Dickens pp 186-196 | Cite as

David Copperfield as Psychological Fiction (1959)

  • Mark Spilka


When we speak of psychological fiction, we generally mean the use of probing methods, like introspection or analysis; or we mean enveloping techniques, like point of view and stream of consciousness, which simulate the flow of inner conflict. But there is another kind of fiction, the projective novel, in which surface life reflects the inner self. David Copperfield belongs to that tradition. As the hero views the world, his feelings fuse with outward action, and his selection of events advances inward meaning. Franz Kafka saw this when he called Amerika his ‘Dickens novel’ in method and detail. By ‘method’ he apparently meant the dream-effects in Copperfield: the infantile perspective on a world controlled by elders, and the hero’s progress through that world toward ultimate redemption. As Kafka knew, the childlike view connects unconscious tensions with the conscious scene. Because the child lacks self-awareness, and because he fails to understand his elders, his bafflement aligns two realms of feeling; and in a world of harsh repression, his need for inner growth becomes directive and informing. In his early fiction, Kafka borrowed about six stages of that growth from Copperfield plus two regressions. These ‘imitations’ alone suggest a formal sequence for the novel; but keeping them in reserve, consider simply the method which he so admired, especially as it strengthens early chapters.


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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

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  • Mark Spilka

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