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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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David Copperfield (Barnes & Noble Classics)

David Copperfield (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) - Charles Dickens, Radhika Jones

So I finish one of the more tedious reads of my life so far.

Dickens came highly recommended. For years many have told me I'd love Dickens. “Dickens is just your type of author,” the masses (or a few) have said. No, he's really not.

If Dickens excels at one thing, I'd say that thing is his characters. They can be entertaining, funny, and memorable. Each is unique. Each has his or her own voice. There is such a large cast of characters here and Dickens is not only able to give them each their own identity, even those who have only a couple lines, but also to keep them straight. It's a feat I've never seen accomplished elsewhere.

And what makes reading Dickens so painful? His characters. Yes, those wonderful, colorful characters gnaw at my increasingly fragile patience. They are gross caricatures of caricatures. Perhaps Dickens invented the caricatures; perhaps every exaggerated human personality was original before Dickens came on the scene. Even if that were the case, which I honestly doubt it was, they are so ludicrous they annoy tolerable little me.

It certainly doesn't help that while Dickens utilizes many voices, he employs only two basic personality types for his female characters: the shrewd, severe woman, and the helpless damsel. Though each woman Dickens creates is unique in many ways, she is essentially a variation of one of these two.

And Copperfield himself? Well, he's probably a little bit of the helpless damsel himself. He's so passive in every decision he faces it's a wonder the plot progressed. But, you see, if Copperfield acted on his impulses (like when he feels he should defend the poor girl who is being beaten page after excruciating page) then the reader wouldn't get all secret actions and dialogue Copperfield (as the narrator) wouldn't be privy to. Thank God that Copperfield stood behind that door out of propriety, letting her father handle the situation himself (in fact he was either too scared, or too concerned with his own career as an author to worry whether the girl lived or died). And that would all be fine if David Copperfield were written in a way that the reader was supposed to feel pity for Copperfield, antipathy or wonder. No, Copperfield is a delightful lad who is a hero to all. Blah.

If you ask me, David Copperfield is too sentimental, too exaggerated, too melodramatic. Perhaps others thought I'd like Dickens because I am a little bit of all these things. There's nothing wrong with these qualities, and if people like to read that sort of thing, I think they should. But me? It was too over the top. Throw in all the conveniences (Ahhh, here comes that character from chapter 4, randomly knocking on a door a hundred miles away) and the pat ending, and it's cloying. Cloying and boring in one (sort of like a Hershey's).

Dickens was good at what he did, and it's hard to judge his work negatively because of this, but I really had focus to stay with it. I wasn't interested in the story or any of the characters because I couldn't believe in any of them. It was a sort of fairytale coming from the mouth of one with a monotonous voice. It was the sort of story I'll return to in later years when I'm struggling greatly with insomnia. Sorry, Chuck, but your Hershey-flavored story wasn't for me. I'm more of a Ritter Sport or Toblerone kind of man.