David Copperfield, the orphaned hero-narrator whose story of his early years and growing maturity is one of the best-known works of fiction in the English language. A posthumous child, extremely sensitive in retrospect, he first experiences cruelty and tyranny when his young widowed mother marries stern Mr. Murdstone, and he quickly forms emotional alliances with the underprivileged and the victimized. His loyalties are sometimes misplaced, as in the case of Steerforth, his school friend who seduces Little Em’ly, but his heart remains sound and generous toward even the erring. As he passes from childhood to disillusioned adolescence, his perceptions increase, though he often misses the truth because he misreads the evidence before him. His trust is all the more remarkable when one considers the recurrence of error that leads him from false friends to false love and on to near catastrophe. Finally, unlike his creator, David finds balance and completion in his literary career, his abiding friendships, and his happy second marriage.
Clara Copperfield, David’s childlike but understanding and beautiful mother, destined to an early death because of her inability to cope with life. Strong in her own attachments, she attributes to everyone motives as good and generous as her own. Misled into a second marriage to an unloving husband, she is torn between son and husband and dies soon after giving birth to another child. Mother and child are buried in the same coffin.
Edward Murdstone, Clara Copperfield’s second husband and David’s irascible stepfather, who cruelly mistreats the sensitive young boy. Self-seeking to an extreme degree, Murdstone has become a synonym for the mean and low, the calculating and untrustworthy. His cruelty is touched with sadism, and his egoism borders on the messianic.
Jane Murdstone, Edward Murdstone’s sister. Like her brother, she is harsh and unbending. Her severe nature is symbolized by the somber colors and metallic beads she wears. Her suspicious mind is shown by her belief that the maids have a man hidden somewhere in the house.
Clara Peggotty, Mrs. Copperfield’s devoted servant and David’s nurse and friend. Cheerful and plump, she always seems about to burst out of her clothing, and when she moves buttons pop and fly in all directions. Discharged after the death of her mistress, she marries Barkis, a carrier.
Daniel Peggotty, Clara Peggotty’s brother, a Yarmouth fisherman whose home is a boat beached on the sands. A generous, kind-hearted man, he has made himself the protector of a niece and a nephew, Little Em’ly and Ham, and of Mrs. Gummidge, the forlorn widow of his former partner. His charity consists of thoughtful devotion as much as material support.
Ham Peggotty, Daniel Peggotty’s stalwart nephew. He grows up to fall in love with his cousin, Little Em’ly; on the eve of their wedding, however, she elopes with James Steerforth, her seducer. Some years later, during a great storm, Ham is drowned while trying to rescue Steerforth from a ship in distress off Yarmouth beach.
Little Em’ly, Daniel Peggotty’s niece and adopted daughter, a girl of great beauty and charm and David’s first love. Though engaged to marry her cousin Ham, she runs away with James Steerforth. After he discards her, Daniel Peggotty saves her from a life of further shame, and she and her uncle join a party emigrating to Australia.
Barkis, the carrier between Blunderstone and Yarmouth. A bashful suitor, he woos Peggotty by having David tell her that “Barkis is willin’!” This tag-line, frequently repeated, reveals the carter’s good and simple nature.
Mrs. Gummidge, the widow of Daniel Peggotty’s fishing partner. After he takes her into his home, she spends most of her time by the fire, meanwhile complaining sadly that she is a “lone, lorn creetur.”
Miss Betsey Trotwood
Miss Betsey Trotwood, David Copperfield’s great-aunt, eccentric, sharp-spoken, but essentially kind-hearted. Present on the night of David’s birth, she has already made up her mind as to his sex and his name, her own. When she learns that the child is a boy, she leaves the house in great indignation. Eventually, she becomes the benefactress of destitute and desolate David, educates him, and lives to see him happily married to Agnes Wickfield and established in his literary career.
Richard Babley, called Mr. Dick, a mildly mad and seemingly irresponsible man befriended by Miss Trotwood. He has great difficulty in keeping the subject of King Charles the First out of his conversation and the memorial he is writing. Miss Trotwood, who refuses to admit that he is mad, always defers to him as a shrewd judge of character and situation.
Dora Spenlow, the ornamental but helpless “child-wife” whom David loves protectively, marries, and loses when she dies young. Her helplessness in dealing with the ordinary situations of life is both amusing and touching.
