John Irving speaking in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art when asked about parallels between David Copperfield and Jane Eyre and The Cider House Rules, spoke of his appreciation of the Victorian 'orphan novel'
I consider the orphan novel to be a really valuable contribution to Victorian literature but not only Victorian literature. This is a very deliberately David Copperfield kind of novel.
But he also cautioned into reading too much into any parallels between The Cider House Rules, Jane Eyre and David Copperfield, saying:
I made a point of steeping myself in some of these books so I could think about characters whose only reference was to them. I wanted to have Homer and Melony out in the world with these books as their only reference.
But at the same time I tried very hard, except for some playful examples, not to make literal parallels between this book and either Jane Eyre or David Copperfield. When I say ‘playful; Clara is an obvious admitted reference to David Copperfield’s mother. But I’m not very interested in that; that’s not the important thing to me.
When pushed on whether he wanted to invite readers to draw parallels he responded:
the parallels in this book to those novels are playful because they are so obvious. I’m not trying to conceal anything from the readers. The books are quoted obviously, heavy-handedly throughout, and so I’m chiefly interested in having a good time with those references.
But by association I certainly think the concerns of a writer like Bronte and the concerns of a writer like Dickens are far more interesting to me than the concerns of writers who are my contemporaries of at least more modern.
What else is more important to think about than whether you’re going to end up with kids who like you or hate you or that kind of thing? I’m always disappointed to see how little modern novels are about; how a small story is sufficient.
So he included the references for a variety of reasons, having read them as background himself, he wanted his characters to also have them as background when they went out into the world, and he wanted his storytelling to have a complexity which he feels is absent from many modern works.
:Richardson, S., & Irving, J. (1986). Interview with John Irving. Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, (10), 71-86. Retrieved August 30, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42744381