by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield Youth Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
This may be fancy, though I think the memory of most of us can go farther back into such times than many of us suppose; just as I believe the power of observation in numbers of very young children to be quite wonderful for its closeness and accuracy. Indeed, I think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity of being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood. (2.3)
Obviously, as a narrator, David has to be pretty invested in the idea that we can remember more from our childhoods than most people think. He wouldn't have a nine hundred page novel, otherwise. But we're also interested in this statement that men who are fresh, gentle, and easily pleased, retain these qualities from childhood. Dickens seems pretty strongly invested in the idea that children are born good, and that growing up in society makes them evil. When David looks back on his old days, he sounds nostalgic not only for past times, but for David's own past goodness.
A great wind rises, and the summer is gone in a moment. We are playing in the winter twilight, dancing about the parlour. When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her fingers, and straitening her waist, and nobody knows better than I do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty. (2. 10)
David knows best that Mrs. Copperfield "is proud of being so pretty" because he is a child, and she is one, too, at least emotionally. The two of them share this intense mutual sympathy not only because they are mother and son, but also because they're both so young. This is a moment in the second chapter when narrator-David lapses into present tense narration. By moving from past to present tense, he makes the scene David describes seem that much more immediate, as though it's happening right in front of us. What's the emotional effect of this shift in narrative tone?
Peggotty and I were sitting one night by the parlour fire, alone. I had been reading to Peggotty about crocodiles. [...] I had reached that stage of sleepiness when Peggotty seemed to swell and grow immensely large. I propped my eyelids open with my two forefingers, and looked perseveringly at her as she sat at work; at the little bit of wax-candle she kept for her thread—how old it looked, being so wrinkled in all directions!—at the little house with a thatched roof, where the yard-measure lived; at her work-box with a sliding lid, with a view of St. Paul's Cathedral (with a pink dome) painted on the top; at the brass thimble on her finger; at herself, whom I thought lovely. I felt so sleepy, that I knew if I lost sight of anything for a moment, I was gone. (2.12)
We love this passage because it is a really interesting experiment. Dickens isn't just describing how a child sees the world as he is growing sleepy. He is also trying to evoke that sense of sleepiness for the reader. This is an amazing word portrait of that feeling you get when you're just about to go to sleep and you're really, really fighting it. These word portraits contribute to the realistic effect of the novel's narration: we trust that David has an excellent memory of what happened to him as a child because he can conjure what it's like to be a child so skillfully.