Study Guide

David Copperfield Chapter 16

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 16

I Am a New Boy in More Senses Than One

  • The next morning, David goes to his new school, accompanied by Mr. Wickfield.
  • His new principal is named Doctor Strong. He seems somewhat distracted and out of it, but he also welcomes David.
  • Doctor Strong gives David his hand, and David is embarrassed because Doctor Strong doesn't shake – David isn't sure what he should do.
  • He is saved from further embarrassment by the entry of a young woman, Annie. David can't work out if Annie is Doctor Strong's daughter or wife. (She is, in fact, his wife).
  • Doctor Strong asks Mr. Wickfield if he has found any kind of employment for Annie Strong's cousin, Jack Maldon..
  • Mr. Wickfield hasn't yet, but he also makes an extremely mysterious comment: Mr. Wickfield says that finding Jack Maldon a job will be tricky because of Doctor Strong's motive.
  • Doctor Strong protests that his only motive is to secure some kind of livelihood for his wife's cousin.
  • Mr. Wickfield agrees that yes, Doctor Strong wants to find him a job – at home or abroad.
  • Doctor Strong says yes, this is true, but he also appears confused by Mr. Wickfield's emphasis.
  • Mr. Wickfield is surprised that Doctor Strong doesn't have a preference for Jack Maldon being abroad.
  • Mr. Wickfield exclaims that, if he had known Doctor Strong's lack of preference, his job would have been much easier.
  • Doctor Strong looks confused, but he smiles sweetly, and David feels comforted that Doctor Strong seems like a nice man.
  • Doctor Strong leads David and Mr. Wickfield to the schoolroom, where there are about 25 boys sitting at their books.
  • Doctor Strong introduces David as Trotwood Copperfield.
  • Adams, the head boy (which is a bit like class president, but with more disciplinary duties) gets up and leads David to his seat.
  • David feels incredibly shy: it's been so long since he's been around other schoolboys who play normal games and learn ordinary things that he feels awkward and inexperienced.
  • He wonders what his schoolmates would think of all of his pawn shop and debtors prison visits for the Micawbers.
  • Luckily, Mr. Wickfield's home is so quiet and neat that, when David comes back to his room after school, he begins to relax and feel at ease.
  • David goes downstairs to find Agnes, who asks about his first day of school.
  • David wonders if Agnes has ever been to school, and Agnes says of course she has, every day.
  • But David clarifies that Agnes has been home-schooled.
  • Agnes agrees: her father could never let her be educated elsewhere because he needs her at home.
  • Agnes's mother died in childbirth when Agnes was born, so it has always been just Agnes and Mr. Wickfield.
  • When Mr. Wickfield comes home, Agnes greets him affectionately.
  • Mr. Wickfield tells David that he will be very happy with Doctor Strong, who is a gentle and kind man.
  • Mr. Wickfield warns David never to take advantage of Doctor Strong's kindness, as some others have.
  • David notices that Mr. Wickfield seems to be thinking of something unsatisfactory, but he can't guess what it is.
  • Just as they all sit down to dinner, Uriah Heep pops in to tell Mr. Wickfield that Jack Maldon (Mrs. Annie Strong's cousin) has come for a word.
  • Uriah Heep continues to freak David out with his staring eyes.
  • Jack Maldon comes in and tells Mr. Wickfield it'll be for the best if he heads off to a job abroad as quickly as possible – the Strongs have said they want him to stay close to them, but he doesn't feel this is necessary, and he wants to leave town.
  • Mr. Wickfield seems stern: his tone is disapproving as Jack Maldon speaks disrespectfully of Doctor Strong and his wife.
  • Jack Maldon appears to feel that Doctor Strong owes Maldon help because Doctor Strong has been so lucky as to marry Maldon's cousin Annie – who is, of course, much younger and prettier than Doctor Strong.
  • Given how young and pretty Annie is, Maldon is sure that all she has to do is to tell Doctor Strong she wants something and Doctor Strong will do it.
  • Maldon promises he'll do whatever Mr. Wickfield arranges for him, without consulting the Strongs in the matter.
  • Maldon departs, announcing his intention to dine with his cousin Annie.
  • Mr. Wickfield settles in for his after-dinner drink (of which there is a lot), Agnes plays the piano, and they all hang out happily.
  • After Agnes goes off to bed and David is preparing to do the same, Mr. Wickfield asks David if he wants to stay there or move elsewhere?
  • David wants to stay: he likes it there.
  • Mr. Wickfield wonders if it is too dull.
  • David answers that Mr. Wickfield's house is no duller for David than it is for Agnes.
  • Mr. Wickfield seems very drunk, and when David mentions Agnes's name, Mr. Wickfield muses that he worries that she will grow tired of his house, because he cannot bear to lose her.
  • If Mr. Wickfield is still so unhappy when Agnes is there, he cannot imagine how much worse it will be once Agnes leaves. (We think the unhappiness Mr. Wickfield is talking about here is his pain at missing his wife.)
  • Mr. Wickfield asks David to stay: it's a good thing for Mr. Wickfield and it's a good thing for Agnes to have David around.
  • David says he would be happy to: he is glad to be there.
  • Mr. Wickfield heads to his room.
  • David decides to sit up for another half an hour reading.
  • He sees a light on in Mr. Wickfield's office and finds Uriah Heep studying.
  • Uriah Heep is reading a book on law.
  • David assumes that Uriah Heep is a great lawyer.
  • Uriah Heep denies this: he is "a very umble person" (16.88) – "umble" meaning humble. This is Uriah Heep's trademark phrase.
  • Heep adds that his mother is also humble, that they live in a humble home, and that his father was humble while he was still alive.
  • Then he says that he has much to be grateful to Mr. Wickfield for. He's been an apprentice to Mr. Wickfield for four years, since about a year after his father's death.
  • David suggests that, once Uriah Heep becomes a full lawyer, maybe he and Mr. Wickfield could be partners.
