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Free Barron's Booknotes-David Copperfield by Charles Dickens-Free Book Notes
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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTERS XXXII - XXXIV

Several different reactions to Emily and Steerforth are described. David finds that he admires Steerforth's good qualities more than ever, though he readily accepts that they must never be friends again. (David the narrator even pauses to address Steerforth directly, declaring that he still admires him.) In the town, where news has traveled fast, more people blame Emily than Steerforth-reflecting the Victorian double standard-but everyone pities Ham and Mr. Peggotty. Mr. Peggotty announces that he will search the world for Emily. Ham, who's staying at Yarmouth, looks dazed and aimless, staring out to sea. Mrs. Gummidge has become a kind, selfless woman, cheerfully helping Dan prepare for his travels and keeping the boathouse ready in case of Emily's return. Even volatile Miss Mowcher shows a different side of her character. She visits David, and is stricken with remorse because she was tricked into acting as a go-between for Steerforth and Emily. David learns he, too, was a pawn, for Littimer had told Miss Mowcher that David was the one pursuing Emily. Steerforth's seduction was therefore planned long in advance; the more you learn, the worse he looks.

NOTE:

Miss Mowcher was based on a real dwarf who lived near Dickens. After Miss Mowcher appeared in the earlier installment, this woman wrote to Dickens, protesting the caricature he had drawn of her. In this chapter he makes it up to her by showing Miss Mowcher's good side. The character blooms into a sympathetic woman, with real feelings inside her misshapen body.

There is one more reaction to observe. David takes the Peggottys to London to see Mrs. Steerforth. Proud, grand Mrs. Steerforth and homely Mr. Peggotty appear as stark opposites in this scene, yet each has a natural dignity. Mrs. Steerforth coldly refuses to allow that Emily might be worthy of her son, while Mr. Peggotty persistently tries to save Emily from further disgrace. But once he accuses Steerforth directly, she bursts out in anger. Beneath her words seethes pain over her son's faithlessness to her. And after she's stalked out of the room, Rosa darts in, snidely accusing David of stirring up trouble and pouring out a vicious diatribe against Emily. (What do you think lies beneath her words?) Mr. Peggotty's goodness is heightened by his contrast to these women. As he sets out on his search for Emily, bag over his shoulder and stick in hand, he looks like a storybook pilgrim. With a noble speech forgiving Emily, he walks into a glow of light.


Chapter XXXIII turns to comedy, as David describes his love for Dora. He claims he's never stopped thinking of her (though he's scarcely mentioned her for a couple of chapters). There's an ironic contrast between how grandly David talks of his love and how silly he looks, sneaking around her garden wall hoping for a glimpse of her. When he confesses his love to Peggotty, her common-sense view is refreshing. She can't understand why David is mooning around in despair, because he is a perfectly eligible suitor.

David fails to think realistically about love and marriage. When he and Peggotty see Mr. Murdstone applying for a marriage license at Mr. Spenlow's office, David remembers his mother's misery in marriage. He imagines that Murdstone's new wife will be treated the same, but he doesn't question marriage itself. He then goes into court to try a cynical divorce case. Dickens' purpose here is to make you more skeptical about marriage than the narrator David is. David's intelligent idealism may lead him to criticize the customs of the Prerogative Office (a records office of the church courts) to Mr. Spenlow's face, but he becomes an unquestioning fool as soon as he is invited to visit on Dora's birthday.

The next episode shows what a foolish lover David is, in his painfully fashionable clothes, with his extravagant gifts, riding in the dust beside Dora's carriage. Dora and he play typical lovers' games at the picnic, flirting with other people and pretending to ignore each other. But although David is gently mocking his younger self, he also makes you feel the whirl of emotions he was experiencing. After he's triumphed over his rival Red Whiskers at the picnic, he exultantly emphasizes the "I's" in a paragraph quivering with love's innocent egotism.

NOTE:

Dora's new companion, Miss Mills-an "old maid" at age twenty-is Dickens' way of satirizing the popular romantic cliches of his time. Miss Mills is full of phrases like "the Desert of Sahara," "Caverns of Memory," and "a Voice from the Cloister," similar to someone quoting pop-music lyrics or TV jingles today. She's so ridiculous that David and Dora look a little less foolish, or at least a little more sincere. Love is a fad with Miss Mills. Although she helps David and Dora get together, she isn't the best guide for them.

When David calls on Miss Mills, she intentionally leaves him alone with Dora. In those days unmarried girls were strictly chaperoned, so this is a golden opportunity for David. In a series of passionate sentences starting with "I," he proposes to her, although this emotional outburst is not quoted directly. Little Jip barks throughout, increasing the chaos and, perhaps, emphasizing how poorly guarded Dora is. Notice that David never considers whether he ought to ask her father's permission. Why doesn't he even try? Perhaps, like Miss Mills, he simply loves the romance of a secret engagement. In a series of paragraphs starting with "When," David describes vignettes of this "insubstantial, happy, foolish time." Looking back, he can't take it seriously, but he remembers it fondly.

Notice how David's tone calms down in the next chapter when he writes to Agnes. In contrast to his dizzy emotions, the rest of his life seems stable. Peggotty keeps house for him now, and he has a good friend in Traddles, who remains cheerful in spite of his never-ending engagement and his financial losses due to Micawber. But one day, suddenly, David arrives home to find Betsey and Mr. Dick, with all their belongings, waiting for him. Mrs. Crupp's servility toward Betsey emphasizes how important a rich person is in other people's eyes, but once Mrs. Crupp leaves, Betsey explains that she has lost all her money. Calling on David to be firm and self-reliant, she faces her financial ruin with a curious mixture of grief and zest.

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