Fiction > Harvard Classics > Charles Dickens > David Copperfield > Criticisms and Interpretations > IV
Charles Dickens. (1812–1870).  David Copperfield.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Criticisms and Interpretations
IV. By Gilbert K. Chesterton
THE STING and strength of this piece of fiction, then, do (by a rare accident) lie in the circumstance that it was so largely founded on fact. “David Copperfield” is the great answer of a great romancer to the realists. David says in effect: “What! you say that the Dickens tales are too purple really to have happened! Why, this is what happened to me, and it seemed the most purple of all. You say that the Dickens heroes are too handsome and triumphant! Why, no prince or paladin in Ariosto was ever so handsome and triumphant as the Head Boy seemed to me walking before me in the sun. You say the Dickens villains are too black! Why, there was no ink in the devil’s ink-stand black enough for my own stepfather when I had to live in the same house with him. The facts are quite the other way to what you suppose. This life of grey studies and half tones, the absence of which you regret in Dickens, is only life as it is looked at. This life of heroes and villains is life as it is lived. The life a man knows best is exactly the life he finds most full of fierce certainties and battles between good and ill—his own. Oh, yes, the life we do not care about may easily be a psychological comedy. Other people’s lives may easily be human documents. But a man’s own life is always a melodrama.”   1
  There are other effective things in “David Copperfield,” they are not all autobiographical, but they nearly all have this new note of quietude and reality. Micawber is gigantic; an immense assertion of the truth that the way to live is to exaggerate everything. Mrs. Micawber, artistically speaking, is even better. She is very nearly the best thing in Dickens. Nothing could be more absurd, and at the same time more true, than her clear, argumentative manner of speech as she sits smiling and expounding in the midst of ruin. What could be more lucid and logical and unanswerable than her statement of the prolegomena of the Medway problem, of which the first step must be to “see the Medway,” or of the coal-trade, which required talent and capital. “Talent Mr. Micawber has. Capital Mr. Micawber has not.” It seems as if something should have come at last out of so clear and scientific an arrangement of ideas. Indeed if (as has been suggested) we regard “David Copperfield” as an unconscious defence of the poetic view of life, we might regard Mrs. Micawber as an unconscious satire on the logical view of life. She sits as a monument of the hoplessness and helplessness of reason in the face of this romantic and unreasonable world.—From “Charles Dickens.”   2



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