Saturday, December 23, 2006

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Over the years, my experiences with this novel -- the quintessential Dickensian bildungsroman -- have been as varied as the life experiences of the title character himself.

Let's begin in 1987, when I was assigned to read the book in the late Professor Tom Deegan's British Literature seminar during my BA years at Saint Xavier University. Being the cocky twenty-one year old English major I was back then, I didn't bother to read it -- much like I didn't read Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews in the previous semester's class taught by Professor Norm Boyer. In retrospect, I don't regret those decisions: I remember our class discussion of the Fielding novel lasting all of 15 minutes; I recall no discussion of the Dickens novel at all. So I didn't waste time reading a book that never got discussed at length anyways.

That copy of David Copperfield remained unread on my book shelf for years.

Fast forward to about ten years ago when, on a lark, I decided to read it ... and was hooked! It was by far the best book I'd read in years, and I still recall reading it in our old den -- the room that would eventually become my son's bedroom. My impressions of the book at that time were positive: it told a great story with passion and humor, yet also provided enough social commentary to remind you that you were reading a serious work of fiction. It was the perfect balance between the "fun" of early Dickens and the social critic of later Dickens.

And now I re-read it for my upcoming Newberry class, and yet another set of reactions.

As much as possible, I try to read the work in question during the preceeding term, assuming I'll then re-read it piecemeal with my students each week, thus bringing as close a reading of the text as I can in a short time span -- two full readings within several months. When I began Copperfield in the fall, it was pretty much what I remembered, but I wasn't exactly "enjoying" it. It lacked the "fun" I remembered from my reading a decade ago. So, having gotten about a third of the way through it, I set it aside and went directly to Bleak House -- a haunting and complex work. I toiled away for a month on it, and upon finishing I immediately started Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day -- a wacky and complex work. Upon finishing that book, I then resumed Copperfield.

Amazingly, now David Copperfield went down like a smooth glass of water. On the heels of two lengthy and difficult novels, David Copperfield read easily ... almost too easily ... and I'm most immediately struck by how our experiences with one text impact our experience with the next.

Regardless, David Copperfield remains a wonderful book! Enjoy it!

Happy holidays, by the way. I'm looking forward to acquiring lots of new books this holiday season!! May you do the same.

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