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Now a grown man, David Copperfield tells
the story of his youth. As a young boy, he lives happily with his
mother and his nurse, Peggotty. His father died before he was born. During
David’s early childhood, his mother marries the violent Mr. Murdstone, who
brings his strict sister, Miss Murdstone, into the house. The Murdstones
treat David cruelly, and David bites Mr. Murdstone’s hand during
one beating. The Murdstones send David away to school.
Peggotty takes David to visit her family in Yarmouth,
where David meets Peggotty’s brother, Mr. Peggotty, and his two
adopted children, Ham and Little Em’ly. Mr. Peggotty’s family lives
in a boat turned upside down—a space they share with Mrs. Gummidge,
the widowed wife of Mr. Peggotty’s brother. After this visit, David attends
school at Salem House, which is run by a man named Mr. Creakle.
David befriends and idolizes an egotistical young man named James
Steerforth. David also befriends Tommy Traddles, an unfortunate,
fat young boy who is beaten more than the others.
David’s mother dies, and David returns home, where the
Murdstones neglect him. He works at Mr. Murdstone’s wine-bottling business
and moves in with Mr. Micawber, who mismanages his finances. When
Mr. Micawber leaves London to escape his creditors, David decides
to search for his father’s sister, Miss Betsey Trotwood—his only
living relative. He walks a long distance to Miss Betsey’s home,
and she takes him in on the advice of her mentally unstable friend,
Miss Betsey sends David to a school run by a man named
Doctor Strong. David moves in with Mr. Wickfield and his daughter,
Agnes, while he attends school. Agnes and David become best friends. Among
Wickfield’s boarders is Uriah Heep, a snakelike young man who often
involves himself in matters that are none of his business. David
graduates and goes to Yarmouth to visit Peggotty, who is now married
to Mr. Barkis, the carrier. David reflects on what profession he
On his way to Yarmouth, David encounters James Steerforth, and
they take a detour to visit Steerforth’s mother. They arrive in Yarmouth,
where Steerforth and the Peggottys become fond of one another. When
they return from Yarmouth, Miss Betsey persuades David to pursue
a career as a proctor, a kind of lawyer. David apprentices himself
at the London firm of Spenlow and Jorkins and takes up lodgings
with a woman named Mrs. Crupp. Mr. Spenlow invites David to his
house for a weekend. There, David meets Spenlow’s daughter, Dora,
and quickly falls in love with her.
In London, David is reunited with Tommy Traddles and Mr. Micawber.
Word reaches David, through Steerforth, that Mr. Barkis is terminally
ill. David journeys to Yarmouth to visit Peggotty in her hour of
need. Little Em’ly and Ham, now engaged, are to be married upon
Mr. Barkis’s death. David, however, finds Little Em’ly
upset over her impending marriage. When Mr. Barkis dies, Little
Em’ly runs off with Steerforth, who she believes will make her a
lady. Mr. Peggotty is devastated but vows to find Little Em’ly and
bring her home.
Miss Betsey visits London to inform David that her financial security
has been ruined because Mr. Wickfield has joined into a partnership
with Uriah Heep. David, who has become increasingly infatuated with
Dora, vows to work as hard as he can to make their life together
possible. Mr. Spenlow, however, forbids Dora from marrying David.
Mr. Spenlow dies in a carriage accident that night, and Dora goes
to live with her two aunts. Meanwhile, Uriah Heep informs Doctor
Strong that he suspects Doctor Strong’s wife, Annie, of having an
affair with her young cousin, Jack Maldon.
Dora and David marry, and Dora proves a terrible housewife, incompetent
in her chores. David loves her anyway and is generally happy. Mr.
Dick facilitates a reconciliation between Doctor Strong and Annie,
who was not, in fact, cheating on her husband. Miss Dartle, Mrs.
Steerforth’s ward, summons David and informs him that Steerforth
has left Little Em’ly. Miss Dartle adds that Steerforth’s servant,
Littimer, has proposed to her and that Little Em’ly has run away.
David and Mr. Peggotty enlist the help of Little Em’ly’s childhood
friend Martha, who locates Little Em’ly and brings Mr. Peggotty to
her. Little Em’ly and Mr. Peggotty decide to move to Australia,
as do the Micawbers, who first save the day for Agnes and Miss Betsey
by exposing Uriah Heep’s fraud against Mr. Wickfield.
A powerful storm hits Yarmouth and kills Ham while he attempts
to rescue a shipwrecked sailor. The sailor turns out to be Steerforth.
Meanwhile, Dora falls ill and dies. David leaves the country to
travel abroad. His love for Agnes grows. When David returns, he
and Agnes, who has long harbored a secret love for him, get married
and have several children. David pursues his writing career with
increasing commercial success.
Ace your assignments with our guide to David Copperfield!