David Copperfield

David Copperfield

James Steerforth Character Analysis

James Steerforth one of David’s classmates at Salem School. The two become close friends, but the relationship dynamic is uneven; Steerforth is charismatic, wealthy, and several years older than David, so many of their interactions involve an element of coercion. Nevertheless, Steerforth seems to truly harbor some affection for David, and David, for his part, idolizes Steerforth. The two reconnect as young adults but suffer a permanent falling out when Steerforth seduces and runs away with little Em'ly, whom David had introduced him to and harbored romantic feelings for. Steerforth eventually abandons Emily, attempting to marry her off to his servant, Littimer. He later dies in storm at sea that also results in the death of Ham Peggotty, who was attempting to save him. Throughout David Copperfield, Steerforth is difficult to classify as either a hero or a villain. He is unusually intelligent and charming, and David retains some positive feelings toward him even after the harm he causes to little Em'ly and her family. Ultimately, David comes to believe that Steerforth's upbringing ruined his character. The death of Steerforth's father, indulgent treatment by Steerforth's mother, and (above all) Steerforth's very privileged class position formed him into a reckless and self-absorbed man. Steerforth has essentially never learned to think through the consequences of his actions, particularly when they impact people he has been raised to think of as less than fully human (such as the working-class Peggottys). Steerforth's cousin and ex-sweetheart, Rosa Dartle, also suggests that Mrs. Steerforth is to blame for her son's callousness and irresponsibility.

James Steerforth Quotes in David Copperfield

The David Copperfield quotes below are all either spoken by James Steerforth or refer to James Steerforth. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Puffin edition of David Copperfield published in 2013.
Chapter 22 Quotes

"I have been sitting here," said Steerforth, glancing round the room, "thinking that all the people we found so glad on the night of our coming down, might—to judge from the present wasted air of the place—to be dispersed, or dead, or come to I don't know what harm. David, I wish to God I had had a judicious father these last twenty years."

"My dear Steerforth, what is the matter?"

"I wish with all my soul I had been better guided!" he exclaimed. "I wish with all my soul I could guide myself better!"

Related Symbols: The Sea
Page Number: 275
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 31 Quotes

I cannot bear to think of what did come, upon that memorable night; of what must come again, if I go on.

It is no worse, because I write of it. It would be no better, if I stopped my most unwilling hand. It is done. Nothing can undo it; nothing can make it otherwise than as it was.

Related Characters: David Copperfield (speaker), James Steerforth, Little Em'ly (Emily)
Page Number: 377
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 50 Quotes

"The miserable vanity of these earth-worms!" she said, when she had so far controlled the angry heavings of her breast, that she could trust herself to speak. "Your home! Do you imagine that I bestow a thought on it, or suppose you could do any harm to that low place, which money would not pay for, and handsomely? Your home! You were a part of the trade of your home, and were bought and sold like any other vendible thing your people dealt in."

Page Number: 599
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 55 Quotes

And on that part of [the shore] where she and I had looked for shells, two children—on that part of it where some lighter fragments of the old boat, blown down last night, had been scattered by the wind—among the ruins of the home he had wronged—I saw him lying with his head upon his arm, as I had often seen him lie at school.

Related Symbols: The Sea
Page Number: 661
Explanation and Analysis:
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James Steerforth Character Timeline in David Copperfield

