David Copperfield

David Copperfield

Little Em'ly (Emily) Character Analysis

Little Em'ly is the niece of Mr. Peggotty, who raises her and her cousin Ham (both are orphans whose fathers have died at sea). David meets her on a childhood trip to Yarmouth, where her relatives work in the fishing industry. The two quickly become friends and childhood sweethearts, but any possibility of a romance between the two ends when David introduces Emily—now a grown woman and Ham's fiancée—to James Steerforth. The two run off together but do not marry, permanently ruining Emily's reputation. After several years living together, Steerforth abandons Emily and attempts to marry her off to his servant, Littimer. Emily refuses, however, and has nearly had to resort to prostitution to support herself by the time her uncle finds her. Mr. Peggotty eventually decides to take little Em'ly to Australia, where she will be able to begin a new life and escape her stained reputation. The fact that Emily ultimately leaves the country (and the narrative) for Australia is perhaps an indication that the novel cannot reconcile the problems she poses for Victorian gender norms. Like Dora Spenlow, little Em'ly exemplifies some of the tensions surrounding female gender roles in Victorian England. David, for instance, repeatedly describes Em’ly as flirtatious but also suggests that the behavior he sees as coquettish (and therefore inappropriately sexual) could simply be shyness, which is a feminine virtue. It also seems likely that Em’ly’s affair with Steerforth is motivated at least in part by ambition rather than sexual desire; as a child, Emily repeatedly expresses the wish to escape her working-class surroundings, and marrying (or sleeping) above one's station was one of the only avenues for social advancement available to Victorian women.

Little Em'ly (Emily) Quotes in David Copperfield

The David Copperfield quotes below are all either spoken by Little Em'ly (Emily) or refer to Little Em'ly (Emily). 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 10 Quotes

What happiness (I thought) if we were married, and were going away anywhere to live among the trees and in the fields, never growing older, never growing wiser, children ever, rambling hand in hand through sunshine and among flowery meadows, laying down our heads on moss at night, in a sweet sleep of purity and peace, and buried by the birds when we were dead!

Related Characters: David Copperfield (speaker), Little Em'ly (Emily)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 21 Quotes

"You see," he said, wiping his head, and breathing with difficulty, "she hasn't taken much to any companions here; she hasn't taken kindly to any particular acquaintances and friends, no to mention sweethearts. In consequence, an ill-natured story got about, that Em'ly wanted to be a lady. Now my opinion is, that it came into circulation principally on account of her saying, at the school, that if she was a lady she would like to do so and so for her uncle—don't you see?—and buy him such and such fine things."

Related Characters: Mr. Omer (speaker), David Copperfield, Little Em'ly (Emily), Peggotty
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
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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 47 Quotes

"What shall I ever do!" she said, fighting thus with her despair. "How can I go on as I am, a solitary curse to myself, a living disgrace to every one I come near!" Suddenly she turned to my companion. "Stamp upon me, kill me! When she was you pride, you would have thought I had done her harm if I brushed against her in the street. You can't believe—why should you?—a syllable that comes out of my lips. It would be a burning shame upon you, even now, if she and I exchanged a word."

Page Number: 570
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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Little Em'ly (Emily) Character Timeline in David Copperfield

