"David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens, Chapters 1–6

In this semi-autobiographical novel, Dickens traces the early life, education, career, and romantic entanglements of narrator David Copperfield. Read the full text here.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–6, Chapters 7–13, Chapters 14–19, Chapters 20–27, Chapters 28–36, Chapters 37–48, Chapters 49–64

Here are links to our lists for other works by Charles Dickens: Great Expectations, Hard Times, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities
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definitions & notes only words
  1. magnate
    a very wealthy or powerful businessperson
    An aunt of my father’s, and consequently a great-aunt of mine, of whom I shall have more to relate by and by, was the principal magnate of our family.
  2. fender
    a low metal guard to confine falling coals to a hearth
    In a short pause which ensued, she had a fancy that she felt Miss Betsey touch her hair, and that with no ungentle hand; but, looking at her, in her timid hope, she found that lady sitting with the skirt of her dress tucked up, her hands folded on one knee, and her feet upon the fender, frowning at the fire.
  3. repose
    freedom from activity
    As the elms bent to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after a few seconds of such repose, fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms about, as if their late confidences were really too wicked for their peace of mind, some weatherbeaten ragged old rooks’-nests, burdening their higher branches, swung like wrecks upon a stormy sea.
  4. presentiment
    a feeling of evil to come
    ‘I have no doubt it will be a girl. I have a presentiment that it must be a girl. Now child, from the moment of the birth of this girl—’
  5. portentous
    puffed up with vanity
    Those allied powers were considerably astonished, when they arrived within a few minutes of each other, to find an unknown lady of portentous appearance, sitting before the fire, with her bonnet tied over her left arm, stopping her ears with jewellers’ cotton.
  6. sidle
    move unobtrusively or furtively
    He sidled in and out of a room, to take up the less space.
  7. propitiation
    the act of placating and overcoming distrust and animosity
    He carried his head on one side, partly in modest depreciation of himself, partly in modest propitiation of everybody else.
  8. draught
    a current of air
    He preferred to go and sit upon the stairs, in the dark and a strong draught, until he was again sent for.
  9. descry
    catch sight of
    Ham Peggotty, who went to the national school, and was a very dragon at his catechism, and who may therefore be regarded as a credible witness, reported next day, that happening to peep in at the parlour-door an hour after this, he was instantly descried by Miss Betsey, then walking to and fro in a state of agitation, and pounced upon before he could make his escape.
  10. mollify
    cause to be more favorably inclined
    Mr. Chillip was fluttered again, by the extreme severity of my aunt’s manner; so he made her a little bow and gave her a little smile, to mollify her.
  11. propriety
    correct behavior
    Indeed, I think that most grown men who are remarkable in this respect, may with greater propriety be said not to have lost the faculty, than to have acquired it; the rather, as I generally observe such men to retain a certain freshness, and gentleness, and capacity of being pleased, which are also an inheritance they have preserved from their childhood.
  12. perspicuous
    transparently clear; easily understandable
    I must have read very perspicuously, or the poor soul must have been deeply interested, for I remember she had a cloudy impression, after I had done, that they were a sort of vegetable.
  13. remonstrate
    censure severely or angrily
    ‘Oh, Davy!’ remonstrated my mother.
  14. aspersion
    a disparaging remark
    Peggotty seemed to take this aspersion very much to heart, I thought.
  15. expostulate
    reason with for the purpose of dissuasion
    As we left her standing in the road, Mr. Murdstone came up to where she was, and seemed to expostulate with her for being so moved.
  16. reverie
    an abstracted state of absorption
    I sat looking at Peggotty for some time, in a reverie on this supposititious case: whether, if she were employed to lose me like the boy in the fairy tale, I should be able to track my way home again by the buttons she would shed.
  17. supposititious
    based primarily on surmise rather than adequate evidence
    I sat looking at Peggotty for some time, in a reverie on this supposititious case: whether, if she were employed to lose me like the boy in the fairy tale, I should be able to track my way home again by the buttons she would shed.
  18. complacency
    the feeling you have when you are satisfied with yourself
    ...I felt that I had done so busy a place an injustice; and said as much to Peggotty, who heard my expressions of delight with great complacency, and told me it was well known (I suppose to those who had the good fortune to be born Bloaters) that Yarmouth was, upon the whole, the finest place in the universe.
  19. simper
    smile affectedly or derisively
    He was, now, a huge, strong fellow of six feet high, broad in proportion, and round-shouldered; but with a simpering boy’s face and curly light hair that gave him quite a sheepish look.
  20. superannuated
    too old to be useful
