David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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David Copperfield | Chapters 44–46 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 44

As happy as David Copperfield is to finally be with Dora, their domestic bliss is marred by the problems they encounter in trying to run their household. They have terrible luck in hiring servants. The first one, Mary Anne, drinks, can't cook, and steals the spoons. Dora is afraid to supervise her and David doesn't have the gumption to fire her until Mary Anne's cousin—a military deserter—hides in their coal-hole, is arrested, and is taken away in handcuffs. A succession of equally bad servants follows. The local shopkeepers and tradespeople also seem to consider the couple easy marks; they can never get quality goods or services. When David asks Miss Betsey how he might persuade Dora to be serious about learning housekeeping, she advises him to value his wife "by the qualities she has and not by the qualities she may not have." She says if he can't help Dora develop those qualities, then he'll have to adjust to doing without them. David tutors Dora in housekeeping. She tries, but she's unable to apply herself. Feeling her shortcomings, Dora asks David to think of her as his "child-wife" and to remember how much she loves him. David resigns himself to taking on all the responsibilities of the marriage, sometimes wishing his wife could be more of a partner in these things. Surprisingly, Miss Betsey takes quite a liking to Dora, calling her Little Blossom, and Dora returns the affection.

Chapter 45

David Copperfield no longer works for Doctor Strong, but he sees him often, because he lives nearby. Annie's mother, Mrs. Markleham, is only too happy to oblige the Doctor's desire that Annie should be entertained, even though Annie prefers to stay home. Mr. Dick, a devoted friend of both the doctor and Annie Strong, asks David why there are "clouds" between them. David says there's a secret, possibly related to the difference in their ages. Mr. Dick says he can bring them together because, being simple, they won't blame him for meddling. Miss Betsey says if Mr. Dick could only carry out an idea he has in his head, "he would distinguish himself in some extraordinary manner."

Several weeks later, David and Miss Betsey are visiting Annie when Mrs. Markleham bursts in, excited because she has overheard the doctor instructing his lawyers about his will: Doctor Strong is leaving everything to Annie "unconditionally." The lawyers leave, and everyone goes into the study to find Mr. Dick there with the doctor. Annie implores her husband to tell her and everyone there what has come between them. The doctor says he doesn't blame her for anything that has changed between them, and he assures her he loves and honors her. Annie asks if anyone knows anything that can help, and David discloses the allegations Uriah Heep had made earlier. Annie eloquently dispels both the idea she married the doctor for his money and the idea she had a relationship with Jack Maldon. She says although they were childhood sweethearts, she would have been "wretched" if she'd married Jack, and she's grateful to the doctor for saving her from "the first mistaken impulse of [her] undisciplined heart." In fact, it was Annie's mother who brought Jack Maldon into the picture by pressing the issue of finding a position for him, as she did for several other relatives.

Annie's explanation puts an end to any questions about her character. Miss Betsey gives Mr. Dick a hug of congratulations for having planned the reconciliation. David, happy for the couple, finds himself musing on what Annie said about there being "no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose" and "the first mistaken impulse of my undisciplined heart."

Chapter 46

About a year after David Copperfield's marriage, he's walking past Mrs. Steerforth's house when her servant approaches and asks him to come into the garden and speak to Miss Dartle. Miss Dartle tells him Emily has run away from James Steerforth. She has Littimer tell David what happened after Emily left with him and Steerforth. They traveled to France, Switzerland, and Italy, and Emily "was much admired" everywhere, learning the languages easily and making friends with the locals. She was sometimes sad, and Steerforth tired of her, annoyed because she often talked with "low company" such as the boatmen's families. He left her with Littimer, having arranged for her to marry "a very respectable person" (whom David suspects was Littimer himself). She became so angry and distraught that Littimer locked her in a room, both for his own protection and hers, but she escaped, and has not been seen since. When he told Steerforth, they argued and Littimer returned to England. He has told the story to Miss Dartle for money, and he's looking for new employment. Steerforth is seafaring along the Spanish coast. Miss Dartle says she wants Emily to be found so she won't try to make Steerforth her "prey" again. Mrs. Steerforth comes out to the garden and echoes the sentiment that Emily is a "designing enemy" of her son. David asserts Emily is the wronged party and would want nothing to do with Steerforth now. When he leaves the Steerforth house, David goes immediately to Mr. Peggotty's lodgings to tell him what he's learned about Emily. They agree she is alive and is likely to come to London. David says Martha Endell might know where she is, and he tells Peggotty about the night Martha listened at the inn door while they talked about Emily. Mr. Peggotty knows where to find Martha, and they go out to look for her. When they see her on a busy street, they decide to follow her to a quieter place where they can talk.

Analysis

In Chapter 44, David Copperfield discovers his marriage to Dora Spenlow isn't the idyllic "happily ever after" he had anticipated. Dora simply isn't capable of being practical about running their household. The outrageous antics of David's servants provide comic relief, lightening the mood and conveying that despite his disappointment, he's just as much in love with Dora as ever and is eager to do whatever is necessary to keep her happy. It's a little difficult to believe that Miss Betsey, with her intolerance for "silliness," becomes so fond of Dora. Like David, though, Miss Betsey has a weakness for good-looking people, which might account for her fondness for Dora.

In making Mr. Dick the architect of the plan to bring Annie and Doctor Strong back together, Charles Dickens shows the power of simple, childlike honesty in overcoming evil intentions. Dickens often portrays people with disabilities, like Mr. Dick and Miss Mowcher, with great respect for what they contribute to the enrichment of the lives of others and to the greater good.

Annie Strong's comments about marriage seem to have struck a chord with David. He may be thinking of the "disparity" in his own marriage between what he had expected and what Dora had expected. Unlike Annie, he had followed his "undisciplined heart." Had he made a mistake in marrying Dora?

Chapter 46 returns to the search for Emily. If David had any doubts about James Steerforth's character, what Littimer says confirms that Steerforth held himself far above "common" folk such as the Peggottys. He hadn't, in fact, been joking when he made disparaging comments about them. But David also sees how Mrs. Steerforth's inflexible, obsessive desire to control her son shaped him into who he is. The reappearance of Martha Endell, at this point, suggests she may have a role in finding Emily.

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