The timeline below shows where the character Little Em'ly (Emily) appears in David Copperfield. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3: I Have a Change
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...woman and a "most beautiful" girl, who he will soon learn are Mrs. Gummidge and little Em'ly(full context)
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...Em'ly are his nephew and niece (by his brother and sister, respectively); both Ham and Emily are orphans, their fathers having died at sea. Mr. Peggotty also introduces his "wife" as... (full context)
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...Em'ly walk along the beach, comparing their family lives and noting the differences between them. Emily remarks that while they have both lost their fathers, there is a significant difference in... (full context)
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Emily then fantasizes about being a lady: she would like to buy her uncle, Mr. Peggotty,... (full context)
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As the days go by, David and little Em'ly develop a youthful (though "pure" and "disinterested") infatuation with one another. Their class differences do... (full context)
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The adults find David and little Em'ly 's romance charming—even Mrs. Gummidge, who otherwise has a habit of complaining about everything and... (full context)
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...church, [and] little Em'ly leaning on my shoulder." However, while he is distressed to leave Emily, he finds himself eager to return home to Clara as soon as he and Peggotty... (full context)
Chapter 7: My 'First Half' at Salem House
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...confirms that Peggotty, little Em'ly, and Mrs. Gummidge are all well, and David asks whether Emily has changed much. Mr. Peggotty says that Emily is "getting to be a woman," and... (full context)
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...Steerforth will mock him for his infatuation. He is also "uneasy" about the idea of Emily becoming a woman. That evening, the boys feast on the lobsters, crabs, and shrimp Mr.... (full context)
Chapter 10: I Become Neglected, and Am Provided For
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...looks nearly the same as he remembers, and Mrs. Gummidge is as grumpy as ever. Little Em'ly , however, is away at school when David arrives, and in her absence the house... (full context)
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...speaks, he notices little Em'ly watching him with fascination. However, when Mr. Peggotty suggests that Emily might wish to meet Steerforth, she becomes flustered and runs away. (full context)
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...rest of his visit is happier, but he cannot quite recapture his old friendship with little Em'ly , who "seem[s] to have got a great distance away from [him]," and takes pleasure... (full context)
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...shoe after them for good luck. The chaise stops at a church, and David and Emily flirt with one another outside while Peggotty and Barkis go into the building. When Peggotty... (full context)
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...him and little Em'ly at Mr. Peggotty's, but he perks up thanks to Ham and Emily's company. Peggotty visits the next morning and brings David to her new home, where David... (full context)
Chapter 16: I Am a New Boy in More Senses Than One
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...Agnes also looks through David's schoolbooks with him and offers advice. He remains infatuated with Emily, but also has a powerful sense of Agnes's "goodness, peace, and truth." (full context)
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...a pirate who has used Mr. Peggotty's house to kidnap and drown both David and little Em'ly . (full context)
Chapter 17: Somebody Turns Up
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...are doing well. David passes this information on to Miss Betsey but does not mention little Em'ly , whom he senses his aunt would not approve of. (full context)
Chapter 21: Little Em'ly
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...is apprenticed in the dress shop, where she is performing very well. He also says Emily is so pretty, though, that many women are jealous of her—to which Minnie retorts that... (full context)
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David glances next door, where Emily is currently working, and is impressed by her beauty, as well as by the tenderness... (full context)
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...breaks apart when David and Steerforth arrive, but Mr. Peggotty greets them joyfully, while embracing Emily with pride and happiness. (full context)
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...into the household; although he is "rough as a Sea Porkypine," he says, he loves Emily as if she were his daughter. He then explains that a "certain person"—Ham—has known little... (full context)
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Awkwardly but earnestly, Ham professes his love for little Em’ly , saying that no other man could love her more, even if he could express... (full context)
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...about "boats, and ships, and tides." Even Mrs. Gummidge is less gloomy than usual. Eventually, Emily and David begin to talk of their shared childhood memories, Steerforth listening on intently. (full context)
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...the "quaintness" of the house and family. However, when David comments happily on Ham and Emily's engagement, Steerforth says it is a shame that she is marrying such a "chuckle-headed fellow."... (full context)
Chapter 22: Some Old Scenes, and Some New People
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...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 continue walking. He also sees... (full context)
