Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Dickens’s eighth novel, his favorite, has an intimate relationship to his own story: “C. D.” becomes “D. C.” Some months before he began it, he had sat down to write the story of his childhood degradation for the first and only time in his life. The experience was too painful and Dickens abandoned the autobiographical attempt. Yet the material found its way, often word for word, directly into the first-person fiction of David Copperfield, which, as Dickens puts it semijokingly in the subtitle, the hero “never meant to be published on any account.”
Fatherless David Copperfield’s idyllic relationship to his pretty and childlike mother is utterly ended by her second marriage. Austere Mr. Murdstone lives up to the fairy-tale model of the wicked stepparent, whipping the terrified boy when he stammers over impossibly long sums, sending him away to school (where he meets and worships handsome Steerforth), and finally depriving David of his inheritance when his mother dies in childbirth, consigning him instead to the hell of Murdstone and Grinby’s (that is, Warren’s) factory. Comfort, however, is provided by the feckless, wordy, self-important Mr. Micawber, a masterly comic transformation of Dickens’s own father, with whom the lonely boy takes lodgings. Micawber suffers the same fate of imprisonment in debtors’ prison but remains convinced that his luck will change.
Meanwhile, an important subplot centers on the seafaring folk...
(The entire section is 562 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
David Copperfield is born at Blunderstone, in Suffolk, six months after his father’s death. Miss Betsey Trotwood, an eccentric grandaunt, is present on the night of his birth, but she leaves the house abruptly and indignantly when she learns that the child is a boy, since only a girl can be named after her. David spends his early years with his pretty young mother and a devoted servant named Peggotty.
The youthful widow is soon courted by Mr. Murdstone. Soon after she marries him, she discovers that he is stingy and cruel. David is packed off with Peggotty to visit her relatives at Yarmouth. Her brother converted an old boat into a home by the sea, where he lives with his niece, who is called Little Em’ly, and his sturdy young nephew, Ham. Little Em’ly and Ham are David’s first real playmates, and his visit to Yarmouth remains one of the few happy memories of his lonely childhood. After Mr. Murdstone’s sister, Jane, arrives to take charge of her brother’s household, David and his mother never again feel free from the dark atmosphere of suspicion and gloom the Murdstones create about them.
One day, in a fit of childish terror, David bites his stepfather on the hand. He is immediately sent off to Salem House, a wretched school near London, where his life is more miserable than ever under a brutal headmaster named Mr. Creakle. In spite of Mr. Creakle’s harsh treatment and bullying, however, David’s life is endurable because of his...
(The entire section is 1358 words.)
David Copperfield is a bildungsroman, the story of the narrator's life from early childhood to maturity. In it Copperfield describes the obstacles he overcame and the unhappy events he lived through before becoming a successful novelist in later years. The book is an expert blend of fiction and autobiography. While Dickens was not an orphan, he felt abandoned by his parents during the harsh experiences of his early years. David Copperfield's father had died before his birth and his mother dies when he is twelve years old. David had led a happy life with his mother and the housekeeper Peggotty until his mother's second marriage to Murdstone, who beats David severely and whose treatment breaks his mother's spirit and finally causes her death. Before her death, Murdstone sends David to Salem House, a school presided over by a master as cruel as Murdstone himself. It is here, however, that David meets two life-long friends, James Steerforth and Tommy Traddles. With his wife dead, Murdstone, who hates David, sends him to his business in London. He lodges with the amiable Micawber family. David runs away from the hated warehouse and becomes the ward of his great-aunt Betsy Trotwood, who sends him to school in Canterbury, a vast improvement over Salem House. Here he lodges with the Wickfields and is attracted to Agnes Wickfield, but dislikes Uriah Heep, her father's obsequious clerk. He studies law under Mr. Spenlow and falls in love and marries his daughter...
(The entire section is 295 words.)
After a digression about the predictions concerning his future at the time of his birth, David, the adult narrator of David Copperfield, notes that he was born at Blunderstone, in Suffolk, England, six months after his father had died. David’s great-aunt, Betsey Trotwood, appeared at the Copperfield home just prior to David’s birth, insisting that Clara, David’s mother, would have a daughter and that Betsey would become her godmother. When Clara remembered her husband’s kindness to her, she became upset, which started her labor. When Betsey discovered that she had delivered a boy, she said nothing, immediately walked out and never returned, vanishing “like a discontented fairy.”
One day Clara brings home Edward Murdstone, whom, David later discovers, has been courting her. David and his beloved nanny, Peggotty, immediately dislike him, and David becomes jealous of his mother’s attentions toward him. Peggotty insists that Clara should not marry a man that her husband would not like, which brings Clara to tears. Murdstone brings David into town with him in an effort to try to win him over, but David, who admits that his observational powers are keen, finds the man “clever and cold” in his dealings with his business acquaintances and later, “stern and silent.”
One evening, Peggotty asks David if he would like to go with her to stay with her brother and his family for two weeks at...
(The entire section is 4749 words.)