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Places to Go: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Written by Rachael Norris, 12th June 2020

Places to Go is a special feature that The Reader is bringing to you in the hope that it may provide some inspiration on how we can spend our time at home during lockdown. We will be posting extracts from stories which highlight special moments of travel and adventure for you to enjoy. This week Natalie shares a reading from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

David Copperfield has had a great impact on me, and recently I found myself returning to it again. I like David for telling us his life’s story as honestly as he possibly can. Everything, even his ‘secret agony’ is felt and shown in this book, and in this extract, we are taken back to the first few years of his life.

Here, he is living in his childhood home with his mother and Peggotty. The older David, the one writing, actively asks himself, ‘What else do I remember? Let me see. There comes out of the cloud, our house – not new to me, but quite familiar, in its earliest remembrance’. I wonder how often we do that ourselves - trying to see, what we can remember from our childhood home or another childhood place? It’s wonderful that although David has to think quite hard about it, it comes out of the 'cloud' as something familiar. It’s the act of recalling the past rather than rebuilding it.

His description of the ground floor and the back yard feels very real, almost as if we are there with him. However, it is no longer just ‘the older David’. By going back and describing the waddling geese and the fierce cock, it is as if he feels it again as the child he once was. A hall follows, leading from Peggotty’s kitchen to the front door. I like imagining the dark store-room and all the different tubs and jars. It reminds me of the store-room in the house I grew up, and I am trying to remember what we kept in it and what it smelled like. David remembers the smell of soap, pickles, pepper, candles, and coffee, ‘all at one whiff’. Perhaps it rings true for many places that the smell is distinct and cannot really be described to others?

Finally, David takes us to the churchyard, outside his bedroom window, where his father lies buried. I find his way of describing it rather moving, ‘There is nothing half so green that I know anywhere, as the grass of that churchyard; nothing half so shady as its tress; nothing half so quiet as it tombstones.’ To him, as a child, this churchyard with its many graves is peaceful - perhaps a bit suprisingly. I wonder if we had similar peaceful places in our childhoods. What did they look like?

I thought of this extract in relation to ‘places to go’, because, rather than always thinking about new places to go (as I am guilty of), I wonder if it can be just as magical to think carefully about the places we once inhabited. And not just what they look like, but also what they felt like, these past ‘inner places’, which live on in us long after we’ve moved out of them.

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