The timeline below shows where the character James Steerforth appears in David Copperfield. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: I Enlarge My Circle of Acquaintance
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A student named James Steerforth returns. The boys have been anticipating his arrival so they can present David to him:... (full context)
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That evening, Steerforth lays all the food out on David's bed and the boys stay up feasting and... (full context)
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After the talk dies down and most of the boys have gone to bed, Steerforth reiterates that he will "take care of" David. He also asks whether David has a... (full context)
Chapter 7: My 'First Half' at Salem House
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...boys," experiences frequent beatings, and once even takes the blame for an offense committed by Steerforth (laughing in church). (full context)
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Meanwhile, Steerforth continues to act as a protector for David, though he does not intervene on his... (full context)
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..."some crumbs of knowledge" from Mr. Mell, and is therefore disturbed by the fact that Steerforth consistently treats Mell with disdain. He also regrets telling Steerforth about the visit he and... (full context)
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...Mr. Creakle enters, and scolds Mr. Mell for "forgetting himself" so far as to chastise Steerforth and to accuse Creakle himself of favoritism. He also mildly scolds Steerforth for insulting Mell,... (full context)
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Mr. Mell's dismissal causes a rift between Steerforth and Traddles, who had cried when he left (and been beaten for it). Traddles accuses... (full context)
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At this point, Steerforth accidentally stumbles into the room, and David takes the opportunity to introduce him to Mr.... (full context)
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After Ham and Mr. Peggotty leave, David considers telling Steerforth about little Em'ly, but is afraid Steerforth will mock him for his infatuation. He is... (full context)
Chapter 9: I Have a Memorable Birthday
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...skips over most of the next half-year, saying only that he became increasingly infatuated with Steerforth, who was leaving at the end of the term. The most notable event that term,... (full context)
Chapter 10: I Become Neglected, and Am Provided For
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After tea, Mr. Peggotty asks David about Steerforth, and David takes great pleasure in describing his friend's bravery, intelligence, and generosity. As he... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Sequel of My Resolution
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...falls asleep and dreams about lying in his bed at Salem House, waking up "with Steerforth's name upon [his] lips." He is momentarily frightened, but eventually falls back to sleep. The... (full context)
Chapter 19: I Look About Me, and Make a Discovery
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...rises to go to bed, he passes by the man and, realizing it is James Steerforth, calls out to him. David is overwhelmed by the encounter, while Steerforth seems both pleased... (full context)
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David and Steerforth sit down to chat, and David explains why he is in London. Steerforth then reveals... (full context)
Chapter 20: Steerforth's Home
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...to use the shaving-water the maid leaves outside his door. He is also intimidated by Steerforth, whom he finds dining in a luxurious private room. Steerforth's friendliness soon puts David at... (full context)
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After David explains more about his circumstances, Steerforth invites him to spend some time at his home in Highgate, assuring David that Mrs.... (full context)
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David and Steerforth have lunch and travel to Steerforth's home, where they are greeted by Mrs. Steerforth—a woman... (full context)
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David, Steerforth, and Mrs. Steerforth enter the dining room, where they meet another woman: Rosa Dartle, who... (full context)
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...he is going to visit Peggotty and Mr. Peggotty, and says that he would like Steerforth to come along. Steerforth likes the idea and remarks that he would enjoy "seeing that... (full context)
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Later, Steerforth asks David what he thinks of Rosa and, when David hesitantly says that she is... (full context)
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Later that day, the Steerforths and David have tea together, and David notices that Rosa's scar tends to flush or... (full context)
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Mrs. Steerforth asks David about how he came to know Steerforth, and David speaks glowingly of Steerforth's... (full context)
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Later that evening, Steerforth says he might take David up on his offer to visit the Peggottys in a... (full context)
Chapter 21: Little Em'ly
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...else for David. This same exchange repeats itself every morning that David spends at the Steerforths'. Littimer is also on hand throughout the day to fetch things for David and Steerforth—horses... (full context)
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Meanwhile, David becomes more and more attached to Steerforth; he does not feel he can be Steerforth's equal, but in spite (or, he suggests,... (full context)
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The day after David and Steerforth arrive in Yarmouth, Steerforth asks when they will go to see Mr. Peggotty, and David... (full context)
