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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Free Book Notes
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Being married is strange for David. Now that the courtship is over, he doesn't quite know what to do with Dora.


Dora's always seemed like a child or a doll, not a woman. David's courtship has been full of romantic images, rather than physical desire. You've seen him kiss Dora's "rosebud" mouth only a couple of times. In Victorian society, girls were often sheltered from sex (and Dora hasn't even had a mother to tell her the facts of life). Dickens is never explicit about sex, but part of David's uncertainty may arise from the awkwardness of their new physical relationship.

David may not deal with the reality of sex, but he does talk about the reality of housekeeping, which is equally revealing. Their servant Mary Anne is dishonest and incompetent, and that's the cause of their first quarrel. (Ominously, this is the first scene you see dramatized from their marriage.) Dora is hurt by David's criticism of her housekeeping, and accuses him of being mean. Some readers think Dora is being silly and David is weak not to scold her more. Others think David is being unfair to Dora, and he should know her better. That's the attitude Betsey takes when she stops by that night. Betsey has grown kinder and gentler. She says loving things about Dora, and she is tactful as she points out to David the realities of his marriage. She also wisely refuses to interfere.

David and Dora soon make up, but the housekeeping doesn't improve. They seem to have no control over the situation: servants, stores, even cookbooks automatically sabotage them. David describes the disorder in a dry but helpless tone of voice. Household objects seem to have a life of their own. Though Dora serves a badly cooked meal when Traddles comes to dinner, David is still too enchanted by her to scold her. That night, Dora asks David to give her a new name-"child-wife"- trying to explain that he shouldn't blame her for being herself.

Dora struggles over the household books, never making any progress, while David writes his stories at night. The narrative tone is teasing but loving. Following Dr. Strong's example, David admits that he keeps his worries to himself rather than sharing them with his wife, and that he sometimes misses his romantic ideals. But he's also touched by Dora's pleasure in waiting up for him, holding his pens as he writes, or carrying useless keys in a basket similar to Agnes'. Dora's affectionate nature helps him overlook her faults.

David turns his attention to the Strongs' unhappy situation. Unlike Betsey, Mrs. Markleham interferes destructively in the Strongs' marriage. But Mr. Dick announces that because he's such a simpleton he alone can heal the rift between Dr. Strong and Annie. The rest of this chapter reveals Mr. Dick's plan. David and Betsey visit the Strongs one day. (Though they won't be active participants, Dickens needs to have them witness this scene.) It's a melancholy setting-an autumn twilight, with a smell of dead leaves that reminds David of his childhood.

Mrs. Markleham bursts into the parlor to announce to Annie and her guests that she's just overheard Dr. Strong tell his lawyers to draw up a will, leaving everything to Annie. They all go to the study, where Dr. Strong is sitting calmly at his desk. Like an unobtrusive stage manager, Mr. Dick leads Annie to her husband. She's so moved by what he's done that she kneels at his feet. David is called on to repeat Uriah's accusations. Then, for the first time, you learn Annie's side of the story. Her confession is grave, eloquent, and emotional. To keep it from being too sentimental, Dickens presents it along with Mrs. Markleham's offended cries, Betsey's wry retorts, and Dr. Strong's gentle protests. Annie says she's always loved Dr. Strong, and in spite of her mother's meddling she never gave herself to Jack Maldon. She recognized Jack's deceitful nature the night he stole the ribbon from her dress, but she never told the Doctor for fear of hurting him. Once the reconciliation is complete, the guests steal away, leaving husband and wife tenderly together.


David is struck deeply by a few phrases of Annie's, which he remembers long afterwards. She says her love for Jack Maldon is "the first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart." David doesn't say why this affects him, but you may guess that he's thinking of Dora, and of the "unsuitability of mind and purpose" of his marriage. In contrast, Annie's love for Dr. Strong is "founded on a rock." Do you think David already longs for a stronger foundation for his love? Is this feeling conscious or unconscious?

This installment contains domestic comedy, melodrama, and now Gothic romance. Passing the Steerforths' house one night, noticing its dead look, David is called in to see Rosa. Here again he establishes a mood with the setting: the landscape is "lurid," "scowling," and has a "sullen glare," all of which also defines Rosa. Her features seem exaggerated, especially the scar, and her darting speech has become fierce and imperious. David compares her to a vengeful fairy-tale princess. Littimer, like her evil gnome, tells David the story of Steerforth abandoning Emily.


Dickens is still making Emily look as good as possible. You learn that she cut a fine figure in Europe, and even Steerforth was so impressed that he stayed with her longer than he expected to. In fact, Emily's own guilt and regret soured the relationship. Often depressed, she made friends with boatmen's families everywhere, as though longing for her home. She raged when Steerforth left her, but she had enough integrity to run away rather than marry Littimer, as Steerforth had callously proposed.

In contrast to Rosa, Mrs. Steerforth, who finds them talking, is dignified by her sorrow. Like Rosa, however, she thinks Emily is a mercenary girl who may still threaten James. David defends Emily, and afterwards goes immediately to Mr. Peggotty to give him the news. Dan is, in his own way, as dignified as Mrs. Steerforth. Yet he's more forgiving and open-minded than she is. He agrees with David that they should ask Martha Endell to help them find Emily.

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