Wilkins Micawber

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Wilkins Micawber is a fictional character from Charles Dickens' 1850 novel David Copperfield. He was modelled on Dickens' father, John Dickens, who also ended up in a debtor's prison (the King's Bench Prison) after failing to meet the demands of his creditors.

His long-suffering wife, Emma, stands by him through thick and thin, despite the fact that her father, before his death, had to bail him out on many occasions and the fact his circumstances force her to pawn all her family heirlooms. The maxims she lives by are: "I will never desert Mr. Micawber!" and "Experientia does it (from Experientia docet, One learns by experience (literally, 'experience teaches'))".

He is hired as a subordinate by Uriah Heep, who believes Micawber to be as dishonest as himself due to his troubles with creditors. However, Micawber is honest, and, after working for Heep for a while, exposes him as a forger and a cheat. To make a fresh start, Micawber and his family emigrate to Australia alongside Daniel Peggotty and Little Em'ly. In Australia he is successful and becomes a magistrate as well as manager of the Port Middlebay Bank.

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


Popular culture

He is famous for frequently 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:

Great Britain's pre decimal currency was pounds, shillings and pence, abbreviated to £sd. "Nineteen pounds nineteen and six" or £19/19/6d is six pence less than twenty pounds. Likewise, "Twenty pounds ought and six" or £20/0/6d is six pence more than twenty pounds. A similar expression under the decimal system might be, "Annual income, £20.00, expenditure £19.98, result happiness; annual income £20.00, expenditure £20.02, result misery."

The character was played by W.C. Fields in the 1935 screen classic, Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger. Another actor of note to have played him was Bob Hoskins, in a 1999 BBC serial.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones named one of his guitars (an early 50's 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."

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