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David leaves to visit Peggotty, with plans for Steerforth to meet him at Mr. Barkis's in a couple of hours. He is in a... (full context)
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Peggotty gets along well with Steerforth when he arrives—partly because she is grateful for his kindness to David, and partly because... (full context)
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The sea is loud as David and Steerforth approach Mr. Peggotty's, and there is also a lot of noise coming from inside the... (full context)
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...was "steadier" now and ready to marry. It was at this moment that David and Steerforth arrived. (full context)
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...moved by this, and his childhood memories of little Em'ly add poignancy to his happiness. Steerforth spares David the necessity of speaking by congratulating Mr. Peggotty and Ham on their much-deserved... (full context)
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...Em'ly to return to the main room, and her awkwardness quickly fades away thanks to Steerforth's charming and tactful conversation. In fact, she seems enthralled by a story Steerforth recounts about... (full context)
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David and Steerforth finally leave around midnight, the latter praising little Em'ly's beauty and the "quaintness" of the... (full context)
Chapter 22: Some Old Scenes, and Some New People
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David and Steerforth spend a couple of weeks in Yarmouth. Since Steerforth enjoys sailing, he often goes out... (full context)
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...Blunderstone, he passes by Mr. Peggotty's house and checks in. On one occasion, he finds Steerforth alone there, so deep in thought that David's approach startles him unpleasantly. Steerforth says he... (full context)
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Shortly afterwards, Mrs. Gummidge arrives, and Steerforth's mood further improves. He and David plan to depart the following day, however, and Steerforth... (full context)
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...very attentive to and protective of his fiancée. They stop and chat with David and Steerforth, and David notices that Emily does not replace her hand on Ham's arm when they... (full context)
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David and Steerforth go to dinner, where they meet Littimer, much to David's dismay. Toward the end of... (full context)
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...begins to gossip about a client she visited a week ago, but refuses to tell Steerforth whether Lady Mithers dyes her hair and wears makeup. Meanwhile, David stares at Miss Mowcher,... (full context)
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Miss Mowcher gets up on a table so she can reach Steerforth's hair, exclaiming that she will kill herself if David or Steerforth glimpsed her ankles as... (full context)
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Miss Mowcher says she hasn't seen a single pretty woman since coming to Yarmouth, and Steerforth jokes with David that they could show her one—meaning little Em'ly. Miss Mowcher asks whether... (full context)
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Miss Mowcher declares Steerforth's hair finished and asks if David would like his done as well. David declines, becoming... (full context)
Chapter 23: I Corroborate Mr. Dick, and Choose a Profession
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...morning, but he feels that it would be a betrayal to share what happened with Steerforth. In any case, David and Steerforth are busy saying their goodbyes to the Peggottys, Mr.... (full context)
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...home is silent at first, with David wondering when he will return to Yarmouth and Steerforth lost in his own thoughts. Eventually, however, Steerforth asks David about a letter he received... (full context)
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When David and Steerforth reach London they part ways, arranging to meet again soon. David then goes to a... (full context)
Chapter 24: My First Dissipation
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...rooms, although he also finds it lonely at times; he misses Agnes in particular, and Steerforth has not yet visited him. After three days, he goes to ask Mrs. Steerforth about... (full context)
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The next day, Steerforth appears while David is having breakfast. David excitedly shows him around his rooms and invites... (full context)
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Steerforth arrives at six in the evening with his friends Grainger and Markham, who are both... (full context)
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...to go home for her sake. Although he is annoyed, David does as she asks, Steerforth escorting him back to his apartment. (full context)
Chapter 25: Good and Bad Angels
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..."good Angel." Agnes uses this as an opportunity to warn David about his "bad Angel," Steerforth. (full context)
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...against this characterization of his friend. Nevertheless, Agnes presses on, saying she is not judging Steerforth by his actions the other night, but rather by the many things she has heard... (full context)
Chapter 26: I Fall into Captivity
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...he broods over the Wickfields' situation for weeks afterward. He also finds himself thinking of Steerforth (who is away from London) with a "lurking distrust" he attributes to Agnes's influence. (full context)
Chapter 28: Mr. Micawber's Gauntlet
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...he feels is appropriate to his "love-lorn condition." Having learned from his dinner party with Steerforth, David plans a much more modest meal this time. He manages to persuade Mrs. Crupp... (full context)
