I haven’t written about Dickens very often on this blog; in fact, I feel like I’ve downright neglected him. And because this week’s Classic Remarks prompt was about life-changing classics, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about one of my earliest encounters with classics, and finally give poor Charlie a bit of facetime on this blog.
As an eager reader, I of course encountered classics in many forms. I was reading the Narnia books very early on, and my parents read us classic children’s stories in English and Croatian. But my first memory of reading a classic and being aware it was a classic was Dickens’ David Copperfield. I don’t remember how old I was – maybe seven? – and I was only vaguely aware of Dickens and the fact that he had been a famous author hundreds and hundreds of years ago (in the nineteenth century, but at that age anything prior to the 1990s might as well have been the Stone Age).
Now, a tiny caveat. What I read at the age of seven was not, in fact, Dickens’ complete David Copperfield, in all its seven-hundred-page Victorian glory. It was in fact a friendly abridged version that condensed this mammoth novel into an easily digestible two hundred pages. I would learn this only later when I began browsing the bookshelves at the library only to discover that Copperfield was so massive it could easily be used as a small-range weapon of war.
So I wasn’t exactly a child prodigy, reading giant Victorian novels at a precocious age. Nonetheless, David Copperfield – even in its abridged form – was a new experience for me. It taught me that classics weren’t just about boring rich people living in Olden Times. They were about people just like us, who lived in difficult times just like us, albeit with slightly worse sanitation. I was hooked from the beginning, shedding countless tears as David’s poor angelic mother died and left him an orphan. I learnt that classics could be lots of things, but there was one thing they definitely weren’t – boring.
Of course, that may partly have been thanks to the efforts of the sensitive editor who came along and abridged Dicken’s massive tome. Years later, I read David Copperfield in its entirety and I can’t say I didn’t yawn through significant portions of it. But my earlier reading experience had taught me that the exciting, heart-breaking, and profoundly moving parts are worth hanging around for.
What classic changed your life?