David Copperfield is the character after which the 1850 Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield, was named. The character is widely thought to be based on Dickens himself, using many elements of his own childhood.
David Copperfield is first introduced in the novel when he is born on a Friday in March in the early 19th century. The pet of his mother Clara Copperfield and faithful nursemaid Peggotty, David lives an idyllic life for the first few years of his life, even though he is fatherless - David Copperfield Sr. died 6 months before his son's birth. David's happy childhood is marred by the arrival of his stepfather, Edward Murdstone, and David suffers both physical and mental abuse from his new guardian.
David is soon sent off to Salem House school for biting Murdstone, and is consistently bullied until he befriends the popular James Steerforth. David performs well and is the resident storyteller, until he is forced to return home upon the death of his mother and unnamed baby half-brother. Because of his hate for the child, Murdstone and his sister decide to send David to work in the family bottling factory.
Life at the factory is miserable, even though David is befriended by the penniless Mr. Micawber, and he soon runs away to his Aunt Betsey Trotwood in Dover, who had previously disowned him for being born a boy and not a girl. Aunt Betsey adopts him (renaming him Trotwood, after herself) and sends him to Dr. Strong's private school in Canterbury, where David meets his best friend Agnes Wickfield, as well as the slimy Uriah Heep. Though David frequently falls into ill-fated love affairs which distract his good intentions, he distinguishes himself as top boy in the school and graduates with the intention of becoming a proctor.
The rest of the novel outlines David's struggles through life and his involvement in other plotlines, including his friendship and consequent disillusionment with James Steerforth; his assistance to the destroyed Peggotty family; his concern and suspicion for the Wickfield, Micawber, and Strong families as they are being harassed by Uriah Heep, and the development of his beginning writing career. As David juggles these problems he also must deal with his passionate, sincere, but highly impractical love for the innocent Dora Spenlow. After a humorously sentimental courtship, David marries Dora, who he loves despite her uselessness in household chores. She soon falls ill and dies, leaving David single and heartbroken. He travels throughout Europe, during which time he publishes his first (unnamed) novel with the help of old school-friend Thomas Traddles, and during this odyssey realizes he loves Agnes Wickfield, praying she loves him too. Upon his return he proposes to her, and the two quickly marry. They later move into a house in London along with their young children, which include at least three girls (Little Agnes, Dora, and Betsey Trotwood Copperfield) and at least two boys. They live a wealthy lifestyle on David's successful writing career.
Scholars believe that David Copperfield's careers, friendships, and love life were most highly influenced by Dickens' experiences, as well as his time working as a child. David's involvement with the law profession and later his career as a writer mirror the experiences of Dickens. Many of David's acquaintances are based on people Dickens actually knew, and David's wives, Agnes Wickfield and Dora Spenlow, are believed to be based upon Dickens' attachments to Mary Hogarth and Maria Beadnell, respectively. Dickens keenly felt his deprived education during his time at the blacking factory, and according to the famed Foster biography, it was from these times that he drew David's working period.
However there are many differences in the lives of the two. Unlike Dickens, David grew up in the country as an only child; Dickens was a city boy with several brothers and sisters. Also there were never any wicked stepparents, never any great aunt, etc.
Throughout the novel, David is rarely called by his birth name (except by Mr. Murdstone). Instead, he is called alternately Davy, Trot, Trotwood, Copperfield, Copperfull, Daisy, and Doady. David Copperfield's birth name comes from Dickens inverted initials.
|Year||Title||David Copperfield played by:|
|1935||David Copperfield||Frank Lawton/Freddie Bartholomew|
|1969||David Copperfield||Robin Phillips|
|1993||David Copperfield||Julian Lennon|
|1999||David Copperfield||Ciarán McMenamin/Daniel Radcliffe|
|2000||David Copperfield||Hugh Dancy/Max Dolbey|