mithers and Lady Mithers
Miss Mowcher
Edward Murdstone
Jane Murdstone
Misses Nettingalls
Mr Omer
Minnie Omer
Mary Anne Paragon
Mr Passnidge
Clara Peggotty
Daniel Peggotty
Ham Peggotty
Joe Peggotty
Mr Pidger
Mealy Potatoes
Charley Pyegrave
Mr Sharp
Miss Shepherd
Dora Spenlow
Francis Spenlow
Misses Spenlow
Mr and Mrs Henry Spiker
James Steerforth
Mrs Steerforth
Annie Strong
Doctor Strong
Mr Tiffey
Tommy Traddles
Betsey Trotwood
Mick Walker
Mr Waterbrook
Mrs Waterbrook
Agnes Wickfield
Mr Wickfield
William [2]

David Copperfield Links:
The Dickens Page
SparkNotes - Excellent!
ExxonMobil Masterpiece Theatre

Copperfield Map
Blunderstone - David's birthplace.
Canterbury - David attends Dr. Strong's school here, also the home of the Wickfields and the Heeps.
Chatham - On the way to see Aunt Betsey David passes through the town where Dickens lived as a child.
Dover - Home to David's aunt Betsey.
Lowestoft - David visits here with Mr. Murdstone.
Plymouth - The Micawbers travel here hoping something will turn up for Mr. Micawber in the Custom House.
Yarmouth - Seaside town, home to the Peggottys.

Preface to the Charles Dickens Edition

I remarked in the original Preface to this Book, that I did not find it easy to get sufficiently far away from it, in the first sensations of having finished it, to refer to it with the composure which this formal heading would seem to require. My interest in it was so recent and strong, and my mind was so divided between pleasure and regret-pleasure in the achievement of a long design, regret in the separation from many companions-that I was in danger of wearying the reader with personal confidences and private emotions. Besides which, all that I could have said of the Story to any purpose, I had endeavoured to say in it. It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know how sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two-years' imaginative task; or how an Author feels as if he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him for ever. Yet, I had nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to confess (which might be of less moment still), that no one can ever believe this Narrative, in the reading, more than I believed it in the writing. So true are these avowals at the present day, that I can now only take the reader into one confidence more. Of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I love them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is DAVID COPPERFIELD.
--Charles Dickens 1867

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