Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist
poliphilo

David Copperfield

Dickens was capable of great delicacy. Mostly he preferred to work with stronger colours, but when he opted for pastels he was as good in that line as Austen or Turgenev. 

The early chapters of David Copperfield are a case in point. The way the point of view modulates between little David and adult David is beautifully done. The child sees things simply and the adult more fully understands them, but the adult never over-rides the child and the gauziest effects of irony are created.  Little David trusts his heart and believes what he's told but- without the issue being forced- we see how the mother he adores is a weak, silly, little thing and the schoolboy hero he has a crush on is a spoiled and utterly selfish piece of goods and comical red-faced Peggotty is a moral giant who dwarfs her social betters.  Dickens is thought of as a caricaturist, but there's very little caricature here. All these people are real- even the brutal petty crook turned schoolmaster, even the ghastly Murdstones- and that's largely because of this unique double vision. It's a kind of stereoscopy. We see from two angles at once- and what we get is a picture in three dimensions. 

David Copperfield was Dickens' "favourite child".  I can see why. It's not as grand a piece of architecture as Bleak House nor as well-made as Great Expectations but its restraint and irony- the restraint and irony of the abused child who has learned to keep his feelings in check-  makes it (or at least its opening) the most subtle and emotionally powerful thing he ever did.
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