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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Free Book Notes
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Agnes' note to David the next day throws him into a tizzy. The trouble he takes in writing a reply shows his insecurity-with each attempt, he tests a different identity-but it also shows a writer's sensitivity to words, tone, and nuance. When he goes to meet her, he's relieved that she doesn't scold him. However, she warns him against Steerforth's influence. David stubbornly insists that Steerforth is not so bad, though in his heart he agrees with her. Then Agnes tells David of Uriah's growing hold on her father and his imminent partnership. David's dislike for Uriah is as strong as his love for Steerforth. Agnes, however, begs him to be civil to Uriah, for her father's sake, and bursts out crying in a rare moment of vulnerability.

Agnes' hostess, Mrs. Waterbrook, invites David to a fashionable dinner party. At this period in his life, Dickens had been honored with too many such parties, so he has David satirize the guests with exaggeration and irony. He uses capital letters scornfully to emphasize their favorite topics-especially Blood (meaning hereditary social position). Mr. Gulpidge and Mr. Spiker carry on an obscure conversation using initials instead of names, as if to confuse anyone who's not an insider. David is rather insignificant in this crowd, and he acts mostly as an observer. But he does meet his old Salem House friend Tommy Traddles, who's now a lawyer.

David makes a grudging effort at the party to be civil to Uriah Heep, even when Uriah follows him home. David is aware that he's brusque with Uriah and claims that he's too young to hide his disgust. (Do you agree with David that most adults learn to be hypocrites for the sake of "good manners"?) But Heep feeds on David's irritation, and spins out his description of Mr. Wickfield's growing incapacity as though to torment David. Uriah finishes by saying that he hopes to marry Agnes, using her father's dependence to force her to accept him. David listens, calmly, but he's revolted by the thought, and has a violent urge to run a fire-poker through Uriah.


Uriah and Agnes appear almost like two different species. Agnes seems all soul and character. David calls her his Angel, and when she gives him her hand, it seems like a precious object, not a warm, living hand. Uriah, however, is strongly physical. David calls him a "redheaded animal," and compares him to a dog, a fish, or a snake. When David takes his hand to lead him up the dark stairs, it feels like a damp, cold frog. David constantly describes Uriah's body movements, and when he watches him sleeping that night, Uriah is snoring grossly. How is this designed to make you feel about Uriah's intentions for Agnes?

Later, David reflects on the situation and worries that Agnes might give herself to Uriah, for her father's sake. Compare David's concern here to his blindness in regard to Steerforth and Emily. Perhaps David is more jealous of Agnes than of Emily, though he doesn't realize it. Maybe his love for Steerforth blinds him, while his hatred for Uriah opens his eyes.

David's daily life still seems lonely. Feeling sorry for himself, he writes scraps of romantic verse. After he's invited to Mr. Spenlow's house, he soaks up the clerks' extravagant notions about the boss's house. On the way down he listens dutifully to Mr. Spenlow's pompous talk about the Commons (Dickens gives David a bit of satire here). But as they approach the house, David pictures Miss Spenlow walking in the garden. When he learns her name is Dora, he thinks it's beautiful. David is ripe for romance.

David literally falls in love at first sight, picturing Dora like a creature of myth-"She was a Fairy, a Sylph." He doesn't tell you what she really looks like, except to say she is little and bright-eyed. Even the unexpected presence of Miss Murdstone, who is Dora's paid companion, can't faze David. She seems to have lost her power and is more anxious than David to bury their differences. But love is a torment: David is jealous of everyone around Dora, and he can't eat or carry on a conversation. When he sees himself in a mirror, he thinks he looks like an idiot.


Dickens writes in an exaggerated, emotional voice, spouting cliches, to mock a young man's infatuation. His sentences are short and fragmented, much like the sentences in Chapter XXIV when David was drunk-implying that the two states of mind are similar.

Next morning, in the garden, David listens while Dora talks. Dickens has slanted David's perspective deliberately, to make you skeptical of David's beloved. You hear her chattering to her lapdog Jip. But whether or not Dora is a worthy object of love, David's emotions must be taken seriously (the smell of geraniums still triggers this dizzy delight in him years later, he says). After the weekend visit ends, thoughts of Dora take over David's life. He walks miles to Norwood just to catch a glimpse of her. Though he thinks he's being discreet, he's so smitten that even Mrs. Crupp notices it and is drunkenly sympathetic. This mortifies David, of course, for like any young lover he's painfully self-conscious.

In the next chapter David takes a break from love to visit Tommy Traddles. Impoverished, sloppy Camden Town reminds David of the Micawbers. At the door of the house where Traddles lodges, a milkman is demanding to be paid, another echo of the Micawber days. Therefore, it isn't surprising that Traddles' landlords turn out to be the Micawbers, popping into David's life again.

In contrast to the Micawbers, Traddles seems sane and steady. He's not touchy about his shabby poverty; he remembers only the good things about Salem House; he works hard and has a realistic view of his talents. Like David, he is in love, although his sturdy, practical attitude is much different from David's romantic one. Traddles cheerfully accepts the prospect of a long engagement, and buys furniture one item at a time, telling himself it's a start. In what ways do you think Traddles' friendship might benefit David?


By this time you can recognize Mr. Micawber's way of speaking, and enjoy hearing new variations on it. Look at this speech: "It was at Canterbury where we last met. Within the shadow, I may figuratively say, of that religious edifice immortalized by Chaucer, which was anciently the resort of Pilgrims from the remotest corners of-in short, in the immediate neighborhood of the Cathedral." The pretentious words ("edifice" instead of "building"), the literary allusions, and the way the sentence gets breathlessly off track until it falls apart ("in short"), are all typical of Micawber. The next-to-last paragraph of this chapter is an incredible burst of Micawber rhetoric, ending this installment with an energetic flourish.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Online Summary

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