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A Double Bildungsroman in "David Copperfield"

A Double Bildungsroman in "David Copperfield"

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Published by Adam Fieled
A discussion of the "Bildungsroman" novelistic form as regards Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield."
A discussion of the "Bildungsroman" novelistic form as regards Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield."

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Published by: Adam Fieled on Jul 18, 2013
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08/11/2013

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Fieled 1
A Double
Bildungsroman 
in
David Copperfield 
The
 Bildungsroman
, a fictional account of formation and/or education, took rootand gained popularity as the Modern, industrial era developed in Europe in the lateeighteenth and nineteenth century. Franco Moretti has argued that these twodevelopments, the Bildungsroman in fiction and the Modern, industrial era in society,were not separate and discreet; the Bildungsroman developed and gained in popularity precisely because it was a reflection of the changes that Modernity foisted on society.These changes were often reflected in the character of individual subjects; from areliance on family and tradition, subjects now found themselves
“dismantling the
 
continuity between generations”(Moretti, 555). As the rules of the past ceased to be
 useful, the subject found himself more free, or, as Moretti put it, mo
re “mobile”. A rise
 in societal standing, unthinkable to previous generations, could be attained.However, with possibilities of ascent came the converse possibility of a fall fromgrace; Modernity offered possibilities but no promises. Mobility begot insecurity in the
modern subject; Moretti expresses this insecurity as “an interiority not only fuller than
 
 before, but also…perennially dissatisfied and restless”(Moretti, 555). The Bildungsroman
 thus presented a modern subject who could, possibly, make a name for himself 
1
, shakingoff a sketchy or undesirable past. This subject was also prone to vicissitudes which would
1
 
I use “himself” not to be sexist but for convenience.
 
 
Fieled 2not have been a factor for members of an earlier, more traditional generation. Formationand education were involved with the struggle to master these vicissitudes. They could bechallenges to the outward or inward self; they could involve many others or just one other  person; always, however, subjects reconciled themselves to a challenge in order toovercome it. In this manner, subject
s “interiorize
(d)
contradiction”(Moretti, 559),
  put themselves on solid footing in society, and achieved a degree of mastery.Moretti posits two kinds of Bildungsromans
 — 
 
the “classification” model and the
 
“transformation” model.
In the classification model, we see the dynamism of theindividual subject within limits; everything points to a single ending, has its place, andfew strings are left untied. The transformation model balances itself on open-endedness; not every contradiction is resolved, equivocal circumstances may persist, andthe su
 bject‟s footing may not be secure. Charles Dickens‟
s
 David Copperfield 
isunquestionably a Bildungsroman; a cursory reading would seem to place it squarely
in Moretti‟s “transformation” ca
tegory
2
. David‟s journey is more of a zig
-zag than astraight line; he is involved in myriad situations with myriad personages from all walks of life and societal rungs. It is difficult to feel that we are being unequivocally led to asingle place; we are led through (and to) many places.
Had David‟s journey been the
 
only of its kind in this book, as might seem to be the case, we could apply Moretti‟s
 transformation model label without, perhaps, too many scruples.There is, however, a second Bildungsroman in
 David Copperfield 
; the formation,rise and fall of Uriah Heep. As the novel is narrated by its main protagonist, we only get
Heep‟s narrative
through D
avid‟s expression. David has some
power to manipulate our 
2
Though it does end in a marriage, which Moretti associates with th
e “classification” model.
 
 
Fieled 3 perceptions of Heep, and he takes every opportunity of doing so. Heep
is a “red
-headed
animal”
3
; David makes every attempt to make Heep look bestial. However, Uriah iscanny enough to manage a rise in power and societal standing which
rivals David‟s own.
 Both David and Uriah have been formed by their experience of poverty; both are hard-working and patient; both wind-up vying for the love of the
same woman. Yet David‟s
 
(and Dickens‟s) power as narrator undermines Heep‟s standing in the book. Heep
 is presented as unequivocally evil a
nd conniving; David‟s tone rarely
wavers. It doesnot come as a shock that Heep fares poorly. His Bildungsroman has been presented
to us a “classification” model type; everything Heep does leads him to the jail cell where
 he eventually descends; events seem to lead us to the conclusion that this is what hedeserves. Moretti posits that every Bildungsroman has elements of both models;
 David Copperfield 
 presents a more or less complete instance of (rather precisely) both.
Uriah Heep is not necessarily an unambiguous character; it is David‟s narrative
rendering of him
4
that makes clear what his fate must be. It is a
 singular 
rendering; Heep
is represented as the “Official Villain of the novel”(Rogers, 12). Because David is living
 out his own, more open-ended Bildungsroman, it seems that Heep must stand in stark contrast both to everything that he is and everything he desires to be. Yet, willy-nilly,Heep grows, gains in power and influence. As David, through open-ended development,must rise, so Uriah, through his singular treachery, must fall. The two Bildungsromans both have the same narrator; in one instance, he is the protagonist, in the other, a bystander; sometimes tangentially involved, sometimes directly. The novel boasts a
3
 
This phrase is taken from the title of Tara MacDonald‟s article „red
-headed aninmal: Race, Sexuality, and
Dickens‟s Uriah Heep.
4
I refer to David, rather than Dickens, as the narrator, for the sake of convenience.

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