David Copperfield

David Copperfield

David Copperfield Chapter 48 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
David publishes his first novel, which does well. This reassures him that he has chosen the correct vocation, and as he is now earning a sufficient income from writing, he quits his work as a parliamentary reporter.
David's professional journey is now more or less complete; although he goes on to become even more successful, what's most important in this coming-of-age story is the fact that he's found a calling and stuck with it. The fact that the career he settles into is writing is one of the more explicit ways in which David Copperfield parallels Dickens' own life.
Themes
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By about a year and a half into their marriage, David and Dora have largely given up their attempts at housekeeping. They do employ a page, who argues constantly with the cook. Despite this, David can't quite bring himself to fire the page, who is a young boy with a "lively perception of his own unfortunate state." Every time David raises the topic of dismissing him, the page cries pitifully and makes David reconsider. Eventually, however, the page is caught stealing Dora's watch, and he confesses to stealing several other items as well. David still has no intention of dismissing him, because he is embarrassed to have been such an unwitting "victim." The police ultimately apprehend the page, however, and deport him.
Despite his professional success, David is still young and naïve when it comes to domestic matters. A more savvy employer, David implies, would have caught the page stealing much earlier, or perhaps avoided the entire situation in the first place. Furthermore, far from being in charge of his servants, David allows himself to be manipulated by them.
Themes
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Home and Family Theme Icon
The debacle with the page convinces David to try talking to Dora again, and he tells her that he regrets that their "want of system and management" has now gotten people besides themselves in trouble. Dora is worried that David will be cross and tries to distract him by holding Jip up to his face. Eventually, however, she does as David says and sends Jip off to his dog house. David then explains that their bad housekeeping not only inconveniences them, but also "spoils" everyone around them. Dora protests that David has never caught her stealing watches, and then begins to cry, saying David shouldn't have married her if he thought she was "worse than a transported page."
Although it's treated humorously, the episode involving the page reveals just how serious a matter housekeeping was in the nineteenth century. In fact, David suggests that housekeeping is a moral issue, since lax standards encourage misbehavior on the part of servants (and probably children as well, if David and Dora had any). Theoretically, setting a good standard ought to be one of Dora's responsibilities as mistress of the house, so Dora's reaction to David, though melodramatic, isn't completely unjustified: any criticism of the running of the household is an implied criticism of Dora herself.
Themes
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Home and Family Theme Icon
David gently tells Dora that this is "ridiculous" and begs her to be "reasonable": if they fail in their "duties" to servants, then their servants will fail them, and take advantage of "opportunities […] to do wrong." Dora, however, is inconsolable, and asks why he doesn't send her back to her aunts or to Miss Mills.
David's discussion of "duties" expands on the moral aspects of housekeeping. David suggests that poor housekeeping threatens to disrupt the social order by allowing the lower classes to neglect their responsibilities to their supposed betters.
Themes
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After this conversation, David decides that a different approach is necessary, and resolves to "form [Dora's] mind." He stops playing along with her "childish" mannerisms, talks to her about serious topics, and reads Shakespeare to her. All of this unnerves Dora, but David presses on in the hopes of a "time when there should be a perfect sympathy between Dora and [himself]." After several months of little progress, however, he is forced to admit to himself that Dora won't change. By way of apologizing for his behavior, he buys Dora some earrings (along with a collar for Jip), and then sits her down for a conversation.
David's attempts to mold Dora's character are an attempt to guide her through the same coming-of-age process he has undergone himself. As David eventually realizes, however, Dora is as mature as she's ever going to be, and his attempts to fashion her into his ideal wife are pointless. These attempts are also reminiscent of Mr. Murdstone's treatment of Clara, and while David is not intentionally cruel to Dora, it's clear that his actions hurt her.
Themes
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Related Quotes
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David admits that he has been "trying to be wise," and Dora guesses that he has been trying to make her wise as well. She says that this is a hopeless task, and confesses that she fears David doesn't like her as she is. She then begins to say something else, but David—finishing her sentence—says that it would have been better for him not to try to change her. On Dora's urging, he promises not to bring up issues like corrupting the servants again, and tells her that he simply wants them to "go back to [their] old way, and be happy" even if it sometimes means being inconvenienced.