Agnes Wickfield, the daughter of Miss Trotwood’s solicitor and David’s staunch friend for many years. Though David at first admires the father, his admiration is soon transferred to the sensible, generous daughter. She nurses Dora Copperfield at the time of her fatal illness, and Dora on her deathbed advises David to marry Agnes. The delicacy with which Agnes contains her love for many years makes her an appealing figure. Eventually, she and David are married, to Miss Trotwood’s great delight.
Uriah Heep, the hypocritical villain who, beginning as a clerk in Mr. Wickfield’s law office, worms his way into the confidence of his employer, becomes a partner in the firm, ruins Mr. Wickfield, and embezzles Miss Trotwood’s fortune. His insistence that he is a very humble person provides the clue to his sly, conniving nature. His villainy is finally uncovered by Wilkins Micawber, whom he has used as a tool, and he is forced to make restitution. After Mr. Wickfield and Miss Trotwood refuse to charge him with fraud, he continues his sharp practices in another section of the country until he is arrested for forgery and imprisoned.
Wilkins Micawber, an impecunious man who is “always waiting for something to turn up” while spending himself into debtors’ prison, writing grandiloquent letters, indulging in flowery rhetoric, and eking out a shabbily genteel existence on the brink of disaster. David Copperfield lodges with the Micawbers for a time in London, and to him Mr. Micawber confides the sum of his worldly philosophy: “Annual income twenty pounds; annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen, six—result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds; annual expenditure twenty pounds nought six—result misery.” He tries a variety of occupations in the course of the novel and is for a time employed by Uriah Heep, whose villainy he contemptuously unmasks. Miss Trotwood aids him and his family to emigrate to Australia, where he becomes a magistrate. A figure of improvidence, alternating between high spirits and low, well-meaning but without understanding of worldly ways, Mr. Micawber is one of Dickens’ great comic creations.
Mrs. Emma Micawber
Mrs. Emma Micawber, a woman genteelly born (as she frequently insists) and as mercurial in temperament as her husband, capable of fainting over the prospect of financial ruin at three o’clock and of happily eating breaded lamb chops and drinking ale, bought with money from two pawned teaspoons, at four. Loyal in nature, she says in every crisis that she will never desert Mr. Micawber.
Master Wilkins and
Miss Emma, the Micawber children.
James Steerforth, David Copperfield’s fellow student at Salem House. The handsome, spoiled son of a wealthy widow, he hides his true nature behind pleasing manners and a seemingly engaging disposition. Introduced by David into the Peggotty household at Yarmouth, he succeeds in seducing Little Em’ly and persuading her to elope with him on the eve of her marriage to Ham. Later, he tires of her and plans to marry her off to Littimer, the servant who aids him in his amorous conquests. He is drowned when his ship breaks up during a storm off Yarmouth.
Mrs. Steerforth, James Steerforth’s mother, a proud, austere woman, at first devoted to her handsome, wayward son but eventually estranged from him.
Rosa Dartle, Mrs. Steerforth’s companion. Older than Steerforth but deeply in love with him, she endures humiliation and many indignities because of her unreasoning passion. Her lip is scarred as the result of a wound suffered when Steerforth, in a childish fit of anger, threw a hammer at her.
Littimer, Steerforth’s valet, a complete scoundrel. Tired of Little Em’ly, Steerforth plans to marry her to his servant, but she runs away in order to escape this degradation.
Miss Mowcher, a pursy dwarf. A hairdresser, she makes herself “useful” to a number of people in a variety of ways. Steerforth avails himself of her services.
Grainger, Steerforth’s lively, amusing friends.
Francis Spenlow, a partner in the London firm of Spenlow and Jorkins, proctors, in which David Copperfield becomes an articled clerk. During a visit at the Spenlow country place, David meets Dora, Mr. Spenlow’s lovely but childlike daughter, and falls in love with her; however, her father opposes David’s suit after Miss Trotwood loses her fortune. Mr. Spenlow dies suddenly after a fall from his carriage, and Dora is taken in charge by two maiden aunts. Following the discovery that Mr. Spenlow’s business affairs were in great confusion and that he died almost penniless, David marries Dora.
