“How David Copperfield Made A Dickens Lover Out of Me”

by April Short

This chapter is a free excerpt from Quicklet on Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.

Until the summer after my second year of college, I despised Charles Dickens. I couldn’t stomach his outdated witticisms and had no patience for his Gothic writing style. In high school, when my AP English teacher assigned A Tale of Two Cities, I read Chapters 1-10 and gave up. I could stand to fail an English test since it was my best subject. I couldn’t stand to spend one more second trudging through the doldrums of Charles Darnay’s self-righteousness and Sydney Carton’s unrequited sob-fest.

Everything changed when I signed up for an annual week-long educational program called “Dickens Universe.” I was a literature major at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the completion of Dickens Universe, part of UCSC’s world-renowned Dickens Project, meant I’d receive a full quarter’s course credits in just one week. The incentive was greater than my distaste for Dickens, so I enrolled and bought a copy of that year’s featured novel: David Copperfield.

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Until the summer after my second year of college, I despised Charles Dickens. I couldn’t stomach his outdated witticisms and had no patience for his Gothic writing style. In high school, when my AP English teacher assigned A Tale of Two Cities, I read Chapters 1-10 and gave up. I could stand to fail an English test since it was my best subject. I couldn’t stand to spend one more second trudging through the doldrums of Charles Darnay’s self-righteousness and Sydney Carton’s unrequited sob-fest.

Everything changed when I signed up for an annual week-long educational program called “Dickens Universe.” I was a literature major at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the completion of Dickens Universe, part of UCSC’s world-renowned Dickens Project, meant I’d receive a full quarter’s course credits in just one week. The incentive was greater than my distaste for Dickens, so I enrolled and bought a copy of that year’s featured novel: David Copperfield.

My preconceptions about Charles Dickens began to melt away within minutes of my arrival on the first day. Dickens experts from 35 of the world’s top universities gathered beneath the redwood groves of the UCSC campus for lectures, study groups, and Victorian-style tea each day.

As I flipped through the pages of David Copperfield that week, my impressions of its themes and characters were infused with passionate lectures and conversations with the most dedicated Dickens enthusiasts alive—people who have made their careers around the study of his work. Their passion was contagious, and by the end of the week I finally understood what all the fuss was about.

Dickens’ writing exposed the social and environmental issues, urban crime, child abuse, poverty, and exploitation of his time. His books are not outdated by any means; the blunders and concerns of characters like Copperfield are exceedingly relevant today.
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