Although David apologizes for his behavior, his last-ditch effort to change Dora seems to have confirmed the latter's suspicions that she isn't truly what David wants: she says at one point that "it would have been better" and then breaks off. She presumably means that “it would have been better” if she and David hadn't married, and perhaps that “it would have been better” if David married Agnes instead.
Themes
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David explains that this was his last attempt to change Dora, and that doing so had made him feel miserable and guilty. He admits, however, that he felt a vague and ongoing sadness throughout this period of his life. Although he had resigned himself to the fact that perfect happiness in marriage is impossible, he also realized that his discontent stemmed in part from Dora's inability to be an equal partner for him. He also began to connect these thoughts with his "contented days with Agnes, in the dear old house […] that might have some renewal in another world, but never never more could be reanimated here." He never stopped loving Dora, and was only half-aware of these thoughts himself. Remembering what Annie Strong had said about "undisciplined hearts" and "disparity in marriage," he also worked to adapt to Dora in order to avoid serious unhappiness.
Unlike Dora, David never suggests that the marriage was a mistake; in fact, he says here that his attempts to change Dora made him unhappy in part because they threatened to eliminate the qualities he'd found so charming in Dora to begin with. With that said, one reason David is able to view his marriage to Dora in this light is the fact that he survives it and remarries; in fact, his first marriage actually facilitates his second by teaching him the importance of compatibility between spouses. In this passage, he has already begun to recognize this, and even to sense that Agnes, not Dora, is his ideal partner.
Themes
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Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
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David and Dora's second year of marriage is happier than the first. Dora, however, grows extremely ill after losing a baby and never entirely recovers her strength.
In light of her childishness, it's significant that the illness that eventually kills Dora stems from pregnancy and/or childbirth: the implication is that Dora is unable to successfully make the transition to adult womanhood—and, more specifically, motherhood.
Themes
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One day, Dora tells Miss Betsey that when she is well, she will make Jip run around again, because he is growing lazy. Miss Betsey gently tells her that Jip is not lazy but old, which distresses Dora. Miss Betsey tries to reassure her, saying Jip will revive in the spring, and that he will probably live for many more years. If Dora wants a dog to race, though, Miss Betsey will buy her another. Dora, who has pulled Jip onto the sofa and is petting him sadly, says she couldn't have any dog but Jip, who "barked at Doady [David] when he first came to [her] house." Miss Betsey says that Dora is right, and that she is not offended, and Dora says she doesn't want to "slight" Jip, who will keep her company "a little longer."
Given the similarities between Jip and Dora, the dog's growing weakness doesn't bode well for Dora; in fact, it foreshadows her own approaching death. Dora seems to sense this, since she reacts with such distress to the idea that Jip is growing old. Interestingly, however, she rejects the idea of adopting a new dog, choosing instead to focus on happy memories of Jip, which also happen to correspond to memories of David's courtship. Although Dora's illness may technically be the result of childbirth, it's hard to escape the sense that a part of her has simply lost the will to live; she seems less interested in the future than the past, and especially in what was likely the happiest period of her life—the time just after meeting David but before actually marrying him.
Themes
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David has Traddles over for dinner shortly after this, and Dora gets out of bed for the occasion, looking a little better. She is still too weak to walk, however, and doesn't seem to be recovering as the days pass. Consequently, David begins to carry her downstairs each day, which amuses Dora—particularly because Jip, Miss Betsey, and Mr. Dick often form part of the "procession." However, David can't help but notice, with increasing dread, that Dora is growing lighter and lighter. Then one evening Miss Betsey calls Dora "Little Blossom" as she says goodnight to her, and David starts to cry, thinking about how "fatal" the nickname is.
Despite Dora's own attempts to make light of her condition, it's increasingly obvious that she's dying. Miss Betsey's nickname for Dora brings this inadvertently to David's attention by calling to mind the frailty and short lifespan of actual "blossoms."
Themes
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