Victorian novels often include two contrasting archetypes: the Angel of the Home and the Fallen Woman. The Angel of the Home is a virtuous and selfless heroine whose actions align with the ideals of traditional Victorian femininity, whereas the Fallen Woman is a shameful figure who is her very antithesis. If Agnes Wickfield is David Copperfield’s Angel of the Home, then Little Em’ly is the text’s Fallen Woman. 

She is first introduced to the reader as a little girl when young David goes to stay with Peggotty family. David is quite taken with Little Em’ly and fancies himself in love with her. The two children take walks on the beach together which is where Little Em’ly first tells David about her dream of becoming a lady, illustrating her understanding of and desire for social mobility. Little Em’ly becomes engaged to Ham Peggotty when she is older, but their wedding never comes to pass because Em’ly is seduced by the wealthy James Steerforth and runs away with him to continental Europe. Based on Emily’s previous desire to escape the trappings of lower-class life, it can be assumed that she allowed herself to be seduced by Steerforth because she naively thought that he would marry her. Steerforth’s treachery renders Em’ly one of David Copperfield’s most tragic characters, and Dickens is surprisingly sympathetic towards Em’ly, given the social mores of the nineteenth century. He depicts Em’ly as a pitiful character who is deserving of empathy, and he allows his fallen heroine to eventually reunite with her beloved uncle. However, Dickens’s sympathy only goes so far. He may give Em’ly and Martha (the text’s other Fallen Woman) a happy ending, but they have to leave England and emigrate to Australia in order to obtain it. Their decision to leave their native country in pursuit of a better life implies that there is no place for Em’ly, and women like Em’ly, in respectable British society no matter how much she wishes to rehabilitate herself.