Dickens: Wilkins Micawber and David Copperfield

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  • Topic: Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Betsey Trotwood
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The Novel of Upbringing in the Creative
Oeuvre of Charles Dickens (based on the analysis of David Copperfield)

1. The development of the novel of upbringing in the English literature.

The emergence of the literary genre of the novel of upbringing (Germ. Bildungsroman) in the English literature was greatly influenced by the translation of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship in 1823 [5, 7]. However, the origins of it may be traced as far back as Enlightment novels of Richardson, Fielding and Smollett, and perhaps even Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Following the ideas of John Locke (1632-1704), the English philosopher to whom we owe the theory of sensible experience, the representatives of the Enlightment period entertained the belief that only an all-rounded education, harmonious with nature, could inscript on that “tabula rasa” of man his future role as a worthy citizen of a society governed by reason. The genre continued its development in the 19th century in the works of Ch. Dickens, W. Thackeray, G. Meredith, Th. Hardy, and S. Butler in the frame of the realistic novel and well into the 20th century where its traces can be found in Realism as well as in Modernism in the works of J. Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and J. Galsworthy, A. Bennett. Among the main reasons for the flourishment of the novel of upbringing in the English literature X puts the interest to the ways in which man’s character is formed under the influence of the society. The researcher lists the following genre-constituting features of the novel of upbringing: • Biographical time prevails over historical time, which is the result of a more general tendency of the lyric mode prevailing over the epic one; • Textual time and place are governed by the idea of learning by experience, which can only be exercised in a certain spatio-temporal continuity. This results in the marked periods or cycles in the description of the character’s coming-of-age, until his self-identification and socialization can take place and his “spiritual development somehow stabilizes” [5, 5]. Among these periods the researcher distinguishes three main structure-forming constituents of the classical novel of upbringing: childhood and teenage years, the first major conflict caused by the character leaving their home, years of learning and travel, when the character is “tried” by life and forms his unique experience and, finally, the self-identification phase. The character’s spiritual movement can be conducted upwards (the positive model) as well as downwards (“career novel” [5, 7]). And if the upward movement is characterized by the attainment of the merging with the existing historical society and undertaking a self-fulfilling social role, the downward movement often results in the inevitable spiritual or even physical death of the character reflecting the individual’s personal upheaval against traditional society’s values and roles in an attempt to come to terms with his unique existential needs. In English literature the first type can be retrieved in the classical realistic 19th century novel, the second – in the literature of the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries [5, 7-8].

2. The novel of upbringing in the creative work of Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) has been pronounced by E. Wilson “A Novelist for All Seasons”. The peculiarity of his complex and vast creative heritage springs from the combination of the esthetic principles of critical (or high) Realism and Romantic, sentimental, didactic and fantastic elements and motives in which his work is abundant. According to Ivasheva, who supports in this case E. Johnson’s opinion, Dickens’s work is distinguished by the tremendous “intensiveness of feeling”, the same intensiveness which manifested itself both in the writer’s personal life and social position. Dickens’s critical and democratic art was directed at those features of historical time and society...
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