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David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

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What is a short summary of David Copperfield?

David Copperfield is the story of a boy who escapes his abusive stepfather to find a haven with his aunt Betsey. She sends him to school, and he falls in love with Agnes Wickfield, apprentices as a lawyer, and then falls in love with and marries Dora. Meanwhile, the evil Uriah Heep defrauds Aunt Betsey, and David turns to journalism. Dora dies, Uriah Heep is exposed, and David marries Agnes.

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Like most of Charles Dickens’s novels, David Copperfield is long. The 2004 Penguin Classics edition of David Copperfield is just shy of 900 pages. The following is a short summary of Dickens’s sizable text:

David Copperfield’s widowed mom marries a cruel man. He physically abuses David before jettisoning him to boarding school, where he faces further abuse. After his mom and little brother die, David’s stepdad takes him out of school and makes him work for his wine-bottling factory in London even though he is not even a teen yet.

In London, David meets the kind but downtrodden Micawbers. When Mr. Micawber is locked up, David seeks out his willful but heartfelt aunt, Miss Betsey. His aunt protects him from his stepdad and sends him to a decent school.

Miss Betsey finds herself facing serious financial hardship. Due to a bitter, spiteful man, Uriah Heep, Miss Betsey appears to loose most of her money. However, Miss Betsey doesn’t expose Heep’s treachery out of concern for her longtime associate, Mr. Wickfield.

Mr. Micawber returns to help expose Heep’s devious dealings. Heep winds up in prison. David winds up taking care of Miss Betsey. He also becomes a writer and marries a woman named Dora.

Dora and David’s marriage does not end happily ever after. Dora suffers a miscarriage and dies. Things work out much better with Agnes, Mr. Wickfield’s daughter. David and Agnes marry, start a family, and live, more or less, happily ever after.

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David Copperfield is a classic bildungsroman. Told from the first-person perspective of its titular character as an adult, the novel follows David from his infancy to his maturity. After his innocent young mother dies, David is left alone with an abusive stepfather who has no qualms beating and emotionally tormenting him. Right after his mother's death, David is sent to work for a wine merchant. David eventually finds his way to the home of Betsy Trotwood, his great-aunt and sole remaining relative. Though disappointed that David is not a girl, she takes him in and gets him a good education. During this time, David meets Agnes Wickfield, the kindly daughter of the man he lodges with, and Uriah Heep, an unsavory fellow.

After school, David goes into law and marries the lovely but childish Dora. Uriah turns out to be more than a creep: he is stealing from Agnes's family and from Aunt Betsey. He even hopes to marry Agnes. Uriah is brought to justice, but the damage is done, and Aunt Betsey has lost much of her fortune. David works hard and eventually finds success as a writer. When Dora dies, David realizes that he was in love with Agnes all along and marries her.

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In this very loosely autobiographical novel, David spends the first part of his childhood with his naive and gentle young mother and his loving servant, Peggotty. His father died before he was born. His life collapses into misery after his mother marries the hardhearted Mr. Murdstone and installs his equally harsh sister as head of household.

David, after resisting a beating by biting Mr. Murdstone's hand, is sent to boarding school for three years until his mother dies. At this point, Mr. Murdstone sends David to work in his warehouse. David runs away and finds his aunt, Betsey Trotwood. Betsey had rejected David at birth for not being a girl, but now the kind-hearted woman takes him in.

Betsey sends David to school, where he boards with the Wickfields and falls in love with Mr. Wickfield's daughter, Agnes. At the Wickfields', David also meets the creepy and dishonest Uriah Heep. After school ends, Miss Betsey encourages David to study law. He does so and ends up falling in love with Dora, the daughter of one of the partners at law firm where he is apprenticed. David then finds that Aunt Betsey has lost her fortune due to the dishonesty of Uriah Heep. David marries Dora, who is sweet but helpless. David becomes a journalist. Uriah Heep is exposed and brought to justice. Finally, Dora dies, enabling David to marry Agnes.

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David Copperfield is a fictional biography, describing the title character’s life. David narrates the novel himself. Some of the information in the novel is autobiographical and relates to Charles Dickens’s own life. David had a difficult life from the beginning. His father died before he was born. When David’s mother remarries, his stepfather is abusive and sends him off to a boarding school overseen by a cruel and abusive headmaster. One positive outcome of the school is that David makes two close friends. David’s mother dies when he is twelve, and his stepfather sends him off to live with the Micawber family in London and work in his stepfather’s warehouse. David is unhappy working at the warehouse and runs away to his Aunt Betsy. His aunt sends him to live with the Wickfield family and attend a school in Canterbury. Although he loves Agnes Wickfield, David ends up falling in love with Dora Spenlow, the daughter of an attorney who tutors David. The Wickfields’ law clerk, Uriah Heep, is revealed by David’s friends to be stealing from Mr. Wickfield. The Micawbers end up moving to Australia, while David becomes a writer. When Dora dies, David marries Agnes Wickfield.

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