David and Dora are married among all their friends in a beautiful ceremony.
Dora turns out to be a terrible housekeeper. The couple employs a number of servants, but each of them cheats David and Dora in one way or another. Nonetheless, David is happy because Dora is happy. David writes for a newspaper and several magazines. Dora is completely devoted to him and sits up at nights to watch him write. She asks him to think of her as his “child-wife” whenever he thinks she has done something wrong. He manages to keep the household as best he can. Though David wishes that Dora might be more of a counselor to him and improve him in some way, he loves her and dotes on her. His aunt takes to Dora too and makes every effort to keep her happy.
“There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.”
Mr. Dick comes to David one night while he is working in his study and asks whether David thinks he is simple-minded. David says that he does in fact think so, and Mr. Dick is pleased. He asks David what the tension between Doctor and Mrs. Strong is, so David explains the Strongs’ marital problems. Mr. Dick has the idea that he should reconcile the couple because the more intelligent people they know are too polite to attempt to do so.
The next time David and Miss Betsey are at the Strongs’, Mr. Dick brings Annie to Doctor Strong. Annie professes how much she loves Doctor Strong and has always loved him, despite Jack Maldon’s treachery and her mother’s attempts to barter her for the benefit of her relations. Annie swears by Doctor Strong and by all his purposes, for, as she tells him, “There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.” She begs him to take her into his heart and never to throw her out because she loves him more dearly than ever before. David is both touched and troubled by Annie’s words.
As David passes by the Steerforths’ house one evening, a servant summons him inside to speak to Miss Dartle. She is cruel to David. Miss Dartle summons Littimer, who informs David that Steerforth, having grown tired of Little Em’ly, has her in a villa in Naples. Littimer proposed to her, but she became furious and hysterical, so he locked her up to prevent her from killing herself. Little Em’ly fled the house nonetheless, and no one has heard from her since. Littimer has returned home to report to Mrs. Steerforth and seek new employment after Steerforth was unbearably rude to him. David warns Littimer that he will tell Mr. Peggotty about his part in Little Em’ly seduction and that Littimer should stay out of public places. Littimer is unfazed. David speaks to Mrs. Steerforth. They are polite to each other, and she wishes him well.
David goes to Mr. Peggotty, who is still in London looking for Little Em’ly. He relays the information Littimer has given him. David and Mr. Peggotty decide to ask Martha to try to find Little Em’ly, so they go off together in search of Martha. When they find Martha, they follow her until she gets to a less populated area where they feel it is appropriate to speak to her.
Mr. Peggotty and David follow Martha to the river, where they speak to her. She becomes hysterical but gladly agrees to help them find Little Em’ly. On his way home, David sees the door to his aunt’s house open. He goes in to speak to her and sees the man whom Mr. Dick has said has been bothering Miss Betsey standing with her in her garden. David stops and listens while his aunt tries to send the man away. When the man goes inside with Miss Betsey, she tells him that the man was her husband, who is not dead but continues to extort money from her.
In his discussion of the Strongs and the Micawbers, Dickens explores the ideals of marriage. He sees the Strongs’ marriage as ideal, for the husband and wife, though not equals, respect and honor each other. Annie’s speech to Doctor Strong epitomizes, for Dickens, the pinnacle of marital fidelity. It shows that Annie is more devoted to her husband than to anyone or anything else in her life, that he is the motivating force behind everything she does, and that she cannot bear to be parted from him even in spirit. The Micawbers provide another version of this kind of marital devotion. Mrs. Micawber’s devotion to Mr. Micawber and her declarations that she will never leave him demonstrate her willingness to abandon comfort and family to stand by her husband. Although the Strongs and the Micawbers live in completely different social worlds and economic situations, in both cases, the marital partners are devoted to each other. Through this devotion, they improve their mutual situation, complement each other, and offer testimony about the value and importance of a good marriage.
Marriages that are unequal or that are based on foolishness or cruelty abound in David Copperfield, where they serve as examples of the negative aspects of marriage. The marriage between Mr. Murdstone and David’s mother shows how a lack of balanced power within a marriage can lead to abuse and outright violence. Moreover, David’s marriage to Dora shows the danger of marrying too young. Although David endures Dora’s silliness grandly, their companionship and household suffer because she is so childish. In both cases, marriage brings unhappiness to the partners because it is not based in sound, calm, devoted love between two equals.
Mr. Dick’s ability to reconcile the Strongs shows one way in which simplicity triumphs over sophistication. In David Copperfield, those characters who are earnest and forthright frequently become victims of those who are powerful and manipulative. From time to time, however, the weak and simple prevail. Although Mr. Dick, for example, suffers a great deal because he is too simple-minded to order his own thoughts, in reconciling the Strongs he is able to accomplish what none of the more sophisticated characters can. In fact, it is only because Mr. Dick is simple that he can bring about the reconciliation. Likewise, David, after suffering treachery at the hands of those who abuse his trusting nature, ultimately achieves happiness because of his goodhearted spirit. In both cases, a character’s simplicity indicates his openness to the world—a characteristic that enables him or her to see the good in others and to succeed where others, who see only the evil in people, fail. Simplicity, which Dickens almost always equates with good, may often suffer greatly along the way. In David Copperfield, however, it usually prevails in the end.
One pattern in David Copperfield that becomes prominent in the later sections is a character’s cycle of downfall, despair, and redemption. We see the first such cycle in the character of Martha, who suffers a fall from grace. Although the nature of this fall is not clear, we know that Martha’s error is significant enough to cause her to move to London. Likewise, we know that Little Em’ly is responsible for helping Martha recover her good name. In this section, we see Martha begin the final steps of salvaging her reputation as she agrees to search for Little Em’ly. In this case, as in the other cycles of redemption that we see in the novel, the character who is to be redeemed needs an outside force to assist them. Here, Martha needs David and Mr. Peggotty to offer her their trust in order for her to prove her character. Martha’s experience in this section mirrors the experience of other characters in David Copperfield who undergo losses of good name or fortune but ultimately emerge from these losses.