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David Copperfield: (official) Review

I know what you're thinking. I did a Saturday Spotlight on Davy Copperfield a little while back, but having only read the first two hundred pages I had barely scratched the surface of how profoundly intricate, touching, and heart-wrenching this Dickens special truly is. The story of David Copperfield from infant to mature adult is the heartfelt reflection of a writer upon his own life, filled at every turn with quiet introspection, longing, regret, pain, joy, dread, and excitement, all penned with an air of observation that only an author could assume. Sometimes it seems David is only an observer, other times he is the core of the novel, but always he is honest and heartfelt and, of course, a brilliant wordsmith.

The story unfolds not like a modern novel, where every plot point is manufactured to be as effective, gripping, relevant, and high-speed as possible. It unfolds like a life, with ebbs and flows, high points and low points, action and monotony, a sort of old-fashioned rhythm. David recounts his bleak childhood: the struggles of a life invaded by a cruel step-father, the grief of a child made an orphan, and the joy that child finds with a fisherman's happy family and their boat-house on the sea.

Davy grows, and his tale grows with him. We ache with him as he labours like a slave-boy for survival, we drag ourselves along in his vagabond flight from oppression; we rejoice with a sigh of "oh, thank goodness" when he finally finds love, a decent home, and the story takes a turn for the brighter.

Then there's school, and Steerforth, and Agnes, and Traddles, and oh, of course, Little Em'ly. There's Mr. Micawber, the man of innumerable "pecuniary difficulties" who is always in debt, always writing letters, and always fully expectant that "something will turn up". Davy's life intertwines with too many characters to do justice in a single review, but through these interactions, meetings, and dealings, Dickens takes this story from a work of fiction, to a true, vivid life in writing.

It's a life in that there is no time travel; choices made are choices lived with; child becomes man, mistakes are met with consequences, every step along the road has a place in taking Davy where he, ultimately, is going. Nothing can be skipped—not a single second, not a single word. Just as Davy is bound to live out each moment of his life with no fast-forwards and no do-overs, we are obliged to follow him and learn what we can from the experiences he makes as he makes them.

That, in fact, is life, and this novel makes it clear: our lives are not ruled by our circumstances, but by what we choose to do with them, and the kind of people we choose to be in spite of the hardships we face.

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