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...used to be his sweetheart. Miss Mowcher teases David about this, and David—somewhat annoyed—says that Emily is engaged, and as "virtuous as she is pretty." Steerforth agrees with David, adding that... (full context)
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...David returns to Mr. Barkis's house only to find Ham waiting outside. Ham explains that Emily is inside, talking to an old friend who is now a disreputable woman. David quickly... (full context)
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...and her story. Ham is suspicious and asks what Martha will do in London, but Emily assures him that she will "try to do well." Ham therefore hands over the purse,... (full context)
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...Ham, who has only ever been generous and loving to her. Ham attempts to reassure Emily that she makes him happy, but she says that that is only proof of his... (full context)
Chapter 23: I Corroborate Mr. Dick, and Choose a Profession
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David is still thinking of little Em'ly and Martha the next morning, but he feels that it would be a betrayal to... (full context)
Chapter 28: Mr. Micawber's Gauntlet
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...he was there for a week and didn't see much of the Peggottys, but that Emily isn't married yet. He also gives David a letter from Peggotty, saying that Barkis is... (full context)
Chapter 30: A Loss
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...Barkis's condition deteriorated, delaying the wedding. As a result of this uncertainty, Mr. Omer says, Emily continues to be anxious and unhappy. David then asks Omer if he knows anything about... (full context)
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...currently at Barkis's house. David hurries there as well, where he also finds Ham and Emily. Everyone is very subdued, but Mr. Peggotty and Ham thank David for coming. Emily, however,... (full context)
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Left alone, David thinks about little Em'ly 's apparent fear of death, as well as what Mr. Omer told him about her.... (full context)
Chapter 31: A Greater Loss
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...for the week leading up to the funeral, during which time he does not see Emily. The funeral itself is small and quiet, and gives David a chance to place some... (full context)
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...let little Em'ly he's at home. Peggotty teases her brother for being so attached to Emily, and Mr. Peggotty agrees that he is, talking about how much pleasure he takes in... (full context)
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...looks very pale. Once outside, David asks Ham what's wrong, and Ham eventually says that Emily has run away, and that it would be better for her to die than to... (full context)
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Back inside, David reads aloud a letter Ham gave him. It's from Emily, and explains that she is already "far away" from her home and Ham, whose love... (full context)
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...although he does try to comfort Ham. Eventually, he asks who the man is that Emily has run away with, and Ham asks David to step outside. David remains, however, slowly... (full context)
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...leave now, but to sit down for a while so that they can reminisce about Emily and Ham as children. This, she says, will help him "bear his sorrow better." Mr.... (full context)
Chapter 32: The Beginning of a Long Journey
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...has heard what has happened, and while many are critical of the couple—and particularly of little Em'ly —everyone is sympathetic to Mr. Peggotty and Ham. (full context)
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...nephew have been talking, and he has decided he has an obligation to look for Emily. David offers to go with Mr. Peggotty to London the next day, and Mr. Peggotty... (full context)
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That evening, David visits Mr. Omer, who is very distressed by Emily's flight. Minnie, by contrast, at first seems to strongly condemn Emily's actions, but then breaks... (full context)
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...and when David says he does, explains that she thought David was in love with Emily—something Littimer confirmed when she left the room. Although she was worried about what would happen... (full context)
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...her, and she promises to use her position to try to find out news of little Em'ly and (if possible) to bring Littimer to justice. Finally, she asks David to think kindly... (full context)
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...her little Em'ly's letter, asking whether Steerforth will follow through on his promise to "make Emily a lady" (that is, to marry her). Mrs. Steerforth says that this is impossible because... (full context)
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...she says, because her feelings for her son are much deeper than Mr. Peggotty's for Emily(full context)
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...she spent indulging him and making him the center of her life. Unless Steerforth casts little Em'ly aside, she says, she will never allow him to return. This speech strongly reminds David... (full context)
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...either Mr. Peggotty or his niece: in fact, she says, she would like to see Emily whipped. Mr. Peggotty leaves at this point, but Rosa continues over David's protests, saying she... (full context)
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David rejoins Mr. Peggotty, who says he will leave to look for little Em'ly that very night but will not say where he is going. They have dinner with... (full context)
