78 pages 2 hours read

Charles Dickens

David Copperfield

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1850

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Important Quotes

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“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” 


(Chapter 1, Page 17)

The opening lines of the novel establish its intimate, self-explorational, and conversational tone. Because David does not yet know the answer to his own defining question—whether or not he “shall turn out to be the hero of [his] own life”—his memoir is a quest to discover what his life experiences mean. Throughout the novel, David periodically breaks into moments of meta-narrative just like this one. He examines, evaluates, and re-inhabits his lived experience, analyzing the process of writing them. By breaking periodically from his diegetic story-telling mode, David invites the reader to think about the ways a memoir is constructed. 

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“This may be fancy, though I think the memory of most of us can go farther back into such times than many of us suppose; just as I believe the power of observation in numbers of very young children to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. Indeed, I think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity of being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood.” 


(Chapter 2, Page 45)

David defends his notion that most people can access their memories more fully and deeply than they might initially imagine. He believes that in the course of recalling his childhood, he is capable of vividly re-experiencing his early impressions, ideas, and sensations of the world around him. The title of the chapter—“I Observe”—thus gestures to David’s childhood observations, and to the uncanny act of “observing” himself (as he looks back upon his own history). By defending this particular notion of memory, David further justifies the exploratory thesis of the novel (to re-inhabit memory, to re-experience life as a character within it).

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