David finds the transition from courtship to marriage strange—particularly the idea that Dora is now always nearby, and he does not need to scheme in order to see and talk to her. It is also a "wonderful" change, however, and David finds himself charmed by new details he learns about Dora, like the fact that she uses papers to curl her hair.
Although David is happy with his new wife, he is beginning to understand that courtship and marriage are very different things. Over the course of the chapter, it becomes increasingly clear that the qualities David found charming while courting Dora are not necessarily the qualities that make for a good wife.
Despite his happiness, David quickly discovers that neither he nor Dora is really equipped to maintain a household. They hire a servant named Mary Anne who proves to be more of a hindrance than a help: she has a stern look that frightens Dora, and she steals silverware and drinks.
Dora's shyness and timidity are very much in keeping with Victorian gender norms. They are an obvious hindrance, however, when it comes to managing servants, and therefore in conflict with Dora's new duties as a wife.
One day, David mentions to Dora that it is past the time they planned to have dinner, and suggests that she talk to Mary Anne about it. Dora objects that she can't and tries to distract her husband by drawing on his face with her pencil and scolding him for being "serious." Eventually, however, David returns to the subject of dinner and Dora grows frightened. David says he only wants to "reason" with her, but Dora insists that that is even worse than scolding, and eventually accuses him of regretting marrying her. David retorts that Dora is being "childish," and that it isn't "comfortable" to go without meals. This further upsets Dora, and she cries that criticizing the housekeeping is the same as criticizing her. David tries to reassure Dora, but she is inconsolable, and David feels horribly guilty.
Dora's insistence that David's attempts to reason with her are even worse than scolding might seem strange, but makes sense in light of Dora's character; Dora can be charming and entertaining when she's playing her guitar or teasing David, but she has no experience with or talent for more practical activities. By asking Dora to be "reasonable," then, David is in some sense rejecting her as she is. The fact that the dispute centers on housekeeping further underscores this, since (as Dora points out) a woman's housekeeping was seen as a reflection of her character.
Later that night, when David returns home from work, he finds Miss Betsey waiting for him. She explains that she has been keeping Dora company, because she is very upset. David explains that he himself is upset, but that he didn't mean to hurt Dora. Miss Betsey is understanding, but says that David has to be patient, and firmly rejects the idea that she might speak to Dora. When David expresses surprise, Miss Betsey hints that she wishes she been more tolerant of her brother's marriage to Clara Copperfield, and urges David to remember how unhappy Clara was after her second marriage. Finally, Miss Betsey says that since David chose to marry Dora, he ought to appreciate her for her prettiness and affection: any qualities Dora lacks David must either try to teach her or learn to do without.
The conversation in this scene is the most explicit acknowledgment in the novel that Dora resembles Clara Copperfield. More disturbingly, it also implies a parallel between David and Mr. Murdstone, since Miss Betsey is concerned that David will make Dora unhappy by trying to force her to be someone she isn't. Ultimately, the passage suggests not only that David married Dora due to unresolved feelings toward his mother and childhood, but also that, in doing so, he is in danger of replicating his childhood, this time as the abuser.
Miss Betsey leaves with a final warning not to use her as a "scarecrow" to frighten Dora. David watches her go, thinking that she looks worried, and realizing for the first time that he and Dora have to "work out [their] future for [them]selves." Dora then comes downstairs and the couple makes up and agrees never to argue again.
If David is in danger of becoming Mr. Murdstone, then Miss Betsey is in danger of becoming (or being forced to act like) Miss Murdstone—a "scarecrow" used to keep Dora in line. Fortunately, David takes his aunt's warning to heart and tries to be more gentle with Dora going forward. It's troubling, however, that he's only just now become aware of the responsibilities he's undertaken in marrying; it suggests he made a major life decision without fully considering what it entailed, and whether he and Dora were ready for it.
Nevertheless, David and Dora continue to have difficulties managing the household. David eventually dismisses Mary Anne, but the next several servants they hire are all either incompetent or dishonest. What's more, the couple has equal difficulty dealing with shopkeepers, who continuously cheat them. Consequently, they are always short on cash despite the fact that they hardly ever have food in the house. Other pieces of bad luck include a washerwoman who sells some of their clothes, a fire that breaks out in their chimney, and a servant who charges her drinks at public-houses to David and Dora's account.
Clearly, David and Dora's bad luck doesn't all stem directly from mismanagement. Taken together, however, they suggest that David and (especially) Dora are too young and innocent to manage their own household, particularly when it comes to matters of money; they lack the necessary shrewdness, David implies, to avoid being swindled. This is in keeping with the novel's emphasis on the importance of personal responsibility, and the role it plays in financial success. It's not that David and Dora have too little money coming in, but rather that they fail to spend it wisely.
