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David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 22–24

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 22–24 of Charles Dickens's novel David Copperfield.

David Copperfield | Chapters 22–24 | Summary



Chapter 22

David Copperfield and James Steerforth stay in Yarmouth for about two weeks. Steerforth stays at the inn and spends time with the sailors at sea. David stays at Peggotty's and sometimes walks to Blunderstone, where he recalls his past and ponders his future. The house is now occupied "by a poor lunatic gentleman" and his caretakers, and the ragged old rook nests are gone. Near the end of their stay, Steerforth is in a dejected mood and tells David he wishes he'd had a "judicious father." He says, "I wish with all my soul I could guide myself better!" But Steerforth is soon back to his usual self. He says he bought a boat, and Mr. Peggotty will be its master when Steerforth is away. Steerforth seems embarrassed when David assumes he bought the boat as an act of generosity toward Mr. Peggotty. Littimer will oversee work on the boat, which Steerforth will rename "The Little Emily." At the inn, Miss Mowcher, a dwarf who is a traveling hairdresser, tends to Steerforth and gossips about Emily and her engagement, sprinkling her talk with the frequent exclamation, "Ain't I volatile?" David returns to Peggotty's house to find Emily there, comforting Martha Endell, a former coworker at Omer's who has fallen into disgrace. Emily and Ham Peggotty give Martha money so she can go to London where no one will know of her disgrace. After Martha leaves, Emily is distraught, repeating she isn't as good a girl as she ought to be, and lamenting she's vain and changeable. When she calms down, she leaves with Ham, holding tightly to his arm.

Chapter 23

David Copperfield and James Steerforth set out for London, where David is to meet Miss Betsey. He tells her he's decided to follow her suggestion and study to become a proctor. He is concerned about her spending a thousand pounds to purchase the apprenticeship for him, but she reassures him he is her adopted child and she takes pleasure in him. The next day as they're walking to the offices of Spenlow and Jorkins, Miss Betsey is upset when she's approached by a scruffy-looking man. She flags down a passing hackney coach, tells David to wait for her, and drives off with the man. Miss Betsey returns alone and tells David never to mention the incident. He notices she's given the man most of the money she'd had in her purse. They go on to Spenlow and Jorkins in Doctors' Commons where Miss Betsey purchases the apprenticeship for David. Before she returns to Dover, his aunt rents a small apartment for him on Buckingham Street, with a view of the river, and tells him she expects his new life will make him "firm and self-reliant."

Chapter 24

David Copperfield enjoys having his own apartment, but he's still bothered by his "youthfulness" and is lonely without Agnes Wickfield as his confidant. When James Steerforth doesn't appear on the day he'd promised, David goes to see Steerforth's mother to make sure his friend isn't sick. She says Steerforth is away with his Oxford friends, and invites him to stay for dinner with her and Miss Dartle, who is full of questions about Yarmouth. The next day, Steerforth turns up at David's apartment, and David invites him and his Oxford friends to come to dinner. David orders in food and wine and hires some helpers, who turn out to be useless. At dinner, David drinks too much wine, and by the time they all go out to the theater after dinner, David is quite drunk. He makes a spectacle of himself at the theater and is mortified to discover Agnes is in the audience. She strongly suggests his friends should take him home, which they do. He spends the following day feeling sick, hung over, and remorseful.


James Steerforth's erratic behavior in Chapter 21 is a rare instance in which he seems to be questioning his character and judgment. He puts his reservations to rest rather quickly, though, suggesting the shallowness of the moral values that seem to have troubled him. David Copperfield's hero-worship blinds him to the real reason Steerforth has purchased a boat and named it "The Little Emily." Emily's assertion, after giving money to Martha Endell, that she's not as good a girl as she ought to be suggests she has become involved with Steerforth and knows she's going to hurt Ham Peggotty.

In Victorian England, when a girl like Martha was known to have had an affair, she would have been ostracized by nearly everyone in town. It would be unlikely that anyone would marry her, and with the scarcity of job opportunities for women at the time, she'd have little chance of employment. Her only choice, therefore, is to go to London, where no one knows her. With luck, Martha might get a respectable job as a seamstress, but more likely she'll end up as a prostitute. Emily probably knows that if Steerforth doesn't marry her, she might end up in Martha's plight.

David Copperfield discovers that the mysterious man Mr. Dick saw with Miss Betsey actually does exist. She refuses to talk about him, so David will have to wait for future developments to find out what hold the man has over his aunt.

The dinner party David plans for Steerforth and his Oxford friends turns into a comedy of errors. In his eagerness to appear sophisticated and grown-up, David once again reveals his youth and naïveté. Charles Dickens portrays David's drunken escapade with perfect comic touches, topped off by the humiliation of having Agnes witness David's behavior at the theater.

Dickens, like David Copperfield, worked in Doctors' Commons at the start of his career. However, Dickens was a law reporter, not a proctor. Also like David, Dickens had lodgings in Buckingham Street.

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