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...that Littimer has entered the room and asks him what he wants. Littimer explains that Steerforth has sent him, and will likely be visiting David tomorrow. Littimer then takes over cooking... (full context)
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David is still sitting lost in thought when Steerforth arrives at his apartment. As soon as David sees his friend, he regrets ever having... (full context)
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Steerforth mentions that he is hungry, having just arrived from Yarmouth, where he says he was... (full context)
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David tells Steerforth he intends to go visit Peggotty to try to comfort her. Steerforth agrees that David... (full context)
Chapter 29: I Visit Steerforth at His Home, Again
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...is "amusing," and David is feeling optimistic about his chosen profession as he heads to Steerforth's home. Littimer is not there (to David's relief), but Mrs. Steerforth and Rosa Dartle are,... (full context)
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...asks if David's work is really so interesting that it prevents him from visiting the Steerforths' more often. David agrees with her suggestion that it can be "a little dry," and... (full context)
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David notices that Steerforth and Mrs. Steerforth seem especially close to one another during this visit. He is also... (full context)
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...begins by hinting that there is something she wants to know more about, and Mrs. Steerforth tells her to be more direct. The two women then get into a discussion of... (full context)
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Meanwhile, David has also noticed that Steerforth seems unusually determined to make himself agreeable to Rosa. Rosa initially resists his efforts to... (full context)
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Mrs. Steerforth enters as Rosa leaves and asks what the matter is. Steerforth replies that she is... (full context)
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David tries to go to his own room, but Steerforth stops him and asks him to always "think of him at his best, if circumstances... (full context)
Chapter 31: A Greater Loss
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...recently with a horse and carriage. Ham assures David that he isn't responsible, but that Steerforth is the man he's talking about. (full context)
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...finally rouses himself and prepares to leave: he plans to go knock a hole in Steerforth's boat since he can't "drown" the man himself, and then set off in search of... (full context)
Chapter 32: The Beginning of a Long Journey
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...has played in the "pollution of an honest home," David cannot bring himself to condemn Steerforth. In fact, he loves him more than ever and cannot stop thinking of all his... (full context)
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...the beach. Both look very determined, and David worries that if Ham ever came across Steerforth, he would kill him. Mr. Peggotty, however, simply says that he and his nephew have... (full context)
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...Joram, and has been trying to find David all day. She asks whether David remembers Steerforth mentioning little Em'ly during their earlier meeting, and when David says he does, explains that... (full context)
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Mrs. Steerforth looks pale and unhappy but also very proud. She asks Mr. Peggotty why he has... (full context)
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Appealing to Mrs. Steerforth's love for her son, Mr. Peggotty passionately defends the selflessness of his love for little... (full context)
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Despite Rosa Dartle's repeated attempts to quiet her, Mrs. Steerforth launches into a long rant about how cruel it was of Steerforth to desert her... (full context)
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Mrs. Steerforth says she has nothing more to say, and Mr. Peggotty agrees to leave, explaining that... (full context)
Chapter 34: My Aunt Astonishes Me
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...home." He also tells her about little Em'ly's disappearance, though he avoids any mention of Steerforth, hoping she will simply guess the truth. (full context)
Chapter 36: Enthusiasm
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David can't resist walking by Mrs. Steerforth's house, where he sees Steerforth's own room has been shut up. Rosa Dartle, meanwhile, is... (full context)
Chapter 40: The Wanderer
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...near an inn called the Golden Cross—the same inn where David had first reconnected with Steerforth. (full context)
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...dark blue, and to lay a shining," he first went to France. He also suspected Steerforth talked to Emily about the pleasures of life abroad and how she could be a... (full context)
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...and he even bought a plain dress for her to wear instead of the finery Steerforth gave her. Ultimately, however, Mr. Peggotty couldn't find Emily, so he returned home, where he... (full context)
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...leave, explaining that (next to finding little Em'ly), his greatest desire is to return to Steerforth all the money that Emily has sent. If he dies before he is successful, he... (full context)
Chapter 46: Intelligence
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About one year into his marriage, David happens to walk by Mrs. Steerforth's house. As usual, it looks dark and uninhabited, and David continues on. He finds he... (full context)
