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1849-1850 marks the period in which Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield first appeared serially and in 1850 it was published as one text, with subtle differences from the serial. At the time of its publication it was not known to readers that David Copperfield was largely autobiographical. Reading this book as it is, without looking for references to Dickens’ life, is still enjoyable.
Like most of his books, Dickens includes a large array of characters, all of which will touch a different emotional chord within the reader. Whether you are a fan of the rather skittish Mr. Micawber or are rooting for David’s childhood friend, the skeleton-drawing Traddles, these characters will take you on a journey through the memories that are at times painful for the narrator to relate to his readers.
Throughout the novel, each of the characters deal with their own memories. Many of them ask for their loved ones to remember them in a good light or as they were before they went on to corrupt themselves in the eyes of others. This would mean that certain memories would have to be forgotten or even changed.
This brings about the problem of truth in the retelling of the past. David Copperfield is entirely told as a remembering of events and people that happened in the past. If the notion of memory is put to question by the pleading of characters to be remembered as a good person and not as they actually are then the whole novel could also be questioned.
Retelling memories in a particular way also brings about the idea of storytelling. When telling a story, the writer does not necessarily have to stick to what actually happened. He may be allowed to add more interesting and catching events here and there and if he wants readers to view a character in a certain light, he may change details to achieve this goal. This is why, even though David Copperfield is now known to be autobiographical, it may be better to read it as a story.
Even the narrator of the novel, at times, would rather make his life into a story than to relive the events in their reality. Often, David can be found trying to get through a situation by pretending to be a character from one of his favorite novels he read as a kid. Sometimes books provide the best alternative to reality. They also put the idea of heroes into the minds of readers. David may feel that his lifelong friend, Agnes, is his hero, but each character in the novel seems to have their own heroic moments in David’s life.
Whether it is the question of who is a hero or what a real memory is, David Copperfield is by far one of Dickens’ most entertaining novels. The added aspect of it being autobiographical, allows readers another vantage point in which to reread the novel searching for clues to Dickens’ life. No matter how many times it is reread, new themes will be discovered and the humor continue to bring chuckles to the reader.