Charles Dickens is widely considered the greatest writer of the Victorian era. He wrote almost twenty novels of quality, dealing with profound themes, building remarkable literary characters and unleashing withering social criticism. There is a striking similarity in the plot structures of some of his best novels. This common thread is the disadvantaged, oft-orphaned child who strives to overcome a challenging childhood.

Think the eponymous Oliver of Oliver Twist, the industrious Pip in Great Expectations and the unfortunate Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop. My favourite such Dickens is David Copperfield. Surprising, since I gave up the book half-way on my first reading. I read the book years later with contrasting results. Copperfield is considered the most autobiographical of Dickens’ novels, and was also his personal favourite.

The first chapter, delightfully named ‘I am born’, has an auspicious opening: “Whether I should turn out to be the hero of my own life, these pages must show….” This grand start hearkens to the immortal heart of youth that ever yearns for heroism, ideals, valour and conquest. So of all Dickens’ characters, Copperfield is a creature after my own heart.

Youth differs from age in the spirit of adventure, the courage of conviction and the heroism of ideals as fresh as the first flowers. The young thrive on ideals. They are inspired by hope not fear, attracted more by good than evil. True youth is driven by a spirit of heroism. Nothing is more distressing than to meet young cynical people who have lost their ideals or never aspired to heroism. Thus in Dickens’ difficult novel, Hard Times, Louisa was tragically drilled to suppress sentiment and value only ‘facts and calculations’.

The spirit of the Greek hero Achilles and the drive of the famed Hercules bubble under the skin of youth, ready to be called up to the surface by the conjurer of hope, the visionary. But also, easily corrupted by the usurper who appears disguised as a prophet but concealing a spirit of manipulation. So it is distressing to see the push for liberal sex for the youth, dressed as a condom campaign, supported by the government.

The cynic believes the young are incapable of controlling themselves. So the false pragmatist rails at any actual or imagined ill in society, from environmental degradation to tribalism, from smoking to corruption. Yet these same persons are surprisingly content with moral, emotional and social pollution among the youth, and thus timidly counsel them, “Since you must have sex, use a condom.”

Recent studies on youth contraception and cohabitation should trigger a reassessment of the ‘C-word’ campaign, at least to counter false advertising. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2010 showed significant positive relationship outcomes for couples who delayed their sexual involvement until marriage.

Other social studies have shown strong correlation between early sexual experience or multiple sex partners and higher rates of marital instability. They conclude that young people who practice sexual restraint are more likely to later experience the benefits of marriage, including various desirable life outcomes associated with marriage such as greater financial stability, improved physical and mental health.

Condoms also have contraceptive failure rates. But the real deal-breaker on condoms is that every apparently-protected sexual act actually harms the character and commitment of the young person and their future relationships, as Glenn Stanton explains in his recent book, “The Ring makes all the difference.”

Why not embrace an approach that challenges and inspires the youth to live up to the great ideal of fidelity? This ideal marks the final uplifting scene of David Copperfield when David’s friend Agnes is revealed to be his true and faithful lover: “Oh Agnes, oh my soul, so may thy face be by me when I close my life. So may I, when realities are melting from me like the shadows…, still find thee near me, pointing upward!”

By Charles Kanjama
The author is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya
Published with permission from

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