Charles Dickens's David Copperfield (1850)

Extollager

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I've begun a rereading, and perhaps some Chronsfolk would like to comment on this novel too.

I think everyone agrees about the magic of the opening chapters with the young boy's experiences. People who haven't read the book or haven't read it in a while may suppose these pages are "sentimental." They are indeed about feelings and the imagination, but then those are much of what the young child's experience of the world and of himself is mediated by. Dickens does provide some detachment via the adult's point of view. I think that when people today objects to Dickens's "sentimentality," sometimes they are revealing their own lack of sympathy with a warm and lively responsiveness to the natural feelings, more than they are legitimately objecting to Dicken's artistry. An allusion to the death of Little Nell (in the Old Curiosity Shop) suffices for them. Myself, I suspect that future generations may be puzzled by the appetite of so many in our time for torrents of CGI carnage and worse forms of our coldness....
 

MWagner

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I'm one of those people who find Dickens sentimental. And I don't think it's because I'm cynical. When I read Dickens' descriptions of a workhouse, or a brutal school, or a slum, I say to myself yes, that's how it must have been. He's that good. But when he inserts an angelic innocent into that environment, it's jarring. It's as though an animated cherub walks into a Stanley Kubrick film.

Dickens liked to characterize with broad, emotional strokes. Characters have one, maybe two strong personality traits, and that is all. And in most of the cases it works, owing to his underlying seriousness and unflinching insight into the world he wrote about. But sometimes it doesn't work for me. I simply don't believe that person would live in that world.

I understand why he has these angels in his stories. Owing to his own traumatic experiences in childhood, which most certainly did rob him of innocence and left him deeply resentful of his parents, he wanted to evoke characters who could live in a harsh and brutal environment without losing any of their innocence. Candles in the darkness.

Also, Dickens was an unabashedly commercial writer. He knew most of his readers enjoyed a good cry.
 

Extollager

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I could imagine myself in some moods finding some of Dickens's good characters kind of putting me off. Passages in his books sometimes need to be read as "poems," expressing a special kind of realism, as you get, say, in Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Reading some of those might be a good warmup for some folks before settling into Dickens. I don't suppose Dickens knew Blake's verse, but surely there's an affinity between the poet and the Dickens who imagined crippled Jenny Wren and her visions.
alice-blake-print.jpg
 

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