David Copperfield: Chapters XLIII-XLVII

Chapter XLIII: Another retrospect David is now twenty-one years old, and making a good living reporting on Parliamentary debates for newspapers and writing other pieces for magazines. David marries Dora, and Agnes and Sophy are bridesmaids. Chapter XLIV: Our housekeeping David and Dora begin their married life. Dora proves to be inept at housekeeping. Their servant, Mary Anne, is also incompetent. When David asks Dora to bring Mary Anne into line, Dora pouts and accuses David of blaming her for being a disagreeable wife. David asks Betsey to advise Dora on housekeeping, but Betsey refuses. She does not wish to meddle and create division, and she reminds him of the unhappiness that the Murdstones created from their desire to improve David`s mother. Although she does not explicitly say so, Betsey seems to have doubts about the wisdom of David`s choice of wife. Mary Anne steals David`s cutlery and borrows money using his name, so David fires her. A succession of servants follows, all of whom cheat David and Dora. Dora suggests to David that when he feels angry or disappointed with her, he should merely think of her as his “child-wife.” Dora tries a little to improve her housekeeping. Sometimes she sits poring over a household accounts book, but she gets frustrated that she cannot make sense of it and gives up. Though David loves Dora, and she dotes on him, he has the sense that something is missing in his life, and wishes that he could talk to her as an equal. Instead, he finds that he must shoulder all their responsibilities alone. Wanting to be of some use to David, Dora asks him to let her sit by him while he is writing and hold his pens. David agrees. Betsey is kind to Dora, calling her “Little Blossom.” Chapter XLV: Mr. Dick fulfils my aunt`s prediction Mrs. Markleham is much fonder of pleasure than her daughter Annie, but tries to make Dr. Strong feel that, as an old man, he is unable to keep Annie amused. Mrs. Markleham offers to take Annie to all kinds of amusements, making out that this is an act of charity. Dr. Strong willingly agrees, though David sees pain in his face. Mr. Dick asks David if he thinks him simple-minded. David admits that he does. Mr. Dick seems delighted. He says he has noticed that unhappiness has crept into the relationship between Dr. Strong and Annie. Mr. Dick asks David why Betsey, the “most wonderful woman in the world,” and David, a “fine scholar,” have done nothing to set things right. David explains that this is too delicate a subject for their interference. Mr. Dick thinks that because he is simple, he may succeed where “wonderful” people may not. On evening, David and Betsey call on Dr. Strong. He is busy with a guest, so they wait until he is finished. Mrs. Markleham comes in, excited by having overheard Dr. Strong making his will (the guest is apparently a lawyer) and leaving everything to Annie. Mr. Dick brings Annie to Dr. Strong. She kneels before her husband and begs to know what has come between them. He tells her he loves and honors her, and only says if there is anything amiss, it is his fault. Annie appeals to anyone in the room who can shed light on the matter to speak. David feels he must divulge Dr. Strong`s secret – that Uriah told him that Annie and Jack Maldon were having an affair. Annie tells everyone the story of her relationship with Dr. Strong. She says that she has always loved him and never had any interest in any financial gain she might obtain from him, in spite of her mother`s unjust habit of using Annie`s name to get money out of him for her relatives. As a result of her mother`s actions, Annie has been mortified to realize that people such as Mr. Wickfield suspect she is exploiting Dr. Strong for his money. Regarding Jack Maldon, Annie says that she and he were lovers before she married Dr. Strong, but that she is happy that she never married Jack. She has nothing in common with him, and “There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.” She is grateful to Dr. Strong for saving her from “the first mistaken impulse of my undisciplined heart.” Annie tells how the night that Jack departed for India, he declared his love to her, and she was so disgusted that she never told Dr. Strong. She declares that she has always been faithful in body, heart and soul to Dr. Strong, and that she loves him more each year. She begs him not to cast her out of his heart. On his way home, David feels disturbed by Annie`s words, “There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose” and “the first mistaken impulse of my undisciplined heart.” Chapter XLVI: Intelligence David is acquiring some fame as a writer. He is passing Mrs. Steerforth`s house one day when a maid comes out and tells him that Rosa Dartle would like to see him. David finds her in the garden, and she summons Littimer and instructs him to tell David what has happened with Steerforth and Little Em`ly. Littimer reports that he has been traveling with the couple in continental Europe. At first, Steerforth was happy with Little Em`ly, who was very “improvable” and learned the languages of the countries they visited. But after some time, Steerforth became tired of her moods, and abandoned Little Em`ly with Littimer in a villa in Naples. Steerforth told Littimer to marry Em`ly himself, but Em`ly became furious and hysterical at this proposal. Littimer locked her in a room to prevent her doing any harm, but she escaped through a window and ran away. Littimer has seen nothing of her since. Steerforth insulted Littimer, and Littimer left his service and returned to England. He is now looking for a job. David says that he will report what Littimer has said to Mr. Peggotty, and he warns Littimer to stay out of public places. Littimer is unafraid, as in England, people are not allowed to take the law into their own hands. Rosa tells David that Steerforth is sailing off the coast of Spain, and that there is a breach between him and his mother. Rosa and Mrs. Steerforth (who now joins the conversation) blame Little Em`ly for everything that has happened, with Rosa calling her a devil. They