In this essay, I will talk about how Charles Dickens creates an atmosphere of crime and death in ‘Great Expectations’. Charles Dickens was an English novelist of the Victorian era….
An analysis of Charles Dickenss David Copperfield
Dickens is known world wide for his unique style of writing. Dickens, in his writing seperates his novels into two different societies, the congenial and the obstructive. In David Copperfield, Dickens shifts back and forth between both societies.Dickens portrays many examples of a congenial society in his book David Copperfield. Along with the congenial views he also includes obstructive views to balance the book out.
” David Copperfield’s life before his mother married Mr. Murdstone was pleasant, he lived happily with his mother and their servant Peggotty.From the period when his mother married Mr. Murdstone to when his aunt took him in was terrible for him. He was sent away away to a run-down boarding school where he and his new friends Tommy Traddles and James Steerforth are beaten.
His mother died after giving birth to a child that was fatherd by Mr. Murdstone. After this incident David is sent to work at Mr. Murdstone’s wine factory where he is taken in by Mr. Micawber where he grows to love the Micawbers. Shortly after Mr. Micawber is sent to debters prision, David runs away from the factory. He then goes to his great-aunt Betsy. She takes him in and sends him to Dr. Strong’s school in Canterbury.
David lives in Canterbury with Mr. Wickfield who is a lawyer. There he meets the wicked Uriah Heep who takes advantage of Mr. Wickfield’s drinking problem, and makes himself a partner in the firm. He also meets Agnes, they form a very close relationship.After finishing school he goes to work at Mr. Spenlow and Jorkins law firm. He there becomes engaged to Dora Spenlow.
When Em’ly runs away with David’s friend Steerfoth. Mr. Peggotty goes out to find her. While all this is happening, David’s aunt is suddenly sent into financial ruin. David starts doing extra work to support her. He eventually marries Dora, but she proves herself inept at house work. Then he finds out that Mr. Micawber is working as a clerk for Heep and that Heep wants to marry Agnes.
Dora becomes ill after the birth of their child and dies, as does the child. With the help of Martha Endell, David and Mr.Peggotty succeed in locating Em’ly; the Peggottys plan to leave for Australia to begin a new life. After exposing Uriah Heep as a criminal and a fraud–and forcing him to make reparations for all the money he embezzled–Mr. Micawber also plans to move his family to Australia. Steerforth is killed in a shipwreck, as is Ham–Em’ly’s cousin, who loved her–and David remains deeply saddened by Dora’s death. He travels abroad for several years but returns at last, realizing that he loves and has always loved Agnes Wickfield. Now a famous writer, David marries Agnes, and the two live happily ever after, so do their friends in Australia. ”
“David remains essentially the morally reliable centre who feels and expresses the right opinions about Uriah Heep and Anne and Mr. Peggotty and the rest: even his ready acceptance of Steerforth is insisted on as a good fault, the result of too much love. So in the event David inevitably becomes a prig and his lack of moral growth means that he himself can be little more than a recorder of things that happen to him (or to others) without deeply affecting him” (Gomme 174).
“Told in the first person, it is Dickens’s great internal – what used to be called ‘psychological’ – novel, a Proustian novel of the shaping of life through the echoes and prophecies of memory…In this sense David Copperfield, the least socially integrated of Dickens’s novels, is the most ‘real’. In part, as with Proust’s Marcel, this is because with D.C. (David Copperfield) we are so close to the reality of C.D. (Charles Dickens).
But it is so even more because of Dickens’s superb artistry in the management of the narratives, of the echoes and overtones of memory…And yet at the end of it, I think, there is a disagreeable sense that this most inner of Dickens’s novels is also the most shallow, the most smoothly-running, the most complacent – indeed, in the pejorative use of that word, the most Victorian…
He has mocked at romantic love, at the distorting power of passion, and he makes his case; yet the complacent domestic fireside of Agnes seems an empty thing to put in its place. He has inveighed against the cruel Calvinist creed of the Murdstones and he more than makes his case; yet a Christianity of ‘doing good’ seems somehow as empty without grace as his wonderful social observation does when denied the total view of society” (Wilson 213-14, 216).
David Copperfield is a novel of Passionate jealousy, sniveling hypocrisy, cold hearted fraud, selfish exploitation and much more; but the final impression is one of joy tempered and mellowed wisdom. ”There is perhaps no person living who can remember reading David Copperfield for the first time. Like Robinson Crusoe and Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the Waverly Novels, Pickwick and David Copperfield are not books, but stories communicated by word of mouth in those tender years when fact and fiction merge, and thus belong to the memories and myths of life, and not to its esthetic experience” (Woolf 75).
By the time that Dickens began writing David Copperfield he was already a profound author with great popularity. I believe he wanted to portray life as best he could, he wanted to show what life was to him: and what better way than a biography closely related to Dickens himself. We could call it a ‘Novel of personal memory’ but we have to keep in mind the full original title: ‘The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield, the Younger, of Bluderstone Rookery. (Which he never meant to published on any account.) This complete title strongly suggests that this is one man’s story written for himself. It was also supposed to ‘never have been published on any account.’
Later in chap 42 this condition is repeated: ‘this manuscript is intended for no eyes but mine.’ Of course this is part of the fiction, after all we are reading David’s story ourselves when we reach this sentence. What is David Copperfield about? I pose myself this question to help illustrate how much of an autobiography this book really is, the simplest answer is of course that it is about David Copperfield himself and his development as a man.
