David Copperfield: Novel Summary: Chapters XXXV-XXXVIII
Chapter XXXV: Depression
Talking with David, Betsey berates Little Em'ly for her foolishness and for causing misery to her family. Betsey asks David whether Dora is not silly and light-headed, and whether David expects their marriage to provide a "party-supper-table kind of life, like two pretty pieces of confectionary." She warns David that he is being "blind, blind, blind!"
David goes to bed depressed about his sudden poverty. He wonders how Mr. Spenlow will view his intention to marry Dora, and feels that he must offer Dora the chance to be released from their engagement. He worries too about Dora's having to go without things she wants.
David tells Mr. Spenlow that due to Betsey's losses, he must cancel his training to be a proctor. Mr. Spenlow refuses to give David a refund for any part of the thousand pounds that Betsey paid for the apprenticeship, blaming Mr. Jorkins's obstinacy.
On his way home, David meets Agnes, and tells her that she is the person he most wants to see. Agnes protests that Dora should occupy this place in David's life. On being with Agnes, David immediately feels better. Agnes tells David that Uriah and her father are now partners, that her father's house is completely changed, and that Uriah and his mother now live with them.
Agnes and David visit Betsey, who tells them about her financial situation. Her old advisor, Mr. Wickfield, became increasingly unreliable, and so she made some investments of her own, which failed.
Agnes tells David that Dr. Strong needs a secretary. She suggests that David apply for the job.
Mr. Wickfield and Uriah arrive at David's apartment. David is shocked by the change in Mr. Wickfield, who has the red face, bloodshot eyes, and trembling hands of the habitual drinker. He appears to have given up all authority to Uriah. Betsey berates Uriah and bluntly tells Mr. Wickfield that he has grown unreliable in business matters. Uriah gloats over the reversal of fortune between himself and David, as he is now successful, whereas David is poor.
Chapter XXXVI: Enthusiasm
Feeling strengthened after his meeting with Agnes, David is determined to triumph over adversity and to win Dora. He calls on Dr. Strong. Dr. Strong tells David that Jack Maldon is back from India, as he could not stand the climate, and has been found a job in the patents office. Dr. Strong agrees that David should be his secretary, and says that he will help him compile his dictionary.
Jack Maldon arrives. He invites Annie to the opera that night. Annie says she would rather stay at home, but Dr. Strong insists that she go. Next morning, David learns that Annie made her excuses to Jack Maldon and took Dr. Strong to see Agnes instead. David still suspects that Annie is having an affair with Jack Maldon.
David takes Mr. Dick to see Traddles, in the hope of coming up with ideas for paid employment for Mr. Dick. David finds out from Traddles that it is possible to earn money by reporting Parliamentary debates in newspapers, but that a knowledge of shorthand is needed. David resolves to learn shorthand. Traddles suggests that Mr. Dick could earn money by copying legal documents, if he can only keep King Charles I out of his manuscripts. Mr. Dick begins to do this job, and successfully.
Traddles gives David a letter from Mr. Micawber. Mr. Micawber writes that "something has turned up": he has found a job in a provincial town. He invites David and Traddles to visit him to say goodbye.
David and Traddles arrive at Mr. Micawber's and learn that Mr. Micawber is going to Canterbury to work as Uriah Heep's clerk. Mr. Micawber owes Traddles money, and gives him an I.O.U. with the satisfied air of someone who is settling a debt with real money.
Chapter XXXVII: A little cold water
When Dora is staying at Julia Mills's house, David tells her that he is now poor. At first Dora does not believe him, but when she realizes that he is serious, she cries. David finally manages to soothe her, as one might soothe a child. She refuses to hear any more about David's poverty or the practical questions of how they will manage, saying that it frightens her. He tries to persuade her to learn a little about housekeeping, keeping accounts, and cookery, but she becomes hysterical and begs for Julia. Julia calms Dora and tells her that all that matters is that they love each other.
David asks Julia if he was right to suggest that Dora learn housekeeping skills. Julia says that this is not appropriate for Dora, who is "a thing of light, and airiness, and joy." David asks Julia to take charge of the cookery book and encourage Dora to read it. Julia agrees to try, though she is not hopeful.
Chapter XXXVIII: A dissolution of partnership
With Traddles's help, David manages to learn shorthand.
One day, Mr. Spenlow coldly summons David to a coffee house near the Doctors' Commons. There, Miss Murdstone is awaiting them. She produces one of David's love letters, which she has confiscated from Dora. David admits that he made Dora conceal their affair. Mr. Spenlow orders David to stop seeing Dora and threatens to disinherit her and send her abroad if he should disobey. David says that he and Dora love each other, and that he cannot abandon her.
