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David Copperfield : A Human Document

[ From the Chesterton article in Britannica (1929)
http://www.dur.ac.uk/~dcs0mpw/gkc/books/dickens_Britannica.txt ]


...There is all the difference between the life and adventures of David Copperfield and the life and adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, that there is between the life of Charles Dickens and the life of Amadis of Gaul. The latter is a good or bad romance; the former is a romantic biography, only the more realistic for being romantic. For romance is a very real part of life and perhaps the most real part of youth. Dickens had turned the telescope round or was looking through the other end of it; looking perhaps into a mirror, looking in any case out of a new window. It was life as he saw it, which was somewhat fantastically; but it was his own life as he knew it, and even as he had lived it. In other words, it is fanciful but it is not fictitious; because not merely invented in the manner of fiction. In Pickwick or Nickleby he had in a sense breathed fresh imaginative life into stock characters, but they were still stage characters; in the new style he may be extravagant, but he is not stagey. That vague glow of exaggeration and glamour which lies over all the opening chapters of David Copperfield, which dilates some figures and distorts others, is the genuine sentimentalism and suppressed passion of youth; it is no longer a convention or tradition of caricature. There are men like Steerforth and girls like Dora; they are not as boys see them; but boys do see them so. This passionate autobiography, though it stiffens into greater conventionality at the real period of passion, is really, in the dismally battered phrase, a human document. But something of the new spirit, more subtle and sympathetic but perhaps less purely creative, belongs to all the books written after this date. ... 

Chesterton's David Copperfield - Contents

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