6 Things David Copperfield Teaches Us About Life

David Copperfield isn’t just a big coming-of-age adventure through Victorian England… it’s also a manual for life. Really.

David Copperfield


It's fair to say David Copperfield and his great-aunt Betsey Trotwood doesn't get off on the right foot. By which we mean, she's outraged by the fact he has the gall to be born a boy. The scowling, imperious, wicked witch-like Betsey Trotwood is so against the very concept of boys that she stormed straight out of there, leaving poor David to make his own way in the world. Bad Betsey Trotwood! And yet... she utterly redeems herself years later, coming to David's rescue when he's at his lowest ebb, and becoming as protective a guardian as anyone could want. The lesson is, never write people off. They can be capable of miracles.

What makes great period drama?


We've all met them: those grumpy misers, those stingey penny-pinchers who seem like they haven't got more than a few quid to their name. But don't believe them! Always remember Mr Barkis, the rough, gruff and plain-spoken stagecoach driver who rarely speaks more than a sentence at a time. A man with all the hidden depths of a muddy puddle, you might think. But it then turned out that he was sitting on a veritable fortune in savings, hidden in a plain old box. Talk about a dark horse.


While suffering through school, David finds a ray of light in the form of Steerforth. Ah, Steerforth: charming, cocky, handsome and charismatic, he even has teachers wrapped around his finger, and is the perfect friend for bashful David. While Steerforth isn't a "bad" person, he's almost too amazing for his own good. Ladled with love by everyone around him, he becomes engorged by his own ego, and ultimately hurts those around him, simply because he can. It's a lesson in being aware of the shortcomings of our closest mates, and how popularity can corrupt. (Put it this way: Steerforth could have become a frighteningly excellent politician.)


The skulking villain of David Copperfield is Uriah Heep. And what's the big giveaway about this cold-hearted fraudster? The fact that he so grossly goes on about his own modesty all the time. Oh, he's ever so 'umble, is Mr Uriah Heep. So 'umble that even his social superiors don't know what he's up to, until the slithering serpent strikes. Always remember: false modesty is the red flag to look for in all who cross your path.


Sorry to all those hopeless romantics out there, but it's true: there is no "one" true love out there. No tailor-made yin to your yang. Instead, life will present you with all kinds of people you might love in very different ways, and sometimes your most obvious choice isn't the right choice. David Copperfield falls madly in love with Dora at first sight, but after the first flush of fairy tale passion is over, he realises how frankly annoying she can be. The marriage becomes awkward and stifling, and it's only much later that he finds actual happiness with Agnes... who was never "supposed" to be the person he settled down with.


If anyone knows how tough life can be, it's our David Copperfield. Born in bizarre circumstances, victimized by his dastardly step-father, and then plunged into the petty dictatorship of Mr Creakle's boarding school, the poor boy would have been forgiven for becoming a downtrodden failure. Instead, he draws on all his inner strength and refuses to be beaten. Take the time he's left adrift in the Big Smoke, and decides to seek out Betsey Trotwood - which means walking all the way from London to Dover. A child trudging for miles to an uncertain fate: that's what never giving up looks like.