David Copperfield: Novel Summary: Chapters XLVIII-LII
Chapter XLVIII: Domestic
David has published his first book, which is a success. David and Dora have been married for a year and a half, and they have given up on housekeeping. They have another servant who cheats them and is eventually transported as a convict to Australia. David worries that Dora's lax housekeeping actively encourages servants to turn to crime. For some time, he tries to form her mind by offering her scraps of information, but this only makes her depressed and nervous. He decides to love her as she is, which makes her happier. However, he is still conscious of something missing in their life together. He recognizes that Annie Strong's words, "the first mistaken impulse of an undisciplined heart," apply to his falling in love with Dora.
David hopes that having a child might make Dora mature. She falls pregnant, but the baby either miscarries or is born dead. Dora becomes ill, and loses the ability to walk. David has to carry her up and down the stairs.
Chapter XLIX: I am involved in mystery
David receives a mysterious letter from Mr. Micawber, in which he says that his former peace of mind and self-respect are shattered. He asks David to meet him in London, so that he can explain. At the same time, Traddles receives a similar letter from Mrs. Micawber, asking him to intercede between Mr. Micawber and his estranged family.
David and Traddles meet Mr. Micawber, who seems unusually gloomy. They go to Betsey's house rather than David's, as Dora is ill. Mr. Micawber reveals that Uriah has been engaged in fraud and deception. He becomes so overwrought that he runs out of the house. Shortly afterwards, David receives a letter from him, written at a nearby inn, in which he invites David to meet him next week at an inn in Canterbury.
Chapter L: Mr. Peggotty's dream comes true
Mr. Peggotty continues his search for Little Em'ly, never losing hope. Martha seeks out David and says that she has news for Mr. Peggotty; she has been to his house, but he is not at home, so she left a note for him to meet her. Martha takes David to the slum dwelling where she lives. Inside the house, they see a woman enter Martha's room. David sees that it is Rosa Dartle. Martha and David listen at the door, and overhear Rosa pouring contempt onto Little Em'ly and blaming her for laying waste to the Steerforth family. Little Em'ly points out that Steerforth deceived her, and that her mistake was to love and trust him. Rosa tells Little Em'ly to leave the house or Rosa will proclaim her story to the world. Mr. Peggotty arrives. Little Em'ly faints, and Mr. Peggotty takes her tenderly in his arms.
Chapter LI: The beginning of a longer journey
Mr. Peggotty tells David and Betsey Little Em'ly's story after she escaped from Littimer. Hysterical, she ran to a beach, believing that her home was there, and collapsed. She was rescued by a local woman, who looked after her until she recovered. Little Em'ly went to France and thence to England. She intended to go home, but her courage failed her, as she feared she might not be forgiven. She went to London, where she met a woman who promised to give her respectable work involving needlework, and who took her in. (Mr. Peggotty implies, but does not say, that this woman was actually trying to lure Little Em'ly into prostitution.) Martha discovered her, and rescued her.
Mr. Peggotty says that he and Little Em'ly will emigrate to Australia, where she can make a fresh start. Peggotty intends to stay in England, and look after Ham. Mr. Peggotty means to provide a separate home for Mrs. Gummidge, whom he believes to be too difficult a character to impose upon Peggotty.
David accompanies Mr. Peggotty to Yarmouth, where he will say goodbye to his household. David calls in on Mr. Omer, whose legs are failing. David tells him that with Martha's help, Little Em'ly has been restored to her uncle. Mr. Omer is happy at this news, and offers to help Martha financially.
David proceeds to Ham's house, where Peggotty now lives. Peggotty tells David that she believes Ham to be broken-hearted, though he still works hard. Ham takes David aside and asks him to beg Little Em'ly to forgive him for imposing his love on her. If he had not done so, he believes that she might have confided in him as a friend, and he could have saved her. Ham also wants David to tell her that he will always love her.
Mrs. Gummidge asks Mr. Peggotty if she can accompany him and Little Em'ly to Australia, and he agrees. Mr. Peggotty shuts up his house.
Chapter LII: I assist at an explosion
David, Betsey, Mr. Dick, and Traddles meet Mr. Micawber in Canterbury, as he requested. He says that he has consulted Traddles, who is now a lawyer, regarding what he is about to reveal. He asks them all to give him a five-minute start, and then to follow him to Uriah Heep's office at Mr. Wickfield's house.
David's party arrives at Mr. Wickfield's house and is greeted by Uriah. Agnes joins them. Mr. Micawber confronts Uriah, calling him a scoundrel. Uriah suddenly drops his humble mask and becomes aggressive. He accuses David of conspiring against him with Mr. Micawber, insults both men, and threatens Betsey and Agnes.
Traddles brings in Mrs. Heep. Mr. Micawber reads out a document he has prepared detailing Uriah's crimes: he often asked Mr. Micawber to falsify business in order to deceive Mr. Wickfield; that he made Mr. Wickfield do business when drunk; that he embezzled money from Mr. Wickfield, while managing to make it appear that it was Mr. Wickfield who was the dishonest one; and that he forged Mr. Wickfield's signature.
