David Copperfield

Category: Writing & Reading | Type: Historical | Title: David Copperfield (in Context) | Author: Charles Dickens







Only some three months after Jim began to annotate David Copperfield in 2011 he learned that he had cancer. He died in December, 2011. His notes are preserved in the current annotations. He was a brilliant, thoughtful, and comprehesive student of nineteenth-century British literature and a exceptional writer. His sense of humor and irony were well-tuned to Dickens, whom he loved, and especially to this novel, so funny and so tender. We all would have learned from Jim's reading and been amused by his witty irreverence. He is greatly missed.


For students, teachers, scholars, and the inquisitive general reader: To employ the full capacity of the annotations, please go to bookdoors.com and click on ReSearch. You will find a variety of ways to use the annotations' content. You will also be able to search the text of the nearly 100 works on the site. 

A superscript w denotes the annotation is a definition of a word; a superscript h addresses factual or historical material; a superscript d indicates a discussion or critical commentary; and a (w), (h), or (d) indicates an illustration, often one of Jane Freeman's paintings. 



The original title page ends with the provocative disclaimer, "Which He Never Meant to be Published on any Account." While the statement applies to David, there is no reason given or apparent that he wouldn't want to publish what he had written. It is Dickens who is hesitant, because he was obsessively secretive about aspects of his past. Nevertheless, as he remarks below, he ranked Copperfield as his favorite among his novels. It gains energy and brilliance from just what Dickens feared, his excavation of his past, though concealed as David's. When Forster pointed out that David Copperfield's initials were those of Dickens reversed, he claimed to have been surprised. That seems unlikely.

Among the titles and names for the novel Dickens considered was Mag's Diversions. A "mag" was slang for a half-penny. With "Copperfield" Dickens retained the spirit of the name, a field of pennies. Dickens returns to "Mag" in his other most deeply autobiographical novel, Great Expectations, in which a protagonist, Magwitch, is much consumed with money as an instrument for revenge.  

Copperfield's first name, David, recalls the David of the Bible who defeats Goliath, who is sometimes distinctly amorous, recalled in some of the Psalms he supposedly wrote, and who becomes a great king. The Bible plays a significant role throughout David Copperfield, with many allusions to the Hebrew and Greek Testaments, which form an impressionistic foil to the events in the novel. The complex role of religion in relation to the novel is discussed in the annotations. An Afterword appears there. It gathers together material spread among the annotations concerning childhood, memory, love, and forgiveness. 

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