Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis opens by arguing that Mr. Dick, the companion of Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield, exhibits the full range of traits justifying a diagnosis of autism. For a diagnostic tool by which to assess autism, the discussion relies on the standard benchmarks of this disorder set by the current edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is the first study to recognize Mr. Dick's characterization as autistic.
A diagnosis of autism challenges some earlier scholars who have argued that Mr. Dick suffers from one form or another of schizophrenia. The shortcomings of a diagnosis of schizophrenia in his case are discussed. The portrayal of Mr. Dick's behaviours, the progression of his condition over time, and his responsiveness to certain programs of care all point to autism as the most credible diagnosis of Mr. Dick's disability.
Though the medical establishment formally recognized autism only in 1943, retrospective diagnoses of some individuals of the nineteenth century are canvassed to illustrate that autism existed in London (and elsewhere) in Dickens' time. How Dickens may have become aware of individuals with this condition is discussed.
The portrayal of Betsey Trotwood as caregiver for Mr. Dick shows the influence of "moral therapy," a relatively new treatment in that era for those deemed insane. Dickens' affirmation of this therapy is traced in other of his writings as well. It is shown that Dickens' depiction of Mr. Dick's life, and the progress he makes through the course of the novel, challenge the widely held assumption of the day that domestic settings were inferior to institutions in eliciting improvement in individuals who were mentally impaired.
Dickens' moral vision in David Copperfield bodies forth as endorsing a heterogeneous mixture of individuals in the community, including those with serious cognitive impairments, for the novel illustrates how Mr. Dick's disability allows him to achieve what no one else in the novel can accomplish-a reconciliation of Dr. and Mrs. Strong.
Gill, Penny, "The Autistic Mr. Dick of David Copperfield" (2004). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5937.
McMaster University Library