David Copperfield By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 17-18

Summary

David, in corresponding with Peggotty, returns the half guinea she loaned him, and he learns from her that the Murdstones have moved from the house in Blunderstone, leaving it "shut up, to be let or sold."

At school, David is visited, occasionally, by his aunt and also by Mr. Dick on alternate Wednesdays. On one of Mr. Dick's visits, he tells David about a strange man who has been hanging around the Trotwood house frightening Aunt Betsey and causing her to faint. Unaccountably, Mr. Dick has seen her give money to the strange man.

Uriah Heep asks David to have tea with him and his mother, if their "umbleness" doesn't prevent him. David accepts the invitation, and that evening he meets Mrs. Heep, "the dead image of Uriah, only short." Although there has been a considerable lapse of time since Mr. Heep's death, Mrs. Heep is still wearing "weeds" (black mourning dresses).

Mrs. Heep and her son proceed to "worm things out" of David, first about his past life, and then about Mr. Wickfleld and Agnes. David has begun to feel "a little uncomfortable" and to wish himself "well out of the visit," when Mr. Micawber suddenly appears. He has been walking down the street and through the open door, he spied David. David introduces Micawber to Uriah and his mother.

The next evening, David looks out of the windows and is surprised to see Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep "walk past, arm in arm. He learns, the next day when he dines with the Micawbers, that Mr. Micawber went home with Uriah and drank brandy and water at Mrs. Heep's. Micawber is much impressed with Uriah and says that if he had known him when his "difficulties came to a crisis . . . my creditors would have been a great deal better managed" than they were.

The next morning, David receives a note from Mr. Micawber saying that there is no hope of receiving the money from London, and indicating that Micawber will soon be returning to debtors' prison. David, on his way to school, hurries toward the hotel "to soothe Mr. Micawber with a word of comfort." However, he meets "the London coach with Mr. and Mrs. Micawber up behind, Mr. Micawber the very picture of tranquil enjoyment." David is both relieved and sorry at their going.

David reminisces about his school days. He remembers being in love with Miss Shepherd, "a little girl . . . with a round face and curly flaxen hair," and how "all was over" when she made a face and laughed at him one day. He also remembers the boys at Doctor Strong's school and how the Doctor "waylaid the smaller boys to punch their unprotected heads."

In time, David becomes the head-boy at the school, and he feels that the boy he was when he first came to the school is no longer part of him. "That boy is gone"; also gone is the little girl he "saw on that first day at Mr. Wickfield's . . . In her stead, the perfect likeness of [her mother's] picture — a child-likeness no more — moves about the house, and Agnes . . . is quite a woman."

Again David is in love, this time with Miss Larkins, a woman of about thirty. Although she has many officers as admirers, David dreams of winning her. He dances with her at a ball, and for several days afterward, he is lost "in rapturous reflections." One day Agnes tells him that Miss Larkins is to be married to an elderly hop-grower, Mr. Chestle. David is "terribly dejected for about a week or two." He is now seventeen.

Analysis

In Chapter 17, we have the first of several far-fetched coincidences that appear in the novel. The possibility of Mr. Micawber's just happening by at a time when David is in an awkward position, and wishes to escape, is very remote. It may be argued that such things do indeed happen now and then in real life, but they happen so rarely that when a coincidence is used in a novel — just to further the plot — it does seem artificial, especially to today's readers.

Also artificial (for today's readers) is Dickens' use of a mysterious stranger, whose identity is not revealed for some time (although it is not impossible to guess at once who he is). The stranger was used by Dickens to heighten reader interest and to add an element of suspense to the story; the novel, remember, was originally published in serial form and many of the conventions that you are reading here were original with Dickens and were borrowed by many lesser and later writers.

With Chapter 18, we are now at the end of what many readers believe is the finest part of the novel — David's childhood and school days. We have watched him grow from babyhood to the age of seventeen, and he has become, through Dickens' great sympathy for him, a truly believable character. In fact, David may well be the only truly believable character in the novel; most of the others merely possess exaggerations of the traits we meet every day.

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Barkis, the cart driver, asks David to tell Peggotty: Barkis is willin'. This means Barkis is




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