Quote from the opening of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

What does it mean exactly when he wrote "to begin my life with the beginning of my life"? Is it that David was beginning to write about his life like a biography (therefore "I" record ...) starting from the very beginning? Does it have anything to do with "my own life" in the very first sentence?

I could not find any resources analysing the book in detail while trying to look into the style of Dickens. I am not a native speaker of English and might be lacking in background. Thank you in advance for your help.

  • 1
    It’s clearly a plot device to make it clear he’s not Benjamin Button. Sep 6, 2015 at 9:49
  • Mainly so that J. D. Salinger could come along later and reference it: genius.com/1198508
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 6, 2015 at 21:50
  • It's equivalent to saying "To begin the story of my life at the point where my life began (that is, at my birth), ..." which I hope makes sense to you.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 7, 2015 at 1:02

2 Answers 2


Your instinct is right: this is a mild word-play in which the narrator uses my life in a double sense to mean both

  1. the course of my life, all the important events which happened to me, and

  2. the literary work, my narrative of the events.

So the phrase you ask about may be understood as

To begin my life2 with the beginning of my life1 ...

A similar word-play is present in the first sentence, where hero is employed in the double sense of one who behaves heroically and the principal character in a work of fiction.


You could also say I begin my biography or the narration of my life with my birth.

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