David Copperfield: Novel Summary: Chapters XXXIX-XLII

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Chapter XXXIX: Wickfield and Heep
 
After Mr. Wickfield's death, his law firm, never very prosperous, suffers from lack of good management. It competes for scraps of business on any terms.
 
David goes to Canterbury to visit Agnes at Mr. Wickfield's house. There, he finds that Uriah and his mother are now in charge of the house and Mr. Micawber is working as Uriah's clerk. Mr. Micawber is renting Uriah's old house from him. Mr. Wickfield has been made "obsolete" by Uriah's machinations. Mr. Micawber is distant with David and tells him that he is in a position of trust and cannot discuss Uriah or Mr. Wickfield with him.
 
David is overjoyed to see Agnes, whose presence imbues him with peace and happiness. He tells her that he relies on her, but she insists that he should be relying on Dora. David relates his problems with Dora, and Agnes advises him to write to Dora's aunts, with whom Dora has been living since her father's death, and ask permission to visit her.
 
Mrs. Heep keeps watch over David and Agnes, so that they are never left alone. When David goes out for a walk, Uriah insists on joining him. Uriah defends his decision to set a watch over David and Agnes, on the grounds that he considers David a dangerous rival for the affections of Agnes; he is also jealous of Annie for her friendship with Agnes. David replies that he only considers Agnes as a dear sister, but that Uriah is unworthy of her. Uriah says that he was brought up to be humble, and he found that it worked, as people like to feel that they are above others. He adds that though he is humble, he has power.
 
Uriah deliberately gets Mr. Wickfield drunk, and declares that he loves Agnes and intends to marry her. Mr. Wickfield reacts with horror, and says that he is utterly in Uriah's power. Uriah warns Mr. Wickfield to be silent, or he will tell the world Mr. Wickfield's secret (his alcoholism). Agnes enters and helps her father from the room. David follows her and begs her not to sacrifice herself for her father's sake by marrying Uriah. Agnes does not reply directly, but only says that David need not fear for her.
 
As David is leaving, Uriah seeks him out and tells him that he and Mr. Wickfield have made up their quarrel. Uriah reflects that he brought up the subject of his marriage to Agnes too soon, and that it can wait.
 
Chapter XL: The wanderer
 
While walking across London, David encounters Mr. Peggotty, who has been to continental Europe in search of Little Em'ly. While Mr. Peggotty is talking to David at an inn, David notices Martha listening just outside the door. Mr. Peggotty heard reports of sightings of Little Em'ly in Switzerland with Steerforth and Littimer, but did not find her. He shows David letters he has received from Little Em'ly, one expressing guilt at the suffering she has caused Mr. Peggotty and Ham, and two containing money.
 
Mr. Peggotty reports that Ham has lost care for his own life and is putting himself forward for many dangerous tasks at sea. Mr. Peggotty goes to an inn where he will spend the night before resuming his search.
 
Chapter XLI: Dora's aunts
 
Dora's aunts reply to David's letter, saying that he is welcome to visit and discuss his hopes of marrying Dora. David sets off, taking Traddles with him. Traddles tells David that his fianc�e's family is not enthusiastic about their plans to marry, as Sophy is so useful to them. They take consolation in the uncertainty of Traddles's finances, which are delaying the marriage.
 
David and Traddles arrive at the house of Dora's aunts, who are called Lavinia and Clarissa. The aunts tell David that they do not doubt David's feelings for Dora and have no objection to his courting her, though they would prefer not to recognize any formal engagement until they have had the chance to observe the pair. David perceives that the aunts will take pleasure in supervising the romance between him and Dora. He joyfully agrees to their terms.
 
The aunts allow David to see Dora alone. Dora's main concerns are her fear of Traddles and of Betsey. When David tries to get Dora to meet Traddles, she runs off and locks herself in her room. David leaves, elated at the success of his courtship.
 
