Andrew Willson, “Vagrancy and the Fantasy of Unproductive Writing in David Copperfield” (pp. 192–217)

Recent criticism of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849–50) has often drawn attention to the eponymous character’s rise to respectable and productive professional authorship. This essay, however, considers the fact that one of David’s most formative experiences, the flight from London to Dover that removes him from the blacking warehouse and sets him on the path to a middle-class life, casts him as an instance of the most disrespectable, unproductive member of Victorian society: the vagrant who chooses not to work. As invested, then, as David Copperfield is in promoting traditional Victorian values such as earnestness and industriousness, it is equally committed to recuperating the value of unproductive acts in an industrial society. Yet, as the novel itself is evidence of Dickens’s abundant productivity, it clearly cannot do so without complications. From the complexities inherent in Dickens’s competing fascinations with participating in and escaping from the economic sphere, this essay argues, a picture emerges of the imaginative tools that Dickens uses to conceptualize literary value and provide solutions for his vexed relationship to the market. In David Copperfield, Dickens uses David’s vagrancy and mediating effects as narrator to suggest that even though his own novel is produced for the market, it is not defined by the market’s logic.

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