David Copperfield’s Dietary Discipline

Manliness in the Victorian period was defined by control and contemporary advice books frequently claim that one route to achieving this was through the diet.  Therefore, the first section of this paper will seek to define what an ‘ideal’ manly diet consisted of using information found in a variety of contemporary sources, such as newspapers, periodicals, and cookbooks, and it will then consider how this is reflected in Dickens’ bildungsroman.

David Copperfield is a novel that is concerned with self-discovery but this journey is represented, in part, through David Copperfield’s choice of food and ability to appropriately manage his hunger. In his early years David Copperfield is frequently cheated out of the food that is rightfully his and, as he slowly matures into a young adult, his thoughts of vegetarianism alongside his inability to eat must be overcome so that he can become master of his life and household. Focusing on David Copperfield’s consumption of food, this paper will explore how the gradual self-regulation of his life is mirrored in his gradual control over his diet which enables him to become an ‘ideal’ type of masculinity.

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