Friday, July 04, 2008

David Copperfield

On bicycle breaks, I’m still fishing out DAVID COPPERFIELD from my panniers, slowly making progress, loving the characters and comedic genius, wondering why I'm so slow (300 pages to go). Only Dickens in the nineteenth century could write Shakespearean comedy. The language of the first-person narration is outrageously good (David's sketches of the bizarre characters he meets are hyperbolic, but also affectionate).

The cast of characters include: Peggotty, the devoted servant who throws her apron over her head when she laughs; Mr. Peggotty , Ham Peggotty, Little Em'ly, and the gloomy Mrs. Gummidge, who live in a boat on the beach in Yarmouth; Mr. Murdstone, David’s cruel stepfather, who, in Peggotty's view, drives David's mother to her death; wily Uriah Heep, who schemes to take over his patron's law office; Aunt Betsey Trotwood, David’s guardian, who hates donkeys and rushes several times a day to drive them off her property; and Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, a genteel if ridiculous couple who are always in debt.

Here's an example of Dickens' Micawber's witty advice to David when he boards with them: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

One can read Dickens all year round, and perhaps that's why I'm savoring it. BLEAK HOUSE is almost everyone's favorite: Harold Bloom wrote about it in GREAT BOOKS, and Nabokov wrote about it in NABOKOV'S ENGLISH LECTURES. There's something shivery about the description of the fog and Chancery Court; something humorous and touching all at once about Esther Summerson's 1st perseon narrative (her background is Jane Eyre plus feminine David Copperfield).

The character Desmond on LOST, the T.V. show, has read all of Dickens except one, which he carries in a plastic bag (I'm not sure what he's saving, though someone told me it was OUR MUTUAL FRIEND).

I haven't read PICKWICK PAPERS.

Here's an excerpt from Nick Hornby on DAVID COPPERFIELD (from THE POLYSYLLABIC SPREE, a great book):

"For the first time since I've been writing this column, the completion of a book has left me feeling bereft: I miss them all. Let's face it: You're usually just happy as hell to have chalked another one up on the board, but this last month I've been living in this hyperreal world, full of memorable, brilliantly eccentric people, and laughs (I hope you know how funny Dickens is), and proper bendy stories you want to follow."

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