illustration of two young men standing in 19th century garb and looking at one another

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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Who is Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield?

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David Copperfield first meets Mr. Murdstone as early as chapter II, "I Observe." He describes him as a large man with black hair and whiskers. From the beginning, David doesn't like him and professes that he feels jealous that his mother is giving him so much attention.

What he calls "a child's distinctive dislike" becomes a genuine hatred after Mr. Murdstone marries David's mother. One of the first things Mr. Murdstone does as David's stepfather is threaten to beat David if he upsets his mother again. As the story progresses, and Mr. Murdstone's equally cruel sister arrives, life becomes a unbearable until Mr. Murdstone finally sends David to boarding school. The school is somewhat of a relief to receiving the beatings at the hand of Mr. Murdstone and seeing the unhappiness of his own mother.

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Mr. Murdstone is David Copperfield's wicked stepfather. He marries David's mother when the boy is conveniently away at the coast. When David returns home, he's in for a nasty surprise, because his new stepdad is a cruel, sadistic bully. He regularly beats David for no good reason; he dominates and controls David's mother; and for good measure, he brings his equally disgusting relatives into the house, which they proceed to take over and treat as their own.

Murdstone provides David with what he fancifully regards as gainful employment in the family wine-bottling factory, "Murdstone & Grinby." Unfortunately, this isn't much of a career move, as David is forced to slave away in a menial job, treated little better than a slave. We get the impression that his evil stepdad sent him out to work just so that he could get him out of the way.

Life at the factory becomes so utterly wretched and unbearable that David is forced to run away and find refuge with his eccentric but lovable great-aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood. When Murdstone discovers that David has gone AWOL from the factory, he sees an opportunity to remove him from his life altogether and arranges for Miss Betsey to become David's legal guardian, but not before Betsey gives him a richly-deserved tongue-lashing for his appalling treatment of the young lad and his family.

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