David Copperfield: Autobiographical Elements
Charles Dickens is is one of the greatest novelists of English Literature. He is regarded as the most original novelists of England. In his novels we get less romance and more realism.He has blended his personal experience with the real world and of facts with fancy. Many of his novels, no doubt, are the records of his own life.
The substance of Dickens' novels comes from his own experience. His characters are the expression of his own personality and outlook. His novels bear the stamp of his life. We can easily get autobiographical notes in his Oliver Twist, Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby. Oliver Twist deals with Dickens's experience of the low life of London. His Bleak House deals with his early knowledge of law courts and legal affairs. He recollects his school days in Nicholas Nickleby. But these novels do not reflect Dickens' personal life as David Copperfield reflects.
In fact, David Copperfield is Dickens' greatest and finest autobiographical novel. It is the spiritual pilgrimage of life. It unlocks his heart. Hugh Waker says, ' The pen which wrote David Copperfield was often dipped in his own blood.' Dickens himself liked this book most. He has said, ' But, like many fond parents I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child and his name is David Copperfield.' This inclination shows that this novel is very close to his life. This novel has been written in the first person. It is the most popular autobiographical style. Thus this novel is certainly an autobiographical novel. It deals with the author's feelings about his own childhood and the days of his youth.
Let us now mention some of the important autobiographical notes in David Copperfield. First of all it would be better to say that characters of this novel show various aspects of Dickens' life. In many respects David seems the real image of Dickens himself. Through this character the novelist reveals his own life. He shows his hopes, fears and grief. Like Dickens, David is first taught by his own mother. He gets the similar experience at the school. He reads the novels of the 18th century like Dickens. He suffers the same agonies of the shame in the factory. As Dickens had to work in the factory David is also sent to the workhouse. Through this character Dickens reproduces his own childhood. Like Dickens, David becomes a novelist.
Through the character of Micawbers Dickens has tried to present his parents. There is a close similarity between his own parents and Micawbers. Like Dickens' father, Micawber shows optimism, careless and peculiar type of speaking. Like author's father, John Dickens, Micawber is sent to jail. Mrs. Micawber has all the features of Dickens' mother, Elizabeth Dickens.
David's love for Dora is Dickens' love for Maria Beadnell. Thus Dickens draws the picture of his youth and love through Dora and Agnes. There is certainly emotional similarity between the lives of David and Dickens. Mr. Dick, Miss Betsey and Peggotty are aso real characters.
The above mentioned facts obviously declare that David Copperfield is an autobiographical novel. It presents the pictures of the life of the novelist. Though this novel is an autobiographical fiction, it is a work of art and imagination too. Sometimes David is like Dickens and sometimes his character differs from the novelist. Same is the case with the incidents of the novel also. David does not suffer from the sick smell of blacking factory as Dickens did. Dora is Maria and Dora is not Maria. Unlike Maria, Dora dies.
Thus David Copperfield has many autobiographical notes. But it is not only an autobiography. It is a fusion of fact and fiction. It would not be just to call it a pure autobiographical novel.