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

The story of David Copperfield begins like every human life: his very own birth. Before the main character is born, the narrator, David Copperfield himself, explains the foreboding night of his birth the way it has been told to him. His father had died six months before he was born, and a storm has broken outside.

Chapter 1 of David Copperfield begins with the following paragraph:

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The story of David Copperfield begins like every human life: his very own birth. Before the main character is born, the narrator, David Copperfield himself, explains the foreboding night of his birth the way it has been told to him. His father had died six months before he was born, and a storm has broken outside.

Chapter 1 of David Copperfield begins with the following paragraph:

“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. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”

The narrator goes on to explain that he was born with a caul, or a filmy membrane that sometimes covers a newborn baby's head and face upon birth. In Dickens’ time, a caul was considered a sign of good luck, so, the narrator explains, his caul was sold in the newspaper for fifteen guineas.

On page 11 of David Copperfield, Dickens writes:

“I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith and preferred cork-jackets, I don’t know; all I know is, that there was but one solitary bidding and that was from an attorney connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from drowning on any higher bargain. Consequently, the advertisement was withdrawn at a dead loss...”

The book moves from a description of birth into his dislike of his stepfather. When his stepfather delivers him a thrashing for falling behind in his studies, Copperfield bites the man. He is sent to a boarding school with a cruel headmaster, where he meets two close childhood friends that become significant later in the novel.

When Copperfield returns home from boarding school for the holidays, he finds out that his mother has given birth to a baby boy. Soon after he returns to school, his mother and the infant die. Copperfield returns home immediately and his stepfather sends him to work in a factory in London.

Dickens’ description of the factory’s conditions in this portion of the book are exemplary of Dickens' knack for exposing the atrocities against the working class of his time. The factory is a black, dirty place where workers’ lives—child and adult alike—are treated with little to no value.

Copperfield eventually runs away from the factory, walking the entire 77 miles from London to Dover. In Dover he finds his only relative in an eccentric aunt who agrees to raise him.

The remainder of the story follows Copperfield’s maturation process as he nears adulthood. Many characters enter, leave, and re-enter his life to affect the plot in important ways. For example, his mother’s former housekeeper, Peggotty, and her family move in with Copperfield and his aunt.

Peggotty’s orphaned niece “Little Em’ly,” who moves in at the time, charms Copperfield but the plot thickens when one of Copperfield’s more selfish schoolmates seduces and dishonors Little Em’ly. This event precedes the novel’s greatest tragedy.

As is usual for Dickens’ books, characters who do right by others are ultimately rewarded by the plot’s twists, and characters who do wrong are punished in one way or another. While cliffhangers are prominent throughout the book, none remain by the end.

Little Em’ly is safely transported to a new life in Australia to find security and happiness in her new country. Copperfield marries the beautiful but naive Dora Spenlow, who dies after failing to recover from a miscarriage early in their marriage. David then searches his soul and marries the sensible Agnes, who had always loved him and with whom he finds “true happiness.” David and Agnes then have several children, including a daughter named for Betsey Trotwood.
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