Wednesday 16 December 2009
Sad and thoughtful
I finished this novel this morning and have been feeling rather sad and thoughtful ever since, in part because it's over and I really didn't want it to end. But the book itself feels sad and thoughtful, in spite of its mostly happy ending.
I was about to assert that this novel feels much different from any other Dickens book I've read but I realize that every Dickens book has felt different to me, in spite of all the clearly Dickensian characters and moments and observations they all boast. I think with David Copperfield I'm beginning to see just how varied Dickens could be within the (imagined? by modern readers?) confines of his very recognizable writing style.
This will be news to no one, likely, but my understanding of the Victorians is fuzzy and warm and quite vague. I've always imagined that as in no other era, the authors of the Victorian period were simultaneously for the "feeling" readers and the "thinking" readers; both for the common, minimally educated folk and the privileged owners of libraries, etc. (to break Victorian England, quite erroneously, into only two distinct social classes). Based on this likely ludicrous construction of the period, I thought Dickens was rather more for the touchy-feely types - which with him, I had/have absolutely no problem with, no matter how much I mock such tendencies in contemporary fiction writers.
David Copperfield was written in the first person, as the memoir of an established novelist, and apparently presents a number of parallels to Dickens's own life. If ever an emotional gush-fest were likely to occur, this would be the novel for it; and yet, this book is much, much quieter than the last Dickensian emotional explosion I read (A Tale of Two Cities) and is indeed, very pensive and introspective.
Not that there weren't happenings, and pain, and love, and death, and disaster! everywhere in David Copperfield, because of course there were. But this novel looked not so much at a specific social problem rooted in some form of injustice, but rather at what may be the most pressing social problem going: how to create family, both filial and friendly, out of nothing. The difficulties and pitfalls of the attempt, the ongoing heartaches, the mis-steps, the losses - but also the surprising things that become possible when you start at zero and have nothing left to lose.
Speaking of starting at zero so that the impossible might become less so, here's a drawing (by Phiz, of course) showing young Davey presenting himself to his Aunt Betsey Trotwood for the first time.
For a real review of the book, check out what Tony has to say here.