Uriah Heep

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Uriah Heep
David Copperfield character
Fred Barnard07.jpg
Drawing by Fred Barnard
Created byCharles Dickens
In-universe information
FamilyMrs. Heep (mother)

Uriah Heep is a fictional character created by Charles Dickens in his 1850 novel David Copperfield. Heep is the primary antagonist during the second part of the novel. His character is notable for his cloying humility, unctuousness, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own "'umbleness". His name has become synonymous with sycophancy.[1][2]

In the novel[edit]

David first meets the 15-year-old Heep when he comes to live with Mr Wickfield and his daughter Agnes.

Uriah is a law clerk working for Mr Wickfield. He realises that his widowed employer has developed a severe drinking problem, and turns it to his advantage. He encourages Wickfield's drinking, tricks him into thinking he has committed financial wrongdoing while drunk, and blackmails him into making Uriah a partner in his law office. He admits to David (whom he hates) that he intends to manipulate Agnes into marrying him.

Uriah miscalculates when he hires Mr Micawber as a clerk, assuming Micawber will never risk his own financial security by exposing Uriah's transgressions. Yet Micawber is honest, and he, David, and Tommy Traddles confront Uriah with proof of his frauds. They let Uriah go free only after he has (reluctantly) agreed to resign his position and return the money that he has stolen.

Later in the novel, David encounters Uriah for the last time. Now in prison for bank fraud, and awaiting transportation, Uriah acts like a repentant model prisoner. However, in conversation with David he reveals himself to remain full of malice.


Artwork of Uriah Heep by Frank Reynolds (1910)

Much of David Copperfield is autobiographical, and some scholars believe Heep's mannerisms and physical attributes to be based on Hans Christian Andersen,[3][4] whom Dickens met shortly before writing the novel. Uriah Heep's schemes and behaviour could also be based on Thomas Powell,[5] employee of Thomas Chapman, a friend of Dickens. Powell "ingratiated himself into the Dickens household" and was discovered to be a forger and a thief, having embezzled £10,000 from his employer. He later attacked Dickens in pamphlets, calling particular attention to Dickens' social class and background.

Film and television[edit]

In film and television adaptations, the character has been played by Peter Paget (1934),[6] Roland Young (1935), Maxwell Shaw (1956), Colin Jeavons (1966), Ron Moody (1969), Martin Jarvis (1974), Paul Brightwell (1986), Nicholas Lyndhurst (1999), Frank MacCusker (2000) and Ben Whishaw (2018).[7]

Rock band[edit]

The British rock band Uriah Heep is named after the character.[8]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary.
  2. ^ Deborah Parker & Mark Parker (3 October 2017). "The 10 Biggest Sycophants from Literature and History". Electric Literature. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  3. ^ "Who's who in Dickens", by Donald Hawes. Thursday 1 October 2009.
  4. ^ "Masterpiece Theatre: David Copperfield". PBS. Retrieved 1 October 2009.
  5. ^ "The Extraordinary Life of Charles Dickens". Retrieved 2 September 2009.
  6. ^ "Peter Paget". British Pathé. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Uriah Heep". IMDb. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  8. ^ Blows, Kirk. "Uriah Heep Story". www.uriah-heep.com. Retrieved 15 March 2007.