A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Dickens shows readers details of 19th-century English life, including diet, education and careers, and the fate of borrowers who can't pay their debts. He also shows the hard lives of seamen, and the limits of gender roles at the time the novel takes place.
Children should be raised with loving kindness and treated with gentleness.
Positive Role Models
A loving and resilient child, David grows to be a man of integrity and understanding. He pities rather than judges those who make mistakes, and he forgives his friends' worst transgressions. He never turns up his nose at the less fortunate or less educated. He becomes a true and forgiving friend, a devoted nephew, and a faithful husband.
Violence & Scariness
David is beaten badly once as a child, and he bites the perpetrator. He witnesses a tinker beating a woman; she's described as bloodied, lying in the road. David later fights twice with a butcher, who leaves wounds on David's face the first time, but David wins the second fight. Boys are caned at school, and David learns that as a boy, a school friend hit a woman with a hammer. Drowning deaths are described.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
David falls in love a few times in the novel and shares a couple of kisses. A couple of young women are "ruined" and "disgraced," but their mistakes are understood rather than described.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Young David gets ale from a barmaid when he's only about 11. At a housewarming dinner in his own home, David drinks so much wine that he fades in and out of consciousness; he describes the room spinning when he goes to bed. An older man is preyed upon by an employee, who gets his boss drunk repeatedly to dupe him into signing documents and agreeing to things he doesn't remember afterward. Men smoke cigars and pipes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Charles Dickens' classic novel David Copperfield is loosely based on the life of the author. It tells the story of the hardships, changes, and good fortune that David encounters on his life journey. The book was serialized (1849-50) before it was first published in book form in 1850. Dickens is beloved for his complex rags-to-riches stories; realistic, sympathetic views of class disparities and poverty; and unforgettable characters like David. Dickens is also remembered as a writer who was paid by the word for his serialized novels, so this story is long but enthralling. It includes some violence against children, drownings at sea, cigar and pipe smoking, and some troubling alcohol abuse. This book has been adapted for the screen multiple times. The 1935 version featuring W.C. Fields is especially delightful, as is a 1999 BBC special starring Bob Hoskins and a very young Daniel Radcliffe. A 2020 film with Dev Patel as the main character includes a diverse cast, and is told in a series of flashbacks. David Copperfield is available in an excellent audiobook version read by Richard Armitage.
Is It Any Good?
This classic coming-of-age tale is a delightfully entertaining, important work that's well worth its thousand-plus pages. Tenderhearted David Copperfield was one of Charles Dickens' own favorite characters, and no wonder. He represents Dickens himself to some extent, and he's full of innocence and goodness -- qualities that make him lovable, and easy prey to some degree. This lengthy novel is full of wonderfully realized characters, from eccentric Betsey Trottwood and Mr. Dick to the steadfast Peggottys to the mean-spirited Murdstones and more. It has some surprisingly modern qualities, as well, despite its vintage (1850). Betsey Trottwood lives an unusual, independent life for a woman of her time. Dickens also reveals the failings of "firmness" in child rearing and education, and he emphasizes the joys of marriage when the couple are true partners in their life and work. HIs relevant point of view speaks to the timelessness of David Copperfield.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.