David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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David Copperfield | Chapters 47–50 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 47

Mr. Peggotty and David Copperfield follow Martha Endell to a kind of wasteland and dumping area near the Thames River. She stops on the riverbank and looks at the water, talking to herself in a wild mood. Fearing for her safety, David grasps her arm and calls her name. Martha goes into a frenzy of fear and despair, exclaiming "Oh, the river!" again and again. When she calms down, she expresses her concern and love for Emily, who was so kind to her. Mr. Peggotty explains that they need her help to find Emily, whom he loves even more than before her fall, so they can bring her home. She readily agrees, promising that when she finds Emily, she'll keep her safe and contact them immediately.

When David arrives home near midnight, his aunt's cottage door is open, and the shabby man he'd seen with her once before is in the garden. Miss Betsey comes outside, gives the man some money, and tells him to go, reminding him he'd been false and cruel to her. As the man slouches away, David rushes to Miss Betsey and offers to go and speak to the man. She tells David the man is her husband. She had left him long ago and told everyone he was dead. He'd been a youthful passion—good looking and (she thought) honorable. After she married him, he'd treated her badly, so she left him. Since then, he has sunk lower and lower, and every so often she gives him money to go away.

Chapter 48

About a year and a half after his marriage, David Copperfield is a successful author and has left his parliamentary reporting job. He and Dora are still struggling with managing their household, and he describes in detail the frustrating and comic trials they go through with the hired help. David finally decides that they need to become more responsible employers. When Dora persists in her childish attitude, David embarks on a mission to "form Dora's mind" by speaking to her on serious subjects. However, after months of trying, he realizes Dora's mind is already formed, and he resolves to be satisfied with his child-wife just as she is. Dora is pleased when David apologizes and tells her they'll go back to their "old way, and be happy." David recognizes that, although he's happy, his marriage somehow lacks depth because he can't share many of his thoughts and ideas with his partner. Recalling Annie Strong's words about "the first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart," David decides to discipline his heart to adapt it to Dora's needs, and he finds they both feel happier. He hopes the birth of their baby will change his "child-wife to a woman," but the baby dies soon after birth, and Dora's health begins to decline. As Dora worries about how much her aging dog Jip has slowed down, David worries about Dora, who now needs to be carried up and down the stairs.

Chapter 49

Mr. Micawber sends one of his long, puzzling letters to David, indicating he's very disturbed about something and would like to meet with David and Traddles in two days. Traddles arrives with a letter from Mrs. Micawber in which she expresses alarm at her husband's recent mood swings and personality. He's become moody, depressed, and secretive. She begs David and Traddles to speak to her husband and find out what is bothering him. David writes to Mrs. Micawber, and he and Traddles tell Miss Betsey about the situation. They meet with Mr. Micawber at the appointed time. When David asks how Mr. Heep is, Micawber rants against Heep, calling him "diabolical." David and Traddles take Micawber to meet Miss Betsey. Micawber continues to behave erratically after meeting Miss Betsey and Mr. Dick. He's torn between revealing what he knows and concealing it. Pressed by Miss Betsey to tell what is the matter, he bursts out, "deception, fraud, conspiracy are the matter; and the name of the whole atrocious mass is—HEEP!" He rants incoherently about Heep and rushes out of the house. Soon, a letter arrives from him, sent from a nearby tavern, apologizing for his behavior, and asking them to meet him in a week at a hotel in Canterbury.

Chapter 50

Martha finally contacts Mr. Peggotty, who has never lost his belief Emily is alive and he will find her, and asks him to stay in London until he sees her again. A few days after the incident with Mr. Micawber, Martha approaches David (who had begun to lose hope Emily would be found) as he's walking in his garden. She says she's left a note for Mr. Peggotty, who isn't at home, telling him where to meet them, but she needs David to come with her at once. They take a cab to Golden Square, a run-down neighborhood, and Martha leads David to an old house filled with lodgers who rent single rooms. As they ascend the stairs to the top floor, David notices a woman ahead of them. It's Miss Dartle, and she goes into Martha's room. Martha leads David to a place where they can observe Martha's room through a partially open door. Emily is in the room, and Miss Dartle is insulting and threatening her while Emily tearfully asks for mercy and compassion. Miss Dartle finally leaves, passing Mr. Peggotty on the stairs. Finally reunited with his niece, Mr. Peggotty carries Emily down the stairs.

Analysis

Chapter 47 touches on the theme of the importance of life choices as Charles Dickens shows the consequences on both Martha Endell and Miss Betsey of choices they made under the influence of undisciplined hearts. Martha, like Emily, having gone against the social norm, is suffering for the choice she made. With few choices open to her, she's been forced into a life on the streets, likely a life of prostitution and degradation. Miss Betsey chose her husband largely based on physical attraction and perceived charm, much like David Copperfield chose Dora Spenlow. To avoid the stigma against divorce and separation, she came up with the story her husband had died. Miss Betsey was of a higher social class than Martha, and the money she had from her family allowed her to support herself; otherwise, she might have ended up in a situation like Martha's. Miss Betsey's feelings about the man who betrayed her love and trust parallel David's feelings about James Steerforth. She could have him arrested, but she continues to put up with his monetary demands "for the sake of what [she] once believed him to be."

In Chapter 48, David's "earnestness" is evident in the way he applies himself to making Dora happy, even though he isn't finding his marriage as fulfilling as he'd hoped. The death of their baby, the talk of Jip's aging, and Dora's increasing frailty foreshadow a coming loss.

Mr. Micawber has a penchant for self-dramatization, but his erratic behavior at Miss Betsey's is so excessive it suggests something very serious is going to be revealed about Uriah Heep. Dickens sets up suspense here by delaying the revelation.

The scene between Miss Dartle and Emily is quite melodramatic. It isn't explained how Rosa Dartle managed to find Emily, and it doesn't quite ring true that Emily would beg for Rosa's compassion. However, this interaction adds drama to the long-awaited reunion scene, and some suspense, as well, as David and Martha wait in hiding for Mr. Peggotty to arrive. It also allows David to be on the spot to fully convey the emotion of these two scenes to the reader from his own first-person account.

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