Dora’s housekeeping habits do not improve. For a while, David tries to form Dora’s mind into something to which he can offer his more intimate and intelligent thoughts. But Dora will not be reformed, and David eventually gives up. He is not exactly happy in his marriage to her, for he feels that somehow they are not suited for one another. David hopes that having a child might make Dora more mature, and Dora apparently does become pregnant, but the baby either miscarries or dies at birth. Soon, possibly as a consequence of this pregnancy, Dora falls ill and loses the use of her legs, so David has to carry her up and down the stairs.
David receives a strange letter from Mr. Micawber, and Traddles receives a similar letter from Mrs. Micawber. The letters swear the men to secrecy, report that things in Micawber house are going poorly, and beg to see Traddles and David if they can spare the time. Traddles and David consult and agree to meet Mr. Micawber.
Mr. Micawber reveals that he is financially ruined because Uriah Heep has cheated him. Vowing revenge, Mr. Micawber begs David and Miss Betsey to meet him and Mrs. Micawber at an inn the following week.
Martha comes for David one night and encourages him to follow her. She has already tried to retrieve Mr. Peggotty, but he is not at home, so she has left him a note telling him where to find her. Martha and David rush through the city to the place where Little Em’ly is staying. They find Miss Dartle already there, spewing hateful invectives at Little Em’ly. David refuses to intervene for Little Em’ly because he feels that it is Mr. Peggotty’s duty to get her. Eventually, Mr. Peggotty arrives and carries Little Em’ly away, passed out in his arms.
Mr. Peggotty comes to David and Miss Betsey and relates the story Little Em’ly has told him. Little Em’ly escaped from Littimer onto the beach, where, in a delirium, she was rescued by a young woman whose husband was at sea. The woman nursed Little Em’ly back to health. Little Em’ly went to France and England and intended to go home. When she got close to home, however, she began to fear that her family would not accept her, so she turned back. Martha discovered Little Em’ly and took her in before going out to find Mr. Peggotty and David.
Mr. Peggotty has resolved that he and Little Em’ly will go to Australia because no one knows her there, which will enable her to start over. In the meantime, Mr. Peggotty needs to go to Yarmouth to say goodbye to Ham, and he asks David to accompany him. When David arrives in Yarmouth, he visits Mr. Omer, who reports that all is well with his family, although his own health is failing. He is pleased to hear that all is looking up for Little Em’ly, and he offers to help Martha if he can. David speaks to Ham, who asks him to convey to Little Em’ly that he will always love her and that he is sorry he forced his love on her. Mr. Peggotty closes up the old house, and it is decided that Mrs. Gummidge will go with Mr. Peggotty and Little Em’ly to Australia.