"Janet! Donkeys!": Betsey Trotwood's Unconventional Transformation of the Mother in David Copperfield
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For a minor comic character, Betsey Trotwood of David Copperfield has received a large amount of critical attention. Betsey’s firmness and her eccentricities cause many readers and critics to react negatively to her, but her kindness and her success as a single mother to David and Dick make her a likeable character at the same time, earning her quite a bit of positive critical attention. The combination of these unlikely traits in a female character allows Betsey to transcend the typical Victorian motherhood role. Dickens constructed Betsey as a character capable of growth and change, but one who never loses the ability to stand up for herself and thrive in a culture that expects women to stay in the home. To offer an explanation for the contradictory critical reactions she evokes, this paper examines the traditional Victorian motherhood role, Dickens’s experiences with his own mother, and Betsey’s unique position. Ultimately, the progressive characteristics that Dickens assigned to her allow for her to be a successful single mother in a world where women, wives, and mothers have little autonomy.