After Dark

Mary Reilly follows the titular character in her role as a housemaid to the enigmatic Dr. Jekyll in a retelling of the tale the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Her given status as a servant would say a lot about her; she is subservient, loyal, and caring for her master. But it would seem that Valerie Martin takes that to a different extent. When she writes in her afterward, Martin had this to say:

“I have also taken great liberties with Mary’s punctuation and spelling. She rarely used punctuation at all and her method of capitalizing proper names was erratic, though it is interesting to note that she always failed to capitalize the world ‘i’ and never failed to capitalize the word ‘Master.’”

The word “master” is interesting. In servitude, it’s much more common for a servant to call their master “sir” or “madam.” So why the word “master”? The word carries a certain connotation to it, not unlike the slave trade in the past. “Master” implies that the relationship between the servant and their employer is much more than respectful – it is a command of respect. Mary’s relationship with Dr. Jekyll would place her in this context. She sees him as a powerful force within her life – someone who has given her so much life and so much to look forward to professionally and relationally. So when she refers to Dr. Jekyll, she would call him “master” according to Martin; she believes that his role in her life is that powerful.

But what of the word “I”? Martin writes that Mary does not refer to herself as the capital “I” but as the lowercase “i.” In a novel where identity plays a major role in the development of the characters, as well as the distinction between the internal good and evil of a person, this is an intriguing question. When we think of the word “I”, we think of who we are. “I did this” or “I did that.” The word “I” allows the person to take ownership of who they are. Mary however, is not written that way. Her word is “i” – it is smaller, subservient, and provides just enough identity for someone else to impose an “I” on to them. In other words, Mary’s usage of “i” keeps her in that servant role while still retaining her own internal identity.

So the question becomes this: why does Mary want to be in a subservient and thankless role? Why does she actively try to suppress her own identity and prop up Dr. Jekyll’s identity as her caretaker? In the last section before she discovers Hyde’s body, Mary narrates this:

“The blackness seemed to press in tight all about me…no sooner was I up than I felt a movement at my shoulder, so that I gasped, whirling around where I stood…but it was my own reflection I found gazing back at me…”

This passage shows us that there is darkness within Mary, and that her reflection as she explains is just as tortured and manic as Jekyll’s. The difference is that while Jekyll obviously lets his dark side loose, Mary decides to suppress it. This could be why she allows for the social and professional hierarchy to solidify: so that it gives her a reason to keep the darkness in. It terrifies her, as it did in the chapter, but she realizes the truth about Jekyll and about herself as well. For “if we cast our shadows, are they not always a part of us?” In the mind of Valerie Martin, the answer seems to be “yes.”

The Unknown

The unknown stalks the maidservant’s life like a shadow that cannot be escaped. With every action around Mary Reilly, the author builds a question without an answer. The conflict bears a great deal on the story of Dr. Jekyll, but the tension rises from the unknown reasons for his dealings and their implications on Mary’s crumbling world.

Mary’s backstory is laid out in full display for the reader in the first seven pages. I believe this causes an unparalleled sympathy for her position and condition. Even here, the author uses the darkness of the closet, the bag thrown in with its unknown contents, and the trapped torture and carnage dealt by the ‘dog-sized’ rat to bring about a terror of, and abhorrence for the dealer, her father. This suppressed memory is used to great effect to carry the tension into Mary’s daily chores.

A counter to the weight of this nature comes from the revelation that Mary can read and write. Just as surprising as the treatment at the hands of her father, the author lays out details of Mary’s past that build a character that appears solid and grounded in her station, countenance, and fortitude, though, a bit anxious in her desire to be of greater importance to Dr. Jekyll. An example of her anxious boldness that brings about a misstep in her self-awareness, saying, “Mr. Poole, I can take the tray out now if you like and you can come behind with the claret.” (pg. 18)

The author’s description of the response does a great deal for the story in building the character of Mr. Poole and setting the tone for the expectations of position among the servants. “But he only stopped and gave me one of his cold, dead looks, like a fish’s eye when you know it’s none too fresh and said, “Mary, you know Dr. Jekyll forbids anyone but me to go to the cabinet door. I wonder you could forget this simple direction.” (pg. 18) Mary’s character is further developed as she speaks boldly in conversation with Dr. Jekyll, despite her attempts to keep her boldness in check. “You do put things strongly, Mary.” (pg. 46) Dr. Jekyll brings it out through conversation, causing mixed emotions for Mary with recreating a sense of mental insecurity that manifests in her curiosity to the point of making her paranoid.

