In David Copperfield, Dickens is attempting to create a masculine version of the domestic novel by writing a novel about a male writer who successfully transforms domestic space into economic space, while retaining the domestic novel’s traditional association with moral uplift. Dickens is claiming that a man can write a better domestic novel than a woman can, which provokes his contemporaries as well as ours into accusing Dickens of gender confusion: both have a habit of calling Dickens “effeminate.” The violence of these reactions should lead us to question the role of the male writer in the nineteenth century.
“Re-gendering the Domestic Novel in David Copperfield,” Emily Rena-Dozier (2010)
This essay first examines a variety of complex Victorian responses to the promise and problem of a conjugal heaven and then unfolds the eschatology of David Copperfield. The seemingly conservative language of Victorian angelology unexpectedly allows for David’s fantasy that he will share heaven with his two sequential wives.
“Soul-Mates: David Copperfield’s Angelic Bigamy,” Maia McAleavey (2010)
The strongly plotted novel David Copperfield distinguishes itself from [Mr. Dick’s] kites it describes, though Mr. Dick’s name pointedly invites a comparison to Dickens’s own writing. Ultimately Mr. Dick presents a “line of flight”—a schizophrenic alternative to the patterns of writing, subjectivity, desire, and temporality embraced by the other characters and the novel as a whole.
“Desiring-Production and the Novel,” Lorri Neandra (2010)
Dickens’s figures belong to poetry, like figures of Dante or Shakespeare, in that a single phrase, either by them or about them, may be enough to set them wholly before us.
Selected Essays, T.S. Eliot
Rosa can be understood, then, not only as typifying but as allegorizing Dickens’s means of characterization in general. This is particularly notable in the scar, the expressive use of the scar, and the gestures surrounding it. First of all, the scar, Rosa’s characteristic feature, overwhelms the whole of her character: the scar is overcharged with expressiveness in relation to her other features, and her representation is overcharged with the feature of the scar. Secondly, the essential features of Rosa’s character are set against the ego or secondary processes of the personality or individual. Thirdly, like many of Dickens’s characters’ characteristic traits, Rosa’s take the form of an impediment, a distortion or disfiguration of realistically, mimetically represented character. This last quality did not fail to unsettle those of his audience who expected mimetic characterization or to bring much criticism upon Dickens from his bourgeois contemporaries…. The scar inflicted upon mimesis is thus not simply an aggressive gesture but a means of, as it were, subverting the mimetic bind on subjectivity in order to achieve an expressiveness repressed by the very form of realism. In the gesture of defacing Rosa’s portrait—precisely the gesture which marks the representation with its subjectivity (“The painter hadn’t made the scar, but I made it”)—Dickens repeats his own desire to subvert the image of totality implied in mimetic representation by exposing the scar, the aporia, of the subject that it represses.
“The ‘Unbearable Realism of a Dream’: The Subject of Portraits in Austen and Dickens,” Alexander Bove (2007)
In The Novel and the Police, D.A. Miller biefly traces the several stages of David’s early disciplining (212-13), and goes on to show in his profession as writer is at once liberated and imprisoned. What is missing from this story is how the various forms of overt discipline to which David is subject in the frist twelve chapters–family, education, and work–reappear, disguised as liberal humanitarianism…. In other words, David’s arrival at the comfortable middle-class haven of Dover Cottage and his subsequent experiences, far from being “another beginning” as the title to chapter 15 states, is a continuation of the more obviously coercive disciplining suffered at the hands of his early persecutors.
“Foucault, Dickens and David Copperfield,” Gareth Cordery (1998)
Dickens shows how a name imposed in the economy of power and desire pushes a person into an expression of that name. but he also shows how the essence to which a truen name refers pushes back on that economy with the moral force of truth.
“The Gentleman’s True Name: David Copperfield and the Philosophy of Naming,” Joseph Bottum (1995)