Tristram Shandy still being in my not long ago reading memory I could not help but compare the opening of that book to David Copperfield.

A memory refresher in case it has been a while since you read either book or in case you have never read them at all.

Tristram Shandy begins:

I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.

And David Copperfield:

I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.

Both books are coming of age stories written from the perspective of a later date and both books begin at the beginning only it takes Tristram nearly half the book to actually get born where David does it in the first sentence. Both books are more about character than plot and filled with digressions. But the whole point of Tristram is the digression and Copperfield always comes back to a main progression toward a firm conclusion. Tristram ends with a joke and loose ends flying everywhere, while Copperfield ends with everything wrapped up and tied with a neat little bow. I’ve no further comparisons to make or brilliant observations, I only wanted to remark how fascinating literature is that you can have the same basic story told in two completely different ways.

What I found really interesting about David Copperfield is how all the characters come in pairs except for David, he is left alone until late in the book. There are the brother and sister Murdstones, Dr. Strong and Mrs. Strong, Mr. Wickfield and his daughter Agnes, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, Uriah Heep and his mother, David’s aunt and Mr. Dick, Steerforth and his butler Littimer. Everybody has somebody except David who goes from pairing to pairing, learning from each while being cared for or hated.

I would have thought that in all these relational pairings David would have learned something about pairing up himself, but alas, he makes the same mistake his father made and chooses a “child-wife.” When he gets a second chance he makes the correct choice but he had to learn the hard way.

In spite of its length and lack of real drama, David Copperfield moves along pretty well without bogging down at all. It does bog down though. The last 15% of the book dragged as David went on his European tour to get over his grief at losing Dora and as Dickens felt compelled to tie up all the ends. The wrapping up went on and on and on as characters died, got put in jail, or shipped out to Australia. Australia solved a lot of problems for Dickens in this book. Need to get rid of a thief? Send him to Australia! Need a fresh start? Go to Australia! It actually got to be kind of funny. It’s a good thing Dickens had so many characters to dispose of, which was probably the problem in the first place. Nonetheless, good book. And if you like Dickens you are sure to enjoy David Copperfield.

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