"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."
The title character of Charles Dickens's novel "David Copperfield" relates his life story in the first person but opens with the above quote. He may be teasing the reader, or he may be uncertain of the answer himself - needing to record his life to decide whether or not he is its hero.
Copperfield takes us through his journey from boyhood to manhood.
David goes through a series of phases - in circumstance and personality - to lead him to his adult self. Some circumstances are thrust upon David, while others result from his actions.
David faces early hardships from his widowed mother's abusive second husband. He falls in love multiple times and meets a string of colorful characters. Some, like his family servant Peggotty, have his best interests. Others, like the sleazy Uriah Heep, are concerned only with their own gain.
A strength of the novel is the characters. Dickens introduces many people in this story. Some help David; others hinder him. Some turn out to be different than he initially perceives. Aunt Betsey first appears aloof and unlikeable but ultimately helps David in his life. David admires James Steerforth, who proves unworthy of that admiration.
Partially autobiographical, "David Copperfield" tells a moving story about the struggles in life and how people can overcome them through hard work, good fortune, and the help of friends. The author includes some of the tragedies of nineteenth-century British life. But it also contains much optimism.
If the book has a weakness, it is its length. Dickens often goes off on tangents about minor characters, devoting many pages to incidents that do not advance the plot. This practice is likely due to its origin as a magazine serial and the financial incentives to pay authors based on word count. But Dickens makes up for any weakness with the book's many strengths. He fills the narrative with humor, fascinating characters, and twists that keep the reader interested. These are why Charles Dickens embraced "David Copperfield" as one of his favourite novels, and why it has maintained its literary status for over a century and a half.