Introduction by Michael Slater

David Copperfield, Dickens’s eighth novel and his own favourite, with what he called its ‘very complicated interweaving of truth and fiction’, is the first one written in the first person, a narrative mode prepared for by his recent completion of a fragment of autobiography describing his ‘hard experiences in boyhood’. The manuscript of the novel, in the Forster Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, shows that Dickens had great difficulty in arriving at a title for the new story, eventually rejecting more elaborate versions for the following: The Personal History of David Copperfield. That he had the general outline of the story in his mind before he began to write is shown by his plans for the first monthly number in which Aunt Betsey makes a brief, very dramatic, appearance (clearly we are going to meet her again) and we are introduced to the quintessentially Dickensian Peggotty household as well as to Steerforth, Dickens’s version of the Byronic Hero. Also in chapter 2, in the paragraph beginning, ‘And now I see the outside of our house …’, we have the first example of what I described in my biography of Dickens (p.289) as ‘those beautiful retrospective passages, written in the present tense and delicately mingling pathos and humour, that mark significant stages in David’s life’.