David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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David Copperfield | Chapters 28–31 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 28

When David Copperfield plans for his second dinner party, he resolves to avoid the mistakes he made the first time. Mrs. Crupp agrees to do some of the cooking if David agrees to eat out for two weeks. However, her preparation falls short, and Mr. Micawber comes to the rescue by cooking the nearly raw mutton on the gridiron and concocting a sauce for it. Everyone is engaged in preparing and enjoying this meal, when Littimer suddenly appears in their midst. He's looking for James Steerforth. David asks if Steerforth will be coming from Oxford, but Littimer is evasive. After Littimer leaves, they enjoy the punch Mr. Micawber has prepared, and Mrs. Micawber describes a plan for Mr. Micawber "to throw down the gauntlet to society" by advertising his services. To pay for the advertising, they plan to find investors. Later, David pulls Tommy Traddles aside and warns him against investing in Micawber's plan, but Traddles says he's already invested in another of Micawber's plans.

Soon after David's guests have left, Steerforth arrives. The sight of him dispels the doubts David had been nursing about him, although he is disappointed in Steerforth's tepid reaction to the news that their old schoolfellow Traddles has been there. Steerforth has come from Yarmouth, where he's been "seafaring" for a week or so. He gives David a letter from Peggotty, informing him Barkis is dying. David agrees to spend a day visiting at Steerforth's house before setting out to be with Peggotty. After Steerforth leaves, David reads a letter Mr. Micawber had given him before dinner. Micawber says because he hasn't paid his rent, his landlord is taking all his possessions as well as those of Traddles. In addition, he can't pay back the money Traddles has invested with him. David is sure Micawber, as usual, will recover from this setback, but he feels badly for Traddles, whose marriage plans will now be further delayed.

Chapter 29

David Copperfield goes to James Steerforth's house and is pleased Littimer isn't there. Miss Dartle questions David about why Steerforth has been away for such a long time. David assures her he hasn't seen Steerforth in a while and has no idea where he's been. Steerforth tries, with some success, to charm Miss Dartle. After dinner, she sings and plays the harp, but when Steerforth puts his arm around her and says "Come, Rosa, for the future we will love each other very much!" she slaps him and dashes out of the room. When David is leaving, Steerforth entreats him to try to always think of him at his best if circumstances should cause them to part. David leaves the next morning, not realizing they will never again meet as friends.

Chapter 30

When David Copperfield arrives in Yarmouth, he stops at Mr. Omer's shop to say hello and learns Emily is still working there, but is "unsettled" about her upcoming marriage. The wedding has been postponed because of Barkis's condition, and Mr. Omer thinks Emily is just nervous about leaving her uncle's house to marry Ham Peggotty. David is reminded of Martha Endell and asks Mr. Omer whether there has been any news of her, but Mr. Omer is prevented from replying by the entrance of his daughter, just having time to say he never thought there was any harm in the girl. At Peggotty's house, Mr. Peggotty, Ham, and Emily are in the kitchen. Peggotty is upstairs with Barkis. Emily is trembling and nervous, clinging to her uncle and refusing to let Ham take her home. Ham is persuaded to go home on his own because he needs to work in the morning. David goes upstairs to sit with Peggotty at Barkis's bedside. After several hours, Barkis opens his eyes, says "Barkis is willin'!" and, as Mr. Peggotty had predicted, he goes "out with the tide."

Chapter 31

In his professional capacity, David Copperfield carries out the provisions of Barkis's will. Barkis leaves Peggotty well provided for, and he also leaves a thousand pounds to Mr. Peggotty. David doesn't see Emily in the week before the funeral, but he hears she'll be married in two weeks. The night after the funeral, they gather at Mr. Peggotty's house. When David arrives, Mr. Peggotty, Peggotty, and Mrs. Gummidge are there. Mr. Peggotty puts a candle in the window for Emily and Ham Peggotty to see as they arrive. But Ham arrives alone, calls David outside, and tells him Emily has run away. They go inside and read a letter from Emily, confirming she has run away, never to return unless she comes back as "a lady." Ham confirms she has left with James Steerforth, with the help of Littimer. Mr. Peggotty vows to go in search of Emily.

Analysis

The unexpected appearance of Littimer at David Copperfield's dinner party, and his evasive answers about the location of James Steerforth raise questions about what kind of plans Steerforth might be putting in action.

David's warning to Tommy Traddles about not lending money to the Micawbers indicates he's finally overcome his naïveté regarding Mr. Micawber. He knows by now that Micawber somehow always bounces back, no matter how dire his circumstances might seem, but he doubts Micawber's creditors ever get repaid.

In Chapter 29, Rosa Dartle is very suspicious about Steerforth's recent absence. She's known him for a long time, and her suspicions should set off some alarms for David. She seems convinced Steerforth is hiding something important. It's evident she's in love with Steerforth and resents the way he toys with her emotions.

David is pleased to be able to help Peggotty with the details of carrying out Barkis's will. For once, he isn't plagued by consciousness of his youth and naïveté. He feels grown-up and competent. The money Barkis has left will allow Peggotty to be independent, and will also prove to be useful for the quest Mr. Peggotty will soon embark upon.

Emily's departure with Steerforth shocks the Peggottys and dismays David, who feels responsible for introducing the villain Steerforth into their midst.

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