Charles Dickens – David Copperfield (Novel Summary)

Short Biography of Charles Dickens:

Born on 7 February 1812 in the south of England, Charles Dickens was the second of eight children in the family of John Dickens, a Navy clerk. Though he was a warm-hearted person, John Dickens had no sense of responsibility, and was often in debt. Being short of money, the family moved to London, but John fell even more deeply into debt, and was sent to Marshalsea prison. He was joined there by the rest of his family except Charles, who was sent to work in a blacking factory. Charles was full of shame and misery at his family’s condition, and hated his job in the factory where he had to undergo humiliation and ill-treatment. He could never forget this period of disgust and loneliness in the factory, which is often reflected in his novels when he writes about childhood with compassionate understanding.

Charles Dickens - Wikipedia

He began his writing career by writing short pieces for magazines, which appeared in a volume Sketches by Boz. He began writing a humorous monthly serial, Pickwick Papers, which brought him fame and popularity. In fact, many of his novels first appeared in serial form and were later published as novels. Some of his well known novels are Oliver Twist (1837), David Copperfield (1849), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Great Expectations (1861), & many others.

The age in which Dickens lived and wrote was the Victorian Age, the reign of Queen Victoria, a time when modern Britain developed and evolved. It was also a time of prosperity as well as change because the Industrial Revolution had introduced machine production and made the factory the centre of work. The growth of cities created many social problems like poor housing and sanitation, crime, disease, poverty, etc. As wages were low and housing often overcrowded, even women and children were forced to work in factories for long hours. Dickens was deeply concerned about these social problems and this concern can be seen in all his writing. His sympathetic awareness of contemporary social problems , and of the lives of the poor, the sick, and the unfortunate, is a constant feature of his work.


  • Richard Babley – This character is more commonly known as Mr. Dick.  He is under the care of Betsey Trotwood.
  • Barkis – A horse-cart driver who falls in love with Clara Peggotty and eventually marries her.
  • Clara Copperfield – The mother of David Copperfield.
  • Edward Murdstone – The second husband of Clara Copperfield. 
  • David Copperfield – David Copperfield is the main character in this semi-autobiographical novel by Charles Dickens.
  • Dora Spenlow – Dora Spenlow is the first love and the first wife of David Copperfield.
  • Agnes Wickfield – Agnes is a devoted daughter of Mr. Wickfield and the second wife of David Copperfield.
  • Mr. Wickfield – Betsey Trotwood’s lawyer and father of Agnes Wickfield.
  • Wilkins Micawber – Micawber is a friend of David Copperfield.
  • Betsey Trotwood – Betsey Trotwood is the formidable great-aunt of David Copperfield.
  • Mr. Creakle – Mr. Creakle is the headmaster of Salem House, a boarding school where David Copperfield is sent to study. 
  • Little Em’ly – Emily is the orphaned niece of Daniel Peggotty.
  • Mrs. Grummidge – The widow of Daniel Peggotty’s partner. 
  • Uriah Heep – Uriah Heep is a scheming, young man who works for Mr. Wickfield. 
  • Littimer – The manservant of James Steerforth.
  • Jane Murdstone – The sister of Edward Murdstone.  
  • Clara Peggotty – The ever-loyal nurse and later friend of David Copperfield.
  • Daniel Peggotty – The brother of Clara Peggotty.
  • Ham Peggotty – Ham is the nephew of Daniel Peggotty.
  • James Steerforth – David Copperfield meets James at Salem House. 
  • Tommy Traddles  – David meets Tommy at Salem House.
  • Dr. Strong is the headmaster at the school that David attends in Canterbury. 


David Copperfield is deeply attached to his mother, who was widowed six months before his birth. His early childhood is a very happy one, and once, he goes with his nurse Peggotty, for a holiday to Yarmouth. They stay with her brother Mr. Peggotty and other relatives in a boat-house. On his return, David finds that his mother has remarried. He is ill-treated by his stepfather, Mr. Murdstone, and sent away to Salem House, a school run by a cruel man named Creakle. After his mother’s death, David is sent to work for a few shillings a week at Murdstone and Grinby’s warehouse in London. He lodges with Mr. Micawber and his family and becomes very attached to them. But they leave London and David decides to go and find his great aunt, Miss Betsy Trotwood, who lives at Dover. But he is robbed of his money and has to walk the whole way to her house.

Miss Betsy is very kind to him and sends him to an excellent school in Canterbury, where he boards with Mr. Wickfield and his daughter Agnes. Mr. Wickfield has a weakness for drink and his cunning clerk, Uriah Heep, takes advantage of this. After leaving school, David is articled to the firm of Spenlow and Jorkins in London. He meets Mr. Spenlow’s daughter, Dora and falls madly in love with her, but Mr. Spenlow refuses to consider him as a son-in-law. Miss Trotwood loses her money and comes to live in London. David works extremely hard and becomes a successful reporter and writer.

After Mr. Spenlow’s death, David and Dora are married. Dora is pretty but silly and immature, and wishes to be regarded as a “child wife”. She loses a child, is very ill, and weakens slowly and dies. To forget his grief, David goes abroad and is away for three years. During this time, he realizes that he loves Agnes, but is sure that she regards him as a brother. He returns to England and realizes that she has always loved him. They are married. Miss Trotwood’s fortune is restored, and Uriah Heep is imprisoned for fraud. Mr. Peggotty’s family, as well as Mr. Micawber’s family emigrate to Australia and live happily there.


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