David Copperfield: Novel Summary: Chapters XI-XIV

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Chapter XI: I begin life on my own account, and don't like it
 
The adult David reflects on his amazement that he, a sensitive child of considerable ability, was "so easily thrown away at such an age" by being sent out to work in a wine warehouse.
 
David is employed in menial work handling wine bottles. His fellow employees are uneducated boys. He feels that all his hopes of growing up to be a learned and distinguished man have been crushed. Mr. Quinion, the manager, summons David to his office and introduces him to Mr. Micawber, in whose house he will be lodging. Mr. Micawber is an amiable man who speaks in a high-flown fashion, never using a simple word where a long-winded phrase can be found instead. Mr. Micawber takes David to his house, where he meets Mrs. Micawber and their four children. Mrs. Micawber tells David that their financial difficulties are overwhelming, which is why they have to take him as a lodger.
 
Creditors come to the house at all hours demanding payment. The Micawbers swing between grief at their plight and groundless optimism (the latter mood prevails after they have eaten a good meal). David is paid so little in his job that he mainly lives off bread, cheese and milk. He becomes an object of wonder among the local innkeepers and storekeepers for leading an independent life at so young an age. He works hard at the warehouse and never complains, though he is very unhappy.
 
One evening, Mrs. Micawber confides in David that the family is at crisis point regarding money. Mrs. Micawber asks him to take some of their belongings to the pawnbroker's, which he does regularly. But Mr. Micawber is arrested and thrown into the debtors' prison. He organizes a petition, signed by the prisoners, to Parliament for a change in the law regarding imprisonment for debt.
 
Chapter XII: Liking life on my own account no better, I form a great resolution
 
Mr. Micawber is released from jail under the Insolvent Debtors Act, which forces him to surrender all his property. The family decides to move to Plymouth to look for work. Though Mrs. Micawber insists, "I never will desert Mr. Micawber," she reveals that she is under great strain because of his improvidence and his habit of hiding his financial liabilities from her.
 
David cannot bear the thought of staying in London without the Micawbers, who have become his only friends. As he bids them goodbye, he resolves to throw himself on the mercy of his only relation, Betsey Trotwood. He sets out for Dover, employing a young man with a cart to take his belongings to the Dover coach office. The young man steals his money and his belongings, and David is left to make his way to Dover with nothing but the clothes he is wearing.
 
Chapter XIII: The sequel of my resolution
 
David sets out on foot for Dover, selling some of his clothes to buy food. The shopkeepers who buy his clothes take advantage of him, giving him far less money than the clothes are worth. He sleeps in the open, not wanting to spend what money he has on a room for the night. He is abused, threatened and stoned by fellow travelers.
 
After several days of walking, David arrives in Dover, hungry, penniless, dressed in ragged clothes and covered in dust. He asks local shopkeepers where his aunt Betsey lives, but his beggar-like appearance leads them to treat him with disrespect. Eventually, he is given accurate directions and reaches Betsey's cottage. He finds his aunt gardening. Not recognizing him, she tells him to go away. He tells her that he is her nephew, and collapses in tears. Betsey takes David into her parlor and asks Mr. Dick, a simple-minded and unworldly man who lives with her, for advice on what to do. Mr. Dick advises her to give David a bath, which she does. Betsey compares David to the sister he never had and reflects that she never would have acted so stupidly as he has.
 
After dinner, Betsey reflects contemptuously on David's mother's decision to marry a man who treated her badly. She asks Mr. Dick once more what she should do with David, and he suggests putting him to bed. This she does. As David gratefully settles down into bed, he prays that he might never be homeless again, and that he never might forget the homeless.
 
Chapter XIV: My aunt makes up her mind about me
 
Betsey tells David that she has written to Mr. Murdstone to tell him that David is at her house and to invite him to visit in order to discuss the boy's fate. David is terrified at the thought of being sent back there to live.
 
Betsey sends David upstairs to find out from Mr. Dick how his Memorial (autobiography) is progressing. Mr. Dick says that he is hindered by obsessive thoughts that he believes came from the head of the executed King Charles I (the execution took place in 1649) into his own. He shows David a kite that he has made, and promises that they will fly it together. The kite is covered in pieces of paper with Mr. Dick's handwriting on them, which includes references to King Charles's head. Flying the kite is Mr. Dick's way of dispersing his obsessive thoughts.
 
Betsey tells David that Mr. Dick's brother had planned to shut him up in an asylum, but that she had rescued him. Betsey believes he is not insane, but merely eccentric. She thinks he has a wonderful mind and gives invaluable advice.
 
