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David Copperfield
David Copperfield
by Charles Dickens
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David Copperfield Chapter 19 Summary

I Look About Me, and Make a Discovery

  • David is very attached to Doctor Strong and happy at school, but he is ready to move on to the next phase of his life.
  • David and Miss Betsey spend lots of time talking about what David should do with his life.
  • Mr. Dick makes only one suggestion, that David should be a brazier (which is metal bowl used to hold coals or fire). Miss Betsey looks so annoyed at this that Mr. Dick never tries to offer his opinion on the subject again.
  • One day around Christmas, Miss Betsey makes David a proposal: why doesn't he go down to Yarmouth to see Peggotty?
  • Miss Betsey tells David that his feelings for Peggotty are natural and rational, and that David should always be both of those things.
  • David's aunt also comments that David is the living image of his mother, with lots of his father in him as well.
  • She advises that David must be resolute, determined, and morally firm.
  • Miss Betsey wants to give David a sense of independence, so she tells him to go on this trip to Yarmouth by himself.
  • Miss Betsey hands David a fair amount of money and sends him on his way.
  • David stops in Canterbury to see Agnes and Mr. Wickfield.
  • David tells Agnes that she is good, gentle, and always right – so he wants to confide in her.
  • Agnes thinks it's another crush on a lady, but it isn't – and David also tells Agnes that there is no one worthy of her love, either.
  • When Agnes falls in love, David tells her he will expect a lot of her fiancé.
  • He thinks Agnes is so superior that he can't bear the thought of her tying herself to an unworthy admirer.
  • Agnes seizes the opportunity to ask David something, since she will probably not see him again for some time.
  • She wants to know if David has observed any change in Mr. Wickfield.
  • David has: possibly as a result of Mr. Wickfield's drinking so much, his physical condition is getting worse.
  • Mr. Wickfield's hands tremble all the time, his speech is unclear, and he seems totally stressed out.
  • Whenever Mr. Wickfield is clearly at his most stressed, Uriah Heep calls on him to work.
  • And the more that Uriah Heep calls on Mr. Wickfield to work when he is unfit, the more nervous and unsettled Mr. Wickfield becomes.
  • David tells Agnes that, just the other day, he saw Mr. Wickfield put his head in his arms and cry like a child.
  • Agnes stops David from talking because Mr. Wickfield comes into the room.
  • David observes that Agnes looks at Mr. Wickfield with great gratitude, love, and worry for his condition.
  • David is deeply moved by her feelings for her father.
  • The Wickfields and David are due at Doctor Strong's house for tea.
  • Doctor Strong tells them that he plans to retire soon and leave his school to his lead teacher.
  • The school master asks Mr. Wickfield to draw up the contracts for him when the time comes.
  • Mr. Wickfield warns Doctor Strong once again not to let himself be taken advantage of.
  • Once Doctor Strong has retired, he will think of only two things: his dictionary, and Annie.
  • Annie looks timidly at Mr. Wickfield.
  • Mr. Wickfield notices that Doctor Strong has received a letter from India.
  • Mrs. Markleham (Annie Strong's mother) chimes in: she is sure that Jack Maldon is very sick, what with having to live in India's hot climate.
  • Mr. Wickfield asks if Jack Maldon has actually said anything about illness in his letters.
  • Mrs. Markleham admits that Jack Maldon has not said that he is sick, but that he also never would: Jack Maldon would never complain if it meant violating Doctor Strong's plans for him.
  • Doctor Strong puts in that these were Mr. Wickfield's arrangements; Doctor Strong would have been fine with having Jack Maldon either at home or abroad.
  • Mr. Wickfield adds that he was the one to send Jack Maldon abroad.
  • Mrs. Markleham predicts that Jack Maldon will die in India before coming home and ruining anyone's arrangements for him.
  • Doctor Strong totally doesn't mind changing arrangements if Jack Maldon is really as sick as all that. He would be happy to find Jack Maldon a more suitable job here in England if that's the case.
  • Mrs. Markleham is so overcome by the Doctor's generosity that she praises him repeatedly and demands that Annie show her gratitude.
  • Throughout all of this, Annie stays silent with her eyes cast down.
  • Mrs. Markleham reads out a piece of Jack Maldon's letter to Doctor Strong: apparently, Jack has been sick, and he has to come back to England to recover for a time.
