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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Free Book Notes
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Mr. Peggotty comes to David's house the next day to tell Emily's story. Like her uncle, Emily made friends with local people in Europe. After she ran away from Littimer, a village woman took her in and nursed her through a fever. Next Emily went to France, where she worked as a waitress. When Littimer came to the inn, Emily ran away again, to London. There a woman befriended her and offered her work. Dickens isn't explicit, but the work was probably prostitution. Martha saved Emily just in time.


Just as Micawber frequently quotes Shakespeare or poetry, Mr. Peggotty quotes the Bible because it's so familiar to him. For example, he says the good deeds of the people who helped Emily are "laid up wheer neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and wheer thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:19-20). Emily's story also parallels Bible stories. Like Eve, she's been cast out of a happy home for her sins; Littimer is described as the snake who led her into it. Also, the pregnant woman who befriends Emily appears like the Blessed Mother.

Mr. Peggotty announces that he and Emily will emigrate to Australia to begin a new life. He discusses he arrangements for Ham, Peggotty, and Mrs. Gummidge, who'll remain in England. Then he pulls out all the money Emily had from Steerforth, and asks David to return it to Mrs. Steerforth. What is the effect of this gesture?

David accompanies Mr. Peggotty to Yarmouth. His visit to Mr. Omer provides comic relief, as the old man rattles on about his age and infirmity (this also gives you a sense that time has passed). Omer praises David for his novel, though David, mocking himself, makes it clear that Omer fell asleep over it. But Omer is glad to hear of Emily's return and Martha's good deed. Do you think this means that the community has forgiven them? Why?

As David visits with the Peggotty family, they seem as loving as ever, but a shadow lies over them, especially Ham. Ham tells David that he blames himself for pressing his affections on Emily (as Dr. Strong did with Annie). He asks David to tell Emily that he isn't greatly hurt, so she won't worry, but it's clear he still loves her and finds no purpose in life without her. As the old boat-house is being shut up, Mrs. Gummidge suddenly pleads with Dan not to leave her behind. The good in both of them is called out at the moment of parting, and he decides to take her to Australia.

Though Dora is ill, she insists that David leave her again a few days later for his appointment with Mr. Micawber. This allows Dickens to juggle several plots without David seeming to ignore his dying wife. It also reminds you of how unselfish Dora is. David, Betsey, Mr. Dick, and Traddles head for Canterbury.


Dickens seems to love Canterbury specially, he describes it so often. Almost every time David comes here, he strolls around and describes how old and peaceful it seems. This time, the bells also warn him of Dora's death. David's romantic nature emerges in these solitary, nostalgic walks.

Waiting for Micawber at the inn, each character shows his or her nature in a different kind of restless behavior. Comedy is often a matter of stripping off masks, and many people's true natures are revealed in this chapter. When Micawber arrives, for example, David learns that dull, plodding Traddles has cleverly assisted Micawber in his scheme. When they go to Wickfield & Heep's, Micawber appears to work hard, but the huge ruler stuck inside his vest reveals his true intentions. When they walk into Heep's office, David glimpses Heep's mean face before the mask of humble hypocrisy takes over. But Agnes' beauty shines through her anxiety.

Micawber begins the confrontation by refusing to leave when Heep orders him to. Heep's face first turns pale, then darkens (later in the scene it turns blue!) as Micawber calls him a scoundrel. Heep turns on his old rival David, accusing him of being behind all this. Uriah is always motivated by personal resentment, so he assumes others are, too. Like a cornered animal, he lashes out, threatening everyone, even calling Mr. Wickfield an "old ass."

In high comic style, Micawber formally accuses Heep by reading aloud a verbose letter, while brandishing his ruler like a sword. He explains that Heep gained power over him by lending him money, but that he stayed on only to gather evidence against Heep. He has discovered that Heep falsified business deals, tricked Mr. Wickfield into signing over control of the firm's money, forged Wickfield's signature, and framed him for embezzlement. Heep swindled Mr. Wickfield into signing over to him the entire partnership and even his house. Micawber has evidence, too: a half-burned notebook Mrs. Micawber found in the fireplace of the Heeps' old house. After he concludes this elaborate letter, Betsey grabs Uriah and bluntly demands her money back. She now admits that she thought Mr. Wickfield had lost her money, though she kept silent for Agnes' sake.

Mrs. Heep cringes and whines during all this. At least Uriah faces it with a vicious courage. When Traddles offers to call in the police if Uriah doesn't hand over the rest of the documents, however, Uriah caves in like a coward. Yet when David preaches to Uriah about greed and cunning, Uriah snaps back at him, unrepentant.

The party then moves to the Micawbers' house, where Mr. and Mrs. Micawber are reconciled. Typically, Mr. Micawber embraces poverty one moment, then jumps at Betsey's suggestion that they emigrate, as though it had been his lifelong dream. Of course, he asks her for a loan to carry it out.


The Micawbers are the second group that heads for Australia to start afresh. Emigration to Australia was very popular in the 1840s, shortly before Dickens wrote this novel. It was considered a land of second chances, so Dickens' readers would have been hopeful for Micawber's success. Do you find this believable?

Comedy is swiftly replaced by David's sad account of Dora's death. It's another present-tense retrospect, highlighted scenes presented simply through dialogue, as David sits numbly at Dora's bedside. Dora is idealized, seeming sweet, gentle, and wise. In each scene she moves farther from this world. She begins by remembering the past fondly. In the next vignette she prepares her mind for death. In the third, she speaks of herself in the past tense, and imagines the unhappy future she and David would have had. Why do you think Dickens has Agnes, not David, with Dora when she dies? Is it fitting? Dickens keeps death offstage for dramatic effect. Alone downstairs, David broods over his regrets for their marriage. Then, with a final whine, loyal old Jip dies at the same moment as Dora. Agnes appears like an angel, pointing upward to Dora but also to heaven. Then grief overcomes David.

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