Charles Dickens •
David Copperfield •
You knew we’d get to Dickens sooner or later, didn’t you? To be sure, his highly spiced prose is an acquired taste, and one that many people never acquire.
But if you don’t mind settling in for a lengthy read, Dickens pays ample dividends. No character is too minor, no cameo too small, to leave a lasting impression. Young Peepy Jellyby figures only peripherally in the 800 pages of Bleak House, but his first appearance is indelible: He’s got his head stuck between the iron bars of a railing and has to be pried loose. You may stumble over the complicated plot, but you’ll never forget that scene.
Speaking of Jellyby Junior, what a treasure house of eccentric names throughout Dickens, from the strictly utilitarian (Pocket and Carton) to the wildly improbable (Turveydrop and Chuzzlewit) to the downright sinister (Murdstone and Tulkinghorn).
The only difficulty is choosing which book to recommend. There are Oliver Twist admirers, Great Expectations enthusiasts, even Pickwick partisans. Thackeray’s daughter Minnie was said to read Nicholas Nickleby when she was happy, when she was sad, and all the rest of the time too.
So we’ll stick a pin in David Copperfield, which is both the most autobiographical and in many ways the most representative of Dickens’s considerable oeuvre. You may be familiar with some part of the story already: Mr. Dick’s difficulties with the head of King Charles the First; the unctuous villainy of Uriah Heep (“You Heep of infamy!”); or Wilkins Micawber’s chronic debts and flowery speeches.
Can’t face a book of 700 pages? Take a crash course in Dickens by watching the stellar BBC adaptation of David Copperfield starring Maggie Smith, Bob Hoskins, and Daniel Radcliffe, to learn why “Barkis is willin’. ”