Although after having read several biography’s done on the author Charles Dickens, I was led to believe that this book is very near Dickens own life, for example his father, John Dickens does seem to have been a warm and pleasant father, but his lack of responsibility, especially with money, later led his family into serious difficulties. This is very much like Mr.Micawber. Infact his unhappy loves in life were portrayed also, similarly he wanted to become a journalist and later as David Copperfield a well-known author.
‘Passionate jealousy,’ this can be seen majorly in Uriah Heep who throughout the entire novel displays a strong jealousy towards David. Hidden behind his ‘umbleness he despises society and is very disagreeable therefore he applies to most negative words used in the discussion title. One example of his jealousy was when he thought that David was trying to steal the love he dreamed of: Agnes. So Heep forced his own mother to spy on David.
Another character who came across as having passionate jealousy was Ms.Dartle who loved Steerforth dearly all her life even though he had been cruel to her and even ruined her beautiful face by breaking her nose when he was younger. When Steerforth fled with lill’Emily, Ms.Dartle took it to heart that Em’ly had stolen her Steerforth. There was a lot of jealousy from Rosa Dartle’s part.
‘Sniveling hypocrisy,’ again we see Heep classified under this category but more so there are two other very evil characters which are very hypocritical: Mr.Creakle, the cruel headmaster of Salem house school. Initially he is the cruelest most disrespectful headmaster alive but towards the end of the novel he has turned into a very nice, polite warden at a jailhouse who has respect even for the greatest criminals such as Heep and Littimer, Steerforth’s despicable servant. Similarly Mr. Murdstone seems at the beginning to be very polite and a great gentleman; until he gets what he wants! He marries rich young widowed women whom he slowly destroys with his odious ‘firmness’
‘Cold-hearted fraud’ this is probably the most serious offense that is committed in David Copperfield because it actually means: trickery or scheme to deceive. In other words it is a crime, there were only a few occasions where this occurred and mostly they were to do with Heep: firstly the way the evil and slimy character deceived Mr. Wickfield accounts on several occasions with the faking of his signature to transfer documents, once he even managed to take all of Aunt Betsey’s money that was supposed to have been her life savings afsnd ‘all’ she had. In addition, under serious offense we see Littimer’s name appearing once again for his robbery to the bank of England, it is even suggested that both Heep and Littimer were in on things together. But luckily, with the help of Mr. Dick and the spiritous Miss. Mowcher they are both caught and put into Mr. Creakle’s prison.
‘Selfish exploitation’ is done by quite a lot of characters mainly: Steerforth-thinks he’s at the top, Heep-disguised beneath his ‘umbleness he’s actually very conceited, Jack Maldon-the way he thinks only of himself and takes full advantage of Doctor Strong’s caring heart, the Old Soldier (Annie’s mother)-again taking selfish advantage of Doctor Strong, and lastly Mr. Murdstone-thinking only for what’s best for him; he even abandoned David to his Aunt Betsey whom was a complete stranger for him, just because he wanted to get poor David out of his life. Would an unselfish stepfather do that?
“The spiritual presence of the hero organizes all these recollected events, through the powerful operation of association, into a single, unified pattern which forms his destiny. At first David, as a child, can only experience isolated fragments of sensation, without any power to put these together to form a coherent whole: “I could observe, in little pieces, as it were,; but as to making a net of a number of these pieces, and catching anybody in it, that was, as yet, beyond me.” But in the end the protagonist can boast that he has fabricated his own destiny by living through these experiences, and holding them together with the magnetic field of his mind. Without his organizing presence the world might fall back into disconnected fragments” (Miller 814).
‘the final impression is one of joy tempered and mellowed with wisdom.’ This is very true and it is what has given this book the success that it has: when we begin to read David Copperfield we start to feel as if the bad luck is all happening to him, his mother re-marries a cruel man, he goes to an awful school, his mother, he has to work unfairly ect… Steerforth’s servant Littimer once calls David ‘young innocence’ (chapter 32). This name is appropriate. David is sensitive, honest and loving as a child, and remains so all his life. “David comes to an understanding of the world – an understanding, at least, of the large and representative world which this novel describes. It is this understanding and the activity of putting together by which the understanding is achieved, that is David’s destiny, David’s career as we know it” (Hornback 95) He is intelligent and observant, but he learns the harder facts of life very slowly.
That is why we can say all those describing terms about this novel are correct and that is why we can say it ends marvellously with great expected achievment from david. In fact, also because it was written as a series rather than a novel, Dickens manages to settle everything left hanging between characters, in the last chapter. So in conclusion I can say that I profoundly agree with the initial statement because it properly describes this masterpiece of life.
1.Phillips, Brian. SparkNotes on David Copperfield. 22 April 2002.
2.A.H. Gomme, Dickens (London: Evans Brothers, 1971), p. 174.
3.Bert G. Hornback, “Noah’s Arkitecture”: A Study of Dickens’s Mythology (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1972), repr. in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), p. 95.
4.J. Hillis Miller, Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), repr. in Buckley, Norton edition, p. 814.
5.Angus Wilson, The World of Charles Dickens (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), pp. 213-14, 216.
6.Virginia Woolf, ‘David Copperfield’, in The Moment and Other Essays (London: Hogarth Press, 1947), p. 75.