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Comparing Dickens's View of Children in David Copperfield and Great Expectations

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Dickens's View of Children Exposed in David Copperfield and Great Expectations

Of all Dickens' works, David Copperfield and Great Expectations are considered to be his most autobiographical. Philip Collins writes, "Great Expectations, indeed, though overtly less autobiographical than David Copperfield, is a more searching and self-critical account of Dickens' own inner impulses" (178). It is also true that both of these novels have children as main characters. Dickens had a real talent for creating child characters in his works. In some cases, Dickens' own life history is so closely linked with his fiction, that in order to understand Dickens' interest in the child character, it is critical to be familiar with the major events of his life, as well as how he viewed childhood in general.

Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, to middle class parents. He was the second child, and the first son, of eight children. His father, John Dickens, was an Admiralty clerk. He made a reasonable amount of money but was poor in handling his financial endeavors. In 1824, when the family plunged into debt, John was sent to debtors' prison at Marshalsea Prison. Charles, at age twelve, was sent to a Warren's Blacking House, to manufacture shoe polish. In The Man Charles Dickens, Edward Wagenknect looks at how Charles' experience with the blacking house had a deep impact on him:

Charles seems to have been at this time, abnormally sensitive with some dim prescience of what was in store for him, and he suffered terribly, not only from his uncomfortable surroundings, but even more from the consciousness that he was getting no opportunity to develop his capacities and -...

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...t drawn to portraying children beset by suffering and evil" (117). Dickens also created these characters to testify to the mistreatment of children in Victorian society. Due to his success as an author, Dickens, in many ways, successfully took up the plight of children by creating characters that dew attention and sympathy from his readers. In his works he gave children a voice that they desperately needed, yet never had before.

Works Cited

Andrews, Malcolm. Dickens and the Grown-up Child. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1994.

Collins, Philip. Dickens and Education. New York: St. Martin's P, 1964.

Rawlins, Jack P. "Great Expectations: Dickens and the Betrayal of the Child." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 23 (1983): 667-683.

Tomlin, R.W.F., ed. Charles Dickens 1812-1870. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.
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