Dickens Champions: getting our teeth into David Copperfield
17 March 2012 / 0 Comments
Number of members: 16
We're the Dickens Reading Group in Manchester and we met for the first time on the 1st March (World Book Day) to discuss our first Dicken's book - David Copperfield. We also talked about what we are looking forward to most about reading Dickens:
Finding a structure for filling a gap in my reading
Getting rid of the chip on my shoulder for not reading him earlier
Getting to know more about Dickens the man and why he has such a strong reputation
What we thought of David Copperfield
It's full of memorable characters; people many of us feel we know already, such as Mr Micawber and Uriah Heep. Some of our knowledge comes from films, so several of us felt we really valued the opportunity to read them for ourselves. David's own growth from childhood to maturity was the starting point. Harriet used a memorable phrase Happiness is wanting what you get, not getting what you want. Is this David's lesson in life?
Who is the best character?
Brian felt Uriah Heep is vividly drawn and wields the real power of the book. Amjad read the characters as either good or bad. Someone else said he doesn't do women very well. Did David just marry his mother? Both are rather weak and arguably silly women who needed to be killed off to move the story along. But there is Betsy Trotwood who is eccentric but strong, sympathetic and reliable
Is Mr Micawber a hero or a villain?
There were quite differing opinions about him; the words irritating and annoying were used, though we recognised he does prove crucial to saving the day near the end.
What about Little Emily?
Anja had strong opinions about her. Dickens tries to make us feel sorry for her as a victim of Steerforth's evil intent. But all the time she knows she has the inheritance from Barkis so is never really going to fall into prostitution. This brought us all up sharply - a new way of thinking about this rather shadowy character.
Finally we touched on the odd and "grotesque" characters Dickens has peppered this novel with. Geoffrey finds it a bit unbelievable that he could encounter so many. Mr Dick and Miss Mowcher are the most memorable. But is this one of Dickens' wider purposes in writing? He makes us think about how people who are "abnormal" are treated. "Trust me no more, but trust me no less, than you would trust a full-sized woman" says Miss Mowcher.
We touched on the structure of the novel, its coincidences and cliff-hangers, the moments when the author has clearly forgotten to tell us something or possibly even where he was up to. One of us finds him too long-winded, but others love the multi-layered descriptions, so much more vivid than when we are presented with a character in a film.
There was not enough time to discuss all the things we could have learnt from this novel, about child exploitation, debtor's prisons, poor education standards, but I'm sure over the course of the year these topics will re-appear. One shocking fact that Donna shared with us was that the age of consent was only 12 years at this time.
Funny that we didn't talk about Agnes at all!
What do you think?
Have you or your reading group read David Copperfield? Let us know what you thought of it.
Watch out for our Dickens Champions' blog posts as they read their way through Dickens during 2012.