Study Guide

David Copperfield Chapter 4

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 4

I Fall Into Disgrace

  • David goes up to bed and feels so miserable that he can't stop crying.
  • Mrs. Copperfield and Peggotty go up to look for David, and find him in bed under the covers.
  • David's mother asks him what's wrong, and he says, "Nothing" (4.5).
  • Mrs. Copperfield yells at Peggotty; she feels that Peggotty has turned David against her. Mrs.
  • This is supposed to be Mrs. Copperfield's honeymoon, so she is furious with both David and Peggotty for being so unhappy with her new marriage.
  • Mr. Murdstone comes in and tells Mrs. Copperfield to be firm with David and to dismiss Peggotty.
  • When Mr. Murdstone is alone with David, he tells David this: that if Mr. Murdstone has a stubborn horse or a dog to deal with, he beats it.
  • Mr. Murdstone tells David that he's an intelligent boy who should understand Mr. Murdstone very well.
  • He makes David wash his face and then come down to speak to Mrs. Copperfield.
  • The three of them – David, Mr. Murdstone, and Mrs. Copperfield – have dinner together. David notices that Mr. Murdstone seems very fond of Mrs. Copperfield, but David still hates him.
  • When they all leave the dining room, Mrs. Copperfield hugs David in secret and asks him to love his new father, Mr. Murdstone.
  • That evening after dinner, a serious-looking lady arrives at the house: Miss Jane Murdstone, Mr. Murdstone's sister.
  • The first thing Miss Mudstone says to David is: "Generally speaking [...] I don't like boys" (4.38). This is not a good omen.
  • Miss Murdstone is a suspicious lady who immediately takes charge of the household affairs.
  • She lives in fear that the servants are trying to hide a man in the house, and searches for him regularly.
  • Miss Murdstone takes the keys of the house from Mrs. Copperfield (who is, we may say, extremely weak-willed) and immediately starts bossing everyone around.
  • Mrs. Copperfield starts to cry one evening from the stress of being bossed around by the Murdstones, but the two of them gang up on her and frighten her into shutting up.
  • What is Mrs. Copperfield's great crime? She asks to be consulted about household matters once in a while.
  • Miss Murdstone says that she's going to leave the Rookery immediately.
  • Mr. Murdstone forbids Miss Murdstone from leaving. The two of them emotionally abuse Mrs. Copperfield until she begs Miss Murdstone to stay.
  • Mr. Murdstone says that this whole scene is unfit for David to see and sends him to bed early.
  • The next day, David overhears his mother pleading with Miss Murdstone for forgiveness. After this, Mrs. Copperfield never makes a single suggestion without asking if it's okay with Miss Murdstone first.
  • David starts learning his lessons at the hand of Mr. Murdstone and his sister.
  • He has to come in to the parlor each morning and recite whatever he's been assigned by memory.
  • When he starts to trip up – as is inevitable, because the material is too hard for him – Mr. and Miss Murdstone immediately start criticizing.
  • They also scold Mrs. Copperfield for trying to help David – they think she isn't firm enough in her treatment of her son.
  • This treatment makes David sullen and grumpy (naturally).
  • The only thing that saves him is his dead father's collection of novels, which give David an escape into imagination.
  • These books are David's only comfort.
  • One morning, David comes into the parlor, where his mother, Miss Murdstone, and Mr. Murdstone are waiting for him.
  • Mr. Murdstone is holding a cane, which he swishes through the air a few times.
  • Mrs. Copperfield is protesting weakly, but Mr. and Miss Murdstone totally shut her down: they say that Mr. Murdstone has often been flogged – whipped – and it's been good for him.
  • Mr. Murdstone tells David that he has to be extra careful today with his lessons.
  • Of course, David does terribly thanks to all the stress and finally bursts out crying.
  • Mrs. Copperfield starts weeping, and Miss Murdstone scolds her for it.
  • Mr. Murdstone brings David upstairs.
  • Even though David begs him not to beat him, Mr. Murdstone grabs him around the neck and holds him down.
  • David manages to twist around and bite Mr. Murdstone's hand as hard as he can.
  • It's not enough to get Mr. Murdstone to let David free.
  • Mr. Murdstone beats David as though he wants to kill him and then leaves him lying on the floor, locking the door of David's room from the outside.
  • David eventually gets up; simply moving makes his injuries sting again.
  • Night is falling. David has spent most of the day looking out the window, weeping, and dozing off.
  • Finally, Miss Murdstone comes in with some dinner, glares at him, and leaves.
  • David starts to wonder: is he a criminal? Is he going to be sent to prison?
  • David goes to bed, and the next morning, he wakes up and remembers this weird burden of guilt.
  • Miss Murdstone comes in and tells him he gets half an hour outside in the garden, but no more.
  • David's kept more or less in prison like this for five whole days, without getting a glimpse of his mother or Peggotty.
  • He's allowed downstairs once a day for evening prayers, but he can't speak to anybody. He sees that Mr. Murdstone's hand is bandaged from the bite.
  • David remembers those five days of isolation like they were years.
  • In the middle of the fifth night, a whisper wakes him: Peggotty is standing at the keyhole, but she has to be really quiet so they don't wake Miss Murdstone.
  • She tells David that he is being sent to boarding school near London.
  • Peggotty also assures David that he'll see his mother in the morning, before he's sent away.
  • (Oh god, this part always makes us cry. In fact, this whole chapter is so brutal.)
  • Peggotty promises David that she loves him. She hasn't wanted to show it too much because she knows that obvious affection would make the Murdstones' treatment of David (and Mrs. Copperfield) even worse. But she will write to him, and she will keep looking after Mrs. Copperfield as best she can.
  • This parting makes David feel a deep affection for Peggotty, almost as though she were his mother.
  • Miss Murdstone comes in the next day and tells David he's going to school.
  • He gets dressed and runs to his mother, who looks like she's been crying.
  • David asks for forgiveness from Mrs. Copperfield.
  • Mrs. Copperfield tells him that she's disappointed that he's such a bad child, hurting someone she loves (Mr. Murdstone). She forgives him and asks him to be better.
  • The Murdstones have convinced Mrs. Copperfield that David is a wicked boy.
  • Mrs. Copperfield tells David that he is going away to school to become a better kid, and that he'll be back for holidays.
  • Miss Murdstone escorts David out to the cart, where she tells him that she hopes he'll feel bad for what he's done, before he comes to "a bad end" (4.152).

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