In a recent interview with author Barbara Kingsolver, the hosts of Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast discussed her new novel, Demon Copperhead, and its connection to Charles Dickens’ classic, David Copperfield. Kingsolver explains that she turned to Dickens’ work as a source of inspiration to tell the story of a boy growing up in modern-day Appalachia.
Kingsolver had been struggling to write a story about the impact of the opioid epidemic on her community and the larger historical context of exploitation in Appalachia. She wanted to shed light on the marginalized individuals, particularly the orphans, who were being neglected society. However, she felt blocked and unable to find a way into the story. That is until she had a strange encounter with Dickens in his house in Broadstairs.
During this ethereal visit, Dickens told Kingsolver to let the child be the voice of the story, just as he did with David Copperfield. He encouraged her to use point of view as a tool and to make the story a galloping tale that would captivate readers. Inspired Dickens’ advice, Kingsolver began writing the novel that night on his desk, channeling the voices and experiences of the people she grew up with in Appalachia.
When discussing criticisms of Dickens’ sentimentality and moralism, Kingsolver points out that his stories about poverty and orphans were wildly popular in his time. The bottom line, according to Kingsolver, is that audiences are drawn to gripping plots, well-developed characters, and unique perspectives. She adds that her protagonist, Demon, is a more savvy and worldly child, reflecting the realities of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Kingsolver’s ability to capture the voices of the people she writes about comes naturally to her, as she grew up listening to the Appalachian dialect. However, she acknowledges that she has learned to code-switch and adapt her language depending on her audience.
Demon Copperhead offers a modern twist on the themes and characters of David Copperfield while shedding light on the unique challenges faced those living in Appalachia today. Kingsolver’s novel aims to give a voice to the marginalized and forgotten, just as Dickens did in his time.
– Slate’s Political Gabfest podcast interview with Barbara Kingsolver