Mrs. Heep tries to save her son by advising him to be humble again, but he has long since abandoned that trick as useless.
Mr. Micawber ends his speech by saying that he is now unemployed and sees no other future than the debtors' prison for himself and starvation for his family. He only hopes that it will be recognized that he unmasked Uriah in spite of selfish considerations.
Uriah realizes with horror that the account books are missing from the safe, and Traddles reveals that he has them. Betsey seizes Uriah by the collar and announces that it was he who ruined her financially. Previously, she had thought that Mr. Wickfield had made away with her money, and she had kept silent to protect him and Agnes. Traddles tells Uriah that he must make restitution to everyone from whom he has stolen money and property. Uriah accuses David of always being against him, but David points out that it is Uriah who has been against the world in his greed and cunning, and that greed and cunning always over-reach themselves.
Mr. and Mrs. Micawber are reconciled, now that Mr. Micawber no longer has to conceal anything from her. Betsey asks what profession their eldest son has been trained to do, and on hearing that his prospects are bleak, she suggests that the Micawbers emigrate to Australia. In recognition of the service that Mr. Micawber has done them all, Betsey offers to loan him the money to go there. The Micawbers enthusiastically embrace the idea.
Analysis of Chapters XLVIII-LII
This section sees the resolution of several plotlines, in which various characters receive their just deserts. In general, the novel has a simple moral structure: the distinction between good and bad characters is clear, and most of the good characters are rewarded, while most of the bad characters are punished.
The downfall of Uriah is particularly satisfying, for several reasons. First, Uriah is a demonic character, with no redeeming features - Mr. Micawber refers to him as a "serpent," the creature that symbolizes the devil in the Bible - and the characters he ensnares are good people. Second, Uriah's sudden dropping of his "umble" mask after Mr. Micawber's initial accusation terrifyingly reveals him to be not merely devious, but violent in his hatreds and vengefulness. It is easy to believe that, were he to remain free, he would prove dangerous to society. Third, Uriah's exposer is Mr. Micawber, who has finally succeeded in getting a job and doing it extremely well, thus proving that he is, in fact, a deserving character. It was Mr. Micawber's misfortune that in this case, doing his job well meant abetting Uriah in his crimes, but he more than redeems himself by conducting an undercover investigation of Uriah's activities and collecting enough evidence to put him in prison.
Mr. Micawber knows that in doing what is right regarding Uriah, he has deprived himself of a job, and feels he can only look forward to the debtors' prison. But in this novel, Dickens emphasizes the importance of kindness and charity that is given without thought of any return. Such acts are generally seen being rewarded; a kindness offered inspires kindness in return. Mr. Micawber's act restores Betsey's fortune, and he is rewarded by Betsey's inspired suggestion that he take his family to Australia and by her offer to loan him the money he will need to get there.
Another shining example of the selfless act of kindness is that of the unknown foreigners who rescue Little Em'ly after her flight from Littimer. Mr. Peggotty, whose search for Little Em'ly is itself such an act (as is Martha's assistance in the search), praises these people in terms that apply to all such acts by all such characters: "What they done, is laid up wheer neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and wheer thieves do not break through nor steal. Mas'r Davy, it'll outlast all the treasure in the wureld." (Chapter LI)
The opposite of such kindness and charity is embodied by Uriah. After his unmasking, Uriah claims David has always been against him, but David replies, "it is you who have been, in your greed and cunning, against all the world." (Chapter LII) He adds that greed and cunning always over-reach themselves, and are punished.
Dickens has been criticized for the unrealistic and simplistic resolution of emigration to Australia that he uses for Mr. Peggotty and Little Em'ly, and for the Micawbers. However, the novel contains many unrealistic and simplistic elements, and in the light of the history of Dickens's time, emigration to Australia seems one of the most realistic and likely outcomes for these characters. Thousands of British people, mostly poor and seeking work, emigrated to Australia in the nineteenth century. Thousands more were transported there as convicts. Many of these people were successful in their new lives, as Mr. Micawber proves to be. It is true that through the device of emigration, Dickens avoids offering any constructive solution to the social and economic problems of Victorian Britain that engulfed characters like Little Em'ly and the Micawbers. But Dickens was aware of the intractability of many of these problems, reinforced as they were by centuries of rigid tradition of the sort that he describes as surrounding the archaic institution of the Doctors' Commons, and by the class-based attitudes of people like Rosa Dartle and the Steerforths. In Dickens's fiction as in life, emigration was a practical and popular solution. As Mr. Micawber comments in Chapter LVII in reply to his wife's wish that their grandchildren may one day live in England, "Britannia must take her chance. I am bound to say that she has never done much for me, and that I have no particular wish upon the subject."