David Copperfield | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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David Copperfield | Chapters 58–61 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 58

David Copperfield goes abroad where, "left alone with [his] undisciplined heart," he copes with his grief over all he has lost—"love, friendship, interest." After traveling for about a year, he settles for a while in Switzerland. He begins to write again and publishes his third novel, which increases his literary fame. He begins to think he missed his chance at happiness in his youth, when his "undisciplined heart" led him away from Agnes Wickfield. He finally admits to himself he loves her, but he believes it's too late; he thinks she could never feel the same way about him. Most importantly, he doesn't want to disturb the relationship they do have. With these thoughts in mind, David returns home after three years.

Chapter 59

David returns to London in the autumn, wanting to surprise his friends and Miss Betsey, who are expecting him at Christmas. He visits Tommy Traddles first and is surprised to find Traddles has finally married Sophy Crewler, the parson's daughter whom he has been engaged to for a long time. They're living in his law offices for the time being. Sophy Crewler's sisters are visiting, and David is impressed by the warm family spirit surrounding Traddles. He returns to his hotel and is sitting in the coffee room when he spots Mr. Chillip, the doctor who helped bring him into the world. Mr. Chillip says Mr. Murdstone and his sister have nearly driven Mr. Murdstone's young wife mad with their bullying and "firmness." Mr. Chillip recalls the night David was born, and confesses it took him a while to recover from the fright of Miss Betsey hitting him with her bonnet. The next day, David surprises his aunt at her Dover cottage. He has a joyful reunion with Miss Betsey, Mr. Dick, and Peggotty, who has moved in as housekeeper.

Chapter 60

Miss Betsey tells David that Mr. Micawber has paid back the money he owed when he left England, which suggests he's doing well in Australia. Mr. Wickfield, she says, is "a reclaimed man," in better mental and physical health. When David asks if Agnes Wickfield has a lover, Miss Betsey says she suspects Agnes "has an attachment." The next morning, David goes to Canterbury to see Agnes. He tries to ask her if she has anyone special in her life, but she's evasive, speaking instead about her school and her father. After dinner, Mr. Wickfield reminisces about his wife—telling David she married him against the wishes of her father, with whom she never reconciled—and says Agnes is very much like her mother. Unable to tell Agnes how much he's in love with her, David urges her to always remember that "whatever new ties" she might form, he'll always be there for her and love her as a sister. He rides back to Dover thinking she didn't seem happy, and knowing he isn't happy.

Chapter 61

While he works on completing his next novel, David stays at his aunt's cottage. He sometimes goes to London to see Traddles about business. David's novels have made him so famous that he gets a lot of mail from admirers, and he receives a letter from Mr. Creakle, who is now a magistrate, offering to show him an example of prison reform that works. David and Traddles arrange for a tour of the prison. The goal of the prison is for the prisoners to be converted and to sincerely repent of their evil ways. Much is made of two model prisoners, number Twenty Seven and number Twenty Eight, who turn out to be none other than Uriah Heep and Littimer. Heep was sent to prison for bank fraud, conspiracy, and forgery; Littimer robbed a young man and was attempting to flee to America, disguised in a blonde wig and whiskers. But Miss Mowcher spotted Littimer on the street, toppled him over, and held on to him until the authorities arrived to arrest him. Heep continues to note how "umble" he is, and Littimer claims he was led into wickedness through "having lived a thoughtless life ... in the service of young men." David and Traddles see the prisoner's hypocrisy immediately, but do not attempt to convince Creakle of it.

Analysis

Charles Dickens effectively uses descriptions of settings to convey David Copperfield's descent into grief and depression over all he has lost. The imagery of mountains and valleys shows the healing effects of time and nature. When David begins to write again, it's an indication he's ready to reconnect with life. It's been evident to readers for some time that Agnes Wickfield is in love with David, and now he finally admits to himself he doesn't really think of her as a sister; he's in love with her. However, Dickens isn't quite ready to resolve this plot line, so David's mistaken ideas about Agnes's feelings prevent him from rushing home to declare his love. When he does go home, his first contact with old friends is with Tommy Traddles, whose recent marriage and domestic bliss make David more aware of what is missing in his life and foreshadows his own future family life.

In Chapter 60, Miss Betsey's suggestion that Agnes might have an attachment to someone seems to be an attempt to arouse David's jealousy and encourage him to action. However, it has the opposite effect. David resolves to nurture his friendship with Agnes because it's all he has left; so, calling her his sister, he assures Agnes he'll always love her. Of course, this saddens Agnes, who was hoping for something more.

Chapter 61 is a diversion from the stumbling romance between David and Agnes. While building suspense about how the romance will turn out, it shows what has happened to some characters from David's past. That a man of such low and despicable values as Mr. Creakle should end up as a magistrate is Dickens's commentary on the poor state of the judicial system. He's suggesting that all it takes to become a magistrate, or judge, is bribery or favors. It's satisfying to see the villains Littimer and Uriah Heep behind bars, and also to know that Miss Mowcher has been instrumental in capturing Littimer.

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