Literature: David Copperfield
is a coming-of-age tale that follows the title character almost literally from birth to death. In-between that is Charles Dickens
at his finest...
Little David's father dies before
he's even born, and his mother Clara dies not many years later, leaving him in the care of Mr. Edward Murdstone, his evil stepfather
. Murdstone in turn heartlessly turns little Davey out into the big bad world, first in a Boarding School of Horrors
in which he's beaten and humiliated on a regular basis, then to earn his own living in a factory. While navigating Victorian London
at the tender age of ten or so, David boards with the Micawbers, a good-natured but completely irresponsible family who make him pawn the silver to buy supper and eventually end up in debtor's prison.
Desperate, David runs away, finally reaching a safe haven with his eccentric Aunt Betsey Trotwood - who magnanimously forgives him for not being a girl - and her own... interesting... coterie. It's at this point David meets Uriah Heep, an evil clerk in the family law office, who cheats Aunt Betsey out of her fortune just
as David's fallen hopelessly in love with his boss' daughter Dora. Meanwhile, his sweet, beautiful best friend
Agnes Wickfield is being menaced by a fate worse than death, ie. marriage to the loathsome Heep. Even Micawber, now Heep's clerk, is acting strangely. Oh, and over in the main subplot, David's oldest and dearest schoolfriend, James Steerforth, is busily seducing and ruining David's childhood sweetheart, little Emily...
...do you see a pattern here
? It doesn't help that David is by nature a sensitive artistic type who suffers miseries under hardship. Nor that he's so ridiculously gentle and naive (Steerforth dubs him 'Daisy', as in 'fresh as a...') that he's taken advantage of more or less constantly.
Nevertheless, in the main, the book reads as a sweet-natured comedy. Good ol' Dave is repeatedly downed but never broken, making it through his crummy life by relying on his imagination and on his true friends, at least one of whom is always to be found standing loyally by his side (albeit how they get there often stretches deep into Contrived Coincidence
territory). The valiant but foolish Micawbers, the stalwart seafaring Peggottys, the diamond-in-the-rough Tommy Traddles - they may be eccentric, they may be impecunious, but they're always loveable, as only Dickensian characters can be.
Through his involvement in their convoluted adventures, and the lessons in pluck and determination arising therefrom, David finally rises to the top: marrying his One True Love - well, his second after Dora, she's dead by now - having children, launching a successful writing career
A lot of Dickens's books stem from direct experience, but David Copperfield
is his most autobiographical tale, and his 'favourite child' among his works. David's seemingly over-the-top anguish at being so degraded by factory work has its roots in Dickens' own trauma, when at ten his father similarly yanked him out of school and sent him out to augment the family finances (Mr. Micawber is by all accounts an only slightly exaggerated portrait of John Dickens). Writing many years later, as a world-honoured and beloved man, he confided to friends that merely revisiting those memories caused him nearly insupportable pain.
Many critics have also hailed it as one of their favorite books, including Tolstoy and Freud. Several of its characters - including Aunty Betsey, villanous Uriah Heep and above all the Micawbers - became household names in the 19th-century and are still familiar to some extent today.
Although countless TV adaptations have been made, to date only one theatrical adaptation has been released, in 1935 produced by David Selznick. A new film adaptation was announced in 2007, but nothing has been heard of it since.
If it's mentioned in a Sitcom
, it'll be because the individual has the title confused with the magician
David Copperfield provides examples of the following tropes:
Examples particular to the adaptations include:
- Adaptation Distillation: Pretty much a necessity for any novel of this era. The 1935 adaptation heavily streamlines the plot and dialogue, and completely omits David's time at Salem Hall. Most of the TV adaptations, though they have more time to work with, also do some streamlining.
- Disneyfication: The 1993 animated adaptation. All the characters are replaced with anthropomorphic house pets (including mice); and the poorhouse has a sub-plot with a Festering Fungus in the basement.
- Shipper on Deck: The 1935 film makes it clear that Aunt Betsey and Agnes are shipping Agnes/David long before David himself is.
- Spiritual Successor: The 1993 Animated Adaptation is one to the Disney's Robin Hood right down to Murdstone being a lion.