Chapter 33: Blissful
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Far from distracting David from Dora, Barkis's death and Emily's disappearance just make her seem even "purer" and more loveable in comparison. Once they are... (full context)
Chapter 34: My Aunt Astonishes Me
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...Agnes as one of the "elements of [his] natural home." He also tells her about little Em'ly 's disappearance, though he avoids any mention of Steerforth, hoping she will simply guess the... (full context)
Chapter 35: Depression
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...Betsey explains that while David was away with Mr. Dick, she and Peggotty talked about little Em'ly ; Miss Betsey feels little sympathy for her, on account of the trouble she has... (full context)
Chapter 40: The Wanderer
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...has looked for little Em'ly in many places but heard very little. Remembering how fascinated Emily used to be by the sea and the "coasts where the sea got to be... (full context)
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...to imagine were little Em'ly's. Eventually, he went on to Italy, where he heard that Emily had been traveling in the Alps. He therefore turned toward Switzerland, imagining what he would... (full context)
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...news of Mr. Peggotty to her. If Mrs. Gummidge is too angry to do so, Emily begs her to talk to Ham and see whether he is willing to forgive her... (full context)
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...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 at least hopes that Emily... (full context)
Chapter 46: Intelligence
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...by name). David says that 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... (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 attached to... (full context)
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Rosa and Littimer speculate on Emily's fate: Rosa suggests that she is dead, but Littimer says she might have gotten help... (full context)
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...cagey, ostensibly out of loyalty to Steerforth. He hints, however, that Steerforth wouldn't have allowed Emily to receive anything that might "increase low spirits and unpleasantness." David then announces he has... (full context)
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...therefore says that she has sent for David in spite of her own hatred for Emily, in the hopes that Littimer's information will help him find her. (full context)
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...enemy." David assures her that he understands her motives but protests against her characterization of Emily. Mrs. Steerforth agrees to let the matter drop, and congratulates David on his marriage and... (full context)
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...the apartment ready for little Em'ly's arrival. David tells Mr. Peggotty what he knows of Emily's whereabouts, and Mr. Peggotty is silent and thoughtful. Finally, he asks David what he thinks,... (full context)
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...true. David therefore suggests that Martha might be able to find little Em'ly, explaining how Emily had helped Martha in the past, and how Martha had listened in on their conversation... (full context)
Chapter 47: Martha
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...says, the worst thing about her own fall was that it cut her off from Emily's friendship, and when she learned Emily had run away, she would have done anything to... (full context)
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...says he knows that she, like little Em'ly, was orphaned, and asks her to imagine Emily's feelings toward her adoptive father now—that is, that she both longs to see Mr. Peggotty... (full context)
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David and Mr. Peggotty tell Martha everything they know of little Em'ly 's whereabouts, and provide her with their addresses so that she can contact them. Martha... (full context)
Chapter 50: Mr. Peggotty's Dream Comes True
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As time goes on, David becomes less hopeful that little Em'ly will ever be found (at least alive). Mr. Peggotty, however, is as certain of finding... (full context)
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...know what kind of woman Steerforth ran off with, and there is a scuffle as Emily tries to leave the room and Rosa stops her. Emily is obviously terrified by this... (full context)
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As Rosa continues to taunt little Em'ly for her "mock-modesty," Emily begs her to show her some mercy on account of their shared womanhood. Rosa scoffs... (full context)
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Emily begs Rosa not to speak of her family so disrespectfully, but Rosa simply ignores her,... (full context)
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...little Em'ly that if she doesn't leave this house immediately, she will tell everyone about Emily's past. Furthermore, she will do the same elsewhere if Emily ever tries to pass herself... (full context)
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...and cover her face with a handkerchief. He then thanks God for bringing him to Emily and carries her out of the room. (full context)
Chapter 51: The Beginning of a Longer Journey
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...to hear her speak in such a "humbled" way. He was so grateful to have Emily home, however, that this sadness quickly passed. (full context)
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Mr. Peggotty explains that when Emily escaped from Littimer, she ran along the beach until she passed out from exhaustion. The... (full context)
