Why David Copperfield Is Just Like Today

With all the cobbled streets and men in top hats, David Copperfield is as Victorian as it gets. But here’s why it has more to say about our own era than you might think…

David Copperfield


Yes, it's set before the days of irritating "pay day loan" adverts. And even the great word-wizard Charles Dickens would have envied whoever invented the phrase "credit crunch". But the people of David Copperfield are just as debt-obsessed as we are. Just look at poor old Mr Micawber, who's constantly juggling his various financial woes, and could well benefit from some quantitative easing. Micawber even coins a golden rule which we'd do well to follow today: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six: result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six: result misery."

What makes great period drama?


It's not just in our cynical, app-swiping era that overly nice people can find it hard to attract a mate. Just think of sweet, innocent, good-hearted Ham Peggotty. He thinks he has everything sorted out when Emily agrees to marry him, but he doesn't count on the suave cad Steerforth swooping in to seduce his beloved and whisk her away for a romantic adventure. And what about David himself, completely ignoring the lovely Agnes until after he marries the totally unsuitable Dora? Forget any twee notions of "old fashioned romance" - in Copperfield's time, sudden flings and improper, whirlwind relationships are as common as they are today.


Ah, politicians, bankers and PR media maestros - how shamelessly they fib and spin and say anything to get ahead, right? It's so brazen these days, we might somehow imagine there was some golden era in our past when people in power actually meant what they said. Well, not in Copperfield's world, where hypocrites are as rampant as they are today. Just listen to that slithering snake Uriah Heep, always going on about how "humble" he is while engineering the downfall of others. And wicked headmaster Mr Creakle, who pretends to be a moral figure while ruling his boarding school like a dictator. Bah!


While the citizens of Dickens-land may not have to contend with fake emails and phone calls by faceless people wanting to commit some juicy identity fraud, the 19th Century equivalents of such scoundrels are every bit as bad. We turn again to the devious Uriah Heep, who schemes to embezzle and rip-off those who trust him the most. If it was today, he'd be caught on a hidden camera for some daytime TV show, as a warning not to trust anyone when it comes to our personal details.


It seems that gap years and "travelling to find yourself" isn't a new concept to our wayward youth. They were doing it back in David's day, with Copperfield himself a proponent of mooching around various countries to discover the meaning of life, and work on that novel. After losing Dora, he vanishes for years to travel and write, and returns to Blighty with a new sense of purpose. And probably some debts (see above).


We're all baking mad these days - bump into anyone on the street, and chances are they'll have strong opinions on rough puff pastry, and the best way to prevent a soggy bottom. Not to mention the correct jelly-to-meat ratio for an old-fashioned pork pie. Well, the people of David Copperfield are equally keen on baked goods, especially Peggotty, who has a Mary Berry-like prowess when it comes producing delicious things in the oven. In fact, her skills with flour and butter even help find her a husband. The way to a man's heart, and all that...