The next day, Mr. and Miss Murdstone arrive on donkeys. Unaware of their identity, Betsey shoos them away, as she gets furious about donkeys trampling the lawn in front of her house. When she realizes who they are, she invites them in. The Murdstones speak insultingly of David. Mr. Murdstone offers to take him back with him, but when Betsey asks David if he wants to go, David begs to be allowed to stay with her. Betsey asks Mr. Dick's advice, and he tells her she should have David measured for a suit of clothes. Betsey says that she will take her chance with David, and that she knows Mr. Murdstone broke Clara's heart and spirit. She sends the Murdstones away.
 
Betsey decides that David is to be renamed as Trotwood Copperfield.
 
Analysis of Chapters XI-XIV
 
Dickens' account of David's unhappy period of working in the factory, his largely compassionate portrayal of the Micawbers' perilous financial situation, and his account of Mr. Micawber's time in the debtors' prison, show his deep (and lifelong) sympathy with the plight of the poor. Much of this section is autobiographical: like Mr. Micawber, Dickens's father was irresponsible with money and spent time in the debtors' prison; and like David, Dickens was sent by his family to work in a factory in order to bring in some much-needed money - a time of abject misery that he never forgot.
 
The debtors' prison was a much-hated institution in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, until it was abolished in 1861. A person who was unable to pay a debt could be thrown into prison, and his family left destitute. Even in the prison, inequalities were rife. If a person had some money, he could buy certain privileges, which sometimes included the right to do business, get himself out of debt, and thereby obtain his release. If he had no money, he could languish for years in the prison, unable to do anything to help himself.
 
David's arduous journey on foot to Dover marks the lowest point of his fortunes. What little money he has is stolen from him, and he is even forced to sell the clothes he stands up in. Fellow travelers and shopkeepers take advantage of him, and he is utterly without a friend. The effect of all this is to focus all the reader's hopes for a reversal in David's fortunes onto Betsey Trotwood. It transpires that Betsey is not the stern and rather frightening figure that she appeared to be in the first chapter of the novel. She is eccentric but kind, and ready to love David. Her obsessive worries about the donkeys that spoil her lawn stand in ironic contrast to the life-or-death perils that David has had to endure and contribute to her role as a comic character.
 
Betsey's comic status is reinforced by her association with Mr. Dick, on whom she confers the status of a wise man - in spite of, or perhaps because of, his simple-mindedness. Mr. Dick's optimism contrasts starkly with the dark pessimism of the Murdstones. His kite symbolizes his lightness and childlike innocence, qualities that help to disperse the gloom and weight of the first section of the novel. In its disconnection from the ground, it also suggests Mr. Dick's detachment from society. His spirit soars above everyday concerns and, it could be argued, has a sacred or angelic quality.
 
Mr. Dick's delight in the prospect of flying his kite with David marks the fact that David is now, for the first time in the novel, allowed to be a child. Previously, David was forced into the role of a parent of sorts to his childish mother, and subsequently into the role of a victim of the cruel Murdstones and Mr. Creakle. David's new freedom is due in part to Betsey's assumption of the protective role of parent, which comes as a great relief to the reader after the dismal failure of his mother and the Murdstones in this role. His mother had been too weak to assume her rightful role as protector, and the Murdstones had not loved David enough to do so. Betsey quickly discovers the true nature of the Murdstones and has no hesitation in sending them away, making it clear that at last, David is in safe hands.
 
There is irony in David's discovery of childhood now that he is on the brink of becoming an adult, with a serious point behind it. In Victorian England, many children (especially those of the poor) were subjected to neglect and brutality. Many were forced to abandon their education and go out to work in factories. Such an upbringing effectively robbed the child of his or her childhood, imposing the responsibilities of an adult without conferring any of the rights of an adult.
 
The introduction of Betsey and Mr. Dick into David's life marks a transition in the novel between tragic and comic modes, and a corresponding upturn in David's fortunes. Betsey's renaming of David as Trotwood symbolizes a new start for him. The weak and cruel guardianship of (respectively) Clara Copperfield and the Murdstones is superseded by the strong and responsible guardianship of Betsey and the benevolence of Mr. Dick. The brutal schooling of Mr. Creakle is soon to be replaced by the enlightened education of Dr. Strong; and the dehumanizing work that David did at the factory is to give way to his training for the legal profession.
 
Besides the character of Mr. Micawber and David's spell in the factory, other autobiographical elements of the novel include David's career, which closely follows Dickens's own. Dickens, like David, worked as a clerk in the Doctors' Commons, then became a Parliamentary reporter, then a journalist, and finally a writer of fiction.

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