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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Free Book Notes
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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

David Copperfield is set in the years of Dickens' youth rather than at mid-century, when he wrote it, and therefore at least the first half of the novel is tinged with nostalgia. Readers in Dickens' own time recognized the clothing and customs described in the book as "old-fashioned." Dickens fondly recreated the era of stagecoaches, which he had ridden all over England as a young reporter covering stories. By 1850, however, railroads had transformed the country.


Along with its multiple plots, David Copperfield has multiple settings. The childhood settings are softened, charming, idealized. David is born in Blunderstone in Suffolk. (Dickens had found this suggestive name on a signpost.) The village is pictured vaguely because Dickens did not know Suffolk villages well, having been bred a city boy. Yarmouth, the seaside town where the Peggottys live, was more to his taste. After spending one day there, he caught its spirit and dialect so accurately that readers assumed he was from there. David's teenage years are spent in Dover and Canterbury, close to Dickens' happy early childhood home in Chatham. Seen through his fond memory, these towns are depicted lovingly.

But Dickens' greatest literary territory was London. For this book, he drew upon memories of his blacking-warehouse days, when wandering the streets for hours was the only entertainment he could afford. As David's adult home, it seems a more complicated and gritty place. Central London itself appears depressing, from the musty precincts of Doctors' Commons to the dark streets where Dan Peggotty hunts for Emily. David also travels far into the suburbs, visiting the Steerforths and the Strongs in Highgate, Dora at Norwood or Putney, and Traddles in shabby Camden Town.

The only houses described in detail are Dan Peggotty's eccentric boat-house and the Wickfields' quaint old home in Canterbury. David himself spends a lot of time on the road, in Barkis' cart, in coaches, or walking long distances. (Dickens was a great walker.) Where do you think David feels most at home?

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