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The fever temporarily wiped out Emily's knowledge of Italian, so she struggled to communicate even as she grew physically stronger. Eventually,... (full context)
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...who promised to find her work as a seamstress. At this point, however, Martha found Emily and took her back to her room. Although she told Emily that she had spoken... (full context)
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Mr. Peggotty says that he and Emily stayed up all night together, crying and talking. Miss Betsey, moved by the story, says... (full context)
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...Mr. Peggotty says that he has, and David explains that he intends to emigrate with Emily. Mr. Peggotty then says he has already arranged to board a ship for Australia leaving... (full context)
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Mr. Peggotty explains that there is one more thing that troubles him: the money that Emily sent to him over the years. He has brought it with him and asks David... (full context)
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...Mr. Omer in on how little Em'ly was found, and Omer—though pleased to hear about Emily—asks what will now happen to Martha. David is sure that Mr. Peggotty has not forgotten... (full context)
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...soon returns and greets David happily. The group discusses Mr. Peggotty's impeding voyage, but not Emily herself. David thinks Ham looks peaceful, but Peggotty tells him, as she walks David to... (full context)
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...is willing to take charge of any written message that Ham might want to send Emily. (full context)
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Ham thanks David, and says that he does want to say something to Emily—specifically, that he hopes she can forgive him for "pressing" marriage on her when what she... (full context)
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...change was being 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... (full context)
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...to be left behind. Instead, she offers to come to Australia as Mr. Peggotty's and Emily's servant, or even "slave." Mr. Peggotty protests that it will be a hard voyage and... (full context)
Chapter 52: I Assist at an Explosion
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...set any terms he likes, and urges him to consider going with Mr. Peggotty and little Em'ly to Australia. Meanwhile, Mrs. Micawber wonders aloud whether Australia is the kind of place where... (full context)
Chapter 54: Mr. Micawber's Transactions
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...until after the entire affair with Uriah has been resolved, and after Mr. Peggotty and Emily have left for Australia. He therefore returns to Canterbury with Miss Betsey and Agnes and... (full context)
Chapter 55: Tempest
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...not only David, but also Mr. Peggotty and little Em'ly. David himself does not see Emily, but he spends a lot of time with the Peggottys, and one evening, Peggotty begins... (full context)
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...over and give it to Ham, if he feels it is appropriate. In the letter, Emily thanks Ham for his message, saying she will keep it with her until she dies.... (full context)
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...rope tied around himself. Ham's determined expression reminds David of the look he had when little Em'ly ran away, so David attempts to hold him back. As David is speaking, however, two... (full context)
Chapter 57: The Emigrants
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...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 so that he... (full context)
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While he is looking around, David sees someone who looks like little Em'ly sitting with one of the Micawbers' children. He also sees a figure who resembles Agnes... (full context)
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...gets underway and everyone on board cheers. At that moment, David catches a glimpse of little Em'ly , "surrounded by the rosy light," leaning on her uncle and waving goodbye. By the... (full context)
Chapter 60: Agnes
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...presence calms David down, and she begins to talk about the meetings she had with little Em'ly before her departure, and about the visits Agnes has paid to Dora's grave. As Agnes... (full context)
Chapter 61: I Am Shown Two Interesting Penitents
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...also says that he tried to save a woman who "fell into dissolute courses"—that is, little Em'ly —and wants David to tell her that Littimer forgives her and hopes she will repent. (full context)
Chapter 63: A Visitor
Coming of Age and Personal Development Theme Icon
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
...see him and Agnes, as well as their children, who remind him of David and little Em'ly as children. David invites Mr. Peggotty to stay in his house, assuring him that they... (full context)
Ambition, Social Mobility, and Morality Theme Icon
Mr. Peggotty explains that he has promised little Em'ly he will only stay in England for a few weeks. He says he doesn't mind... (full context)
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Agnes asks after Emily, and Mr. Peggotty explains that she was initially very depressed, so it is fortunate she... (full context)
Womanhood and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
...Mr. Peggotty says, Mrs. Gummidge has been a helpful and uncomplaining assistant to him and Emily(full context)
Memory and Nostalgia Theme Icon
...the inscription for Mr. Peggotty, who takes some grass from the grave to give to little Em'ly . (full context)