Dickens never lived in Canterbury, but visited the city regularly and knew it intimately. In David Copperfield, his favourite and most autobiographical novel, he used many Canterbury locations and buildings, blending and fictionalising them to suit his purpose.
David Copperfield is, in substantial part, a Canterbury novel. The city first appears when David is on his weary trek, escaping London and the misery of working in the bottling factory. He passes through on his way to Dover, and the sanctuary he hopes his aunt Betsy Trotwood will provide.
From this first visit David remembers ‘the sunny streets of Canterbury, dozing as it were in the hot light; and with the sight of its old houses and gateways, and the stately, grey Cathedral.’
Later, Canterbury is where Betsy sends David to school, where he encounters the ostensibly ‘umble but actually ruthlessly scheming and ambitious Uriah Heep, and where he is reacquainted with the penniless Micawbers.
Dickens’ knowledge of Canterbury was noted by Annie Fields, wife of the author’s American agent, in her diary. With his characteristic energy and enthusiasm, Dickens took the Fields to many locations that had inspired him – to the extent, Annie confides, that they ‘explored the city under Dickens’ direction till it was nearly dark’.