David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A week passes, and David continues to feel wildly optimistic about the sacrifices he is making on Dora's behalf. He has not explained the situation to Dora herself, however, although he is scheduled to have tea with her and Miss Mills the coming Saturday. Meanwhile, Mr. Dick has settled in well to his new job, and Miss Betsey has frightened Mrs. Crupp into staying in the kitchen. Miss Betsey has also taken it upon herself to redecorate and reorganize David's apartment, making it much cozier. Peggotty helps her with this until she returns to Yarmouth. David accompanies her to the coach office, where she tells him to ask her for help if he ever needs money, and promises to help set David and Dora up in their future home.
In his enthusiasm, David has gotten ahead of himself: he is making elaborate plans for his and Dora's life together before he has even explained his changed circumstances to her. In the meantime, however, David is profiting by Miss Betsey's presence. Despite being a fairly unconventional woman, Miss Betsey has the traditionally feminine knack for housekeeping, and has successfully made David's apartment into something more homelike.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
That evening, David goes to Miss Mills' and immediately asks Dora whether she "could love a beggar." When she realizes David is talking about himself, she scolds him for lying and threatens to make Jip bite him. David finds her "childish" demeanor adorable, but nevertheless assures her that he is being serious, at which point Dora begins to cry. David begs her to stop and eventually calms her down enough to explain that he will release her from the engagement if she wants. He says, however, that he is as much in love with her as ever, and begins to talk at length about how hard he is working and how "practical" he is becoming.
David's immaturity once again comes through in the melodramatic way he announces his situation to Dora; he almost seems to take pleasure in the thought of being a "beggar," and in describing all the obstacles he imagines himself overcoming. Dora, meanwhile, is immature in a different way, and not equipped to deal with David's revelation. After first attempting to distract him with flirtation, she dissolves into tears at the thought of having to give up her pampered and carefree existence.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Dora says that she still loves David, but refuses to listen to anything more about how hard he is working, and insists that Jip must be able to eat mutton-chops every day. David agrees to this and tries to describe their future home together. Dora, however, is alarmed by the idea of Miss Betsey living with them, and David begins to feel that she is being "impracticable." He therefore tries again to explain that he simply wants to "inspire" Dora with his own zeal for hard work and "strength of character." Dora, however, finds all this frightening and says that she doesn't have any strength before insisting that David "kiss Jip, and be agreeable."
Whether she means it seriously or as a deflection, Dora's comment about Jip's mutton-chops again points to her spoiled upbringing: she's unwilling to entertain the idea of scrimping and saving, not just because of what it would mean giving up, but because of the effort it would require. It's also telling that Dora insists she has no "strength," since it reflects the novel's depiction of her as fragile and frivolous.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Dora charms and distracts David for a while, but he eventually returns to his former subject and urges Dora to think about being engaged to a "poor man" so that she will get more used to the idea. Once again, Dora protests that he is being "dreadful," but David presses on, suggesting that she try to learn a bit about account-keeping and cooking. This is too much for Dora, who cries out for Miss Mills and begs David to go away. Overcome with remorse, he begs for Dora's forgiveness, denounces his actions, tries to revive her with water, and eventually spills a box of needles on her while looking for smelling salts.
Dora's inability to manage a household is a recurring source of strain in her relationship with David, and Dickens begins to foreshadow it here. The traits that make Dora an ideal Victorian woman in some respects—her naiveté, her pretty singing and playing, and so on—aren't compatible with the kinds of practical skills David lists here.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
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At this point, Miss Mills enters and asks what has happened. Dora says that David is a "poor laborer" and tries to promise him all her money, but David eventually succeeds in explaining his situation to Miss Mills. Gradually calming down, Dora leaves the room to compose herself. David seizes the opportunity to tell Miss Mills that he had been trying to impress upon Dora the need for practicality and discipline. Miss Mills, however, says that it is not "appropriate" to trouble Dora with these issues, though she concedes that it might be helpful. David manages to convince her to take the cookbook he has brought with him in the hopes that she can use her influence with Dora and persuade her to read it.
Dora's exaggerated claim that David is now a "poor laborer" is another indication of her naiveté. In Dora's mind, there is little difference between the kind of work David is doing and that of a working-class laborer, probably because the idea of needing to work at all is foreign to her. In any case, Miss Mills' attempt to explain the situation to David hinges on the idea that Dora is not cut out for anything that requires effort or practicality, because she is too childish and delicate—or, as Miss Mills puts it, "a thing of light, and airiness, and joy."
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Dora reappears, and is so pretty and charming that David begins to feel that Miss Mills is right. They all have tea together, and Dora plays her guitar and sings. Unfortunately, he happens to mention at one point that he now gets up at five in the morning, which distresses Dora. As he leaves, she warns him not to get up so early the next morning, and David explains that he has to go to work so that they can live. Dora says that this is ridiculous, and—when David questions how they will live otherwise—simply responds, "Any how!" David continues to love Dora as passionately as ever after this incident, but he also begins to worry about how well suited she is to the life he is now leading.
The exchange about David's schedule reveals that Dora either can't or won't understand that working, for him, is a matter of financial necessity. Even when David attempts to reason with her, she laughs his concerns off by saying that they can live "any how." This is in keeping with Dora's general inability to treat life as anything other than a source of amusement; in fact, in this passage she again sings about "the impossibility of ever on any account leaving off dancing."
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon