His great-aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, hears that David is a boy rather than a girl. She decides not to become his godmother.
David is raised by his child-like mother and his nurse, Peggotty.
He notices that Mrs. Copperfield starts receiving visits from a handsome, stern gentleman named Mr. Murdstone.
Peggotty invites David on a trip to her family's house in Yarmouth. He meets Emily, Ham Peggotty, and Mr. Peggotty.
David gets a huge crush on Emily.
David comes home to find his mother married to Mr. Murdstone.
Mr. Murdstone brings his hostile sister, Miss Murdstone, to live with his new wife and son.
Together, Mr. and Miss Murdstone emotionally abuse the Copperfields.
Finally, Mr. Murdstone persuades Mrs. Copperfield to send David away to school.
David attends Salem House, a run-down school run by Mr. Creakle.
There, David meets his new hero, James Steerforth, and his dear friend, Tommy Traddles.
Salem House is an awful school, in which all of the boys are regularly beaten.
David spends two semesters at Salem House being whipped regularly by Mr. Creakle and growing closer to Steerforth.
While he is still at school, David hears the news that his mother and new baby brother have both died.
David leaves Salem House.
Mr. Murdstone no longer wants to support his stepson, David, so he sends David to his wine bottling plant in London.
David becomes a child factory worker.
He rents a small room with the extremely jolly but also spendthrift Micawber family.
The Micawbers are arrested for being in excessive debt.
David runs away from Mr. Murdstone's factory.
He walks from London to Dover, a distance of 73 miles.
In Dover, he meets his great-aunt, who is so moved by his ragged appearance that she takes him in.
Miss Betsey pays for David to go to a new, much better, school in Canterbury. The school is run by the kindly Doctor Strong, and David does very well there under his training.
While a student with Doctor Strong, David boards with the Wickfields.
Mr. Wickfield is Miss Betsey's business manager. His daughter, Agnes, keeps house for him.
David comes to regard Agnes as a sister.
He is less taken with Mr. Wickfield's clerk, Uriah Heep, who has a cold and deceitful manner.
David finishes school at 17 and is ready to start a new profession.
Miss Betsey suggests that David become a proctor, which is a kind of lawyer who deals in documents and so on. David plans to think it over.
David heads to Yarmouth (where the Peggottys live) to visit his old nurse.
On his way to Yarmouth, David bumps into Steerforth at an inn.
David rekindles his friendship with Steerforth. The two head to Steerforth's mother's house before going on to visit the Peggottys together.
All of the Peggottys adore Steerforth, and David has a lovely time in Yarmouth.
David notices that Mr. Peggotty's niece Emily seems shy and reserved around her fiancé, Ham Peggotty. He finds her awkwardness with Ham odd.
Before leaving Yarmouth, David decides to become a proctor.
Miss Betsey pays a thousand pounds for David to become an apprentice at the proctor office of Spenlow and Jorkins. David rents a new apartment in London and sets up his adult life.
While moving in his new legal social circles, David meets up with Traddles again. Traddles is now a lawyer in London, and the two of them become close friends.
Tommy Traddles is living in a house rented by the Micawbers. David befriends the Micawber family again.
David falls in love with the boss's daughter, Dora Spenlow. Dora is a lovely, naive, spoiled girl.
He hears that his old nurse Peggotty's husband has not got long to live. He plans a trip to Yarmouth to visit him before he passes away.
At Yarmouth, David witnesses Mr. Barkis pass away.
He is also on hand when the Peggottys receive awful news: Emily has deserted Ham to run away with Steerforth. All this time, Steerforth has been hanging around Yarmouth in secret, trying to seduce Emily away.
David returns to London filled with a sense of betrayal at the behavior of his best friend.
Back in London, David finds the Wickfields visiting. He is horrified to learn that the evil Uriah Heep has developed so much control over Mr. Wickfield.
Uriah Heep tells David in secret that he plans to marry Agnes one day. David is disgusted.
