The Representation Of Family in Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield“ And “Hard Times“
“‘My dear friend Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘accidents will occur in the best-regulated families” – Charles Dickens
As Mr. Micawber stated in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, there is no family that has a perfect or trouble-free life. Throughout history family’s role in the society, as well its definition, has been changing. Many people are acquainted with the fact that Victorian families tended to achieve certain ideal. However, the reality is probably somewhat different. The prudishness, strictness, restraining and firmness are all characteristics frequently used to describe people who lived in the Victorian Britain. Taking that into account, it highly contradicts with the image of true domestic values. Claudia Nelson (2007) demonstrates that for the Victorians, as for ourselves, the way we conceptualize the ideal family have an important influence on individual psychology and the internal workings of actual families as well as on public and political debates. Many factors influence the role of family, one them being the social, political and economic situation in a country.
In this thesis I will explore the representation of family in two novels by English novelist Charles Dickens. The theme of family is often regarded as Dickens’ specialty, and he is considered an icon of Victorian respectability and of, in particular, so-called Victorian family values (Furneaux, 2010). In an 1855 review for Blackwood’s, Dickens was praised by Margaret Oliphant as the pre-eminent novelist of the middle-class family:
The middle class in itself is a realm of infinite gradations. But nowhere does the household hearth burn brighter – nowhere is the family love so warm – the natural bonds so strong; and this is the ground which Mr. Dickens occupies par excellence – the field of his triumphs, from which he may defy all his rivals without fear”.
The narratives that I have chosen are David Copperfield and Hard Times. Although there are many different families in these novels, I will focus on three families from each novel. Each of these families is different and plays significant role in understanding the novels’ plot. However, some other characters and families may be mentioned in order to thoroughly explain certain aspects relating to the ‘central’ families. The main aim of this paper is to find out whether the portrayal of family in Charles Dickens’ novels David Copperfield and Hard Times reflects the social situation of the nineteenth century England society. One of the reasons for setting out on this project is a book by Catherine Waters, Dickens and the Politics of the Family, in which she explores family matters in major novels by Dickens, but leaves out David Copperfield and Hard Times. Exploring the portrayal of family in these novels will provide further insight into the Victorian family, as well as into the social situation at that time. Furthermore, since David Copperfield is regarded as Dickens’ autobiography, studying the theme of family may reveal and justify his own attitudes toward family. Many history books and articles have been written on the subject of family and studying them may be useful to understand particular situations from the novels, hence the methodology used will be comparing and evaluating this information, together with my own expectations. In other words, the novels’ characters, plots, family structures and other scholarly literature on this subject will be consulted in order to find out to what extent does Dickens’ fiction represent the real-life Victorian family.
Firstly, I will give a brief overview of the historical background because it helps us understand the factors which influenced family life. After that, a short account of the definition of family will be presented, followed by Charles Dickens’ portrait, with the emphasis on his own family.
The second section is devoted to exploring families in David Copperfield. In this novel, we get acquainted with all kinds of families and family ties that affect the protagonist’s life. The major topic is marriage in which spouses are condemned to complex lives and death is a way of escape or relief from an oppressive marriage for spouses in the novel. Also, the question of stepparents and untraditional families is tackled.
The third section offers a depiction of families in Hard Times. In this narrative, we are presented with the industrial revolution’s tough impact on families and their suffering due to its cruelty. Therefore, family, as the nucleus of English society, is represented as the key to bettering that society. Also, Dickens’ dealing with the question of divorce and failure of social paternalism will be elucidated.
Lastly, the findings of this project will be summarized and a short conclusion will be provided. Hopefully, this work will contribute to understanding an important aspect of social life in the age of change and, once more, attest the importance of Dickens’ works.
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