  • Protesting, Heep says that he is too humble to think of being Mr. Wickfield's partner.
  • Uriah also compliments David's aunt, Miss Betsey, and then adds that everyone must admire Miss Agnes as well.
  • All this praising of people (especially Agnes) gets Heep so excited that he almost falls off his chair.
  • Throughout this conversation, David is fascinated by Uriah Heep's ugly, unattractive gestures and movements and by the dampness of his hands. (Ick!)
  • Uriah Heep invites David to come take tea with his mother some day.
  • He asks if David is going to be living with Mr. Wickfield for some time?
  • David agrees that he will probably board there as long as he stays at school.
  • Uriah Heep comments that perhaps David will become a partner in Mr. Wickfield's law firm!
  • David protests that no one thinks that will happen, but Uriah Heep keeps insisting on it.
  • Uriah Heep shakes his hand (and his palm is still cold like a fish) before heading out into the night.
  • David is totally unnerved by him.
  • After two weeks at school, David has gotten over his shyness at school.
  • He decides that practice and hard work are all he needs to get along, both with the other boys and in his studies. So, he works his butt off.
  • Doctor Strong's school is so much better than Mr. Creakle's that David can't help but love it: he feels a responsibility for the school and for preserving its reputation (as do all the other students there).
  • David also learns from the other kids that Doctor Strong married Annie about a year ago, even though she's poor and has lots of relations trying to sponge off of him.
  • Doctor Strong is beloved by the whole school because they all know how kind he is, and how generally interested he is in learning.
  • Annie seems to love her husband, and he is always affectionate towards her.
  • David spends a fair amount of time with Annie. The two like each other very much. For some reason, though, Annie seems afraid of Mr. Wickfield.
  • David also enjoys the company of Annie's mother, Mrs. Markleham, who spends much of her time thinking of new ways to use Doctor Strong to improve the poor status of her own family members.
  • One night, David attends a farewell party at the Doctor's house to celebrate Jack Maldon's departure for India (which Mr. Wickfield has arranged). It's also Doctor Strong's birthday.
  • When all of the guests (David, Agnes, Mr. Wickfield, Mrs. Markleham, Jack Maldon, Annie, and Doctor Strong) have sat down, Mrs. Markleham wishes Doctor Strong a happy birthday.
  • She wishes him many happy returns, not only for his own sake, but also for Annie's and for the sake of Annie's whole family.
  • Mrs. Markleham remembers the old days when Jack Maldon used to flirt with Annie. (This embarrasses Annie.)
  • Annie's mother instructs Jack never to forget how much he owes Doctor Strong, and how lucky he is that his cousin married so well.
  • The lady tells Doctor Strong that he has been like a gift to her family.
  • Mrs. Markleham then insists, over the protests of Doctor Strong, on recounting how his marriage came about: Doctor Strong had been a family friend of Annie's father, and he asked for Annie's hand in marriage suddenly, out of the blue.
  • Annie answered only that she was a little young, when Mrs. Markleham asked her if she was free to marry him,
  • Mrs. Markleham persuaded Annie to accept his proposal: Doctor Strong could be both Annie's husband and the head of their family now that Annie's father had died.
  • Annie is looking down unhappily throughout this speech by her mother; at this point, she asks Mrs. Markleham if she is quite finished.
  • No! Mrs. Markleham wants to ask Doctor Strong for another favor for her family.
  • At this point, the talk around the table becomes more general, and people start chatting about Jack Maldon's future.
  • Annie tries to sing for the party several times that evening, but she can't keep up a note. David thinks she must be nervous.
  • The whole party begins to play cards, with the exception of Annie and Jack Maldon, who both chat together for a time on the sofa.
  • Finally, the time comes for them all to part, and an awkwardness seems to fall over everyone.
  • Mrs. Markleham keeps needling Doctor Strong to support Jack Maldon, Annie seems very sad, and all in all, this isn't going well – though Doctor Strong is so unworldly that he doesn't notice.
  • After he departs, David sees Jack Maldon driving away in his carriage looking pale and carrying something red in his hand.
  • The party reconvenes without Jack Maldon.
  • Suddenly, everyone notices that Annie has disappeared.
  • She has, in fact, fainted on the hall floor.
  • Doctor Strong puts Annie's head in his lap and exclaims that Annie is so soft-hearted that she has fainted because her old friend and favorite cousin has left.
  • Annie comes back to herself and goes into the living room with the rest of the party.
  • Mrs. Markleham notices that a cherry-red ribbon from Annie's dress has gone missing, but no one can find it.
  • Mr. Wickfield, Agnes, and David walk home.
  • When they arrive back at Mr. Wickfield's house, Agnes realizes that she has lost her reticule (which is like a little cloth purse).
  • David volunteers to run back to Doctor Strong's house to get it.
  • As David walks through Doctor Strong's house trying to find a candle to search the dining room, he strolls past Doctor Strong's study.
  • There, Doctor Strong is sitting and reading to Annie from his work (he's writing a dictionary).
  • Annie's face is filled with sorrow, humiliation, pride, love, and shame.
  • The sound of David moving about disturbs them, and as David walks past the study once more, he sees Doctor Strong patting Annie on the head and apologizing for droning on like this.
  • Annie says she's happy to listen: she wants to sit by him this evening and feel his confidence in her.
  • So, Doctor Strong picks up his reading once more, and Annie looks up at him with the same confusing series of emotions.
  • David remembers this moment for a long time afterwards.

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