Summary of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens


The main story of this novel concerns David Copperfield from the time of his birth to the years of his maturity. David is a posthumous child, born six months after the death of his father. He is lovingly reared by his mother Clara Copperfield and the family maid-servant Peggotty till, after a few years, his mother marries again. He is only a few years old at this time and is treated very harshly by his step-father, Mr. Murdstone, and his sister Miss Murdstone who has taken charge of the household and who tyrannizes not only over David but also over David’s mother and over Peggotty. David’s step-father does not even refrain from administering a severe beating to David.  During this period of his childhood, David is introduced by Peggotty to her brother Mr. Daniel Peggotty who is a fisherman living in a boat-house at Yarmouth. Living with him are Mrs. Gummidge (the widow of his late partner in the business), his orphaned niece Emily, and his orphaned nephew Ham. David develops a great affection for all these persons who become greatly attached to him. Soon afterwards he is sent to a school near London. The name of the school is Salem House Academy where the proprietor-cum headmaster is Mr. Creakle, a very stern man who takes pleasure in caning the pupils. There David forms strong friendships with James Steerforth, the son of an aristocratic family, and Tommy Traddles, a cheerful type of boy who, however, receives frequent corporal punishment from Mr. Creakle.  David has not as yet completed his studies at this school when news comes that his mother has died. He goes home to attend the funeral, but thereafter he is not sent back to the school. Mr. Murdstone now arranges a job for David in London. David has no choice but to go to London and start working at this job which requires him to wash empty wine bottles and affix labels to them. The work is not only hard and monotonous but degrading. Here he becomes acquainted with Mr. Micawber and his wife with whom he begins to live, as arranged by Mr. Murdstone. Soon afterwards, feeling completely fed up with this job and finding himself miserable, he runs away from the warehouse to try to find shelter in the house of his great-aunt, Miss Betsy Trotwood who lives somewhere near Dover. He has to travel the whole distance on foot because he has no money with him. He arrives at Miss Betsy’s cottage, completely exhausted and foot-sore. With Miss Betsy Trotwood lives Mr. Dick who is half-mad but in whose judgment Miss Betsy has great faith. David is received kindly by both his aunt and Mr. Dick. Miss Betsy sends David to a school at Canterbury where he begins to stay with Mr. Wickfield, a lawyer who has been looking after the financial interests of Miss Betsy. The headmaster of the new school is Dr. Strong who has a pretty young wife, Annie. Mr. Wickfield is a widower, having a daughter by the name of Agnes. In this environment, David is very happy. After completing his education at this school, David joins a firm called Messrs. Spenlow and Jorkins in London as an apprentice proctor, and begins working with Mr. Spenlow at the Doctors’ Commons (in London). Mr. Spenlow is also a widower, having a daughter whose name is Dora. David falls in love with this girl at first sight. Mr. Spenlow is opposed to the friendship of his daughter with David, but Mr. Spenlow dies suddenly, and Dora is taken charge of by her two old aunts who never got married and are therefore spinsters. David is accepted by these two old women as a suitor for Dora’s hand; and, in due course, David marries her. However, David’s married life with Dora does not bring him the kind of happiness which he had expected, though he still loves ber deeply and genuinely. By now, David has begun to earn good income. After learning shorthand, he had become a parliamentary reporter, in addition to working as a proctor. Thereafter, he had begun to write novels, and by now has made a name for himself. Unfortunately, Dora dies towards the end of the second year of his married life. He is now broken-hearted and goes abroad to find relief in travel. After returning to England, he begins to pay regular visits to Mr. Wickficld’s house to meet Agnes with whom be had developed a friendly relationship and whom he had been regarding as a sister and as his guardian angel. He now feels that he can find some comfort in life only if he can prevail upon Agnes to marry him. But Agnes has been in love with him from the very start though she had never told him about it. So he now gets married to Anges, and, with her, he attains the happiness which he had previously dreamt of but never achieved. In due course, he has children and becomes famous as a novelist.

Interwoven with this main story, is the story of Mr. Peggotty, Emily, and Ham. Emily had agreed to marry Ham, but she runs away with Steerforth who had been introduced to this family by David Copperfield. The family is plunged into grief because of Emily’s elopement. Both Mr. Peggotty and Ham feel heart-broken. Eventually, Emily is found and is reunited with Mr. Peggoty who has been making a search for her ever since her disappearance. Steerforth had deserted Emily, and she had thereafter found herself in great distress. Steerforth perishes in a shipwreck, and Ham gets drowned while trying to rescue a man whose identity he did not know but who turns out to be Steerforth. Mr. Peggotty now emigrates io Australia with Emily because he does not want that Emily should return to ber native Yarmouth and face the embarrassment of meeting the people who had known of her elopement and had felt shocked by the disgrace which she had brought
to ber family.

Interwoven with the main story is also the story of Tommy Traddles and his marriage to a girl called Sophy. And, interwoven with all these stories, are the fortunes of the Micawber family. Nor can we ignore the story of Uriah Heep’s villainous treatment of his employer, Mr. Wickfield. Uriah Heep is an evil-minded person who offers a striking contrast to such good-hearted and sincere persons as Mr. Peggoty, Ham, and Agnes.