David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 41 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
David receives a letter from Dora's aunts inviting him to visit and discuss his request to call on Dora. David accepts this invitation and writes that he will be bringing his friend Traddles with him. He finds himself wishing he could consult with Miss Mills, but her father, who is a merchant trader, has taken her with him to India, much to David's annoyance.
David's youthful infatuation with Dora often causes him to act and think in self-centered ways: here, for instance, he feels as though Mr. Mills has gone to India specifically to inconvenience him. Although David's selfishness is relatively mild, it's another indication that his love for Dora isn't the kind of mature love that will morally improve him.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
When he dresses for the visit to Dora's aunts, David finds himself torn between wanting to look handsome and wanting to look "practical." Furthermore, as he walks to Putney with Traddles, David worries about Traddles's hair, which tends to stick upright. He asks Traddles if he can fix it, but Traddles laughingly says that nothing he tries works.  He then explains that people have always objected to his hair, including Sophy's sisters. This reminds David to ask whether Traddles made a formal proposal to Sophy's family. Traddles says that he did, but that most of them took the proposal very badly, because they relied so much on Sophy. However, when David suggests that the family's behavior was wrong, Traddles objects and says that both he and Sophy felt guilty for causing so much upheaval, and avoid mentioning the topic to this day.
David's anxiety over both his and Traddles' appearance once again reveals how much growing up he has to do. In particular, the effort he makes to appear practical suggests that he still is playing the role of an adult rather than genuinely becoming one. Meanwhile, Traddles' description of Sophy's family centers on a different kind of coming-of-age problem: Sophy's family is reluctant to allow her to leave home and marry because they essentially use her as a servant.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Traddles's selflessness does not fully strike David at the time, since he is so anxious about the upcoming visit. When they arrive and are shown into a drawing-room, David feels as though he is "on view" and nervously trips over Traddles and then sits on a cat as he tries to greet Dora's aunts. The fact that one of the women first assumes Traddles is David further unnerves David, who has to "lay claim to [him]self." Finally, one of the aunts says her sister Lavinia will explain their thoughts on David and Dora's relationship, since she is more familiar with "matter of this nature." David later learns that both Lavinia and Clarissa consider the former an expert on romance because they believe a man named Mr. Pidger was once infatuated with her.
David's extreme awkwardness in this scene reveals his youth and inexperience. It's especially interesting that Traddles is at first mistaken for David; although this kind of misunderstanding could happen to anyone in the real world, it's significant in the context of a story that essentially traces how David became David. Since David is not a "complete" individual at this stage, it's not surprising that there is confusion surrounding his identity.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Miss Lavinia explains that she and Miss Clarissa were somewhat estranged from Mr. Spenlow, and that his death has in any case changed Dora's circumstances. Furthermore, she think David is a respectable young man who loves (or is "persuaded" he loves) Dora. At this point, David breaks in to describe just how much he loves Dora, and the conversation gets off track: Clarissa interrupts with a lengthy speech on Mr. Spenlow's wife, whom Clarissa says should have clarified that there would be "no room" for Spenlow's sisters at the dinner table following her marriage. Lavinia temporarily succeeds in quieting Clarissa to confirm that David wishes to visit Dora as a "suitor," but Clarissa then interrupts again to say that it was nothing to her or Lavinia if Mr. Spenlow wanted to only associate with people from Doctors' Commons.  
Despite having little romantic experience themselves, even the Spenlow sisters appear to suspect that David's feelings for Dora may have more to do with infatuation than mature love. Meanwhile, Clarissa's complaints about her brother—though mostly played for humor—again point to the tension that exists in the novel between the family one is born into and the family one creates through marriage.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
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Miss Clarissa gives Lavinia permission to continue, and Lavinia says that they have spoken with Dora and believe that David "thinks" he is in love. David attempts to interrupt again, but Lavinia continues, saying that "mature affection […] does not easily express itself," and that it is hard to know whether youthful love will ultimately amount to anything. This, she explains, has influenced her and Clarissa's decision. Despite Lavinia's hesitancy, David senses that she enjoys the idea of overseeing his and Dora's courtship, and again interrupts with a declaration of how much he loves Dora. Traddles backs David up and happens to mention that he himself has been engaged for a long time, which seems to favorably impress Lavinia by reminding her of Mr. Pidger.
Once again, the sisters express doubt over the depth and maturity of David's feelings for Dora. The passage also speaks to the influence of memory on the present, since Lavinia's indulgent feelings toward Dora and David's relationship stem from recollections of her own "romance" with Mr. Pidger—despite the fact that this romance took place largely if not entirely in her own head. 
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
Miss Lavinia continues to explain that it is difficult to know whether David and Dora's feelings will last, at which point Miss Clarissa interrupts to say that they would understand Dora better if Mr. Spenlow had sometimes invited them to dinner. Finally, Lavinia announces that she and her sister are willing to allow David to visit Dora, but not to become engaged to her. Lavinia also stipulates that the visits will formally be paid to them rather than to Dora, and that David will not communicate with Dora outside of their supervision. David eagerly accepts these conditions, although Lavinia and Clarissa insist on giving him and Traddles time alone to consider. When the sisters return, they tell David he can come to dinner on Sundays, and tea twice a week. They also invite Miss Betsey.
