David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Shortly after the funeral, Miss Murdstone gives Peggotty a month's notice. David, however, is left in the dark about his own future, though Miss Murdstone hints that he will not be returning to school. Much to David's relief, however, he is now largely ignored by Mr. Murdstone, and thus allowed to spend time with Peggotty.
Now that the one link between them is gone, Mr. Murdstone abandons any pretense of caring about David's future. The fact that he now allows David to spend time with the servant is ominous (albeit a relief to David), as is the hint that David's formal education is over: Mr. Murdstone apparently doesn't care if David falls out of the middle class or even into poverty.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
One evening, David tells Peggotty that Mr. Murdstone seems to dislike him more than ever, despite David's own wish to bond over their shared grief. Peggotty then confesses that she has been unable to find a new job nearby, and that she will consequently be moving to Yarmouth soon. She reassures David, however, that she will visit him often, and invites him to come with her when she makes a preliminary trip to see her brother, Mr. Peggotty. The idea delights David, and Peggotty quickly secures Miss Murdstone's approval.
Dickens implies that Mr. Murdstone's increased animosity towards David stems from grief: David is a tangible reminder both of Clara and of Murdstone's own lost son. Throughout the novel, however, characters demonstrate their worth in part based on how they choose to respond to painful memories, so the fact that Mr. Murdstone reacts with anger rather than compassion is ultimately one more mark against him. Peggotty's predicament, meanwhile, reveals how her status as a servant impacts her unofficial status as a surrogate mother. As much as she would like to remain close to David, she's ultimately subject to economic pressure and her employers' whims.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
When the time comes to leave, Peggotty is sad to say goodbye to her home. She is soon distracted, however, by the attention Barkis pays to her as she and David ride in his cart: he asks repeatedly whether she is comfortable, nudging her each time he speaks. Mr. Peggotty and Ham are waiting for them when they arrive in Yarmouth, and while they and Peggotty carry the baggage away, Barkis tells David that "It's all right." David later relays this to Peggotty, who asks David how he would feel if she married. David approves of the idea, provided that it does not diminish Peggotty's affection for him; in fact, he suggests that marrying Barkis would make it easier for Peggotty to visit him. Peggotty has also considered this, and it is one of the reasons she is considering accepting Barkis.
Peggotty's reasons for marrying Barkis are basically practical: she is out of work, and she wants to be able to remain close to David. Unlike Clara, Peggotty is also careful not to rush into marriage without first considering the impact it would have on David.
Themes
Home and Family Theme Icon
David finds that Mr. Peggotty's house looks nearly the same as he remembers, and Mrs. Gummidge is as grumpy as ever. Little Em'ly, however, is away at school when David arrives, and in her absence the house seems less "delightful." He therefore waits eagerly for her to return, but when he catches sight of her, both of them pretend not to see the other. Finally, David chases after her and tries to kiss her, but she stops him and runs away laughing. She continues to be coy with David once they are inside, though she tears up when Mr. Peggotty alludes to Clara's death.
David's mixed reaction when he returns to the Peggottys' house likely reflects the changes he has experienced since he was last there. He arrives with memories of his prior trip in mind, and while the place physically resembles these recollections, this only underscores the fact that David himself is now different, and that he therefore can't expect to relive his past experiences. What's more, Emily has changed as well, and her relationship with David takes on a flirtatious edge that wasn't present when they were younger.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
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After tea, Mr. Peggotty asks David about Steerforth, and David takes great pleasure in describing his friend's bravery, intelligence, and generosity. As he speaks, he notices little Em'ly watching him with fascination. However, when Mr. Peggotty suggests that Emily might wish to meet Steerforth, she becomes flustered and runs away.
Here, Dickens begins to foreshadow Emily's affair with Steerforth, right down to the unwitting role David himself plays in it: just as he eventually makes the affair possible by bringing Steerforth to Yarmouth, David here begins to "seduce" Emily on Steerforth's behalf simply by describing his friend to her.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
That night, David listens to the wind and is troubled by the idea that it "moaned of those who were gone." The rest of his visit is happier, but he cannot quite recapture his old friendship with little Em'ly, who "seem[s] to have got a great distance away from [him]," and takes pleasure in teasing him.
Much as his initial response suggested, David can't quite recapture the pure joy and innocence of his first visit to the Peggottys. The sound of the wind reminds him of the loss of his own family, which perhaps makes him aware of just how fragile other families are (later in the novel, David associates the sound of the wind and water with the breakup of the Peggotty home). Meanwhile, there is a new hint of sexuality to David and Emily's relationship that strains their former closeness.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Mr. Barkis pays daily visits to Mr. Peggotty's house, always wordlessly leaving behind some kind of gift for Peggotty. Finally, toward the end of David's stay, he and little Em'ly are asked to make a day trip with Barkis and Peggotty. As the group leaves, Mrs. Gummidge throws a shoe after them for good luck. The chaise stops at a church, and David and Emily flirt with one another outside while Peggotty and Barkis go into the building. When Peggotty and Barkis return, they are married. The group then has dinner at a nearby inn before heading home, David huddling close to Emily and imagining marrying her and remaining "children ever."
As he has before, David wishes in this passage that he could simply remain a child forever. In this case, however, his wish is tied not to his mother but to little Em'ly; although David fantasizes about marrying her, he wants to do so without growing any older. This again could imply a discomfort with adult sexuality.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Related Quotes
David is sad when Peggotty and Barkis drive off after depositing him and little Em'ly at Mr. Peggotty's, but he perks up thanks to Ham and Emily's company. Peggotty visits the next morning and brings David to her new home, where David takes particular notice of an edition of Fox's Book of Martyrs. Peggotty reassures David that he will always have a place with her, but David is still distressed when he returns home the next day.
Although Peggotty's marriage allows her to remain a presence in David's life, David is nevertheless hit hard by the realization that she now has her own home that he isn't a part of. Although Peggotty attempts to reassure David that she still considers him family, the moment represents another break with David's former life.
Themes
Home and Family Theme Icon
Mr. Murdstone and Miss Murdstone largely ignore David following his return, but he feels the neglect keenly and wishes he were allowed to go to school. The Murdstones also discourage him from visiting anyone in the neighborhood or even Peggotty, though she does manage to visit him weekly. By and large, however, David's only consolation is once again his books.
David's desire to return to school is partly a reflection of how miserable his life with the Murdstones is, but it also underscores his wish to learn and improve both himself and his position in the world. Ultimately, he will credit this kind of curiosity and determination with much of his professional success.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
One day, David sees Mr. Murdstone talking with one of the men—Mr. Quinion—he had met during his visit to Lowestoft. Quinion questions David about what he has been doing lately, and then privately confers with Mr. Murdstone. The next morning, the Murdstones inform David that he will not be returning to school, but will instead be working for Quinion in his counting-house. The Murdstones suggest that the employment will improve David's character by encouraging industry and self-reliance, but David realizes that the Murdstones mostly hope to get rid of him. The following day, David leaves with Quinion and enters a period of his life, which he says has "often, without [his] invocation, come before [him] like a ghost, and haunted happier times."
Mr. Murdstone's insistence that David begin to make his own way in the world for himself reveals the more self-serving side of the Victorian emphasis on independence and agency. Although these qualities were often touted both as a way of building character and as the means of social advancement, Murdstone clearly doesn't care about any of that: he simply wants to wash his hands of David once and for all. The ending of the chapter is also another moment in which David's self-control threatens to slip under the weight of traumatic memories.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon