Supplement to David Copperfield

“If there is one book which establishes Dickens’s unique presence as a writer who can be considered the last of the great eighteenth-century novelists and the first of the great symbolic novelists, and which explains why it is that he is considered to be the true heir of the Romantic poets, it is David Copperfield.” (121)

Ackroyd gives us an overview of the road that led to this wonderful novel – the conception of it, the writing of it, and the effect of it on Dickens throughout and following the journey.

The first three chapters of John Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens are of interest because they record the “autobiographical fragment” given to Forster by Dickens and which form the foundation of young David Copperfield’s life.

Regarding Benjamin Drouet mentioned by Ackroyd, here is a link to “Mr Drouet’s Establishment for Pauper Children – Tooting”. Scroll down to find links to Dickens’s Examiner articles. These describe and decry a real-life situation unfortunately close to that described in both the workhouse and baby farm of Oliver Twist and Mr Squeers’s establishment in Nicholas Nickleby.

I also want to share another wonderful source for brief introductions to Dickens’s works which, chronologically speaking, Ackroyd’s compliment: G.K. Chesterton’s “Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens” which can be read in full here:


  1. Loved the Ackroyd Supplement, especially that final line which you quoted, Chris!

    I am a little surprised by how hard Chesterton is on Copperfield! Some things I most positively disagree with, though he says even these things so well, as GKC tends to do 😂 and I am curious how others react to it. I think part of the trouble he has with the emigration issue (agreed that it was probably a romanticizing of a kind of imperialist mindset on Dickens’ part) for **these particular characters** is more an issue with the society that is hard on “fallen” women, for example, than on Dickens’s desire to just bless & get rid of problematic characters. I also have issues with GKC’s Dora-vs-Agnes thing, though I understand in part what he’s trying to get at.

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    1. To be honest, I kind of agree with Chesterton on David Copperfield having a lot of wish fulfillment-type happy endings though I might not put it as harshly as he did. And I kind of agree with him on Dora vs. Agnes to an extent. I wouldn’t go as far as Chesterton to say that David’s marriage to Dora was healthy, but it’s one of the most unique and weirdly heartwarming bad marriages in Dickens’s fiction-arguably in fiction period. David’s idyllic second marriage feels anticlimactic to me by comparison. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Agnes is a boring character either…OK, I do kind of think she’s a boring character but mainly because there are so many fascinating characters in David Copperfield. If she were a character in another book, even another Dickens book, I’d probably like her.

      With the court’s permission, I’m going to wait to write more about this when we get to Dora, Agnes, etc. in the reading group. (Maybe I’ll actually change my mind by then. It’s not unprecedented.)

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      1. Chris, thank you so much for sharing these. The Forster, with the Dickens autobiographical sections, were absolutely amazing to read. The concrete specificity of it – and that voice, the adult CD voice re-enacting the child CD’s point of view. What a story.

        I also really enjoyed the Chesterton, which was so perceptive. I’ll be thinking about the bad marriage to Dora being more real and better writing than the possibly boring marriage to Agnes. Now he points it out, it does seem very odd, the despatching of everyone David has loved to the colonies.

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  2. Chris, we are very much indebted to you for sharing these gems of resources.

    I intend to read them all. I just finished the ackroyd-copperfield pdf, and learned a great deal about the intersection between Dickens’ life and experience (inner and outer) and the creation of this masterpiece.

    Thank you!!!

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  3. Thanks for sharing these, Chris. Fascinating reads, indeed.

    I have quite a few thoughts in reference to Chesterton, but would like to come back to them once we have progressed further through the reading. I hate the idea of inadvertently throwing out some spoilers this early in the proceedings!

    Suffice it to say at this point, that it does seem strange to me that he regards Dickens writing in the style of Dickens as somehow being a retrograde step in his development as a writer. There is a freshness of style in the beginning of Copperfield which may at some point lapse into the tried-and-tested style of the previous 7 novels. I find it hard to regard this as a ‘fault’ of Copperfield in any way.

    In some measure, all seven previous novels have had a phase in which loose ends are tied up and happy endings bestowed upon the deserving.

    As the following relates to Dombey and Son, it may therefore be considered spoiler free! So I should like to conclude for now by countering Chesterton’s quibbles with some more wholesome stuff from George Gissing (The Immortal Dickens)

    The “realist” in fiction says to himself: Given such and such circumstances, what would be the probable issue? Dickens, on the other hand, was wont to ask: What would be the pleasant issue? Several times during the composition of this novel he consulted with Forster as to the feeling of his readers about some proposed incident or episode; not that he feared, in any ignoble sense, to offend his public, but because his view of art involved compliance with ideals of ordinary simple folk.

    The aim of fiction, as Dickens saw it, was to amuse, to elevate, and finally to calm. When his evil-doers have been got rid of, he delights in apportioning quiet happiness to every character in the novel beloved by him and his readers. Forster tells a story about the close of Dombey and Son, which amusingly illustrates this desire to omit no sympathetic actor from the final benediction. “I suddenly remember,” wrote Dickens to his friend, who was correcting the proofs for him, “that I have forgotten Diogenes. Will you put him in the last little chapter?” Diogenes was but a dog, yet Dickens could not bear to close the book without mention of him, and accordingly we read that when the white-haired Mr. Dombey and his wedded daughter, with her children, walk on the sea beach, “an old dog is generally in their company. A light touch to the completed picture, but thoroughly characteristic of the artist’s spirit and method.

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      1. I don’t think Dickens needs defending… I heartily approve of his actions here and the sentiments behind it

        I think it is Chesterton who needs a slap on the wrist!!


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