David receives a sudden surprise visit from Miss Betsey: she has lost all of her money, and she and her ward Mr. Dick are both homeless.
To support his poor aunt, David gets two more jobs: he starts taking dictation at government debates, and he gets a job as a secretary for his old teacher, Doctor Strong.
David continues his courtship of Dora Spenlow.
With the help of Dora's chaperone Miss Murdstone (!!), Mr. Spenlow discovers love letters from David to his daughter. He forbids David from falling in love with Dora.
That very night, Mr. Spenlow suddenly dies, leaving Dora with very little money.
David goes to meet Dora's next closest relatives: her two aunts, Miss Clarissa and Miss Lavinia. They agree to allow Dora to marry David.
Miss Betsey sends David to check on her property in Dover.
David visits the Wickfields. Uriah Heep has officially become Mr. Wickfield's business partner.
Uriah Heep has officially hired Mr. Micawber as his new law clerk. Mr. Micawber won't say anything bad about his new boss.
David and Dora eventually get married.
They move into a little cottage in Highgate, near Doctor Strong.
David is finding some success as a fiction writer. He is working incredibly hard to support his new wife.
Dora has a lot of difficulty with basic household tasks. She cries whenever she has to think about anything too serious.
David slowly becomes disappointed with life with Dora.
He and Dora are too different to be happily married.
Even so, David loves Dora and wants her to be happy.
Dora begins to grow ill.
David gets a letter from his old friend, Mr. Micawber, asking David and Traddles to come and see Mr. Micawber in Canterbury.
Before going to Canterbury, David gets a visit from Mr. Peggotty.
Mr. Peggotty has been searching for the lost Emily all of this time.
Finally, David hears word of where Emily is from a shared acquaintance, Martha Endell.
David watches as Mr. Peggotty comes to rescue Emily from the dive in London that she's wound up in after running away from Steerforth.
David, Traddles, and Miss Betsey all go to meet Mr. Micawber for this mysterious showdown.
Mr. Micawber can't keep silent any more. He has collected evidence of Uriah Heep's fraud and blackmail of Mr. Wickfield.
David finds out that Miss Betsey's money wasn't lost after all; it was just hidden by Uriah Heep to make his old rival David's life harder.
Uriah Heep is now out of the picture.
Mr. Micawber has done the right thing, but he now has no income (again). So, he agrees that the best thing would be for his family to sail to Australia.
Dora grows sicker and sicker, and David must come to terms with the fact that she might die.
Finally, on her deathbed, Dora sends David out of the room. She wants to impart her last words to Agnes Wickfield, who is there nursing Dora.
Dora passes away.
David starts making plans to go to Europe after Dora's death.
Before he leaves, Mr. Peggotty brings David a letter from Emily to Ham Peggotty.
David goes to Yarmouth. There is a strong storm going on.
While David is sheltering at an inn, he hears that a ship is struggling just off shore.
Ham Peggotty tries to swim to the ship, but the sea is too strong and he drowns.
The man on the struggling ship also drowns: it's James Steerforth.
David takes Steerforth's body to his mother, Mrs. Steerforth.
He goes to the London docks to watch the ship bound for Australia. It's carrying the Micawbers, Mr. Peggotty, Emily, Martha Endell, and Mrs. Gummidge.
David heads to Europe for three years.
He realizes that he has been in love with Agnes Wickfield all of this time.
When he gets back to England, he finishes off his novel.
David sees Agnes regularly, but he doesn't confess his love – he thinks that boat has sailed. After two months back in England, David can't stand the stress anymore – he asks Agnes how she feels.
Agnes loves David, and the two get engaged.
David finds out Dora's last words to Agnes: Dora told Agnes not to let anyone else marry David unless it's Dora herself.
He's overjoyed that Dora would have approved.
David and Agnes get married and have lots of kids.
They live happily ever after, surrounded by friends and family.