“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” ~ David Copperfield

This is certainly Mr. Wilkins Micawber’s most famous quote. Grandiloquent, and undoubtedly ridiculous, he is constantly running into trouble because of his eternal amassing of debts.

Interestingly, the inspiration for this quote is attributed to Dickens’ own father, a perpetual debtor who eventually wound up in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison. This period of time for Dickens, who was only 12 years old, had a profound effect on him. It became the inspiration behind Little Dorrit.


Wilkins Micawber was born out of this difficult period also, albeit to a greater comic effect. He typically attempts lengthy, grandiose and eloquent speeches, only to flounder halfway through because he cannot sustain the tone. At this point, he inserts his famous “In short”, and finally puts his point across in simpler terms.

“Accidents will occur in the best regulated families; and in families not regulated by that pervading influence which sanctifies wh ile it enhances the–a–I would say, in short, by the influence of Woman, in the lofty character of Wife, they may be expected with confidence, and must be borne with philosophy.” ~ David Copperfield

Poor Mr. Micawber. Constantly oscillating between brimming over with hope and brimming over with despair. We see him so vividly in our minds, in both states, and enjoy him as much today as he was enjoyed then.

N.B. SPOILER ALERT – Mr. Micawber does succeed eventually, and becomes the sort of great man he always wants to be.


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