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Suddenly, David hears a woman's voice, which turns out to be Mrs. Steerforth's maid asking him to come in and talk to Rosa Dartle. David agrees, and learns... (full context)
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...no one has, and Rosa explains, with obvious pleasure, that Emily has run away from Steerforth and may even be dead. David says that since Emily would probably be better off... (full context)
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Littimer explains that he traveled with Steerforth and Emily to a number of places, including France, Switzerland, and Italy. Steerforth was unusually... (full context)
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...have gotten help from some of the boatmen she used to talk to, much to Steerforth's annoyance. David finds the thought of Emily talking to families so similar to her own... (full context)
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David attempts to ask, through Rosa, whether Littimer or Steerforth intercepted any letters sent to little Em'ly. Littimer refuses to speak unless David addresses him... (full context)
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Rosa says that Littimer also told her that Steerforth is currently sailing off the coast of Spain. She explains that the rift between him... (full context)
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At that moment, Mrs. Steerforth approaches, and David sees that she looks much older. She asks whether David has heard... (full context)
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...life. When David asks whether Ham might prove "dangerous" if he ever happened to meet Steerforth again, Mr. Peggotty admits that he doesn't know. David then reminds Mr. Peggotty of the... (full context)
Chapter 50: Mr. Peggotty's Dream Comes True
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...voice, is little Em'ly. Rosa continues, saying she wants to know what kind of woman Steerforth ran off with, and there is a scuffle as Emily tries to leave the room... (full context)
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...her family so disrespectfully, but Rosa simply ignores her, saying that she was talking about Steerforth's home, and the rift little Em'ly ("this piece of pollution") has caused between Mrs. Steerforth... (full context)
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...is. Rosa, however, is unmoved, and tells Emily to "live happy" in her memories of Steerforth's "tenderness," to marry Littimer, or to simply die. She then reiterates her intention to have... (full context)
Chapter 51: The Beginning of a Longer Journey
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...and delirious, she imagined she was back near Mr. Peggotty's old house, but also that Steerforth and Littimer were lurking nearby. When Emily finally came back to herself and remembered where... (full context)
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...to count it, and then explains that he is planning on sending it back to Steerforth and Mrs. Steerforth before leaving the country. He also admits that he is anxious about... (full context)
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...wrought at home." He also thinks of his childhood love for little Emily, and of Steerforth, whom he senses is nearby. Meanwhile, Mr. Peggotty says it will probably be some time... (full context)
Chapter 55: Tempest
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...fisherman won't tell him whose it is. When they reach the beach, however, David sees Steerforth's body "lying with his head upon his arm, as [David] had often seen him lie... (full context)
Chapter 56: The New Wound, and the Old
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David remembers how, at their last meeting, Steerforth had asked him to remember him at his best. David says that he had always... (full context)
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Some local men who had known Steerforth carry his body up toward the house where Ham is, but hesitate to place him... (full context)
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...tells the maid that something has happened, and that he needs to speak to Mrs. Steerforth directly. He then waits in the drawing-room, surrounded by mementos of Steerforth, as the maid... (full context)
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Mrs. Steerforth expresses her condolences for Dora's death, and David replies that they all "must trust to... (full context)
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Upset, Mrs. Steerforth asks Rosa to come to her. Rosa does, but also asks whether Mrs. Steerforth's "pride"... (full context)
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Rosa continues, saying she loved Steerforth more truly than Mrs. Steerforth, and that she would have endured any mistreatment if she... (full context)
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David begins to say that Rosa ought to feel compassion for Mrs. Steerforth as a grieving mother, but Rosa interrupts, asking who will feel sorrow for her. David... (full context)
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David returns later that day with Steerforth's body, and learns that Rosa is still with Mrs. Steerforth, who is insensible despite doctors'... (full context)
Chapter 57: The Emigrants
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...his grief immediately, in part because he wants to conceal the deaths of Ham and Steerforth from little Em'ly and Mr. Peggotty. He does, however, tell Mr. Micawber what has happened... (full context)
Chapter 58: Absence
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...by little," he comes to appreciate the depth of his despair. His grief encompasses Dora, Steerforth, and Ham, but also the loss of the Peggotty's home, and the ruin of "the... (full context)
Chapter 64: A Last Retrospect
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David describes a visit to Mrs. Steerforth and Rosa. Although Mrs. Steerforth still possesses "traces of old pride and beauty," her overall... (full context)