While Betsey is glad that David is happy, on hearing of his progress with Dora, she walks up and down in David's apartment for a long time. Betsey calls on Dora and her aunts. David notices that all the ladies (and even, occasionally, he himself) treat Dora like a plaything, as Dora treats her dog. When David protests at this to Dora, she says that she likes the way they treat her. She begins to cry, and asks David why he wants to marry her if he does not like her. David assures her that he dotes on her. He learns that the cookery book he wanted her to study also makes her cry.
 
Chapter XLII: Mischief
 
The adult David reflects that in everything in life, he has always been thoroughly in earnest, gaining his ends from "steady, plain, hard-working qualities."
 
Agnes and her father visit Dr. Strong. Agnes finds a lodging near the Strongs' for the Heeps. Agnes and Dora become friends, and Dora asks David why he would want to marry her when he has been so close to Agnes. Agnes tells David that she will never marry Uriah.
 
David comes across Dr. Strong sitting weeping in his study, with Uriah standing over him. Uriah tells David that he has told Dr. Strong that his wife, Annie, is having an affair with Jack Maldon. Uriah says it is clear that Jack only returned from India to be with Annie. Mr. Wickfield adds that he also had suspicions. Uriah forces David to admit that he too suspected an affair. Dr. Strong blames himself for trapping in marriage a beautiful woman who is much younger than him and making her unhappy.
 
Mr. Wickfield helps Dr. Strong to bed. David rebukes Uriah for involving him in his schemes, and strikes him. Uriah says that he forgives him, which throws David into a torment of guilt.
 
David believes that Dr. Strong does not mention his discussion with Uriah to Annie. However, he notices that Dr. Strong is more than usually compassionate towards Annie, and that Annie becomes sad. Dr. Strong sends an unwilling Annie on trips away from home, to amuse her. The only thing that seems to bring happiness into the household is Mr. Dick, whom Dr. Strong and Annie both love.
 
David receives a letter from Mrs. Micawber saying that Mr. Micawber has changed very much. He is secretive, morose, mean with money, and cold towards his children.
 
Analysis of Chapters XXXIX-XLII
 
David's adult reflection in Chapter XLII encapsulates his approach to life: ". whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely...in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest." David goes on to define earnestness as attempting to gain his ends from "steady, plain, hard-working qualities." Dickens presents this value system sympathetically and appears to endorse it.
 
David shares his quality of earnestness with other good and honest characters, among them Peggotty, Mr. Peggotty, Agnes, Traddles, Betsey, and Mr. Dick. All these characters endure suffering with patience and are improved by it. In contrast, Steerforth, Uriah, and Dora all lack earnestness, and seem to be reinforced in their weaknesses by life's adversities. Steerforth and Uriah take refuge in deviousness and manipulation, while Dora collapses into the role of a helpless child.
 
Uriah's accusations of Annie represent the height of his evildoing. Until now, his malevolent influence has taken the form of a gradual encroachment in the lives of Mr. Wickfield and Agnes, and it has been difficult to pinpoint any real moral crime.
He seems to be motivated by a desire to isolate Agnes from her friend Annie, and to extend his power and control to the Strongs. The relative triviality of this motive, combined with the sympathetic characters of Dr. Strong and Annie, make Uriah's actions all the more reprehensible.
 
The one redeeming aspect of Dr. Strong and Annie's predicament is the presence of Mr. Dick, who brings love and joy into the stricken household. Mr. Dick, with his simple good-hearted wisdom, is cast in opposition to the devious and cruel Uriah.
 
Suspense is created in relation to the plotline of the Strongs, in that the reader does not yet know whether there is any substance to the suspicions of an affair. Other plotlines that create suspense are the change that occurs in Mr. Micawber after his employment by Uriah (will he too fall under Uriah's power?) and David's impending marriage to Dora (how will this relationship work out, when Dora is too frightened to face his friends and traumatized by the sight of a cookery book?). Dickens used multiple plotlines involving suspense to make his readers look forward to the next installment of the serialized novel, a practice followed by writers of modern soap operas.

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