David writes that while he continued, throughout this period, to work hard at learning shorthand, he doesn't feel that it's his place to talk about that. Instead, he says that all the success he has achieved in life can be traced back to "habits of punctuality, order, and diligence,” as well as “the determination to concentrate [him]self on one object at a time." He also says, however, that he does not say this in a self-congratulatory way, both because he is aware that many people work hard without achieving success, and because he owes so much of his own patience and dedication to Agnes.
This is one of the most explicit statements in David Copperfield about the importance of hard work. Interestingly, David acknowledges that determination and honesty don't inevitably lead to success, although he implies that they have in his case. However, the fact that he paints hard work as desirable regardless (mostly as a character-building exercise) allows him to mostly sidestep the issue of who is and isn't able to rise in society. It's also noteworthy that he indirectly credits his own success to Agnes by explaining that she inspired him to be better. This is exactly the role a good Victorian wife ought to fill, so the fact that David's statement directly follows a chapter about his relationship with Dora doesn't bode well for that marriage.
Around this time, Agnes visits Doctor Strong. Mr. Wickfield comes with her, and both Agnes and the Doctor hope the visit will do Wickfield good. Mrs. Heep also comes for a "change of air," and Uriah accompanies her to help settle her into her rooms.
Mrs. Heep's concern for both her son's health and her own is implied to be an affectation, since only relatively well-off people could afford to travel and take time away from work to rest and recover.
In a private conversation, Uriah tells David that he is "jealous" and wants to "keep an eye on" someone he holds dear. David presses Uriah, who eventually implies that he is not fond of Annie Strong. Uriah goes on to complain that Mrs. Strong has always treated him with condescension, and that he was always "beneath him" too. David assumes Uriah is referring to Doctor Strong and defends him, but Uriah says he meant Jack Maldon. Miserably, David realizes that Uriah also suspects Annie. Meanwhile, Uriah talks about how rudely Maldon used to treat him, and how Mrs. Strong will likely urge Agnes to marry someone of higher social standing than Uriah. For that reason, he says, he will do whatever he can to separate Agnes and Annie: being humble, he has to assume that everyone is against him and fight for his own interests.
Despite is remark about Mrs. Strong's influence with Annie, Uriah doesn't stand to gain much by exposing Annie's supposed affair: Agnes, after all, is clearly opposed to marrying Uriah already. That being the case, Uriah's interest in the matter mostly seems to consist of asserting his power over people who were formerly his social superiors. Regardless, he's increasingly willing to reveal that his humility is insincere, since someone who was actually humble wouldn't be "go[ing] at it tooth and nail" to assert his own interests.
At that moment, Jack Maldon himself arrives at Doctor Strong's, and Uriah begins laughing. David walks away in disgust.
Although David loathes Uriah's behavior, there's little he can do to oppose him; Maldon's arrival simply seems to confirm that there's something inappropriate going on between him and Annie Strong, and anything David said would simply expose her to more suspicion.
A few days later, David takes Agnes for tea with Dora, anxious for Agnes's approval. Dora is hiding when they arrive, but David eventually persuades her to join him and Agnes in the drawing-room. Dora is frightened at first—she had previously told David that Agnes sounded "too clever"—but Agnes's kindness and good humor soon win her over. Before long the two women are sitting next to one another and hugging, which pleases David enormously. Dora eventually admits that she is happy Agnes likes her, because she knows how much David trusts Agnes's opinions.
David's eagerness for Dora and Agnes to be friends is not only a reflection of his own confused romantic feelings, but also of the novel's need to portray David in a fairly positive light: by stressing that Agnes and Dora like one another, Dickens makes David's remarriage after Dora's death less jarring.
Before David and Agnes leave, Dora tells David privately that she thinks she would be "more clever" if she had known Agnes growing up. David laughs this off, and Dora asks David to remind her how he is related to Agnes. David replies that they aren't related by blood, and Dora, fidgeting with the buttons on his coat, says she wonders why David fell in love with her, and what would have happened if he had never met her. Dora's seriousness mystifies David, but she soon recovers her good mood and says goodbye to her guests with plans to write to Agnes.
Dora cl>early suspects that David is in love with Agnes, or at least that Agnes would be a better wife for him than she herself would be. Dora's growing realization that she isn't what David truly wants is one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the novel, because it is a reminder that David sometimes hurts other people (though unintentionally) as a he finds his way in the world; in a sense, Dora's suffering helps David grow up.