  • The pushy lady demands that Annie produce the letter Jack Maldon wrote to her so that Mrs. Markleham can read out bits of that, too.
  • Annie doesn't want to, but Mrs. Markleham insists.
  • Mrs. Markleham reads out a, shall we say, warmly worded passage about how much Jack Maldon hates India and wants to come home. It's unclear whether he has actually been sick – he says that being there is "insupportable" (19.77), in other words, that it sucks. Jack Maldon insists on coming home, either on sick leave or by resigning from his job.
  • Mr. Wickfield says nothing, but he looks thoughtful and severe.
  • The Doctor likes music, so Agnes and Annie sing several duets together.
  • David notices that Mr. Wickfield doesn't seem to approve of the friendliness between Agnes and Annie.
  • David recalls the night when Jack Maldon left for India and begins to feel unformed suspicions about Annie's behavior.
  • Still, the evening passes quickly.
  • When it's time for David and the Wickfields to leave, something odd happens.
  • Agnes reaches over to hug and kiss Annie, but Mr. Wickfield physically steps between them (as though accidentally) and pulls Agnes away.
  • David finds this incredibly strange, and feels as though he is leaving the Doctor's house under a dark cloud.
  • David worries that the Doctor's kindliness may be betrayed.
  • The next morning, David departs Mr. Wickfield's house.
  • David does his best to appear as old as possible, so he addresses the coachman condescendingly and in a gruff voice.
  • David tells the coachman he's heading to Suffolk, the county where he is from.
  • The coachman thinks David is going hunting in Suffolk and comments on some aspects of food there.
  • David suddenly feels awkward: he's from Suffolk, but the coachman seems to know much more about it than he does.
  • And it gets worse: the man sitting behind David is a horse and dog breeder.
  • The coachman tells David that it seems wrong that such a great man should be sitting behind David.
  • So David, blushing, offers the breeder his seat.
  • David feels that he has somehow lost face: the order of seats in the coach is supposed to determine social status, and David (who's all dressed up and proud of it) has been physically moved down by some random dude with a squint who works with horses.
  • Even so, riding in a carriage with a pocket full of money is a new and refreshing experience for David, and overall, he is enjoying the trip.
  • They drive by David's old school, Salem House, and he has a brief fantasy of getting out of the carriage and whipping Mr. Creakle.
  • David stops at an inn in London.
  • Again, he tries to impress the waiter with his deep voice, but it doesn't seem to work that well. Anyway, David has dinner.
  • After dinner, David goes to a play – Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
  • He is delighted to see all of these old Romans walking across the stage to entertain him.
  • David is so impressed by the scenery and costuming that he can barely contain himself.
  • Finally, David goes back to his inn, where he slowly comes to recognize a handsome, well-dressed young man sitting by the fire in the common room.
  • David passes this young man on his way to bed and suddenly recognizes him: it is James Steerforth!
  • Even though David recognizes him as soon as he sees Steerforth clearly, Steerforth doesn't put it together right away.
  • Suddenly, Steerforth exclaims, "My God! [...] It's little Copperfield!" (19.126).
  • David is so excited to see Steerforth that he almost cries.
  • Steerforth tells David to calm down a bit, but Steerforth also seems pleased to see David.
  • Currently, Steerforth is studying at Oxford (so, he's not living in London), but he's on his way to visit his mother.
  • David informs Steerforth that he has just been to a play, and that it was delightful and magnificent.
  • Steerforth laughs at David and tells him that he's truly fresh and naive: Steerforth has also just seen that play, and it was miserably bad.
  • Steerforth asks the waiter what room David has been assigned.
  • Apparently, it's an awful room just over the stables.
  • The waiter apologizes and offers David the room next to Steerforth's, since they hadn't realized that David was anybody in particular.
  • Steerforth laughs at the terrible room David was given and invites him to breakfast the next morning.
  • David is thrilled, and falls asleep looking forward to the new day.

Next Page: Chapter 20
Previous Page: Chapter 18

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