    There was a black barge, or some other kind of superannuated boat, not far off, high and dry on the ground, with an iron funnel sticking out of it for a chimney and smoking very cosily; but nothing else in the way of a habitation that was visible to me.
  21. rubicund
    having a healthy reddish color
    He soon returned, greatly improved in appearance; but so rubicund, that I couldn’t help thinking his face had this in common with the lobsters, crabs, and crawfish,—that it went into the hot water very black, and came out very red.
  22. imprecation
    the act of calling down a curse that invokes evil
    It appeared, in answer to my inquiries, that nobody had the least idea of the etymology of this terrible verb passive to be gormed; but that they all regarded it as constituting a most solemn imprecation.
  23. ruefully
    in a manner expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
    I said, ruefully, ‘isn’t she come home?’
  24. inveterate
    habitual
    ‘In my honeymoon, too, when my most inveterate enemy might relent, one would think, and not envy me a little peace of mind and happiness. Davy, you naughty boy! Peggotty, you savage creature! Oh, dear me!’ cried my mother, turning from one of us to the other, in her pettish wilful manner, ‘what a troublesome world this is, when one has the most right to expect it to be as agreeable as possible!’
  25. compunction
    a feeling of deep regret, usually for some misdeed
    I had little doubt then, and I have less doubt now, that he would have knocked me down without the least compunction, if I had hesitated.
  26. entreat
    ask for or request earnestly
    She was very earnestly and humbly entreating Miss Murdstone’s pardon, which that lady granted, and a perfect reconciliation took place.
  27. austere
    practicing great self-denial
    The gloomy taint that was in the Murdstone blood, darkened the Murdstone religion, which was austere and wrathful.
  28. visage
    the appearance conveyed by a person's face
    Be this as it may, I well remember the tremendous visages with which we used to go to church, and the changed air of the place.
  29. pall
    burial garment in which a corpse is wrapped
    Again, Miss Murdstone, in a black velvet gown, that looks as if it had been made out of a pall, follows close upon me; then my mother; then her husband.
  30. nominally
    in name only
    They were presided over nominally by my mother, but really by Mr. Murdstone and his sister, who were always present, and found them a favourable occasion for giving my mother lessons in that miscalled firmness, which was the bane of both our lives.
  31. phlegmatic
    showing little emotion
    As this was a great deal for the carrier (whose name was Mr. Barkis) to say—he being, as I observed in a former chapter, of a phlegmatic temperament, and not at all conversational—I offered him a cake as a mark of attention, which he ate at one gulp, exactly like an elephant, and which made no more impression on his big face than it would have done on an elephant’s.
  32. diffidence
    lack of self-assurance
    The blowing of the coach-horn in the yard was a seasonable diversion, which made me get up and hesitatingly inquire, in the mingled pride and diffidence of having a purse (which I took out of my pocket), if there were anything to pay.
  33. expediency
    the quality of being suited to the end in view
    I felt it rather hard, I must own, to be made, without deserving it, the subject of jokes between the coachman and guard as to the coach drawing heavy behind, on account of my sitting there, and as to the greater expediency of my travelling by waggon.
  34. bilious
    relating to a digestive juice secreted by the liver
    Accordingly we looked in at a baker’s window, and after I had made a series of proposals to buy everything that was bilious in the shop, and he had rejected them one by one, we decided in favour of a nice little loaf of brown bread, which cost me threepence.
  35. sedulous
    marked by care and persistent effort
    The sun streamed in at the little window, but she sat with her own back and the back of the large chair towards it, screening the fire as if she were sedulously keeping IT warm, instead of it keeping her warm, and watching it in a most distrustful manner.
  36. disconsolate
    sad beyond comforting; incapable of being soothed
    With these words he threw the boots towards Mr. Mell, who went back a few paces to pick them up, and looked at them (very disconsolately, I was afraid), as we went on together.
  37. fusty
    stale and unclean smelling
    Two miserable little white mice, left behind by their owner, are running up and down in a fusty castle made of pasteboard and wire, looking in all the corners with their red eyes for anything to eat.
  38. repute
    look on as or consider
    Before this boy, who was reputed to be a great scholar, and was very good-looking, and at least half-a-dozen years my senior, I was carried as before a magistrate.
  39. viand
    a choice or delicious dish
    I begged him to do me the favour of presiding; and my request being seconded by the other boys who were in that room, he acceded to it, and sat upon my pillow, handing round the viands—with perfect fairness, I must say—and dispensing the currant wine in a little glass without a foot, which was his own property.
  40. bumptious
    offensively self-assertive
    I heard that Mr. Sharp’s wig didn’t fit him; and that he needn’t be so ‘bounceable’—somebody else said ‘ bumptious’—about it, because his own red hair was very plainly to be seen behind.

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