David Copperfield

David Copperfield Trials and Tribulations of the Victorian Era

While David Copperfield centers on the growth and journey of an individual, Charles Dickens also created many novels dealing with the social issues of his time in England, known as the Victorian Era. In these books, such as Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens also tends to concentrate on an individual (such as Oliver) but also writes about the issues facing many Victorian families. He certainly had plenty of material to work with. During the time that Dickens was writing, London was undergoing the Industrial Revolution, and while this period greatly modernized business and the manufacturing industry in many ways, it also presented many new and serious problems, from financial instability and child labor issues to disease and sanitation lapses to new patterns of female suppression.

Because so many things could be manufactured so cheaply due to the revolution, wages plummeted, leaving many families extremely poor and unable to rely solely on the income of parents. This meant that children were forced to work as well, in equally bad and sometimes worse conditions, and this experience often prevented them from maintaining good health, let alone receiving a good education. Although there were workhouses where families in dire situations could go to receive help, the conditions there were just as awful, and families were often split up. Yet, people often had no choice but to take whatever help they could get, and this meant sacrificing a healthy family atmosphere. Dickens gives the relief system an especially harsh critique in Oliver Twist.

Disease ran rampant during this time as well, for many people were drinking the water into which sanitation was dumped. Sanitation was not a priority, with sewage being dumped into the Thames River, resulting in an awful smell that would be known as "The Great Stink of 1858." Machinery in factories proved to be very dangerous in itself, and there was no health insurance to cover those who were unfortunate enough to get into an accident.

During the Victorian Era, the suppression of women was severe by today’s standards. Women were expected to be the perfect housewives: quiet and exceedingly loyal to their husbands while caring for the house and perhaps even working to support their families. Even though they sometimes worked, they generally were expected to limit themselves to the domestic sphere. It was unthinkable for them to participate in public matters or to even have opinions on public matters. When considering women’s choices in the novel, it is important to remember that those choices were a far cry from today, when women not only vote but succeed in public office and every aspect of society—and are expected to succeed.

The Victorian Age had its Hollywood glamour, with its times of extravagance and opulence in clothing, architecture, food, and so on. However, behind the upper-class prosperity were millions of families who were suffering or oppressed, and this was a main reason that Charles Dickens wrote. He was exposing serious social and cultural issues, not just intriguing personal stories of love and loss. Dickens touched nerves everywhere; he has been loved and revered by millions of readers, both in his home country and abroad, in both his time and ours.