want her to be found in order to protect Steerforth from falling prey to her again. David reports what he has learned to Mr. Peggotty, who is in London. They decide to seek out Martha to ask her to help find Little Em`ly. They find her walking the city streets and follow her to a quieter area, where they will not be observed talking to her. Chapter XLVII: Martha David and Mr. Peggotty follow Martha to a polluted and run-down area, where she is standing and staring at the river. When they speak to her, she grows hysterical. She tells them that she is like the river, in that she is from an innocent rural area but has come to the town and become corrupted. She feels that she belongs in the river and should drown herself. Martha fears that the men will blame her for corrupting Little Em`ly, but they reassure her that they know her to be blameless. She agrees to help them find her, and refuses to take any money from them. She is glad of the opportunity to do some good in her life. David reaches home at midnight and notices the door to Betsey`s cottage lying open. He sees a man in her garden. He knows that this is the man of whom Mr. Dick spoke, and with whom Betsey got into the hackney carriage. David sees Betsey come out of her cottage and give him money. After the man leaves, Betsey tells David that he is her husband, who is not dead. She once loved him, but he wasted her fortune and broke her heart. She gave him a generous settlement and left him. Ever since, she has been paying him money to leave her alone. She says she was a fool to marry him. She asks David to tell no one her secret. Analysis of Chapters XLIII-XLVII From this point in the novel, Dickens gives each character an appropriate resolution. This section includes resolutions for Mr. Dick and the Strongs. Mr. Dick`s triumph in reconciling the Strongs when intelligent people like Betsey and David could not do so highlights a major theme of the novel: the value of a good heart and an “earnest” nature over intelligence and sophistication. Implicit in this episode is Dickens`s critique of a society that locks up simple-minded but saintly characters like Mr. Dick in lunatic asylums, but that approves of and admires people like Uriah Heep (for being “umble” and Steerforth (for being beautiful and charming). The episode also vindicates Betsey`s opinion that Mr. Dick has a remarkable mind. Thanks to Mr. Dick`s intervention, it is finally clear that, contrary to widespread suspicion, Annie Strong has always been faithful to her husband and is not having an affair with Jack Maldon. Annie Strong`s speech to her husband is a moving affirmation of a marriage founded on deep love and, to paraphrase Annie, a suitability of mind and purpose. Dickens shows that while society focuses on external discrepancies in a marriage, like the difference in age and socio-economic background between Dr. Strong and Annie, these are irrelevant to the happiness or otherwise of the marriage. What is important is that the two people are compatible in their natures and goals, and the Strongs are. David finds himself disturbed by Annie`s words because he knows that his own marriage is blighted by an unsuitability of mind and purpose. Dora continues to be childish and incapable of the simplest housekeeping tasks. Another theme brought home by Annie`s speech is what she terms “the first mistaken impulse of [an] undisciplined heart.” If Annie had gone with her heart`s first impulse as a young girl, she would have married Jack. This, as she now recognizes, would have been a disaster, as they have nothing in common. These words too strike home with David, as he is aware that they perfectly describe his marrying Dora. They also apply to the catastrophic affair between Steerforth and Little Em`ly. Steerforth failed to discipline his heart sufficiently to take into account anyone`s happiness but his own – and even in his own case, mistook an impulse of desire for true and lasting happiness. Little Em`ly failed to discipline her heart to love the steady Ham, and was led astray by her immature response to Steerforth`s charm and by her own desire to be a lady. Betsey too has suffered from the first impulse of her undisciplined heart, marrying a man who soon turned out to be feckless and uncaring towards her. The revelation that the man who visits her and takes her money is her husband resolves a long-standing mystery. It also goes a long way towards explaining some idiosyncrasies of her character. These include her mistrust of the male sex, to the extent that during her early years with David, she compares him unfavorably to his non-existent sister; and her deep concern that people should use immense care when choosing a marriage partner, evidenced by such outbursts as “blind, blind, blind!” when she contemplates the forthcoming marriage of David to Dora. This section resolves the plotline concerning Littimer, and ironically subverts the adjective so often applied to him, “respectable.” Littimer, far from being respectable, has revealed himself to be morally dubious. He has aided and abetted his master in abducting an innocent girl, and proceeded to insult her in her grief by proposing that she marry him instead of the man for whom she sacrificed everything, Steerforth. When she responded with fury and panic, he became her jailer. Littimer`s story shows Dickens`s contempt for the Victorian ideal of respectability. Underneath the smooth surface of Littimer`s impeccable manner is a sinister self-seeker who appears to lack compassion even for a helpless and abused woman. Dickens`s satirical comments on respectability are taken up in the story of Martha. In the eyes of society, Martha is the least respectable person imaginable. She is a prostitute, a profession so surrounded by shame in Dickens`s time that he never explicitly says what she does for a living. But in vowing to devote the rest of her life to finding Little Em`ly, an entirely selfless act, Martha redeems herself. Dickens shows that a person who is not at all `respectable` may have a kindness and an earnestness that deserves society`s honor, compassion, and gratitude.