David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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David Copperfield | Chapters 10–12 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 10

After Clara's funeral, Miss Murdstone fires Peggotty, who decides to go to Yarmouth where her brother lives. She promises to visit David Copperfield once a week. David learns he will not return to school, and he goes to Yarmouth with Peggotty for a visit. All is the same at Mr. Peggotty's house, except little Emily is growing up; she's now going to school and isn't as carefree as before. After dinner, Mr. Peggotty asks about James Steerforth, and David enthusiastically praises his friend's accomplishments, good looks, charm, and nobility, as Emily listens with rapt attention. Shortly before David is to return to Blunderstone, Peggotty and Barkis have a quiet marriage ceremony. Peggotty tells David there's a bedroom in their house set aside for him to use whenever he is able to visit.

David Copperfield returns to Blunderstone and is ignored by the Murdstones. He fills his time with reading, and Peggotty visits weekly, as promised. One day, Mr. Murdstone is visited by Mr. Quinion, manager of the counting-house of Murdstone and Grinby's, which is involved in the wine trade. Mr. Murdstone tells David he sees no advantage to continuing David's education. Instead, David will work in the counting-house in London. Mr. Murdstone will provide for his lodging and clothing, and David will have to earn enough to pay for his food and other expenses. The next morning, David leaves with Mr. Quinion, bound for London by way of Yarmouth.

Chapter 11

David Copperfield, at age 10, begins to work in Murdstone and Grinby's dilapidated rat-infested warehouse, washing, labeling, and packing bottles. He's devastated by his new situation in life, feeling that the little education he has received and his hopes for the future are all draining away, but he does his work without complaint. Nicknamed "the little gent" at the warehouse, David has little in common with the other boys. He has a room in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Micawber and their four young children. Mr. Micawber is ever hopeful something will turn up in the way of employment. In the meantime, the Micawbers are constantly hounded by creditors. They're prone to rapid mood shifts, ranging from deep despair over their debts, to joy and celebration the moment they can afford to pay for a dinner. At one point, David helps Mrs. Micawber pawn their household goods so they can feed the family. Finally, Mr. Micawber is arrested and sent to the King's Bench Prison—a debtor's prison—and Mrs. Micawber and the children move into the prison with him. Having become attached to the family, David rents a room near the prison with a view of a timber yard, and visits them often. David spends his free time walking and lounging in the streets of London, making up stories about the people he observes there.

Chapter 12

Mr. Micawber is released from prison and the family decides to move to Plymouth, where there's a chance of Mr. Micawber finding employment. David can't bear the thought of staying in London after the Micawbers leave. He decides to run away and try to find his great-aunt, Miss Betsey, who lives near Dover. He borrows some money from Peggotty for the trip, and he hires a young man with a donkey cart to help him move his box of belongings to the stage coach office. But the young man with the donkey cart runs away with David's box and his money, and after a futile chase, David sets out on foot towards Dover.

Analysis

In Chapter 10, Peggotty assures David Copperfield she'll always be there for him. Barkis's quirky courtship of Peggotty provides some light diversion from the uncertain future that lies ahead for David. Their marriage creates a sense of stability in at least one corner of David's life, particularly when Peggotty shows him the bedroom she's set aside for him. Emily's interest in David's description of James Steerforth will turn out to have dire consequences for her.

Chapter 11 contains a number of elements related to Charles Dickens's life. The description of David's time at Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse is very similar to Dickens's own experiences. The Dickens family wasn't quite as genteel as David's family, but they fell on hard times, and when he was 10 years old, Dickens was taken out of school and sent to work at Jonathan Warren's blacking warehouse in London. At the time, the families of people in debtor's prison were allowed to move into the prison with the prisoner. They had considerable freedom inside the prison, where there was something of a community atmosphere. Like David, Dickens rented a small room near the prison overlooking a timber yard. Dickens returned to the subject of the debtors' prison in a later novel, Little Dorrit.

David Copperfield's encounter with the young man with the donkey cart who steals his money and his box is another example of David's naïveté. It's a tribute to David's resilience and perseverance that he decides to make the journey to Dover on foot, with no money.

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