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Countering the “contract-bargain”: Credit, debt, and the moral economy in David Copperfield

Ballinger, Gill



This essay argues that personal credit and debt relations play a vital role in David Copperfield. David's circle of family and friends is economically interdependent; the way this group functions does not endorse the concept of the possessive individual, which is a central tenet of modern economic thought. Instead, personal relations inform the credit individuals give one another as part of a moral economy in the novel. In particular, Micawber's “pecuniary liabilities” function within this system of exchange that relies on trust and mutual obligation. The interdependent unit that Micawber is part of can be linked usefully to older systems of exchange prioritizing gifting behaviors and the obligations these incur. Conversely, the portrayals of Heep and Steerforth serve to expose self-interested economic behavior that denies the claims the moral economy makes.


Ballinger, G. (2015). Countering the “contract-bargain”: Credit, debt, and the moral economy in David Copperfield. Dickens Studies Annual, 46(1), 167-184.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 12, 2015
Journal Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction
Print ISSN 0084-9812
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 46
Issue 1
Pages 167-184
Keywords Dickens, David Copperfield, credit, debt
Public URL
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