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David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 51–53

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 51–53 of Charles Dickens's novel David Copperfield.

David Copperfield | Chapters 51–53 | Summary



Chapter 51

Mr. Peggotty tells David Copperfield and Miss Betsey that Emily is staying at his lodging and he shares what Emily told him about her escape from Littimer. She ran as far as she could and then collapsed in exhaustion. She was found and nursed back to health by a woman she knew—a seaman's wife. She got to France, where she found work at an inn. She fled again to England when she saw Littimer. Fearing her family wouldn't forgive her, she went to London where a she met a woman who promised her a needlework job and a place to stay. Martha Endell learned of this and knew the woman really ran a brothel. Martha went to the place in the middle of the night and brought Emily back to her room, telling her Mr. Peggotty still loved her and had been looking for her.

Mr. Peggotty tells David and Miss Betsey he plans to leave in about six weeks for Australia, where he and Emily can make a new start. His sister Peggotty will stay in Yarmouth to care for Ham Peggotty's house and keep him company. Mr. Peggotty will find a home for Mrs. Gummidge in Yarmouth and will provide her with an income.

David goes to Yarmouth with Mr. Peggotty to help him prepare for his move to Australia and to see Ham. David visits Mr. Omer in his shop and finds him wheelchair-bound but in good spirits. Then he goes to see Ham. Ham asks David to write a letter to Emily for him, begging her forgiveness for pressing her to marry him. If they had just stayed friends, he thinks, she might have confided in him about James Steerforth before doing anything drastic. He asks David to tell Emily he loves the memory of her and will never marry; he wishes only the best for her.

The old boat home is now bare and empty. As Mr. Peggotty, Peggotty, David, and Mrs. Gummidge leave it for the last time, Mrs. Gummidge begs Mr. Peggotty to let her come to Australia with them, and Mr. Peggotty agrees.

Chapter 52

When Mr. Micawber's mysterious meeting approaches, Dora feels well enough to stay home alone, so David, Miss Betsey, Mr. Dick, and Tommy Traddles go to Canterbury. At Mr. Micawber's instruction, they go to Mr. Wickfield's house and ask to see Agnes Wickfield. They all go into Uriah Heep's office, and Mr. Micawber calls Heep a scoundrel. Uriah drops his humble act and lashes out, particularly toward David, revealing the depths of his malice. Mr. Micawber reads aloud a letter he had prepared, enumerating the many ways Heep has used forgery, deception, and fraud to ruin Mr. Wickfield and gain control of the business. Heep even had plans to take over Wickfield's property. Micawber says he has proof of his allegations, gathered over the course of a year. At the end of Micawber's presentation, Miss Betsey flies at Heep, demanding her property back, having just learned it was Heep who lost her fortune in investments. She had previously taken responsibility for the loss herself because she assumed Mr. Wickfield had mismanaged her funds and she'd wanted to protect her old friend. Traddles assures her he'll take possession of the company's books and Heep will make restitution. In the meantime, Heep will be confined and held under watch.

Mr. Micawber invites everyone to his house, where he reconciles with Mrs. Micawber, and they begin to consider their next move now that Mr. Micawber is again seeking employment. Miss Betsey suggests Australia would be a good place to start over; they could even go in the same ship as "some people David knows." She says, given how much Mr. Micawber has helped everyone, a loan for their passage could easily be arranged. The Micawbers like the idea and begin to plan for their move.

Chapter 53

David Copperfield fears Dora's illness is worse and she'll never recover. Even Jip suddenly seems old and weak. When Dora grows weaker, she asks for Agnes Wickfield to visit her. One evening as David sits with Dora, she says she she's afraid she was too young and too silly to be a wife. He reminds her they've been very happy. She tells him, "It is much better as it is!" Dora asks for Agnes to come up to her, alone, and David goes downstairs, where Jip is sleeping. After a while, Jip wakes up and wants to go upstairs. When David says "Not tonight," Jip lies down at his feet and dies, with a small cry. Just then, Agnes comes downstairs in a "rain of tears" and he knows Dora has died.


It's significant that Emily's escape from James Steerforth is aided by a fisherman's wife. Emily's desire to become a lady has been disastrous for her; the upper-class lifestyle she experienced with Steerforth was filled with deceit and betrayal. Emily's rescue by the fisherman's wife is a reminder of the simple, honest kindness of the family Emily left behind. It's also a hint she'll be reunited with that family.

In compiling the case against Uriah Heep, Mr. Micawber finally comes into his own. His long search for a position suitable for his talents has been so consistently unsuccessful, it began to seem that perhaps he really didn't have any talents. However, in compiling the case against Heep, Micawber has proved he's a hard worker who is capable of achieving a goal. The proposed move to Australia now seems much more likely to bring him success than any of his previous moves.

On her deathbed, Dora articulates rare insight into their marriage when she tells David Copperfield she was too young. In asking for Agnes Wickfield to be with her, Dora shows she knows Agnes's maturity and understanding make her the best match for David.

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