David receives a reply to his letter to Dora's aunts, Miss Lavinia and Miss Clarissa Spenlow, stating that he may call upon them — accompanied by a "confidential friend" if they so desire. David asks Traddles to go with him, and during the trip Traddles passes the time with the story of his own engagement to Sophy and the objections he encountered from her family. This makes David even more nervous.
The Spenlow sisters are dressed in black and remind David of two birds, "having a sharp, brisk, sudden manner . . . like canaries." David's anxiety is not helped when they address Traddles as Mr. Copperfield. As the conversation advances, David finds that the decision about David's courtship will be made by Miss Lavinia, the younger of the two sisters. After a period of questioning, answering and lecturing, it is decided that David "may court" Dora.
In time, Aunt Betsey becomes acquainted with the Spenlows, and everyone adjusts quite well to the circumstances, except Jip, the dog. David notices that the aunts treat Dora like a child; however, when he mentions this to Dora, she starts to cry, so he drops the subject. He also attempts to teach Dora something about becoming a housewife; he brings her a "cookery book" and begins to instruct her on how to keep account books. Dora soon becomes disgusted when the columns do not add up for her and she starts to draw pictures all over the books. David does not make any progress and decides just to enjoy her company.
After Agnes arrives with her father on a visit of a fortnight to the Doctor's, Uriah corners David in the Doctor's garden. He hints that he is in love with Agnes, and then he expresses hatred for Annie, Doctor Strong's young wife, because he feels that she stands between Agnes and him. He goes on to imply a relationship between Annie and Jack Maldon.
On the next evening, David takes Agnes to meet Dora. Since David is anxious that "Agnes should like her," he is pleased to find that they become very friendly. In fact, Dora considers Agnes so clever that she wonders why David fell in love with her rather than with Agnes.
After David leaves Agnes at Dr. Strong's house, he sees a light in the Doctor's study and enters to find Mr. Wickfield, Doctor Strong, and Uriah Heep in a troubled state. Uriah tells David that he has just informed Dr. Strong of the "goings-on" between Annie and Jack Maldon. Mr. Wickfield admits that he himself thought Annie may have married the Doctor for "worldly considerations only." Dr. Strong, however, criticizes himself for the situation because his wife is so much younger than he, and he cannot help but regard Annie as the "wronged" partner.
After the Doctor and Mr. Wickfield leave the room, David argues with Uriah over "entrapping me into your schemes" and becomes so angry that he slaps Uriah on the cheek.
David later notices that the Doctor exhibits a "gentle compassion" toward his wife and urges her to spend more time with her mother, Mrs. Markleham, "to relieve the dull monotony of her life." Annie is unhappy over this estrangement from her husband, and David often notices her "with her eyes full of tears." Only Mr. Dick serves as "a link between them."
David receives a letter from Mrs. Micawber. She says that "Mr. Micawber is entirely changed . . . He is secret." She tells David that she is having difficulty obtaining even the barest of expense money from him, and she asks for David's advice.
In Chapter 41, Dickens gives us another clear picture of Dora, showing her as the shallow, impractical child or "pretty toy," unable to face anything requiring even a slight measure of self-discipline. She is a lovable person, if a simple one; however, the reader can only wonder at David's deep love for her and be dubious about the possibility of success in the marriage now planned.
In Chapter 42, Dickens focuses on yet another woman: the innocent Annie as she is being slandered by Uriah. Here, David comes to the rescue and strikes him, but he is unable to combat the schemes of the villainous clerk. In all of the subplots in the latter part of this long novel, David is merely an observer of the action, for the main part, and is powerless to intercede.