Page 131. " What would I have given, to have been sent to the hardest school that ever was kept! "

When the Dickens family fell into financial hardship, Charles’ sister Fanny was still permitted to attend the Royal Academy of Music, while Dickens was sent to work as a child labourer. This punitive experience was to haunt much of his later fiction.


Page 132. " a very Gunpowder Plot "

The Gunpowder Plot refers to the 1605 Catholic plot to destroy the Protestant government by blowing up the Houses of Parliament and King James I (1566-1625).

The foiling of this plot is marked on 5 November (Guy Fawkes Night) when a dummy is burned on a bonfire and fireworks are set off.


Page 132. " I should have been perfectly miserable, I have no doubt, but for the old books. "

Charles Dickens took much comfort from books during his own childhood. He worked his way through his father’s collection of novels, and particularly enjoyed being read to by the family servant Mary Weller. His uncle lived over a booksellers and Dickens was often to be seen browsing through the selection offered there.


Page 135. " and I became, at ten years old, a little labouring hind in the service of Murdstone and Grinby. "

 Dickens was himself removed from school at the age of 12 and sent to work in Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, a factory owned by a relative of his mother.

Many passages from this portion of David Copperfield resemble sections of his unpublished, incomplete autobiography.

John Forster's biography explores the  connections between Charles Dickens and his character in the section Hard Experiences in Boyhood.



Page 136. " Mealy's father was a waterman "
Watermen earned a living from the river, and they usually lived near or on the water.  

A waterman was considered a lowly sort of being, and Charles Dickens later explored its social connotations in his last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865), which features the character of waterman Gaffer Hexam, who robs corpses floating in the Thames.

Page 137. " This is Mr. Micawber "

Mr. Micawber is thought to have been modelled on Charles Dickens’ own father, John Dickens, who died within five months of the completion of David Copperfield. John Dickens was similarly inept with money and, like Micawber, found himself in a debtors prison.

Page 137. " Mr. Micawber impressing the name of streets, and the shapes of corner houses upon me, as we went along "

As a child Charles Dickens would take frequent walks with his father. On one such walk his father pointed to a house he said could be attained through hard work. The house became a symbol of success to Charles Dickens, who would later buy it. Gads Hill Place became his country seat, where he died in 1870.

Page 140. " I have strolled, at such a time, as far as Covent Garden Market, and stared at the pineapples. "

Although Christopher Columbus had introduced the pineapple to Europe, it was not until the 1700s that Europeans began successfully to grow the fruit in hothouses or pits.

Pineapples were symbols of prosperity and were depicted in the decoration of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton when it was redesigned (1815-1822) by John Nash for the future King George IV.


Page 140. " I was fond of wandering about the Adelphi, because it was a mysterious place, with those dark arches. "

The Adelphi was a set of buildings in London situated between the Strand and the Thames. Dickens used to walk around the Adelphi buildings as a child. These were close to the Adelphi Theatre, which took its name from them.

The name comes from the Greek word for brothers: the Adelphi was constructed (1768-1772) by brothers John, William, James and Robert Adam.

The original Adelphi buildings were demolished and replaced during the 1930s.


Page 143. " sing about jack's delight being his lovely Nan "

This refers to the song “Lovely Nan” by Charles Dibdin (c.1745-1814).

Page 145. " At last Mr. Micawber's difficulties came to a crisis, and he was arrested early one morning "

Those unable to pay off their debts were put into a debtors’ prison. A debtor could not be released until the debt was settled. Since imprisoned debtors were unable to work or earn money, the debtor was himself unable to earn the sum required to pay off his debts, so it was left to the debtor’s family to raise the money.

This episode of the novel is based on Dickens' father, whom Charles described as “a jovial opportunist with no money sense,” which led to the Dickens family experiencing the same fate as that of Wilkins Micawber.

In 1824, John Dickens was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison because he failed to pay a baker a debt of £40 and 10 shillings. To assist in paying this off, Charles Dickens was sent to work at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, but the debt was actually paid upon the death of John Dickens’ grandmother, who had bequeathed her grandson £450.

Page 146. " At last Mrs. Micawber resolved to move into the prison, where Mr. Micawber had now secured a room to himself. "

Although the family of the debtor was not imprisoned, they could join him if they so chose. During the three months in which John Dickens was imprisoned, he was joined by his wife and three youngest children.

Page 146. " a little room was hired outside the walls in the neighbourhood of that Institution "

While Charles Dickens' parents resided in the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison, a room was hired for Charles in Camden Town at the home of a family friend, Elizabeth Roylance. On Sundays, Charles visited the Marshalsea in  order to spend the day with his family.


Page 147. " I forget, too, at what hour the gates were opened in the morning "

While the gates were unlocked, family and friends were allowed to visit the prisoners in a debtors’ prison, and although a prisoner was not permitted to venture outside the confines of the prison, families residing there were able to come and go.

Charles Dickens wrote about debtors’ prison in more detail in his later novel, Little Dorrit (1855-1857), the first half of which is set in the Marshalsea Prison, where Dickens' father had been detained.



Page 147. " Mr. Micawber should apply for his release under the Insolvent Debtors Act, which would set him free "
The Insolvent Debtors’ Act allowed for the discharge of debtors from prison provided they gave up all their property and declared all their liabilities and debts.

It was not until a year before Charles Dickens’ death that the Bankruptcy Act of 1869 finally abolished debtors’ prisons.

Page 147. " There was a club in the prison, in which Mr. Micawber, as a gentleman, was a great authority. "
William Dorrit and his younger daughter, Amy
Public DomainWilliam Dorrit and his younger daughter, Amy "Little Dorrit"

As Mr. Micawber is looked to as an authority within the prison, in Dickens' later novel Little Dorrit (1855-1857), William Dorrit becomes known as the father of the Marshalsea, and he considers himself to be a respected leader of his fellow prisoners.