Study Guide

David Copperfield Chapter 46

By Charles Dickens

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Chapter 46


  • One night, about a year after his marriage, David is walking home.
  • He happens to go past Mrs. Steerforth's house.
  • David sees the blinds drawn and the whole house shut up.
  • He feels a bit depressed and doesn't notice anyone around him until suddenly, a woman's voice rings out.
  • It's the voice of Mrs. Steerforth's maid asking David to come in and have a word with Miss Dartle.
  • Miss Dartle saw David passing and would like him to speak with her.
  • The maid tells David that Mrs. Steerforth is not well and stays in her room most of the time.
  • Miss Dartle looks disdainfully at David. She asks if Emily has been found.
  • She seems pleased to tell David that Emily has run away from Steerforth.
  • Miss Dartle hopes openly that Emily has died.
  • The woman asks if David wants to know what is known about Emily's whereabouts?
  • David answers yes.
  • Miss Dartle calls to Littimer to come out.
  • Littimer informs David that he and Steerforth have been abroad with Emily. They have traveled through France, Switzerland, and Italy.
  • Apparently, Emily has been quick to learn the languages of these places and has been much admired wherever they went.
  • Littimer explains that, though they were happy for a time, Emily grew more and more depressed, and her low spirits dragged down Steerforth.
  • After many arguments, Steerforth finally left Emily in Naples, Italy.
  • But Steerforth (thinking that he was being generous) offered to arrange a marriage between Emily and another man who wouldn't mind her past indiscretions.
  • (Hearing Littimer talk about this, both David and Miss Dartle are sure that Littimer is talking about himself.)
  • Once Littimer explained to Emily that Steerforth had gone away, she tried desperately to kill herself.
  • (Miss Dartle seems delighted by this news.)
  • Littimer continues: Emily's behavior was awful, and Littimer was sure that she would murder him if she got the chance.
  • (David thinks Emily would be quite right to try.)
  • In the end, Littimer locked her up with nothing at hand to hurt herself or anyone else.
  • But Emily still managed to escape by knocking the bars out of the window of her room and climbing down the wall.
  • There has been no news of her since.
  • Miss Dartle smiles at the thought that she may be dead.
  • Littimer agrees that Emily may have drowned herself, or she may have found a way to join the local boatmen.
  • Apparently, after Emily's escape, Littimer went to meet with Steerforth.
  • Steerforth injured Littimer, and so Littimer left Steerforth's service and headed back to England to tell Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle this news (for a sum of money).
  • Now, Littimer is looking for another job.
  • All David wants to know is if Emily received a letter from home, or if he and Steerforth intercepted it.
  • Littimer isn't willing to tell David straight out, but he strongly implies that Steerforth prevented Emily from getting her letter from Mr. Peggotty.
  • David finishes up by telling Littimer that he plans to tell Mr. Peggotty this story, so Littimer had better watch himself.
  • Littimer informs David that he is not afraid, and that this is a free country.
  • Steerforth's servant takes off.
  • Miss Dartle adds that Steerforth is sailing off the coast of Spain.
  • She tells David that they share a common goal: David wants Emily saved, and Miss Dartle wants to make sure that Emily never has another chance to hurt Steerforth again.
  • Mrs. Steerforth comes up behind Miss Dartle and greets David.
  • Steerforth's mother reaffirms Miss Dartle's suspicions that Emily is going to try to get something more out of Steerforth.
  • David respectfully disagrees: Emily, who has been so badly treated, would not accept a cup of water from Steerforth now.
  • Miss Dartle looks like she wants to say something, but Mrs. Steerforth stops her.
  • Mrs. Steerforth asks how David is – he's starting to get famous, she believes.
  • David says that he has been lucky to get good reviews.
  • Mrs. Steerforth asks if David's mother is alive.
  • She tells David that it's a shame, because his mother would have been proud of him.
  • David shakes her hand and leaves.
  • He now seeks out Mr. Peggotty, who happens to be in London, lodging at that place where Mr. Dick stayed briefly.
  • Mr. Peggotty greets David warmly.
  • David passes on the news that he has heard from Littimer: that Emily has left Steerforth.
  • Mr. Peggotty asks if David thinks she is still alive?
  • David thinks she is, and Mr. Peggotty agrees – he would know if she had died.
  • David suggests that little Emily might come back to London, having nowhere else to go.
  • He asks if Mr. Peggotty remembers Martha Endell?
  • Both David and Mr. Peggotty have seen her on the London streets.
  • David tells Mr. Peggotty that Emily used to be kind to Martha (before Emily's own disaster).
  • David suggests that they should look for Martha to see if she might know where Emily is.
  • As they walk out to search for Martha, David asks after Ham Peggotty.
  • Apparently, Ham is still working too hard, but he's popular in the village.
  • David worries that, if Ham ever finds Steerforth, he might do something dangerous.
  • Mr. Peggotty agrees that he has had similar concerns about Ham.
  • David and Mr. Peggotty fall silent as they walk towards the lonely figure of a woman: it is Martha.
  • They follow her through the London streets until she turns down a quiet alley.

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