The next day, David arrives at the Doctors' Commons and learns that Mr. Spenlow has been found dead on the road, having fallen out of a carriage. David is astonished to discover that Mr. Spenlow did not leave a will, in spite of the fact that his profession consisted largely in arranging other people's wills. It also turns out that Mr. Spenlow left his affairs in such disarray that, by the time the debts are paid, his total estate is worth less than a thousand pounds. Dora does not want to see David. She is sunk in grief, and whenever Julia mentions David, she only weeps and says it is wicked to think of anyone except "poor papa."
Analysis of Chapters XXXV-XXXVIII
The contrast between David's relationships with Dora and Agnes continues. When he hears of his new state of poverty, he lies awake worrying about telling Dora, as she will have to go without the things she wants. When he meets Agnes, however, he feels better and stronger. His words of greeting suggest that she is the person he most wants to see - a fact that Agnes draws to his attention, as he should most want to see his wife-to-be, Dora. The reader can see clearly what David cannot: that Agnes would be a great help to him in his difficulties, whereas Dora will be a hindrance, and perhaps a liability.
David, prey to an "undisciplined heart," cannot see Dora as she is. The reader's doubts about Dora are voiced by Betsey. Betsey points out Dora's silly and light-headed qualities, and asks David if he expects their marriage to provide a "party-supper-table kind of life, like two pretty pieces of confectionary." She warns David that he is being "blind, blind, blind!" Betsey's opinion is justified by Dora's terrified, and terrifying, response to David's news of his financial situation. Dora plunges into a childlike hysteria, and will not listen to David's practical suggestions that she learn basic accounting, housekeeping, and cooking.
David's metaphor in Chapter XXXVII emphasizes the huge gulf between him and Dora: "I felt like a sort of Monster who had got into a Fairy's bower, when I thought of having frightened her, and made her cry." This metaphor, which suggests half-humorously that David is a force for evil in Dora's fairy world, has uncomfortable connotations of Mr. Murdstone's attempts to "improve" Clara Copperfield by making her character firmer. The line between educating a loved one and controlling them or crushing their independent spirit is fine. Julia Mills warns David against trying to change Dora. Julia loves Dora and sees her strengths, pointing out that she is "a thing of light, and airiness, and joy." At the same time, Julia can also see Dora's limitations, and tells David that his desires to educate Dora are unlikely to bear fruit. Given those limitations, it is unwise for David to consider marrying Dora, particularly at this challenging point in his life. Mr. Spenlow, while occupying the unenviable position of an obstruction to young, romantic love (which, in fiction, almost invariably casts a character as a villain), in fact has some truth on his side. This is reinforced by his advice to David to confer with Betsey "or with any person with any knowledge of life" about his attachment to Dora. Mr. Spenlow knows that Betsey would advocate caution rather than rushing headlong into marriage with Dora. However, it is also true that Mr. Spenlow is primarily motivated by mercenary considerations in rejecting David, who seemed a very suitable match for Dora when he had money. Mr. Spenlow equates money with worth, a fundamental error in Dickens's works.
The contrast between David's false friend, Steerforth, and his true friend, Traddles, continues. Steerforth ridiculed David's choice of career and abused his adopted family (the Peggottys). Traddles, on the other hand, loyally gives his time and energy to schooling David for his intended work in Parliament, and helps David's adopted 'mother' (Betsey) by guiding Mr. Dick into paid work.
It is no accident that David's loyal friends, Traddles, Betsey, and Mr. Dick, are somewhat ridiculous and comic characters, whereas David's treacherous friend, Steerforth, was beautiful and charming. Dickens shows that inner worth has nothing to do with the superficial values that are so admired by society, and that goodness often comes in unglamorous packages.
David Copperfield Study GuideChoose to Continue
- David Copperfield
- Chapters I-III
- Chapters I-III
- Chapters IV-VI
- Chapters VII-X
- Chapters XI-XIV
- Chapters XV-XVIII
- Chapters XIX-XXII
- Chapters XXIII-XXVI
- Chapters XXVII-XXX
- Chapters XXXI-XXXIV
- Chapters XXXV-XXXVIII
- Chapters XXXIX-XLII
- Chapters XLIII-XLVII
- Chapters XLVIII-LII
- Chapters LIII-LVIII
- Chapters LIX-LXIV
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Charles Dickens
- Essay Q&A