Summary and Analysis
David receives a long, flowery letter addressed to him at Doctors' Commons from Mr. Micawber in which he tells David that he wants to meet with him and Traddles at King's Bench Prison. The letter is perplexing, and David reads it several times to unscramble its meaning.
David and Traddles meet Mr. Micawber at the designated place and they sense that much is on his mind. David asks about Uriah Heep, and Mr. Micawber says that he is sorry for anyone who knows such a man. Finally, they board a coach and go to Aunt Betsey's house, where they can talk. Both Aunt Betsey and Mr. Dick are present. They ask Mr. Micawber to make some of his wonderful punch, but he is so upset that he forgets what he is doing and ruins the drink. Mr. Micawber eventually reveals the name of the person who is the cause of his emotional upset: "Villainy is the matter . . . and the name of the whole atrocious mass is — HEEP!" Mr. Micawber calls him a "detestable serpent" and vows that he will crush the "hypocrite and perjurer." Micawber makes some mention of the Wickfields, but, before explaining what Heep has done to them, he rushes from the house. As he leaves, he mentions a future meeting at which he plans to "expose [this] intolerable ruffian — HEEP!" David later receives a "pastoral note" from Mr. Micawber, asking them to be present at an inn in Canterbury one week from now for this purpose. David fears that Em'ly must be dead, but Mr. Peggotty still believes that she is safe and will be returned to him. During this time, Mr. Peggotty has been a frequent visitor at David's house, and both Dora and David admire the man for his abiding faith.
One night Martha visits David and tells him they must journey to London immediately; she has left a note for Mr. Peggotty to follow as soon as possible, yet she says nothing of what to expect. When they arrive in London, David is taken to a shabby rooming house where he and Martha observe Rosa Dartle entering Martha's apartment just ahead of them. David and Martha listen through a side door, and David recognizes Em'ly's voice. They hear Miss DartIe blaming Em'ly for Steerforth's going away, as she hurls insults at the poor girl. Em'ly pleads for mercy, but Miss Dartle continues her vindictive abuse. "If you live here tomorrow, I'll have your story and your character proclaimed on the common stair." David is frequently tempted to interrupt the scene, but he decides to wait for Mr. Peggotty.
Miss Dartle hurries out of the room and down the stairs, brushing past the onrushing Mr. Peggotty. Em'ly cries "Uncle" and faints in Mr. Peggotty's arms; he tenderly carries her motionless body down the stairs.
In Chapter 49, Dickens turns to autobiography again as he expresses the oratorical mannerisms of his own father in Micawber's penchant for writing flowery letters; also, the childlike impulses that characterized Dickens' father are illustrated in Micawber. He is unwilling to reveal the problem that is causing him so much agony, for example, until he is asked to make his favorite punch and is cajoled into talking by the others.
Chapter 50 is often said to be a bit too melodramatic for most people's tastes. Em'ly is still the innocent young girl who can muster only a frail defense when Miss Dartle shames her. Em'ly pleads for forgiveness and explains how much she has suffered because of her passion for Steerforth.