Study Guide

David Copperfield What's Up With the Title?

By Charles Dickens

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What's Up With the Title?

Even though David Copperfield was first published under the title, The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to be Published on Any Account), it's hardly ever called by its full name. This isn't only because the original title is so frickin' long. It's also because David Copperfield is one of many, many nineteenth century novels that focus on the life and times of one character – think Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, or Charles Dickens's own Nicholas Nickleby. What's really important about this title is that it tells us who the hero of the novel is: David Copperfield.

Speaking of heroes: these giant novels from the nineteenth century all start with the ambitious idea that ordinary people – a cheating wife in Anna Karenina, a poor governess in Jane Eyre, and a bullied schoolteacher in Nicholas Nickleby – still deserve around six hundred (or more) pages written about them. Before these huge novels, we have texts like Shakespeare's Hamlet or Julius Caesar. These plays are both named after their central characters, but it would be tough to call either one a regular Joe Friday: Hamlet is Prince of Denmark and Julius Caesar is the first Emperor of Rome.

Compare Hamlet or Julius Caesar to the poor hero of David Copperfield: David is an abused little boy sent out to work in London for his living when he is eleven years old. He's no prince or emperor, that's for sure. What makes him heroic is that he overcomes so many difficulties to become a successful guy by the end of the book. By titling his novel David Copperfield, Dickens makes the point that boys like David deserve books about them as much as Julius Caesar does. Being a hero doesn't just mean struggling with the huge events of history; it can also mean confronting the daily problems of regular life.

Anyway, so David Copperfield is about David Copperfield and narrated by David Copperfield – it makes sense that it should be named, well, David Copperfield. As for the rest of the tremendously long original title, David is both the subject and the narrator of the novel, so it includes both his "Adventures" and his "Observations." David is called "the Younger" as an alternative to "Junior": David's father was also called David Copperfield. David is from a place called Blunderstone, in the English county of Suffolk, hence "of Blunderstone." And the name of the house where David was born is the "Rookery": check out our detailed summary of Chapter 1 for more of a description of the place. (By the way, both Blunderstone and the Rookery are real places: check out this link to see some pictures.)

The final bit of the original title is clearly the funniest part: "Which He Never Meant to be Published on Any Account." Obviously, Dickens wrote David Copperfield for publication – he was a working writer who made his living by his pen – so the fact that David, the narrator, pretends he "Never Meant" the novel to be published clearly goes against the wishes of the author.

The joke also works on another level: Charles Dickens originally started David Copperfield as an autobiography, but he found it difficult to share these intimate details of his life on paper (citation: "Introduction," David Copperfield. Edited by E.K. Brown. New York: Random House Modern Library College Editions, 1950). So, in fact, it's not fictional David's autobiography that he "Never Meant to be Published on Any Account" – it's Charles Dickens's own.

Last but not least, this final section of the title creates a sense of intimacy between David and the reader. We get to hear the "Personal History" of David, which (he claims) he "Never Meant to be Published." It's like we're in on the secrets of David's life, like David is confiding in us as equals. We're friends with David Copperfield right from the start, because he's willing to share his experiences with us.

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