As Agnes and David walk to Doctor Strong's, David listens eagerly as Agnes praises Dora, feeling that he has never loved Dora so much. David tells Agnes that she is Dora's guardian angel as well as his own, and then asks whether her cheerfulness that evening means that her home life has improved. Agnes admits that it has not, but assures David that Uriah has not brought up the topic of marriage again, and that David should worry about her less. She also tells David that it will likely be a while before she is able to visit London again, but that she will keep in touch with Dora.
Once again, David's eagerness for Agnes and Dora to like one another reveals the depth of his feelings for Agnes. This passage in particular foreshadows Dora's eventual blessing of David and Agnes's marriage, with Agnes now acting as the "angel" blessing Dora and David's.
Agnes says goodnight to David and goes inside Doctor Strong's house. David, however, lingers outside and sees a light on in the Doctor's study. Assuming Doctor Strong is working on the dictionary, David peeks in and sees the Doctor, Mr. Wickfield, and Uriah in the midst of an apparently serious conversation: Doctor Strong has his face buried in his hands. David enters the room and Uriah closes the door behind him to preserve the meeting's secrecy. Uriah then informs David that he has reluctantly felt obliged to share his suspicions of Annie Strong with the Doctor. David is enraged and tries to comfort Doctor Strong as Uriah continues, saying that it has been clear since before Jack Maldon left for India that he and Annie were "sweet on one another," and appealing to Mr. Wickfield for confirmation.
Interestingly, Uriah broaches the topic of Annie's possible affair just after the meeting between David, Dora, and Agnes. Although David is never actually unfaithful to Dora (and Annie is eventually cleared of any suspicion of misconduct), the timing links David to another love triangle, and underscores how complicated finding an appropriate partner is in the novel.
Mr. Wickfield attempts to retract his own suspicions of Annie Strong, but Uriah claims to have witnessed them firsthand. Eventually, Mr. Wickfield admits that he has "doubts," and that he thought Doctor Strong did as well. Doctor Strong denies this, saying he only wished to help Jack Maldon out of love for his wife. Nevertheless, Wickfield says, he believed that given the age gap between the Doctor and his wife, "worldly considerations" might have persuaded Annie to marry. Wickfield also says, however, that while he might have privately doubted Annie, he never meant for anyone to learn about those doubts. Meanwhile, throughout all of Wickfield's speech, Uriah interrupts with remarks that suggest Wickfield is downplaying the situation.
Wickfield's suspicions of Annie are twofold: he believes not only that she may be having an affair, but also that she might have married Doctor Strong for his money. As in little Em'ly's storyline, the accusations of sexual misconduct and of social climbing are intertwined, with one charge lending credence to the other. The exchange also touches on the question of what makes a marriage a good match. Although it turns out that Annie and the Doctor's marriage is a happy one, Wickfield here questions whether a relationship with such a large age gap can truly be healthy.
Uriah reiterates that as painful as the subject is, he had no choice to bring it up—particularly since David has noticed Annie Strong's behavior as well. David angrily disputes this, but realizes that his expression has already given him away to Doctor Strong.
Apart from anything else, the meeting with Doctor Strong gives Uriah another chance to assert his authority over David, who unwillingly becomes a tool in Uriah's plans.
There is a long silence, during which Doctor Strong paces back and forth, discreetly crying. Finally, he says that he is to blame for any "trials and aspersions" Annie has been exposed to. More specifically, he feels that he might have unfairly "ensnared" her in a marriage that cannot be satisfying for a young woman: he married her before her character was fully "formed" and previously took comfort in the thought that doing so would shield her from some of life's uncertainties while allowing her "judgment" to mature. Now, however, he realizes that she may regret marrying him rather than Jack Maldon and that this leaves her vulnerable to gossip. Since Doctor Strong views himself as responsible for Annie's predicament, he resolves to do whatever he can to protect her reputation until he dies, and Annie is free to remarry.
True to his generous nature, Doctor Strong both refuses to believe that Annie is having an affair, and takes responsibility for any unhappiness she feels in the marriage. According to Doctor Strong, he initially viewed marrying Annie as a step that would contribute to Annie's growth as a person, and prevent her from making any foolish mistakes in her youth and inexperience. The potential problem with this, however, is now that Annie has grown and matured, she may no longer view Doctor Strong in the same light. Doctor Strong's efforts to shield and protect Annie—though well-intentioned—also reveal the extent to which women in the nineteenth century were infantilized.
