David Copperfield (character)

David Copperfield
David Copperfield character

David introduces himself to his aunt (Drawing by Hablot Knight Browne)
Created by Charles Dickens
Gender Male
Occupation Writer
Nationality British

David Copperfield, Jr. is the protagonist after which the 1850 Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield, was named. The character is widely thought to be based on Dickens himself, incorporating many elements of his own life.[1]


Scholars believe that David Copperfield's childhood, career, friendships, and love life were highly influenced by Dickens' experiences, especially his time working in a factory as a child. David's involvement with the law profession and later his career as a writer mirror the experiences of Dickens. Many of David's acquaintances are based on people Dickens actually knew. David's first wife, Dora Spenlow, is believed to be based upon Maria Beadnell, whom Dickens loved in his early youth. David's friend since boyhood and his second wife Agnes Wickfield, the real heroine of the novel, is based on Dickens' sisters-in-law Mary and Georgina Hogarth; both of whom were very close to Dickens. Dickens keenly felt his deprived education during his time at the blacking factory, and according to the authoritative biography by his lifelong friend and literary advisor John Forster, it was from these times that he drew David's working period.

Charles Dickens working at Warren Blacking Factory

However, there are many differences in the lives of the two. Unlike Dickens, David grew up in the country as an only child; Dickens was a city boy with several brothers and sisters. Also there were never any wicked stepfather or any great aunt.

Throughout the novel, David is rarely called by his birth name (except by Mr. Murdstone). Instead, he is called alternately Davy, Trot, Trotwood, Copperfield, Daisy, and Doady. David Copperfield's birth name comes from Dickens inverted initials.

Fictional biography

David Copperfield is the pivotal character of the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. He is first introduced in the novel when he is born on a Friday in March in the early 19th century. The pet of his mother Clara Copperfield and faithful housekeeper Peggotty, David lives an idyllic life for the first few years of his life, even though he is fatherlesshis father, David Copperfield Sr., died 6 months before his son's birth. David's happy childhood is marred by the arrival of his tyrranical stepfather, Edward Murdstone, and David suffers both physical and mental abuse from his new guardian.

David is soon sent off to Salem House school for biting Murdstone, where he befriends an older boy James Steerforth, and Tommy Traddles. David returns home upon the death of his mother and baby half-brother. Because of his hate for the boy, Murdstone and his sister decide to send David to work in the family bottling factory.

Life at the factory is miserable, where David is befriended by the penniless Wilkins Micawber, a humorous character based on Dickens' father John Dickens. He soon runs away to his great-aunt Betsey Trotwood in Dover. Aunt Betsey adopts him and sends him to Dr. Strong's private school in Canterbury. There, David resides in the house of Mr. Wickfield; his daughter Agnes becomes David's friend and confidante. David also makes acquintance of cunning and trecherous Uriah Heep, a clerk of Mr. Wickfield.

The rest of the novel deals with David's struggles through life and his involvement in other plotlines, including his friendship and consequent disillusionment with unworthy and self-serving Steerforth, his assistance to the destroyed Peggotty family; his concern and for the Wickfield, Micawber, and Strong families as they are being cheated and abused by Uriah Heep, and the beginning and development of his writing career. David falls in a passionate but highly impractical love with innocent, inexperienced and foolish Dora Spenlow. After a humorously sentimental courtship, David marries Dora, whom he loves despite her uselessness in household chores, though David remains unhappy with the marriage. After suffering a miscarriage, she falls ill and dies, leaving David single and heartbroken. He travels throughout Europe, and stays in Switzerland for a long time. During that time he publishes a story about his own life with the help of old school-friend Traddles, and realizes that he loves Agnes, praying she loves him too. Upon his return to England; after a vain struggle to keep his feelings for her secret, he realizes that she too loves him. He proposes to her, and the two quickly marry. They later move into a house in London, along with their young children, which include at least three girls (Little Agnes, Dora, and Betsey Trotwood Copperfield) and at least two boys. They live in a wealthy lifestyle on David's successful writing career. David and Agnes prove to be a perfect match, and in this marriage David ultimately finds true happiness.

Film and television portrayals

Year Title Young David Copperfield David Copperfield
1911 David Copperfield Flora Foster Ed Genung
1935 David Copperfield Freddie Bartholomew Frank Lawton
1966 David Copperfield Christopher Guard Ian McKellen
1969 David Copperfield Alastair Mackenzie Robin Phillips
1974 David Copperfield David Yelland Jonathan Kahn
1986 David Copperfield Nolan Hemmings/David Dexter Colin Hurley
1993 David Copperfield Julian Lennon (voice)
1999 David Copperfield Daniel Radcliffe Ciarán McMenamin
2000 David Copperfield Max Dolbey Hugh Dancy


  1. Gavin, Adrienne E. (1992). "Introduction". David Copperfield. by Charles Dickens. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 1-85326-024-X.

External links

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