The Initiation of David Copperfield the Younger: A Ritual Passage in Three Acts

  • Carolyn Buckley LaRocque

Abstract

‘I am born.’ Thus Dickens opens one of the finest chronicles of liminality and ritual passage recorded in the English-speaking world. These most fictional of all liminal rites, the rites which contrive to transform boy into man through the symbol and artifice of dramatic action, are nowhere more clearly drawn than in Dickens’s famous account of the London-to-Dover trek of the young David Copperfield. In the boy’s passage from the captivity of a childhood smothered in the clutches of Murdstone and Grinby to the halcyon prospects of an adolescence under the wing of that guardian spirit of birth and family, the androgynous Aunt Betsey, each stage of these perennial rites is brought to life by Dickens with absolute precision.

Keywords

Dust Arena Tempo Harness Metaphor 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Lucien Pothet, ‘Mythe et tradition populaire dans l’imaginaire dickensien’, Jean Burgos (ed.), unfinished dissertation at the Sorbonne (Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1979). p. 228Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James M. Cox, ‘Remarks on the Sad Initiation of Huckleberry Finn’, in John B. Vickery (ed.), Myth and Literature, Contemporary Theory and Practice (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966) pp. 277–88;Google Scholar
  3. Robert Daly, ‘Liminality and Fiction in Irving, Cooper, Cather, Fitzgerald, and Gardner’, The Critical Legacy of Victor Turner, MLA Convention, Washington, DC, 28 Dec. 1984.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Mircea Eliade remarks on the survival of myth and oral tradition within the nineteenth-century novel in Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, Philip Mairet (trs.) (New York: Sheed & Ward, Harvill Press, 1961) p. 11;Google Scholar
  5. see René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, Patrick Gregory (trs.) (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972);Google Scholar
  6. Ronald Grimes, Beginnings in Ritual Studies (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1982).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    The relatively greater sophistication of these studies is evident in Girard’s Violence and the Sacred, in Grimes’s Beginnings in Ritual Studies, and in several of Turner’s works such as From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play; and Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974);Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    The ritual reading of the London-to-Dover trek is based primarily on description of these initiation rites in Arnold van Gennep’s The Rites of Passage, Monica B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (trs) (University of Chicago Press, 1969);Google Scholar
  9. Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1969);Google Scholar
  10. Yehudi Cohen’s The Transition from Childhood to Adolescence: Cross-Cultural Studies of Initiation Ceremonies, Legal Systems, and Incest Taboos (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1964).Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, in The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud, A. A. Brill (ed. and trs.) (New York: Random House, 1938) pp. 913–14.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Charles Dickens, The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery, George H. Ford (ed.) (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1958).Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Eliade, Myths, Rites, and Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, Wendell C. Beane and William C. Doty (eds) (New York: Harper & Row, 1976) vol. 1, p. 182.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Carol Hanbery MacKay 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn Buckley LaRocque

There are no affiliations available

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