David Copperfield is the eighth novel by Charles Dickens, first published as a novel in 1850. Like most of his works, it originally appeared in serial form a year earlier. Many elements within the novel follow events in Dickens' own life, and it is probably the most autobiographical of all of his novels.
The story traces the life of David Copperfield from childhood to maturity. David is born in Blunderston near Gt Yarmouth, Norfolk, England in 1820. David's father had died six months before he was born, and seven years later, his mother re-marries Mr. Edward Murdstone. Mr Murdstone thrashes David for falling behind with his studies. Following one of these thrashings, David bites him and soon afterward is sent away to a boarding school, Salem House, with a ruthless headmaster, Mr. Creakle. Here he befriends James Steerforth and Tommy Traddles, both of whom become significant later on in the novel.
David returns home for the holidays to find out that his mother has had a baby boy. Soon after David goes back to Salem House, his mother and her baby die and David has to return home immediately. Mr Murdstone sends him to work in a factory in London, of which Murdstone is a joint owner. The grim reality of hand-to-mouth factory existence echoes Dickens' own travails in a blacking factory. Copperfield's landlord, Mr Wilkins Micawber, is sent to a debtor's prison (the King's Bench Prison) after going bankrupt and remains there for several months before being released and moving to Plymouth. No one remains to care for David in London, so he decides to run away.
He walks all the way from London to Dover, where he finds his only relative, aunt Miss Betsey Trotwood. This eccentric aunt agrees to raise him, despite Mr Murdstone's attempt to regain David's custody.
The story follows David as he grows to adulthood and is enlivened by the many well-known characters who enter, leave, and re-enter his life. The novel's two most familiar characters are David's sometime mentor, the debt-ridden Micawber, and the devious and fraudulent clerk, Uriah Heep, whose misdeeds are eventually revealed with Micawber's assistance. Micawber is painted sympathetically even as the narrator deplores his financial ineptitude. Micawber, like Dickens' own father, is briefly imprisoned for insolvency.
In typical Dickens fashion, the major characters eventually get some measure of what they deserve, and few narrative threads are left hanging.