The novel is set in 19th-century England. Like other 19th-century works, Dickens's works are usually considered in the context of Victorian culture. Queen Victoria's life lasted for most of the 19th century (she died in 1901), and she ruled England for well over half of the century. Published between 1849 and 1850, the novel is set somewhat earlier. In fact, much of David's childhood likely took place before Victoria was queen. It is loosely based on Charles Dickens's life, and he was born in 1812 (Victoria was crowned in 1837). Still, it can be read through the broad lens of Victorian England's social landscape, which was already building before 1837 and which was established by the time Dickens was writing.
London and Canterbury are some of the most prominent settings. Like other Dickens characters (especially Oliver Twist), David Copperfield travels around a bit trying to make it in the world. There is less emphasis on the difference between city life and country life than there is in Oliver Twist, but it is worth noting that Agnes lives in Canterbury, outside the bustling city of London. Whereas life in the city helps David establish himself professionally, he finds domestic bliss in more of a rural setting. This way of mapping domesticity onto the country and industry onto the city is not unique to this novel, nor even to Charles Dickens. It was a popular take in 19th-century British literature because it was a time when industrialization had led to the rapid growth of cities. That rapid growth brought opportunity, but it also brought both founded and unfounded fears about crime and corruption. By locating Agnes a bit out of the fray of London, Dickens plays into the idea that the country is a safe haven from the city.
No scenes are set in Australia, but the British colony serves as an important horizon where poor characters can go to make it in the British empire. The novel is ambivalent about the extent to which it is possible to carve out success for oneself in 19th-century England. But as critical as it is of class divides in England, the novel takes a generally positive attitude toward England's imperial expansion as a solution to problems at "home."