Study Guide

David Copperfield Chapter 17

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 17

Somebody Turns Up

  • David writes to Peggotty several times to let her know that he has been taken in by his aunt and that he has started school with Doctor Strong.
  • Peggotty writes back to David, and her letter is splotched with tears on David's behalf.
  • Peggotty is still a little unsure about David's aunt. She hints to David that if he needs to run away again, he can come to Yarmouth.
  • She also tells David that the Murdstones have put his old house up for sale.
  • Everything seems fine in Peggotty land.
  • David passes on Peggotty's greetings to his aunt, who he sees about once a month on Saturdays.
  • He also sees Mr. Dick every other Wednesday; Mr. Dick comes to his school and stays the night at Mr. Wickfield's house with David.
  • David figures out that Miss Betsey totally controls Mr. Dick's money, and that Mr. Dick is happy to hand over his business to Miss Betsey. Mr. Dick thinks Miss Betsey is the wisest woman in the world.
  • One visit, Mr. Dick asks David who "the man that hides near our house and frightens" (17.9) Miss Betsey is?
  • David has no idea who this could be.
  • Mr. Dick explains that an unfamiliar man has come up behind Miss Betsey suddenly on their evening walks twice now, and each time she has wept and given him money.
  • At first, David doesn't believe Mr. Dick's story, but now he wonders whether Miss Betsey has paid this man to protect Mr. Dick from something.
  • Mr. Dick absolutely adores his Wednesday visits to David's school: he is well-known and well-liked by the boys there.
  • He has also befriended Doctor Strong who he greatly respects.
  • Eventually, Doctor Strong starts reading Mr. Dick excerpts from his Dictionary, which Mr. Dick thinks is the best book in the world.
  • Since Mr. Dick regularly visits Mr. Wickfield's house, he has become close to Agnes Wickfield.
  • Mr. Dick's friendship with David deepens. Mr. Dick starts to ask David's advice about things, since he believes that David must have inherited good sense from his aunt.
  • One morning, David bumps into Uriah Heep, who reminds David of his promise to come and have tea with his mother.
  • David isn't sure whether or not he likes Uriah Heep, but he's a bit offended that Uriah implies that David won't visit his house because David is too much of a snob.
  • David agrees at once to come over to Uriah Heep's house at 6 PM, as long as Mr. Wickfield approves.
  • Later on, David and Uriah Heep walk over to Uriah's house.
  • Uriah Heep continues to study a great deal of law, but he admits that it's hard because he doesn't understand Latin.
  • David offers to teach him Latin.
  • Uriah Heep claims that he is too humble to accept David's offer.
  • David says this is nonsense, but Uriah Heep exclaims that a man in his station of life has to be humble if he is going to succeed.
  • Eventually, they arrive at Uriah Heep's home.
  • Mrs. Heep, Uriah's mother, looks exactly like him, only shorter.
  • She is similarly obsessed with her own humility.
  • Mrs. Heep tells Uriah that "this is a day to be remembered" (17.59) because David Copperfield is visiting her house.
  • David is embarrassed by her compliments, but he is still pleased to be treated as an honored guest.
  • The two Heeps are very attentive, but they also manage to make David tell them all about things he doesn't want to talk about, about his family and his past.
  • David can see that Uriah and Mrs. Heep are very fond of each other.
  • They spend the entire meal getting David to tell them secrets he shouldn't be telling, and David becomes very uncomfortable.
  • Then the most extraordinary thing happens: a man walks past the open front door, and it is Mr. Micawber!
  • David is not entirely happy to see Mr. Micawber just then (since he's having dinner with new people who don't know about his time in London), but he is happy to see Mr. Micawber in general.
  • Mr. Micawber calls out to David through the door, and David goes to greet him.
  • David asks after Mrs. Micawber, who is well – both the twins have been weaned, and so she is traveling with Mr. Micawber.
  • David introduces Mr. Micawber to the Heeps, and Mr. Micawber tells them that any friend of David's is a friend of his.
  • Mrs. Heep assures Mr. Micawber that she and her son are too humble to dare to call themselves friends of David.
  • Mr. Micawber asks David if he is still in the wine trade – a reference to David's awful days as a worker for Murdstone and Grinby's – and David tells him that he is now a student with Doctor Strong.
  • David is in agony, because he doesn't want Mr. Micawber to reveal David's recent past in the city.
  • Mr. Micawber is glad to hear David is a student and compliments his intelligence.
  • David wants to get Mr. Micawber away from the Heeps, so he offers to go pay his respects to Mrs. Micawber.
  • Mr. Micawber explains to the Heeps that he is a man in great financial difficulties, but he has always enjoyed confiding his problems to David.
  • They say goodbye to the Heeps, and David and Mr. Micawber walk over to the inn where the Micawbers are staying.
  • Mr. Micawber immediately pulls out the newspaper to see if there are any want ads in the classifieds.
  • Mrs. Micawber tells David that they had gone to Plymouth in search of a job, but her family's influence was not enough to get him employment.
  • In fact, since he just got out of debtors prison, the reception of Mr. Micawber by Mrs. Micawber's family was not warm.
  • Her family basically kicked the Micawbers out after a week, which David thinks is shameful.
  • Mr. Micawber decides to try his hand at the coal trade, so that's why they're in Dover – but at present, they have no capital at all. In fact, they're waiting for a money order so that they can pay their bill at the inn where they are currently staying.
  • David expresses his sympathy for the poor Micawbers at this awful news.
  • Mr. Micawber invites David to have dinner with them the next evening.
  • Weirdly, that night, David sees Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep walking by his home at Mr. Wickfield's arm in arm.
  • When David goes the next day to have dinner with the Micawbers, Mr. Micawber informs David that he has been drinking brandy at Mrs. Heep's house.
  • Mr. Micawber tells David that some day, Uriah Heep might become attorney general.
  • David worries that Mr. Micawber might have told Uriah Heep too much about David's history, but he doesn't want to ask Mr. Micawber point blank what he has said about David. Once again, David is very uncomfortable.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Micawber are in high spirits, constantly toasting one another and singing.
  • Because they are in such high spirits, David is astonished when he gets a letter from Mr. Micawber at 7 AM the following morning:
  • No money is coming to Mr. Micawber, and he doesn't have the cash to pay his hotel and room service bills.
  • He is (once again) completely ruined.
  • David is so worried that he runs over to the inn on his way to school.
  • But half way there, he sees Mr. and Mrs. Micawber riding past him in a coach to London, chatting to one another and looking perfectly happy.
  • So, David goes on to school, feeling rather glad that they are gone even though he likes them fine.

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