Doctor Strong leaves the room, accompanied by Mr. Wickfield. Uriah remarks that he didn't expect Doctor Strong's reaction, and attributes it to "blindness." David—who was deeply moved by the Doctor's loyalty and kindness—rounds on Uriah and yells at him for deliberately "ensnaring" him in his plan. David is so angry, in fact, that he slaps Uriah and says he won't have anything to do with him from now on. Uriah warns him that he might not be able to avoid him, and David retorts that he already expects Uriah to do his "worst" (that is, marry Agnes).
David's outburst is understandable, but it also reveals just how much of the upper hand Uriah now has. Unlike David, Uriah remains calm and calculated throughout the exchange, and David begins to suspect that Uriah involved him in his plans specifically to "make [him] miserable"—that is, to lord it over David.
After a long silence, Uriah finally says that David has never liked him. Despite this, however, Uriah says that he likes David and won't be part of a "quarrel" with him. David scoffs at all of this, but Uriah simply keeps repeating that he won't be enemies with David—though he also adds that in losing his temper, David has made himself "inferior" to Uriah himself. David in turn repeats that he expects the “worst” of Uriah, and leaves the house. Uriah follows him, however, and reiterates that David has put himself in a "wrong position" by striking someone "so umble," but that he (Uriah) will forgive him. This irritates David, in part because he feels he has embarrassed himself.
Uriah here explicitly states what David had already begun to sense himself—namely, that by hitting a supposed inferior, David has compromised his claim to be a respectable gentleman. Uriah then rubs his new "superiority" in David's face by assuming a gentlemanly and forgiving demeanor. The passage, in other words, again raises questions about what social class is and when social climbing is acceptable: outwardly, Uriah is behaving in a much more genteel way in this exchange.
The next day, David sees Uriah walking with his mother, Mrs. Heep; Uriah's face is wrapped up in a handkerchief, and he later learns that he hit Uriah hard enough that he had to have a tooth removed. Meanwhile, Doctor Strong spends most of the rest of the Wickfields' visit shut inside his house.
Uriah's insinuations about Annie have clearly upset Doctor Strong, if only because he feels he has wronged her.
When David returns to his work as secretary, Doctor Strong gives him a letter asking him not to speak about the conversation with anyone. David notices that Annie Strong does not seem aware that anything has happened. Gradually, however, she appears to notice that her husband is even more kind and attentive to her than usual and grows visibly troubled. Annie's sadness in turn makes Doctor Strong seem older and more tired. Despite the obvious affection between the two, the marriage slowly grows more strained as Annie and the Doctor struggle to talk freely with one another. What's more, the Doctor increasingly encourages his wife to go on outings with her mother, Mrs. Markleham, which Annie does not seem to enjoy.
Mrs. Markleham's presence in the Strong household exacerbates the tension between Annie and the Doctor. Although non-nuclear family arrangements of this kind aren't always problematic in the novel—Miss Betsey, for instance, lives quite happily with Dora and David—Mrs. Markleham is yet another example of an overbearing parent who refuses to allow her child to grow up.
The one thing that appears to cheer up both Doctor Strong and Annie Strong is Mr. Dick's presence. Although David is not sure how much of the situation Mr. Dick himself understands, he admits that Mr. Dick seems to have an instinctive or emotional grasp of what is going on. Regardless, he continues to take walks with Doctor Strong, listening to him talk about the dictionary. He also begins to help Mrs. Strong out in the garden, which she seems to find comforting. Miss Betsey does not find any of this surprising, and frequently tells David that "nobody but [her]self […] knows what that man is."
The emotional support Mr. Dick provides to the Doctor and Annie individually foreshadows the role he will ultimately play in resolving the couple's marital problems. The implication is that Mr. Dick's disability is actually an advantage in this situation; because Mr. Dick sees people in straightforward terms, the rumors surrounding Annie don’t sway him. His disability also places him in an unusual position in terms of gender; because he isn't seen as a sexual threat, he can spend extensive time alone with a married woman in a way that most grown men would not be able to. This in turn allows him to act as a kind of mediator between the Strongs.
David describes a letter he received from Mrs. Micawber while the Wickfields were still visiting. In it, Mrs. Micawber reports that Mr. Micawber has become an entirely different man: she and her husband used to share everything with one another, she says, but now he has become very secretive. Worse yet, he is always in a bad mood, and is cold and distant with his family. David finds this letter mystifying, and doesn't know how to respond to Mrs. Micawber's request for advice except by urging her to bring her husband to his senses through "patience and kindness."
The chapter closes with another marriage in crisis—in this case, the Micawbers. Although David doesn't know what to make of the letter at the time, the fact that it appears in a chapter dealing so heavily with Uriah's "mischief" suggests that Mr. Micawber's strange behavior somehow stems from his new position as Uriah's clerk.