Eventually, David decides to bring Traddles home for dinner, and sends a message to Dora to tell her. Traddles is excited by the prospect, imagining a future day when he will similarly come home to Sophy. When they arrive, however, David begins to wish there were more room around the table: the cottage is crowded with things like Jip's dog house, Dora's guitar, and David's writing table. What's more, Jip continuously gets up on the table to bark at Traddles. David doesn't say anything about this, however, out of fear of hurting Dora's feelings. Over dinner, it further emerges that the oysters Dora bought specifically for Traddles can't be eaten: she forgot to have them opened, and she and David don't own any oyster-knives. The mutton, meanwhile, is undercooked, but Dora is so happy David isn't upset with her, and feels that the evening generally goes well.
To Traddles, who is still unmarried, David seems to have attained the Victorian domestic ideal: he has a home of his own and a wife waiting there, making sure that everything is comfortable for him after his long day at work. As the dinner party demonstrates, however, David's home life is actually not as perfect as it might seem. The various inconveniences that occur are minor and humorous, but they all speak in one way or another to Dora's struggles as a homemaker, and the chaotic atmosphere that results.
After Traddles leaves, Dora apologizes to David and asks him to teach her better housekeeping skills. David says that he is learning as well, and Dora wishes aloud that she had had a chance to learn from Agnes. Shyly, she then asks David if he will humor her by calling her a "stupid name" she likes: "child-wife." David asks why, and Dora explains that she thinks he will be less angry with her failings if he can think of her in that way. Much to Dora's delight, David agrees, and she spends the rest of the evening playing with Jip. According to David, this conversation lingered in his mind for a long time afterwards.
In asking David to think of her as his "child-wife," Dora is essentially asking him to be patient with her immaturity and not to expect too much of her. To some extent, she even seems to be asking David to act as a parent to her, instructing and guiding her in the art of being his wife. Like Dora's repeated accusations that David regrets marrying her, the request implies that Dora senses David's disappointment in her. More importantly, the fact that David takes the request seriously (and remembers it vividly) suggests that he too is becoming aware of the fact that he has made a mistake; rather than laughing the remark off or trying to "reason" with Dora as he has before, David begins to feel a kind of dim pity for her.
Not long after the dinner party, Dora tries once again to learn cooking and accounting. She is no more successful than before, in part because Jip keeps walking across the account book and smearing the ink. This then distracts Dora, who spends more time playfully punishing Jip than focusing on the accounts. David sometimes takes pity on her, like when he sees her struggling with "bills and other documents, which looked more like curl-papers than anything else," and attempts to instruct her. Since this also depresses and frustrates Dora, however, he typically gives up after a while, feeling guilty.
The comparison of Dora's accounts to curl-papers again suggests that it's Dora's femininity that's preventing her from being a competent housekeeper; everything she touches seems to become pretty and artful at the expense of practical use. The fact that Jip often compounds Dora's struggles is also significant, because Jip—a pampered and charming little lap dog—is in many ways a symbol of Dora herself.
David takes on more and more of the household work himself to spare Dora worry, but he begins to feel a vague sadness himself. Occasionally, it occurs to him that he wishes Dora were more of a "counselor," who could "sustain [him] and improve [him]," but he dismisses this as a desire for unrealistic, "unearthly" happiness. In retrospect, however, he admits that he was also very young and inexperienced, and that he might have caused a great deal of harm, however unintentionally. On the whole, though, Dora seemed much happier after David stopped pressing her to change.
To David's credit, he isn't cruel or even especially demanding with Dora in the way that Mr. Murdstone was with Clara; in fact, David goes out of his way to spare Dora anxiety, taking on traditionally feminine work himself so that Dora can resume her carefree life of singing and playing with Jip. It's clear, however, that Dora knows David isn't completely happy with her, which gives David's memories a bittersweet feel; although he tries to make Dora happy, his own unhappiness inevitably casts a pall over the relationship.
Dora takes to sitting up with David whenever he is working late at home. One evening, David attempts to send her to bed, but Dora becomes distressed and says she wants to see what he's writing. David teases her about tiring her "bright eyes," and while the compliment pleases her, Dora insists that she wants to stay. Finally, she says she has a "silly" question, and asks if she can hold David's pens as he writes, in order to feel that she is doing something useful. David agrees and—since she finds the task so delightful—concocts other tasks for her to do, including copying pages of writing.
The fact that Dora passes off her wish to help David as a "silly fancy" implies that she's afraid of being turned down, presumably on the grounds that she's not capable of supporting her husband in his career. To help Dora feel more at ease in her role as a wife, David cooks up tasks that she can't at, but that don't really affect his work one way or the other. In other words, while the Copperfields' marriage ultimately comes to resemble the Victorian ideal, with Dora dutifully dedicating herself to her husband, the resemblance is superficial; Dora is playing the role of a model wife without actually managing to help her husband, who in fact spends much of his time attending to her well-being.
Around the same time, Dora begins carrying the household keys around with her, although she mostly uses them as a toy for Jip. David lets the matter be, however, because Dora enjoys "this make-belief of housekeeping." Dora also becomes very attached to Miss Betsey, who in turn develops such a soft spot for Dora that she constantly tries (unsuccessfully) to win Jip over.
Like the tasks she does for David, Dora's possession of the keys is more about acting the part of a homemaker than actually being one. Dora, however, apparently sees no difference between the two, which is in keeping with her preference for ornamentality over practicality.