Reading David Copperfield

‘Amateur Reader’ is doing a lovely series of posts on his reading of David Copperfield over at Wuthering Expectations. Up so far:

I had seen it somewhere. But I could not remember where. – In David Copperfield, Dickens tames his prose.

Dickens had reached a dead end, and he knew it.  Many of his most rhetorically complex passages only barely serve the story of which they were nominally a part.  The Haunted Man, is, at times, barely comprehensible.  Dombey and Son is never that bad, but is still extraordinarily thick in places.

I had not read David Copperfield (1849-50) when I wondered if its switch to the first person was partly an attempt by Dickens to tame his own prose.  It was!

What ravages I committed on my favourite authors in the course of my interpretation of them – David Copperfield, Author.

Charles Dickens switched to a first person narrator in David Copperfield.  Once, influenced by baleful Modernists, I would have found myself surprised that Dickens was interested in, and wanted to answer, the usual first person questions.  No more, though.  Nineteenth century writers were no fools.

The sensation of the very airs that blew on me. – Proustian Dickens.

The whiff of Proust is in that air, with the smell of earth and leaves.  Standing at the window (a real action) evokes a more or less conscious memory, the visual image of the tramps, which reminds Copperfield of his own journey as a tramp (ending, more or less, at this window), accompanied, involuntarily, by some associated (non-visual) memories.

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3 Responses to Reading David Copperfield

  1. Boy, thanks a lot.

    That first one should have a different title, I now see. “We are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words,” Ch. 52. Referring to Micawber, of course, but that “we” suggests self-awareness.

    And that last one – it’s a mouthful. Maybe I should have numbered the steps. The idea is there, at least.

    I need an editor.

    Every day I have run longer than I had planned, or is wise, because David Copperfield is so enjoyable to think and write about.

  2. Rohan Maitzen says:

    No, no. Every quotation from Dickens should be a mouthful, surely. Your posts are making me long to reread the novel. Have you read Nick Hornby’s rhapsodies about it in The Polysyllabic Spree? I found it very endearing that after he finishes it he finds every novel he reads for a while disappointing just for not being David Copperfield.

  3. I’ve glance at Hornby, but not read his book pieces. They cause anxiety – too close, maybe, to what I want to do.

    He’s right – I’m successfully reading The House with the Green Shutters, which is stylistically and ethically entirely unlike David Copperfield. Gottfried Keller’s Green Henry, another serious-minded Kunstlerroman, just ain’t working now. It need to give it a little more distance from the DIckens novel.

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