Page 51. " From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. "
Cervantes (1547-1616) author of Don Quixote
Public DomainCervantes (1547-1616) author of Don Quixote

Just as these novels had belonged to David Copperfield's father, so copies of these popular works had been owned by the father of Charles Dickens, and were among the books read by Charles during his own childhood.

Each of these novels was published in the 1700s, with the exception of Cervantes' Don Quixote, which was published in the early 1600s. 

Some of them are picaresque, i.e. they recount the adventures of a roguish protagonist in realistic yet humorous detail. The remainder are adventure stories, and a reader may trace certain qualities in Dickens' style which find their root in these novels.

Don Quixote on Book Drum

Robinson Crusoe on Book Drum

Page 51. " reading as if for life "
British Museum
GNU Free Documentation LicenseBritish Museum - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Charles Dickens was himself a voracious reader, and on his 18th birthday he applied for a British Museum reader ticket. At the time the British Museum, a national museum of antiquities, also held a national library (now the British Library in St Pancras). It was well stocked, and Dickens would have had access to a rich body of knowledge.

Page 55. " And I'll write to you, my dear. Though I ain't no scholar. "

Illiteracy levels were still high at this time, and it was not until the 1870 Elementary Education Act that the government began to make education universally available. In 1880 the Education Act made schooling compulsory for all children up to the age of ten. The provision of education to his young characters, and the efficacy of the education provided, is a particular area of focus in many of Dickens' novels.

The history of Education Legislation.

Signature of Charles Dickens
Creative Commons AttributionSignature of Charles Dickens - Credit: Adams Hamilton - Literary and Historical Manuscripts
Page 56. " she hoped I would repent, before I came to a bad end "

This recalls the fears and warnings exhorted in the previous century by William Hogarth in his series of paintings entitled A Rake’s Progress (1735).

Dickens' own work echoes this 'repent or perish' philosophy, and most if not all of his wicked characters come to a sticky end. A Rake's Progress traces the sinking into decrepitude of an immoral character.

Rake continues to progress - Painting 3
Public DomainRake - Painting 3 
Page 58. " no person walks with her! "

She was not being courted (no romantic involvement). Victorian novels are replete with scenes in which a simple walk turns into a confession of love.   

Page 70. " Salem House, which was enclosed with a high brick wall, and looked very dull. "

An ironic name – Salem was the old name for Jerusalem. Appropriately Jerusalem was sometimes referred to as the City of David.

The name has an added resonance when we link it to Salem in Massachusetts, the scene of a (now) famous witch hunt (see Arthur Miller's The Crucible). As in the play, certain innocent figures are punished for the sins of others.

Page 72. " send me to Coventry by general acclamation "

Sending someone to Coventry is to ostracise them. No one will speak to the person concerned.

The idiom may have its roots in the English Civil War, when Cromwell was thought to have sent a number of Royalists to be imprisoned in the city of Coventry. Here they would have been shunned by a republican populace.