David Copperfield

Friends in the humanities,

I've been reading David Copperfield in preparation for the Charles Dickens retreat at Lochsa Lodge in January. I cannot wait. It has been probably eight years since I read David Copperfield. But the greatness of Dickens is that it never gets old. If there were 1,000 more pages in the novel and Mr. Micawber popped in every 75 or so pages, I would read Copperfield if only for that.

I am so eager to broker the rich discussions we’re going to have about this. Is it Dickens' greatest novel? Hard to say. But it is a work of genius, no question there. In my reading, I find myself looking up after reading a particularly fine passage and trying to think about what his genius exactly is. It's like quantum mechanics--you think you almost, just about, understand it and then it slips away. You could spend a semester on David Copperfield alone, and you would not exhaust its greatnesses. The genius is not the plot, not even the characters. It struck me this morning that the caricatured characters (Uriah Heep, Aunt Betsy Trotwood, Dick) are more interesting (always) than the more fully realized characters. The protagonists are usually pretty off-putting to me, to modern readers. But the flat caricatures are splendid, compelling, intriguing, and joyful to know. Dickens can often find precisely the right small detail--seemingly unrelated to the business at hand--that reveals more than forty paragraphs of analysis.

Happy reading. Mark passages you will want us to discuss. Remember, it's not about the plot!!