Although Dora's aunts impose restrictions on her relationship with David, David's standing is actually more legitimate now than it was previously; because it took place without her family's consent or even knowledge, his earlier courtship of Dora wasn't really proper. With that said, Clarissa and Lavinia still clearly have reservations about the relationship, mostly because they suspect it is a passing infatuation rather than mature, lasting love.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Miss Lavinia asks David to follow her and leads him to the next room, where he finds Dora trying to eavesdrop. Dora is upset, however, and says she is frightened of David's friend (Traddles). David protests that Traddles is the "best creature," but Dora says that they "don't want any best creatures." She becomes even more distressed when David announces that she will soon meet Miss Betsey, so David gives up trying to persuade her that she's wrong. Instead, he watches as she shows him a new trick Jip has learned (standing on his hind legs in the corner of the room). Eventually, Lavinia returns to fetch David, and Dora runs away to her room when David suggests introducing her to Traddles.
Dora's shyness at the mention of Traddles and Miss Betsey seems to stem from a fear that they will ask more from her than she can give, or perhaps alert David to her deficiencies. Her remark that she doesn't want "any best creatures," which David takes for meaningless, flirtatious "pouting," suggests that she's aware of her own flaws and consequently doesn't want to be around anyone "better" than she is. In any case, David at this point is still charmed by Dora's frivolity, which here takes the form of the amusing but impractical tricks she teaches her dog.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Traddles and David leave, and Traddles remarks that David will likely marry before he does. David then questions Traddles about Sophy, asking whether she plays an instrument, sings, and paints. Traddles replies that she plays and sings a little, and David tells Traddles that he will have to hear Dora sing and see her paintings. They continue to talk about Sophy as they walk home, David continuously comparing her to Dora with "considerable inner satisfaction."
Although "accomplishments" like singing and painting were expected of well-bred Victorian women, the weight David places on them is implied to be excessive; ultimately, these skills aren't especially useful in the context of a marriage, as David will learn firsthand when he officially marries Dora.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Back at home, David tells Miss Betsey about his success, and she says she's happy for him. He notices, however, that she spends a lot of time pacing that evening while he writes to Agnes, telling her the good news. David eventually receives a response from Agnes that is "hopeful, earnest, and cheerful."
Miss Betsey's anxious demeanor continues to hint at her reservations surrounding David's relationship with Dora, which she considers immature and poorly thought out. Meanwhile, Agnes continues to act graciously and selflessly by supporting David's relationship despite appearing to be in love with him herself.
Themes
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
David soon discovers that work leaves him no time to go to tea, so (with Miss Lavinia's permission) he begins to visit on Saturdays as well as Sundays. Meanwhile, Miss Betsey and Dora's aunts pay visits to one another and generally get along well, although the aunts are scandalized by the odd times at which she visits, like just before tea. Jip, however, does not like Miss Betsey and has to be shut away whenever she visits. As for David, he finds himself increasingly worried by the fact that everyone seems to treat Dora as a "toy": Miss Betsey nicknames her "Little Blossom," and Miss Lavinia constantly dotes on her. 
Even at this relatively early stage of the relationship, David is beginning to have doubts about Dora's suitability as a partner. He's not truly able to articulate what disturbs him about the way in which others treat her—he simply remarks that it's "odd"—but in retrospect it's clear that he senses that Dora isn't enough of an adult herself to provide him with support and guidance, or even to carry out basic tasks in the household. The words he and others use to describe her ("toy," "blossom") reinforce the idea that she is more decorative than practical.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
One day during a walk, David tries to convince Dora that she should ask to be treated as an adult. Dora objects, saying that she's happy with everyone's kindness to her, and David argues that she could be happy while being treated "rationally." This causes Dora to begin crying, and she asks why David wants to marry her if he doesn't like her as she is: she says that she is "very affectionate," and that David shouldn't be "cruel" to her. David attempts to comfort her and they make up, with Dora even asking him to give her the cookbook and show her how to keep accounts.
It was partly Dora's childishness that David found so alluring in the first place, so his asking her to change places her in a double-bind: if she stays as she is, she lacks traits and skills that David wants her to have, but if she changes, she'll lose the quality that initially made David want to marry her. Her question about why David wants to marry her is therefore more pointed than she probably realizes, because it's not clear that she (or any woman) could embody everything that David wants.
Themes
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
The next time David visits, he brings Dora not only the cookbook but also an account book and a "pretty little pencil case." It quickly becomes clear, however, that Dora finds both confusing, and she ends up doodling pictures in the account book. David's attempts to verbally instruct Dora go no better: for instance, when David asks how she would prepare a specific meal, she says she would tell the servant to make it before "laugh[ing] in such a charming manner that she was more delightful than ever." Eventually, the cookbook ends up serving mostly as a surface for Jip to stand on while holding the pencil case in his mouth. David can't help but find all this charming, however, and he only rarely wishes that people would treat Dora less like a "plaything."
Dora's immaturity is probably a combination of natural tendencies, gender norms, and her wealthy upbringing: her remark that she would tell a servant to make dinner would be perfectly acceptable if she were marrying an upper-class man, but she hasn't learned the skills to run a more modest household. In any case, even David's attempts to dress up practical skills like account-keeping in more ornamental terms (for instance, by giving Dora a "pretty" box for her pencils) go nowhere. Tellingly, she puts all these practical household objects to purely frivolous use by teaching Jip to do pointless tricks with them.
Themes
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon