Summary and Analysis
Steerforth and David depart by coach the next morning, leaving Littimer behind to do "what he has to do," as Steerforth cryptically comments. During the journey, David tells Steerforth about the previous night's encounter with Martha Endell, the "fallen woman." David seeks Steerforth's advice about which profession he should pursue. He inquires about being a proctor, a job suggested to him in a recent letter from his aunt, but Steerforth comments that it is a dull job; David would be "a sort of monkish attorney at Doctors' Commons."
David meets Aunt Betsey in London and tells her that he would be happy to be a proctor. However, when he learns that it will cost his aunt a thousand pounds to place him with a firm, David asks if she can afford it. Her reply is that she has "no other claim upon my means — and you are my adopted child."
The next day they set out for the office of Messrs. Spenlow and Jorkins, in Doctors' Commons, where David is to learn his new profession. On the way, an "ill-dressed man" approaches them, and for a moment Aunt Betsey is terrified. However, to David's great astonishment, she tells him to wait for her, and she drives off in a coach with the strange man. When Aunt Betsey returns a half hour later, she tells David, "Never ask me what it was, and don't refer to it." Significantly, David notices that all the guineas are gone from her purse when she gives it to him to pay the driver of the coach.
At the law office, David meets Mr. Spenlow, a well-dressed little man, who explains that his partner, Mr. Jorkins, is a ruthless taskmaster (Later David finds him to be a mild man and learns that his image as a tyrant is a ruse to pressure people). Arrangements are made for David to begin a month's probation, and after everything is arranged, David is lodged at the home of Mrs. Crupp, who immediately takes a motherly interest in him. The next day his aunt leaves for Dover, and David is ready to begin his career in law.
At first David is pleased with his living quarters, but he soon becomes lonely and wonders why Steerforth has not come to visit. When Steerforth turns up, David invites him and two of his Oxford friends to dinner, and he tries to arrange with Mrs. Crupp to cook the meal. However, Mrs. Crupp is unable to prepare the food, and it must be ordered from the pastry cook.
During dinner, everyone consumes a great deal of wine, and David soon becomes "singularly cheerful and light-hearted" and even tries smoking for the first time. It is suggested that they attend the theater, and on the way out, David is conscious of someone falling down the stairs. He is surprised to find that it is he. The theater is very hot, and to David "the whole building looked . . . as if it were learning to swim." They go downstairs to where the ladies were; there, the boisterous David becomes the center of attention. He discovers Agnes at the theater with some friends and tries to talk to her. She is embarrassed and asks him to leave. Steerforth helps David return home. The next morning David is plagued with remorse and shame — and with a headache.
In Chapter 23, David is launched on a career through his aunt's benevolence. But a disturbing element in her life (a life seemingly so mysteriously free of any past) is introduced, suggesting that there is something or someone in her past to account for the belligerent, withdrawn character we first knew her as. For example, we should ask ourselves at this point: Who is the mysterious stranger who so greatly terrifies Aunt Betsey?
Chapter 24 is one of Dickens' most entertaining chapters in this novel. Young David's becoming intoxicated and making a fool of himself is underplayed just enough to make the scene realistic yet comic. His attempts to talk to Agnes and his abrupt "Goori" (goodnight) when he is told to leave, are examples of classic Dickens humor.