Sven Becker, Director in the London Book Department, selects one of his favourite books for sale in London on 13 June in the Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts auction
David Copperfield is the most autobiographical of Dickens's novels. Some painful episodes of his early life are only thinly veiled here. It is also Dickens's favourite of his own books; Dickens remarked that: `of all my books, I like this the best. It will be easily believed that I am a fond parent to every child of my fancy. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield'.
Copperfield was published to great acclaim, and widely read. One reader was the owner of a Sheffield tool-making company called William Brookes & Sons. Imagine his surprise when he came to the passage where Copperfield is compared, somewhat disparagingly, to a knife-maker called Brooks of Sheffield. Brookes wrote to Dickens to enquire, and Dickens replied that it was just 'one of those remarkable coincidences'. A correspondence between the two men followed, and Brookes presented Dickens with a case of cutlery, in a good-natured gesture that echoed the passage in David Copperfield.
Dickens's remarkable response gives us an insight into the warmth of the relationship between the two men, or the superstitious nature of the great author: to repay the gift Dickens decided to inscribe and present his own copy of his own favourite book to Brookes of Sheffield. Before sending him the book, Dickens wrote: `as I remember an old superstition concerning the severance of friendship with knives ... I shall beg you to do me the favour of accepting my own copy of Copperfield which as coming from the shelves in my study, will perhaps have an interest for you that another copy might not possess'.
Inscribed copies of Copperfield are very rare -- just two have been offered at auction in the past 35 years.
Books & Manuscripts