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Thursday, August 23, 2012

David Copperfield bv Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

David Copperfield
by Charles Dickens
published 1849-1850 in serial

    David Copperfield is generally considered to be the second best novel by the "best" Novelist of all time.   In fact, many critics/scholars would rank Charles Dickens second behind Shakespeare of leading literary figures of all time.   Talking about Charles Dickens as a "Victorian" Novelist- which happens a lot in the academic figure- hardly begins to touch the continuing and enduring popularity of Charles Dickens among Audience members and literary/artistic professional types.

Young Daniel Radcliffe plays Young David Copperfield in 1999 TV version

   It is important to recognize that Charles Dickens was popular before he was revered by critics, and the gap in time is considerable.   Dickens didn't really "break through" among critics until the mid 20th century, when literature professors were forced to acknowledge that Charles Dickens "wasn't going away."  During this entire period- from the mid 19th to mid 20th century, Charles Dickens has being republished, adaptations were being made in different media and his work was inspiring later Authors.

Maggie Smith as Betsey Trotwood in 1999 TV version

   It is also a fair observation that the critics who initially witnessed the explosion of popularity that greeted Charles Dickens literary output didn't fully understand why his Novels struck such a chord with the Audience.  "Overwhelmingly, early critics praised his humour (sic) (especially as seen in his characters), his pathos, and his eye for topical detail; his style and his aesthetic achievement were hardly mentioned." (1)

 It wasn't for nearly a century that  the era of "Modern" Dickens critical appreciation- even BEGAN- with the publication of Edmund Wilson's Dickens: The Two Scrooges, George Orwell's Charles Dickens and Humphrey House's The Dickens World- all published between 1940 and 1942. (2)

  The initial reaction to David Copperfield was by the marketplace, "Reviews of Copperfield were mixed, and monthly sales hovered around 20,000, in comparison with 32,00 for Dombey and 34,000 for Bleak House.  Nevertheless, as Forster proclaimed, "Dickens never stood so high in reputation as at the completion of Copperfield." (3)

  However, the autobiographical material that Dickens draws on to portray the titular character meant that this book was important to Dickens, and ensured that it received additional attention from the Author and critics after the initial reception.   Obviously, for critics writing after the mid 1950s canonization process was complete, David Copperfield is a wonderland for analysis.  David Copperfield is quite literally based on Dickens own life: the main character becomes a Novelist during the story, the love story is directly inspired by Dickens own case of unrequited young adult love, etc.

Other Posts About Charles Dickens On This Blog

Book Review:  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens11/20/14
Book Review: Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836 by George H. Ford. 3/25/13
Book Review: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, 3/17/13.
Book Review:  Dickens Worlds by Humphrey House, 3/8/13
Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, 9/21/12
Book Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 8/23/12
Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 7/17/12.
Book Review: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens, 6/19/12.
Book Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 6/7/12.


 (1) The Oxford Readers Companion to Dickens, edited by Paul Schlicke, published 1999, page 135.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Id. at 152

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