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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Free Book Notes
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David takes this change in fortune very seriously. He thinks he should explain to Mr. Dick what's happened, but this throws trusting Mr. Dick into such grief that David learns to keep his worries to himself. There are many small adjustments to be made. Now that Betsey has rented out her cottage, she moves in with David, while Mr. Dick sleeps in the extra bed at Peggotty's rooms. Betsey begins taking ale instead of wine for her nightly drink. She tells David that she wouldn't take the money Peggotty tried to lend them, but now she finally approves of "Barkis" (she's still prejudiced against the name Peggotty). Peggotty has told Betsey about David's love for Dora, and Betsey's hardheaded view of the situation forces David for the first time to consider whether Dora is silly (he can't actually deny it). Betsey passes a shrewd, though loving, judgment, sadly calling David "blind." That night, David mulls over his problem; now that he has no money, it'll be even harder to win Dora's hand.


Dickens loved to describe disordered states of mind, like David's drunkenness, his lovesick frenzy, or his nightmares. He knew how the human mind worked, without the jargon of modern psychology. In this dream, Dickens jumbles together familiar figures in David's life and his underlying anxieties, all following the madcap logic of the dream-world.

David goes to Spenlow and asks for a refund of the money his aunt paid for him to join the office. You have to admire David's pluck in facing up to Spenlow, but Spenlow, hiding behind Jorkins' name, won't budge. David pleads with meek Mr. Jorkins himself, but he's under Spenlow's control and won't contradict him. David heads home in despair. His spirits are restored by a visit from Agnes. Though she's as serene as ever, Agnes has bad news, too: Heep is now a partner and has moved with his mother into the Wickfields' house. Heep seems to be taking over gradually, like a disease or a fungus.

Though David is depressed, Betsey is buoyant. She boldly tells off Mrs. Crupp, as David never could do. Then she explains briskly to Agnes and David how she lost her money, referring to herself in the third person, as "Betsey." She kindly assures Agnes that Mr. Wickfield had nothing to do with her bad investment. Agnes, too, lifts David's spirits. She recommends a perfect second job for David: as secretary to Dr. Strong, who has retired to London to work on his Dictionary. As she straightens up the apartment, her touch is like magic.

But then Mr. Wickfield and Uriah arrive, and David views the degeneration of Agnes' father for himself-and witnesses afresh Uriah's repulsive power. Betsey's tactless remarks to Uriah underscore his repulsiveness, yet no matter how rude she is, Uriah twists it to his advantage. Watching Agnes lovingly tending her father, David admires her more than ever. Because she's always been his confidante, he talks to her about Dora. Yet unconsciously he views Dora as a slight fairy-figure, while Agnes is a radiant source of strength. David the narrator drops an intriguing hint about what he would later know. Then, suggestively, he ends the chapter with a street beggar's unnerving echo of Betsey's words-"Blind, blind, blind!"

The next morning, David seems changed. He's taken a romantic view of his situation-that he's fighting to win Dora-and this gives him energy. He strides up to Highgate to meet with Dr. Strong, who's as absentminded as ever. Ominously, Jack Maldon is back from India, and he, too, has not changed.


Jack is careless and callous, just like Steerforth at his worst. When Annie refuses to go out with him, her unhappiness is suspiciously similar to Emily's, and Dr. Strong's gentle concern for her is like Dan Peggotty's for his niece. David watches Jack and Annie suspiciously, now that he understands sexual treachery.

Traddles also comes through for David in his new situation. Traddles, of course, is used to hard work and poverty, and he can give good advice. He helps David get started learning shorthand so he can become a parliamentary reporter. He also helps Mr. Dick find work copying documents, and Dick is childishly delighted that he, too, can earn money.

Something has even turned up for Mr. Micawber, David soon learns. The Micawbers invite David and Traddles over to celebrate, but David is taken aback to hear that Micawber's new job is with Uriah Heep. David tactfully says nothing about Heep, while Mr. Micawber runs on happily, calling Uriah "my friend Heep." The Micawbers speculate that Mr. Micawber will probably become a judge, now that he's in the legal profession. Traddles tries to explain that this is impossible, the way the courts are set up, but the Micawbers ignore him, lost in their pipe dreams. Mr. Micawber makes a big show of tallying up what he owes Traddles, then proudly hands him an IOU, as if that paid the debt.

At the beginning of Chapter XXXVII, David quickly shows you how useful and practical Betsey and Peggotty have become in these new circumstances. Encouraged, David goes to the Mills' house to tell Dora about his changed prospects. But when he dramatically announces that he is now a beggar, she can't understand what he means, and weeps with fright. David pours out a stream of romantic statements, but she still doesn't absorb what he's telling her. She agrees to be poor with him, then insists that Jip must have his mutton chop every day. David admits to himself that he's a little disappointed in Dora. Though he's charmed by her childishness, he tries to suggest that she learn some cooking and housekeeping, only to trigger another flood of tears. Even Miss Mills, with her cliches about the "Cottage of content," comprehends David's news better than Dora does. But with surprising insight, she also warns David not to expect Dora ever to become domestic.


By this time, David is too much in love to help himself, and Dora's shallowness torments him. Her agitation, too, seems genuine. Sheltered and spoiled, she simply cannot understand David's position, but she does want to understand. She must care for him because she's so frightened by anything that might destroy their love. How has the narrator's tone of voice changed? (Compare it to the earlier passages about Dora.) What is the significance of this change?

David's old fairy-tale images go out of control; he sees himself as the "Monster" in Dora's "Fairy's bower." (What deeper psychological or sexual meaning might this image of the invading monster have?) David is still fascinated by her singing and chatter, but now that he has taken a serious attitude toward the rest of his life, he begins to see how inadequate his romantic vision of love is. He ends this installment as he began it, worrying.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Online Summary

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