David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
David and Mr. Dick begin flying a kite together every evening, after the latter finishes working on the Memorial for the day. Mr. Dick never makes much progress in his work on account of his ongoing preoccupation with Charles I, but he seems to find flying the kite soothing, and David is touched by his demeanor.
Flying his kite functions as a release valve for Mr. Dick after the frustration of working on his memoir; in sending the day's work into the air, he's able to place it behind him (at least temporarily). This in some ways parallels David's own writing process, because while David does take pleasure in crafting his memoir, he also resolves to set it aside once and for all when it's finished.
Themes
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Meanwhile, David is also becoming closer to Miss Betsey, who now calls him "Trot." One evening, she asks whether David would like to go to school in Canterbury and, if so, whether he would like to start the next day. David eagerly accepts, although he feels guilty that going to school will require leaving Mr. Dick, who is distressed to see him go. Miss Betsey promises, however, that David will be able to visit the cottage weekly.
David's eagerness to return to school speaks to his overall desire for self-improvement and advancement. Losing the opportunities education provides was one of the things he found most painful about working in the counting-house, so he is understandably happy to regain the chance now.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Miss Betsey and David leave the next day, and David learns on the way that they will be going to see someone named Mr. Wickfield first. They eventually stop in front of a pretty white house, and David notices a red-haired person with a "cadaverous face" at one of the windows. This man, Uriah Heep, opens the door and directs them inside to Mr. Wickfield. As David enters the house, he thinks he sees Uriah Heep "breathing into [Miss Betsey's] pony's nostrils, and immediately covering them with his hand, as if he were putting some spell upon him."
Dickens establishes Uriah's villainy from the moment he's introduced. In a novel where goodness often (though not always) corresponds to appearance, Uriah's deathlike looks mark him as suspicious even before the strange episode with the pony. As the novel progresses, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the revulsion David feels toward Uriah's behavior from revulsion toward his lower-class origins. 
Themes
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Once inside, David notices two portraits on the wall: one of a middle-aged man going over paperwork, and the other of a woman with a "very placid and sweet expression." Just then, a man resembling the first portrait enters the room and beckons Miss Betsey and David into his office, saying that they will need to forgive him for being busy on account of his "motive." This man is Mr. Wickfield, who also happens to be Miss Betsey's lawyer. As the adults talk about why Miss Betsey has come, David observes Mr. Wickfield, noticing that he is handsome and well-dressed, but has a "richness in his complexion" that suggests he drinks heavily.
The "motive" Mr. Wickfield refers to here is his daughter Agnes, who has been the center of his life since his wife died. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Mr. Wickfield's total preoccupation with his daughter is unhealthy, in part because it is an extension of his grief for his wife (whom Agnes strongly resembles). In fact, Mr. Wickfield drinks partly to escape these painful memories.
Themes
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Miss Betsey introduces Mr. Wickfield to David and asks for advice on which school to send him to. Mr. Wickfield responds that the best school in the area currently has no space to board additional students, so he proposes taking Miss Betsey to see both the school as well as a few houses where David might be able to stay. David, however, remains behind, and finds that from his location in Mr. Wickfield's office, he can see into the room where Uriah is working. This disturbs him, because Uriah periodically stares at David with eyes "like two red suns."
Just as David was immediately struck by Uriah (though in a negative way), Uriah seems to take a keen interest in David. To some extent, this instantaneous dislike (at least on David's part) foreshadows the two men's eventual rivalry. In another sense, however, the immediate connection between the two characters signals how much they have in common, including a close relationship to their mothers and a desire to marry Agnes. In many ways, Uriah is simply a working-class version of David, and his villainy is a sign of the novel's discomfort with working-class ambition.
Themes
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Mr. Wickfield and Miss Betsey return without having found a suitable place for David to stay. Mr. Wickfield therefore offers to board David himself and, when Miss Betsey accepts, says he will introduce both her and David to his "little housekeeper." The three go upstairs, passing many charming nooks and crannies along the way, and meet Mr. Wickfield's daughter, Agnes. Agnes greatly resembles the portrait of the woman David had noticed earlier, and is equipped with a basket full of keys. David is immediately impressed by her appearance and demeanor, and forever associates Agnes with a childhood memory of a stained glass window's "tranquil brightness."
Agnes is more or less the ideal Victorian woman, even when she's still a young girl. The fact that Wickfield introduces her as his housekeeper is significant, because housekeeping in the nineteenth century was not just a matter of tidiness: Agnes's skill as a homemaker is just as much about imbuing her surroundings with her own gentleness, hopefulness, and tranquility as it is about managing servants or keeping accounts. Of course, the fact that she's so competent at such a young age is partly the result of her father's alcoholism and depression; in some ways, she has had to take on the role of a parent while still a child herself.
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Related Quotes
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As Miss Betsey prepares to leave, Mr. Wickfield and Agnes exit the room to give her and David some privacy. David thanks his aunt again for her kindness, and she tells him to repay her simply by avoiding being "mean," "false," or "cruel." She then leaves quickly, which David worries is a sign of displeasure until he sees her climbing "dejectedly" into the chaise. 
Unlike Mr. Murdstone, who wanted David to become self-sufficient simply so that the Murdstones wouldn't have to support him, Miss Betsey's main concern in setting David up at school is the formation of his moral character.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Later that day, David dines with Mr. Wickfield and Agnes. Afterwards, Agnes sets out glasses and port for her father and goes to play the piano while David and Mr. Wickfield talk. David notices that while Mr. Wickfield is generally cheerful, he sometimes grows sad while looking at Agnes. Agnes, meanwhile, is quick to notice these changes in her father's mood and always does something to distract him from his gloom. Eventually Agnes retires to bed, and David does the same.
Although Mr. Wickfield loves Agnes deeply, she's also a source of great distress to him: her resemblance to her mother brings back unhappy memories, and also causes Wickfield to worry that he will lose Agnes as well. As for Agnes herself, she has had to take on a maternal demeanor with her own father on account of his frequent incapacitation. Although this motherliness is part of what makes Agnes a model Victorian woman, the book also implies that she shouldn't have been forced to take on that kind of responsibility at such a young age
Themes
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At some point earlier in the evening, David had walked out in front of the house so he could see all the houses and buildings he passed when first traveling to Miss Betsey's. When he returned to the house, he ran into Uriah Heep and shook his hand, only to find that it was revoltingly cold and damp. The sensation, as well as Uriah's face, continue to haunt David's thoughts as he goes to bed.
In revisiting the places he passed on the way to Miss Betsey's, David seems to take pleasure in the juxtaposition of past and present—specifically, the fact that he couldn't have known that he would end up living in one of the very houses he passed. The implication is that his past pain has actually made his present happiness more enjoyable. The only thing marring that happiness at the moment is Uriah, whom Dickens once again associates with death and decay in this passage.
Themes
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