Miss Clarissa Spenlow
Miss Clarissa Spenlow and
Miss Lavinia Spenlow
Miss Lavinia Spenlow, Mr. Spenlow’s sisters, who take Dora into their home after her father’s death.
Mr. Jorkins, Mr. Spenlow’s business partner.
Mary Anne Paragon
Mary Anne Paragon, a servant to David and Dora during their brief married life.
Mr. Tiffey, an elderly, withered-looking clerk employed by Spenlow and Jorkins.
Mr. Wickfield, a solicitor of Canterbury and Miss Trotwood’s man of business, brought to ruin by Uriah Heep’s scheming and adroit mismanagement of the firm’s accounts. He is saved from disaster when Wilkins Micawber exposes Heep’s machinations. Mr. Wickfield is a weak, foolish, but high-principled man victimized by a scoundrel who exploits his weaknesses.
Mr. Creakle, the master of Salem House, the wretched school to which Mr. Murdstone sends David Copperfield. Lacking in scholarly qualities, he prides himself on his strict discipline. Years later, he becomes interested in a model prison where Uriah Heep and Littimer are among the inmates.
Mrs. Creakle, his wife, the victim of her husband’s tyranny.
Miss Creakle, their daughter, reported to be in love with Steerforth.
Charles Mell, a junior master at Salem House, discharged when Mr. Creakle learns that the teacher’s mother lives in an almshouse. Emigrating to Australia, he eventually becomes the head of the Colonial Salem-House Grammar-School.
Mr. Sharp, the senior master at Salem House.
George Demple, one of David Copperfield’s schoolmates at Salem House.
Thomas Traddles, another student at Salem House. As an unhappy schoolboy, he consoles himself by drawing skeletons. He studies law, marries the daughter of a clergyman, and eventually becomes a judge. Along with David Copperfield, he acts for Miss Trotwood after Uriah Heep’s villainy has been revealed.
Miss Sophy Crewler
Miss Sophy Crewler, the fourth daughter of a clergyman’s family, a pleasant, cheerful girl who marries Thomas Traddles. Her husband always refers to her as “the dearest girl in the world.”
The Reverend Horace Crewler
The Reverend Horace Crewler, a poor clergyman and the father of a large family of daughters.
Mrs. Crewler, his wife, a chronic invalid whose condition mends or grows worse according to the pleasing or displeasing circumstances of her life.
Caroline Crewler, Sarah Creweler, Louisa Creweler, Lucy Creweler, and Margaret Creweler
Caroline Crewler, Sarah Creweler, Louisa Creweler, Lucy Creweler, and Margaret Creweler, the other Crewler daughters. They and their husbands form part of the family circle surrounding happy, generous Traddles.
Dr. Strong, the master of the school at Canterbury where Miss Trotwood sends her great-nephew to be educated. After Miss Trotwood loses her money, Dr. Strong hires David to help in compiling a classical dictionary.
Mrs. Annie Markleham Strong, a woman much younger than her husband.
Mrs. Markleham, the mother of Mrs. Strong. The boys at the Canterbury school call her the “Old Soldier.”
Mr. Quinion, the manager of the warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby, where David Copperfield is sent to do menial work after his mother’s death. Miserable in these surroundings, David finally resolves to run away and look for his only relative, Miss Betsey Trotwood, in Dover.
Tipp, a workman in the Murdstone and Grinby warehouse.
Mealy Potatoes and
Mick Walker, two rough slum boys who work with David at the warehouse of Murdstone and Grinby.
Miss Larkins, a dark-eyed, statuesque beauty with whom David Copperfield falls in love when he is seventeen. She disappoints him by marrying Mr. Chestle, a grower of hops.
Miss Shepherd, a student at Miss Nettingall’s Establishment for Young Ladies and another of David Copperfield’s youthful loves.
Mrs. Crupp, David Copperfield’s landlady while he is an articled clerk in the firm of Spenlow and Jorkins. She suffers from “the spazzums” and takes quantities of peppermint for this strange disorder.
Martha Endell, an unfortunate young woman who helps to restore Little Em’ly to her uncle.
Janet, Miss Betsey Trotwood’s servant.
Jack Maldon, Mrs. Strong’s cousin, a libertine for whom her kind-hearted husband finds employment.