Susie Steiner Reveals Who She Would Drown in a Rock Pool - Or Would She Miss His Company Too Much?
8th August 2017
There are so many characters in literature that set our hearts aflutter. But what about the ones that really rile us, that make our skin crawl or have us wanting to throw the book at the wall out of frustration or exasperation? This year, rather than tell us which fictional character they'd like to accompany them to the beach, we asked some of our favourite authors about the ones they'd happily cast out to sea, leave on the beach or drown in a rock pool… you get the idea! Who would you like to leave behind? Today it's the turn of Susie Steiner.
See more of our Castaways here
I would drown Uriah Heep in a rock pool, except I would miss the pleasure of Dickens’s creation in David Copperfield: the physical revulsion (“no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep” and “a long, lank, skeleton hand” – ew!) and the sheer fawning insincerity of this embezzling cuckoo.
The brilliance of Uriah, for he is a masterstroke of characterisation, is that we have all met one (or several, social media is awash with Uriahs, all false modesty and pretend admiration). Heep is a human type – very much alive and well, thriving wherever envy exists and envy is after all universal. Dickens describes Uriah as "looking up at us in the chaise" in his first encounter with David Copperfield and here is the rub with Uriah types: they pretend to look up in admiration when they are, in fact, out to destroy.
Take the humblebrag: Uriah would be a master of this. Take passive aggression, Uriah got there first. False modesty? Bow to the Heep.
When Manon recalls one of her worst Internet dates (and there is stiff competition for this accolade), at the start of Missing, Presumed, she recalls a man "giving it his best Uriah Heep". Her date gave off the stench of death, cadaverous just like Heep was, even at the age of fifteen when David Copperfield first meets him.
I think Dickens is saying something important about seeing through sycophancy and how it is wise to beware saccharine praise which disguises envious attack. You can go some way to protecting yourself from Uriahs if only you don’t believe a word they say.
Susie Steiner's novels include Missing, Presumed and Homecoming Her latest book is Persons Unknown.