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David Copperfield

Charles Dickens

Chapters XXXI–XXXIV

Chapters XXVII–XXX

Chapters XXXV–XXXVIII

Summary — Chapter XXXI. A greater Loss

After Mr. Barkis’s death, David stays in Yarmouth to help Peggotty arrange her affairs. He discovers that Mr. Barkis has left Peggotty a sizable inheritance and has also left money for Mr. Peggotty.

The adult David breaks his narration to say that he wishes he did not have to go on with his story. He concludes that whether he writes it or not, the outcome would still have been the same.

David goes to Mr. Peggotty’s, where Ham and Little Em’ly are expected soon. Ham arrives and tells David that Little Em’ly has run away. David is completely heartbroken, as is Mr. Peggotty. Little Em’ly has left a letter begging them all to forget her and saying that she will not come back unless the man she has run off with makes her a lady and brings her back. Ham reveals that the man she has run off with is Steerforth. They all cry together, and Mr. Peggotty vows that he will go off to find Little Em’ly.

Summary — Chapter XXXII. The Beginning of a long Journey

The next morning, Mr. Peggotty again vows to find Little Em’ly. He announces that he and David will begin their search in London the next day. Mrs. Gummidge comforts Mr. Peggotty, who asks her to stay behind and wait for Little Em’ly’s return.

When David returns to the inn, Miss Mowcher visits him and relates her part in the disaster that has struck the Peggotty family. Standing on the stove, she tells David that when she ran into him and Steerforth in Yarmouth, she believed that David, not Steerforth, was in love with Little Em’ly. Miss Mowcher agreed to give Little Em’ly a letter, which she assumed David had written. The letter put the whole affair into motion. Miss Mowcher apologizes for causing such a nightmare and cautions David not to judge her based on her size. She reminds him that it is not her fault that she was born a dwarf and that she must be sarcastic to get by in the high society she keeps. David agrees, and when Miss Mowcher leaves, he reflects that he has a very different opinion of her than before.

Mr. Peggotty and David arrive in London the next day. They visit Mrs. Steerforth, who blames Little Em’ly for her son’s downfall and Mr. Peggotty for having raised such a wretch. Mrs. Steerforth swears that her son will never marry Little Em’ly. As they leave, Miss Dartle angrily hisses at David for introducing Steerforth to Little Em’ly and for bringing Mr. Peggotty to the Steerforth house. Mr. Peggotty departs to search for Little Em’ly.

Summary — Chapter XXXIII. Blissful

David thinks of Dora constantly while walking in her neighborhood but does not dare approach her house. He takes Peggotty, who has come with him to London, to the Doctors’ Commons to settle her affairs. While they wait, Mr. Murdstone arrives at the Doctors’ Commons to get his new marriage license. Peggotty yells at him and blames him for the death of David’s mother.

Mr. Spenlow invites David to his house for Dora’s birthday. At the party, David makes a great show of not being jealous as another man pays attention to Dora. Dora’s friend Julia Mills forces David and Dora to reconcile. The two fall in love. Miss Mills arranges for them to meet at her house when Dora visits her next.

David and Dora become engaged. They continue to meet through Miss Mills but keep their betrothal a secret from everyone else. In retrospect, the adult David muses that he was happier then than he has ever been. Just the day before he wrote this section of the novel, David saw his daughter wearing a ring like the one he gave Dora—a sight that inspired a painful memory of Dora.

Summary — Chapter XXXIV. My Aunt astonishes me

Traddles visits David and tells him more about his fiancée, who is the fourth of ten children of a curate in Devonshire and who cares for her mother and her sisters. Traddles tells David that Mr. Micawber has come into severe financial difficulties and has been forced to move and change his name to Mortimer. The authorities have seized all of Mr. Micawber’s things, including his flower pot and table. Traddles asks Peggotty to go purchase these items from the pawnbroker for Mr. Micawber so that he will not be overcharged. Peggotty agrees. When they arrive home, Miss Betsey is there with all of her things and with the news that she has been ruined by faulty business decisions.

Analysis — Chapters XXXI–XXXIV

Miss Mowcher brings comic relief to the novel and serves as a vehicle for Dickens’s social commentary. Her conversation with David advances a political message about social equality—specifically, that no one should deride her for her small stature because it is not her fault. Dickens uses Miss Mowcher to point out society’s tendency to discriminate against people who are different. But Dickens does not seem to take Miss Mowcher’s argument entirely seriously. Although David agrees that Miss Mowcher should not be dismissed because of her dwarf size, his own descriptions of her focus on her size, on her absurdity, on the disproportion of her body and her head, on how her umbrella seems to swallow her whole, and on how she is able to stand on the stove or use a chair as a table. Altogether, David’s descriptions paint Miss Mowcher as a comical rather than serious figure. This somewhat two-faced treatment of Miss Mowcher is part of a larger trend in Dickens’s novels: the author often points out social problems but offers neither strong arguments against them nor possibile routes for change.

Although most of the secondary characters in David Copperfield are flat and static, the dramatic change in Mrs. Gummidge in this section establishes her as a dynamic character. Whereas previously Mrs. Gummidge only whines and moans about her own fate and takes no notice of others’ problems, here she proves herself capable of great emotion and selflessness. She repays Mr. Peggotty for the immeasurable services he has done her at the moment when he most needs this repayment. In this regard, Mrs. Gummidge proves herself to be the only truly dynamic character in the novel so far. Although many characters in David Copperfield gradually reveal surprising traits, few of them actually change over time. Mrs. Gummidge’s transformation not only shows that she is a dynamic character but also conveys Dickens’s message that happiness is attained only through selfless sacrifice and dedication to others.

Dickens also uses Mrs. Gummidge to establish a relationship between suffering and personal development that appears throughout David Copperfield. Mrs. Gummidge only develops as a character after she herself suffers extreme hardship when her beloved Little Em’ly runs away with Steerforth. In this regard, Dickens establishes a connection between suffering and maturity. Even though Mrs. Gummidge’s suffering sometimes comes across as self-indulgent, it leads her to a transformation and ultimately a redemption. Unlike several other characters, Mrs. Gummidge does not really fall from grace before her redemption; rather, she is just tremendously unfortunate. Nevertheless, for Dickens, redemption involves an element of pain, without which real transformation is impossible.

Here, as throughout the novel, Dickens uses characters’ names to indicate some of their inner traits. Mr. Spenlow, for example, does indeed spend low, as he constantly refuses to lower customers’ bills or assist David financially. Likewise, Mr. Murdstone, whose name rings of death and inflexibility, is a hard and cruel character. Steerforth steers and manipulates others. Agnes, whose name is derived from the Latin agnus for lamb, is blessedly calm, sweet, and even-tempered. Miss Trotwood and Mr. Dick are both as silly as their names suggest, and Miss Dartle is as volatile and serpentine as the “dart” in her name indicates. Mr. Creakle cannot speak above a whisper, and Traddles is saddled with ill fortune. This directness regarding names is in keeping with Dickens’s moral structure in the novel, where, generally speaking, good things ultimately happen to good people because they do good things.

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