David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
David is still thinking of little Em'ly and Martha the next morning, but he feels that it would be a betrayal to share what happened with Steerforth. In any case, David and Steerforth are busy saying their goodbyes to the Peggottys, Mr. Barkis, and even Mr. Omer. They also part with Littimer, who is remaining behind—ostensibly to oversee outfitting Steerforth's new boat.
David's silence suggests that on some level he realizes that Steerforth poses a threat to little Em'ly. Nevertheless, he fails to guess that Littimer is not, in fact, remaining in Yarmouth to outfit Steerforth's boat, but rather to act as a go-between for his master and Emily.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
The ride home is silent at first, with David wondering when he will return to Yarmouth and Steerforth lost in his own thoughts. Eventually, however, Steerforth asks David about a letter he received at breakfast. David had wanted to consult Steerforth about this anyway, so he explains that the letter is from Miss Betsey, and that it asks him whether he has reached a decision about his future career. David admits he has hardly thought about this at all, and notes that his aunt asks specifically if he would like to be a proctor. Steerforth considers this (and all other professions) boring, but explains that a proctor is a kind of lawyer dealing in everything from wills to marriages to maritime law. He ultimately advises David to take his aunt's suggestion, if only because Miss Betsey has recently altered her will to favor David.
The fact that David so quickly follows his aunt and friend's career advice is a sign of just how little idea he has on what to do with his life. This doesn't bode well for David's future, since the novel depicts the ability to form and stick to a course of action as central to both maturity and financial success. It is also telling that Steerforth finds all careers equally pointless; although he has no financial need to pursue a career, his disdain for the very idea speaks to his own immaturity and directionlessness.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
When David and Steerforth reach London they part ways, arranging to meet again soon. David then goes to a hotel where Miss Betsey had told him she would be staying, and they greet one another happily. Mr. Dick has not come with Miss Betsey to London, and she admits that she is worried about his ability to keep the donkeys off her lawn. David and his aunt then have supper together, although Miss Betsey is skeptical of the food in London, where she says nothing is "genuine."
Although the scene is mostly comic relief, Miss Betsey's remarks about Mr. Dick do turn out to have bearing on his later development. Miss Betsey says she worries Mr. Dick lacks "strength of purpose," and his inability to complete the Memorial seems to corroborate this. Eventually, however, Mr. Dick will take a regular job copying legal writing, which encourages him to become more focused and disciplined.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
After Miss Betsey has eaten and prepared for bed, she brings up the topic of jobs again, and David says he likes the proctor idea but is concerned about the cost of entering the profession: it requires an initial outlay of 1,000 pounds, and David—conscious of how much money his aunt has already spent on him—says he could try to find a position where he could immediately begin earning money. Miss Betsey, however, says that she wants to help establish David in a career he will enjoy, not only because she views him as her child, but also (she implies) because she wishes she had been kinder to his father and to Clara. David is touched by his aunt's words, and they agree to go to Doctors' Commons (where many proctors work) the next day.
Although David still lacks a clear sense of purpose in life, his concern over the cost of becoming a proctor is a promising sign: it suggests that he will be careful and disciplined when it comes to saving money. Meanwhile, Miss Betsey's desire to do right by David underscores a central idea of the novel: that, as Miss Betsey herself says, "It's in vain […] to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present." Although Miss Betsey regrets her prior harshness to David’s mother and father, she doesn't wallow in guilt, but instead turns her feelings to good use by dedicating herself to raising their son well and kindly.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Get the entire David Copperfield LitChart as a printable PDF.
David copperfield.pdf.medium
The following day, Miss Betsey and David head off to visit a firm called Spenlow and Jorkins. Miss Betsey is on edge because she is worried about pickpockets, but David notices that she becomes even more anxious when they pass by an "ill-dressed man" who stops and stares at them. David assumes the man is a beggar and offers to send him away, but his aunt refuses to let David speak to him. Instead, she tells David to wait for her in St. Paul's Churchyard while she speaks to the man. David is shocked, but does as she asks, thinking back to what Mr. Dick had told him of the man who sometimes hangs around Miss Betsey's cottage.
This is David's first glimpse of Miss Betsey's former husband, as well as of how uncharacteristically distressed Miss Betsey becomes in his presence. Her fear stems not only from his past abuse, but also, perhaps, from her awareness of her own feelings; as Miss Betsey later admits to David, she still has fond memories of her husband, despite what he proved to be.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
After half an hour, Miss Betsey catches up with David. She is still disturbed, however, and asks the coachman who brought her there to drive her and David around a bit while she calms down. She won't say anything about the man or her meeting with him, but David notices that most of the money in her purse is now gone.
Interestingly, Miss Betsey is still frightened of her husband despite the fact that she now effectively occupies the position of power in the relationship; her husband is impoverished and relies on her handouts to survive.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Eventually, David and Miss Betsey reach Spenlow and Jorkins, where they find several clerks at work. One of them says that Mr. Spenlow is in Court, so David looks around while they wait for him to return: the room is full of faded furniture and legal papers and books, which David approvingly notes "look tolerably expensive."
David’s interest in becoming a proctor seems to stem from a sense that it's both prestigious and profitable. The novel is generally critical of this kind of naked ambition, instead suggesting that the desire to succeed should have some kind of moral basis (for instance, a genuine love for one's work or a need to support one's family).
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Mr. Spenlow himself turns out to be a small and "buttoned up" man with a huge gold pocket watch. He explains that there is an opening at the firm, and that he had told Miss Betsey this when she visited him on business a few days earlier. David says that he is very interested in becoming a proctor, but that he would like to try the work out first. Mr. Spenlow replies that the firm always provides hires with a month's trial period, adding that he would be happy to provide two months if it weren't for Mr. Jorkins. He similarly blames Mr. Jorkins for the position's cost, as well as for the fact that clerks do not receive a salary while under articles. Later, David learns that Jorkins is actually a very "mild" man whose main function in the firm is to serve as an excuse for Spenlow's policies.
Although the trial period Spenlow provides works in the firm's own favor, providing them with a chance to assess new hires before committing to them, it also gives David a chance to see if he enjoys the work. In David Copperfield, establishing oneself in a career isn't just a matter of finding a job, but also of finding a vocation—something one is naturally suited for.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
David, Mr. Spenlow, and Miss Betsey agree that David will begin work right away, and Spenlow takes him to the Court to give him a sense of what the position will entail. David is favorably impressed by the "old-fashioned" and sluggish atmosphere of the Court, and discusses his plans further with his aunt once they return to her hotel. To David's surprise, Miss Betsey has already been looking for potential lodgings for David in London, and shows him an advertisement for a particular promising set of rooms. They then go to visit the apartment, where Miss Betsey and the landlady, Mrs. Crupp, negotiate while David daydreams. Eventually, they decide David will provisionally rent the rooms for a month, and Mrs. Crupp will cook for him.
David's reaction to seeing the Court again suggests that his desire to become a proctor rests on questionable motives and assumptions. More specifically, he enjoys the "soothing" atmosphere of the Court, viewing it less as a place to work and more as a place to daydream. Since Miss Betsey wants to establish David in a profession partly in the hopes of making him a more purposeful and resolute person, this seems counterproductive.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
David and Miss Betsey return to her hotel for the night, Miss Betsey telling her nephew that she hopes he will soon be a "firm and self-reliant" young man. They discuss plans to have David's things sent to London, and David gives Miss Betsey a letter to take to Agnes. Miss Betsey leaves the next day, having arranged for David to be provided for financially for the next month.
Once again, Miss Betsey reiterates her hope that pursuing a career will teach David independence and discipline. In the meantime, however, she continues to support him financially.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon