instant" - but it is the practice of working there, and not the principle, that aggrieves him. He is, as Dickens was, "a child of excellent abilities, and with strong powers of observation, quick, eager, delicate and soon hurt bodily or mentally", and these are the factors which determine the injustice of his position, not the blanket wickedness of child labour. It does not seem to bother David that as he writes there are still children in the same position.

Commensurate with David’s coming to maturity is a lessening of the book’s early focus and drive. It is as if Dickens has expelled a great weight from his mind, and is therefore able to resume business as usual. As G K Chesterton writes, David Copperfield "begins in a new style and then slips back into an old one". The precision and unity of the earlier chapters give way to frequently less subtle episodes as David assumes greater control of his destiny. The arbitrariness of his early fortunes is what gives then their poignancy and immediacy, and as he progresses towards affluence the novel loses a good deal of its early impact. Coincidence, grotesque and farce play increasingly important roles in the plot, and the writing never regains the absolute confidence of tone that it has for the first twelve chapters.

Of course, David Copperfield is ostensibly autobiographical, and we must allow for the resultant solipsism; but this does not explain the almost total absence of general conclusions concerning howling abuses such as child labour, prison-schools, etc. The closest we come to sustained social satire is, curiously enough, the character of Uriah Heep. An uneasy parallel exists between David and Heep, which David seems to acknowledge in his immediate and profound loathing of him, and which is hinted at throughout the novel (for example, Uriah’s sleeping on David’s floor [chapter XXV] and his subsequent inhabitation of David’s old room at the Wickfields’). For the duration of the book David is as powerfully attracted to Steerforth as he is repelled by Heep, perhaps because they represent opposing social poles, to either of which he could have belonged but for fate. Indeed, at the end Heep reminds him that "[you were] the very scum of society… before anyone had charity on you". Heep is a product of the charitable schools system, thereby supposedly equipped to better himself. His briefcase, "vomiting papers" [at home in chapter XVII], amply attests to his willingness to work hard. However, he is also expected to maintain a constant sense of the impossibility of his actually achieving much, and an attitude of fawning gratitude towards the philanthropy of the system. This bitterly ironic duality is articulated when David upbraids him for professing humility so often. Heep replies that "…they used to teach at school (the same school where I picked up so much umbleness), from nine to eleven, that labour was a curse; and from eleven o’clock to one, that it was a blessing… You preach about as consistent as they did". Thus Uriah, the unchallenged villain of the novel, is a product of muddle-headed institutional philanthropy. When David visits him in prison at the end, his earlier rage at being unmasked as a criminal (in front of the massed ranks of ‘good’ characters) has lapsed into the humility of old- the only real method of communication that he knows.

Largely faultless though the young David may be, as he grows it becomes increasingly apparent what a poor judge of character he is, for all his purity of principle. The worst result of this failing is that he becomes an inadvertent agent of harm, mainly through his attachment to Steerforth; the best of it that through his attachment to Dora he comes to acknowledge his love for Agnes. At the novel’s opening we are told that David is to be "unlucky", a forecast whose truth at times seems to apply more to those who encounter him than to himself- especially the Peggottys. Steerforth, the novel’s most credible villain, is almost magical. We are told that "there was an ease in his manner… which I still believe to have borne a kind of enchantment with it". David adds that he suspects him "to have carried a spell with him to which it was a natural weakness to yield". The spell cannot be broken for David. That the overgrown, overbearing Steerforth is altogether larger than the naïve, small David can be seen in the early illustration ‘Steerforth and Mr. Mell’ (chapter VII). It is the influence of Steerforth that proves decisively negative on those around David.

We first encounter him through his name, "carved very deep and very often" into a door in the playground at Salem House, an appropriately domineering image. There is a sense of unspoken social superiority permeating Steerforth’s attitude to David. Steerforth consistently patronises him, thus keeping the interesting question of David’s social position before us. Agnes, the novel’s most angelic character, is also the only one to identify the latent evil in Steerforth, calling him a "bad angel". The scenario is symbolised when

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