David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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David Copperfield | Chapters 13–15 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13

David Copperfield walks to Dover. Along the way, he sells his waistcoat and his jacket to buy food, and he sleeps outdoors under haystacks and in parks. At one point, he's accosted by a belligerent tinker who demands his money. Not getting any money, the tinker steals David's silk handkerchief. After six days of hard travel, David arrives at Miss Betsey's cottage in Dover. Bedraggled and exhausted, he introduces himself to his astonished aunt, who is working in her garden. After telling her about his journey from London and the neglect that led him to make the journey, he bursts into tears. Later, Miss Betsey questions him about his history, and shares her observations with Mr. Dick, who lives upstairs. Referring to David's mother as "the poor baby," she rails against Clara Copperfield's decision to marry Mr. Murdstone and complains because Clara hadn't provided David with a sister named Betsey Trotwood. David senses Miss Betsey is beginning to feel sympathy for him, but their talk is interrupted when Miss Betsey jumps up to chase donkeys away from her front lawn. That night, before David falls asleep on clean white sheets, he hopes he'll never again be "houseless," and resolves to never forget the homeless.

Chapter 14

The following morning, when Miss Betsey tells David she has contacted Mr. Murdstone, he fears she'll send him back to Murdstone. Mr. Dick tells David he's writing a memorial, or autobiography, but he has to keep rewriting it because references to the beheading of King Charles I keep creeping into it. Mr. Dick has constructed a huge kite from his discarded manuscript pages, which he says will take "the facts a long way." Miss Betsey explains that Mr. Dick is eccentric but harmless, and she took him in 10 years ago when his family wanted to put him in an asylum. She's learned to value his advice.

The next day, Mr. Murdstone arrives at the cottage with his sister to discuss David's future. Miss Betsey questions them in detail and minces no words in telling them she thinks they bullied David's mother, took advantage of her youth and innocence, and have shamefully mistreated David. After some discussion, Miss Betsey says she'll take her chances with David, and she angrily chases the Murdstones out the door. Miss Betsey declares she and Mr. Dick will be joint guardians of David, and she'll change his name to Trotwood Copperfield. David gratefully draws a curtain on his time at Murdstone and Grinby's warehouse.

Chapter 15

David Copperfield settles in at the cottage, enjoying the company of Mr. Dick, and gaining the approval of Miss Betsey, who calls him "Trot." He's delighted when she suggests he should go to school in nearby Canterbury. The next day, they set off to Canterbury, where Miss Betsey consults her lawyer and financial manager, Mr. Wickfield, about the best school for David. Mr. Wickfield recommends Doctor Strong's school, and it's decided David will board in his house while attending the school. A widower, Mr. Wickfield looks after his daughter, Agnes Wickfield, who is David's age. David is pleased with his room and his new situation. The only discordant note in the house is Uriah Heep, a red-haired, shifty boy of about 15, who comes in every day to do clerical work in Wickfield's office.

Analysis

Miss Betsey's reference to David Copperfield's "sister," Betsey Trotwood, stems from her visit to Blunderstone on the night of David's birth. Not having any children of her own, she had hoped to become godmother to Clara Copperfield's daughter, naming the baby Betsey Trotwood. Now, she often refers to the imaginary Betsey Trotwood as David's "sister," holding her up as an example to David of someone who always does the right thing. Miss Betsey's obsession with chasing donkeys off her lawn isn't as much of an eccentricity as it might seem, because donkey rides were a popular attraction in Victorian seaside towns such as Dover.

Chapter 14 marks a new start in life for David Copperfield after Miss Betsey takes him in, and with the prospect of going back to school, his future begins to look hopeful. King Charles I, who keeps creeping into Mr. Dick's manuscript, is a topical reference by Charles Dickens: the year 1849, when Dickens began writing David Copperfield, was the bicentenary of the beheading of Charles I.

Chapter 15 introduces characters who will be very important in the next phase of David's life. In his notes about the novel, Dickens referred to Agnes Wickfield as "the real heroine" of the story. Uriah Heep, on the other hand (still a teenager at this point), will go on to become a major villain.

The description of Mr. Wickfield as a successful man who nevertheless drinks too much wine, tends to be depressed over the loss of his wife, and is perhaps too obsessively dependent on his daughter, foreshadows a later conflict in the story.

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