Wilkins Micawber

"Micawber" and "Mr Micawber" redirect here. For other uses, see Micawber (disambiguation).
Wilkins Micawber
David Copperfield character

As illustrated in a 1912 edition of the book
Created by Charles Dickens
Gender Male
Occupation Various
Nationality British

Wilkins Micawber is a fictional character from Charles Dickens's 1850 novel, David Copperfield.[1] He was modelled on Dickens' father, John Dickens, who like Micawber was incarcerated in debtors' prison (the King's Bench Prison) after failing to meet his creditors' demands.

Micawber's long-suffering wife, Emma, stands by him despite his financial exigencies that force her to pawn all of her family's heirlooms. She lives by the maxims, "I will never desert Mr. Micawber!" and "Experientia does it!" (from Experientia docet, "One learns by experience.")

Micawber is hired as a clerk by the scheming Uriah Heep, who assumes wrongly that Micawber's debts arise from dishonesty. But working for Heep allows Micawber to expose his boss as a forger and a cheat. To start anew, Micawber and his family emigrate to Australia with Daniel Peggotty and Little Em'ly, where Micawber becomes manager of the Port Middlebay Bank and a successful government magistrate.

In Hablot Knight Browne's illustrations for the first edition, Micawber is shown wearing knee-breeches, a top hat, and a monocle.

As illustrated by Fred Barnard in an 1870s edition

Micawber is known for asserting his faith that "something will turn up". His name has become synonymous with someone who lives in hopeful expectation. This has formed the basis for the Micawber Principle, based upon his observation:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery." - (Chapter 12)

[The amounts quoted are equivalent to £20, £19 97½p and £20 2½p, in the United Kingdom's present, decimal, currency.]

The character was played by W.C. Fields in the 1935 screen classic, Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger. Bob Hoskins took the role in a 1999 BBC serial.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones named one of his guitars (an early 1950s Fender Telecaster with a Gibson PAF humbucking pickup installed in the neck position) "Micawber". Richards is known to be a fan of Dickens. Of the unusual moniker attached to the instrument, Richards said, "There's no reason for my guitar being called Micawber, apart from the fact that it's such an unlikely name. There's no one around me called Micawber, so when I scream for Micawber everyone knows what I'm talking about."

In addition, the character formed the basis of Micawber, a 2001 ITV drama series written by John Sullivan and starring David Jason in the title leading role.

In the U.S. Supreme Court opinion of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 562 (2007), Justice Souter criticized the court below for an approach to pleading that "would dispense with any showing of a reasonably founded hope that a plaintiff would be able to make a case; Mr. Micawber's optimism would be enough." (quotations and citations omitted).

Entry into general English

The character of Wilkins Micawber has given rise to the English noun "Micawber" and the adjectives "Micawberish" and "Micawberesque". The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a Micawber as "one who is poor but lives in optimistic expectation of better fortune".[2] Judge David Halpern described Craig Whyte's legal arguments in a case heard in 2013 as "pure Micawberism".[3]


Mr Micawber by 'Kyd' c.1890

Besides the Micawber Principle, Micawber is notable for a number of memorable quotations:

Film and television portrayals

W. C. Fields in his famous role as Mr. Micwaber
Year Title Wilkins Micawber played by:
1935 David Copperfield W.C. Fields
1969 David Copperfield Ralph Richardson
1974 David Copperfield Arthur Lowe
1993 David Copperfield Joseph Marcell
1999 David Copperfield Bob Hoskins
2000 David Copperfield Michael Richards
2002 Micawber David Jason

Quotations from the 1935 film

Quotation from the BBC TV/Masterpiece Theatre production



  1. Ramchandani, Dilip (1992). "The hypomanic personality of Wilkins Micawber: A Dickensian case study". Psychiatric Quarterly. 63 (3): 245–249. doi:10.1007/BF01065295. ISSN 0033-2720.
  2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry for Micawber
  3. FARMER, BRIAN (18 December 2013). "Judge compares Craig Whyte to Dickens character". The Scotsman. Johnston Publishing. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
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