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Hunter: Dickens Turns 200

02/07/12 7:55AM By Edith Hunter
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(Host) Commentator Edith Hunter is celebrating Charles Dickens' two-hundredth birthday by recalling how many times she has read David Copperfield.

(Hunter) I have always been a Dickens fan, but David Copperfield, written when Dickens was 38 years old, is my favorite.

My mother read David Copperfield to my older sister, my brother, and me in 1928 when I was 9 years old. I read it myself in 1932 when I was in the 8th grade. In spite of the fact that we had to look up every word that we did not understand and be prepared to define it in class the next day, I still loved that book.

In 1955 I read David Copperfield to my daughter Elizabeth 10 and son Graham 8; in 1962 to son William when he was 9, and in 1967 to son Charles when he was 9. I have probably read it to myself at least twice since then, and I have just finished reading it again.

I hope there will never grow up a generation ignorant of the wonderful recurring themes in this classic - Wilkins Micawber perpetually sure that "something will turn up", and convinced that "twenty pounds income and spent nineteen, happiness, but income 20 pounds and spent twenty pounds one, misery"; or Aunt Betsey's cry of "Janet! donkeys!"; or the notion that Barkis is willin'; or of that lone lorn creetur, Mrs. Gummidge; or of Uriah Heep, always so ‘umble, and of Mr. Peggotty's search for ‘lil Emily.

It demonstrates Dickens' genius that after reading David Copperfield so many times, I could still be fearful of and enraged at schoolmaster Creakle, breathe a sigh of relief when the exhausted David finally arrives at the home of great-aunt Betsey Trotwood, still shed a tear over the death of dear child-wife Dora, and rejoice when David finally has enough sense to propose marriage to his dear - quote - "sister" Agnes.

It is a semi-autobiographical novel. Dickens was acquainted first hand with child labor having worked in a blacking factory at the age of 12. And he had experienced debtors' prison to which - like Mr. Micawber - his father had been sent.

Some time ago son Charles gave me Michael Slater's biography of Dickens which I also have enjoyed. It details all Dickens' good works: improving working conditions for children and adults, emphasizing the importance of education and better housing for the poor. But it also depicts him as hardly a model husband or model father to his nine children.

But then, none of us is perfect. Thanks, and happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens.

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