David becomes depressed at the idea that he is now poor. Although he realizes this emotion is selfish, he cannot escape it because he worries that Dora will be deprived of things she wants. David tells Miss Betsey that he loves Dora, but Miss Betsey chastises him for pursuing a pointless romance. David tries to cancel his apprenticeship with the law firm because it pays nothing, but Mr. Spenlow refuses to refund the money Miss Betsey has paid to apprentice him.
On his way home, David sees Agnes, who is on her way to visit Miss Betsey. Agnes has heard of Miss Betsey’s ruin and comforts David. However, Agnes also tells him that Uriah Heep is destroying her father: Uriah and his mother have moved in with the Wickfields, and nothing is the same about the house. David and Agnes visit Miss Betsey and discuss her financial situation with her. Agnes suggests that David take a job as secretary for Doctor Strong, who is looking for help. Mr. Wickfield and Uriah Heep arrive, and Miss Betsey castigates Uriah, who is as slimy as ever.
On his way to visit Doctor Strong, David concludes that his new financial difficulties will allow him to prove that he loves Dora. He determines that he will work through every difficulty to be with her and will raise himself and his aunt out of their present distress. Doctor Strong agrees that David should be his secretary and that the two of them will work together on the dictionary Doctor Strong is compiling. They begin immediately. While they are at breakfast, Jack Maldon asks Annie to go to the opera with him that night. Annie does not want to go, but Doctor Strong tries to force her.
David is suspicious of Jack Maldon’s intentions and of Annie’s fidelity to Doctor Strong. Later, however, he hears that Annie has managed to cancel the date and go see Agnes instead. David takes Mr. Dick, who is upset about Miss Betsey’s financial situation, to see Traddles with him. Together, they decide that Mr. Dick can work at copying legal manuscripts—a task that he must try to accomplish without inserting references to King Charles I. Mr. Dick succeeds in doing so and thus earns some money for the family.
David receives a letter from Mr. Micawber stating that Mr. Micawber intends to move and asking David to come say farewell. David and Traddles go and have dinner with the Micawbers and discover that Mr. Micawber has plans to go to Canterbury to work for Uriah Heep. David is very uncomfortable at this arrangement but does not learn the details of it.
David tells Dora about his financial woes the next time he sees her at Miss Mills’s house. Dora becomes hysterical at the idea that she might have to live in poverty and refuses to listen to David’s argument that she should learn how to manage a house. David calms Dora, but she becomes hysterical every time he mentions money. David begs Miss Mills to try to bring Dora around to an understanding. Miss Mills agrees to try, although she does not think it can be done.
Mr. Spenlow calls David away from the office one morning and announces that he has uncovered David’s affair with Dora. Mr. Spenlow forbids David to continue seeing his daughter and threatens to disinherit her and send her abroad if David does not comply. David answers that he loves Dora and that Dora loves him. He says that he cannot possibly abandon her.
That night, Mr. Spenlow dies in a carriage accident. Dora refuses to see David. Every time Miss Mills broaches the subject, Dora repeats over and over that it would be wrong for her to think of anything but her father. David is heartbroken but holds out hope that Dora will change her mind.
David’s romanticization of his sudden poverty demonstrates that he still has much growing up to do before he becomes an adult. David views his newfound poverty as a grandly tragic situation from which he will inevitably rise. His romanticized view is particularly apparent when he discusses his adoration for Dora. He resolves to work every moment to obtain for her the life she wants. Although his diligence and dedication are admirable, his view of his poverty demonstrates that he still has not learned how difficult it is to combat poverty in his society. While David’s intentions are good, his response shows that he still is boyishly immature. Because his romanticism prevents him from facing the reality around him, he is incapable of truly growing up as long as it persists.
David’s description of the murky relationship among Doctor Strong, Annie Strong, and Jack Maldon exmplifies how the older David sees views the world differently from the younger David. When David, as a boy, meets these three individuals for the first time, he has no suspicions that there may be an affair between Annie and Jack Maldon. But as the younger David carefully chronicles the interactions between the younger pair and the reactions of the other characters, the novel implies that Annie is in love with Jack Maldon. The adult David, as a narrator, never actually articulates his suspicions about the affair, but the tone in which he relates the incidents surrounding Jack Maldon’s departure implies that he is suspicious. The younger David’s blindness accentuates rather than lessens the suspicion. He witnesses events—Jack Maldon leaving the house with a red ribbon, for example—that he does not understand but that alert us to Jack Maldon and Annie Strong’s affair. Although these insinuations about an affair ultimately become meaningless by the novel’s end, the tension between the young David’s ignorance and the older David’s knowledge creates dramatic irony and adds suspense along the way.
In David’s reaction to Mr. Spenlow’s discovery of his affair with Dora, we see that David is still too immature to understand reliability and constancy of heart. Though David believes that he is representing Dora’s love well by standing up to her father, he is only being hard-headed when he should be giving way to the advice of the older and wiser Mr. Spenlow. Because constancy—the ability to remain faithful to the best interests of one’s true love—is a chief characteristic of the morally good characters in David Copperfield, the distinction Dickens draws here between constancy and obstinacy is significant. Each of the good characters in the novel, especially Agnes, Doctor Strong, Ham, and Mr. Peggotty, are characterized by an unwavering faithfulness—a trait that David attempts to emulate. At this point, however, David is still too young to understand that immovability and unwavering faithfulness are not the same. In this light, the encounter with Mr. Spenlow, with all of David’s brash romantic delusions, emphasizes how far David has yet to go in the process of becoming a man.