The unknown brings itself to bear again and again in ways that build the tension for Mary and her connectedness with Dr. Jekyll. The unknown person lurking about the drawing room, the reason for Dr. Jekyll’s letters to Mrs. Farraday, and the bloody sheets in her room. What could it possibly mean to find a handkerchief there embroidered with HJ?

An Antithesis and It’s Letdown

Wise and honest, Mary Reilly proves a very relatable character. She expresses sentiments and perceptions, both painful and hopeful, that many readers have personally felt but perhaps have not vocalized or identified. Throughout the first half of this novel, the most relatable quality may be the way Mary deals with the pain of the past. Rather than deal with the pain by contemplating it face-on, she suppresses it and finds solace and salvation in soothing else or someone else. Mary earnestly hopes in Dr. Jekyll for the redemption of the mark her father left on her.

Writing her story out for “Master”, Mary paints a haunting image of her father, with his “low, sick laugh” and merciless outlashes. Though Mary notes that she has “seldom thought on the past and [has] tried to put it behind [her]” (37), the scars of her fathers abuse prove deep and dark, despite her suppression of them. Page 35 provides perhaps the most telling remark of her sentiments. As she toils in her garden, Mary reflects, “I believe to hate my father would be to give in and make small my real feeling, which is strong but not like hate, as that seems simple, pure and clean” (35). Here, Mary indicates her feelings towards her father are deeper and and fouler than hatred, and, in comparison, hatred seems “pure and clean”. Significantly, Mary’s view of her father as not a monster, but as “an ordinary man” prone to drinking, supplements the view that her childhood tainted her view of men, or of humanity in general. She believes most men are prone to ill, as her father was. Discussing the closing of Dr. Jekyll’s school and the philosophy of moral forces, Mary states her belief that good doesn’t seem to come naturally to humans. Unable to forgive her father (as stated on page 36), Mary instead finds healing in the virtue of her Master. His goodness grants her hope in mankind.

For Mary, Dr. Jekyll stands as the antithesis of her father, as the redemption of man in her eyes. Though she seems to have mild romantic feelings towards her Master, perhaps he also symbolizes the ideal father for her after her experience of a father so cruel and savage. Jekyll’s patience, kindness, and interest in Mary quickly becomes her source of life and self-worth. More than this, I would submit that the reason Mary has such a difficult time accepting Dr. Jekyll’s moral failings might lies in the fact that she has elevated him above reproach in order to cope with her past.

During her visits to Mrs. Farraday’s, Mary processes the innuendos of her Master’s misconduct by telling herself, “that doubtless this was some good thing Master had contrived, to lighten the suffering around [her]” (66). When she sees the bloody bedroom at Mrs. Farraday’s and the monogrammed handkerchief condemning her beloved Master, her confidence in his goodness wavers. Yet still, she clings to his innocence, doing “whatever [she] can to stay calm, so that, when this is all made clear to me, [she] may find the best way to serve him” (110). She refuse to let herself think, lest she see the truth.

The Dark Side

The nature and relationship between science and mysticism has long been a topic for debate: do we believe in science more than mysticism or the other way around? But what happens when the two become blurred? How do we approach the notion that some of the world’s darkest truths are exposed?

The penultimate chapter in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, titled “Dr. Lanyon’s Narrative,” brings this conversation to a head. In the chapter, Dr. Lanyon describes his last encounter with Henry Jekyll and how the experience shaped and changed him. Dr. Lanyon was asked to retrieve vials from Jekyll’s home and return to his own abode with them while waiting for a man to come back and get them. Lanyon’s gradual shift in his words and his mindset give the reader an insight into Stevenson’s mindset as well.

This passage is the first hint of Lanyon’s narrow, scientific mindset when he questions the situation: “but till [Jekyll’s insanity] was proved beyond the possibility of doubt, I felt bound to do as he requested” (Stevenson). For him, understanding the situation and getting every single detail – the facts, the questions, the solutions – is crucial to being able to fully comment. “The less I understood of this farrago,” he continues, “The less I was in a position to judge of its importance.” (Stevenson).

Stevenson writes Lanyon here as a true rationalist; each line of description is rich with detail, as if Lanyon were writing in a lab notebook rather than being a character in a story. For instance, he says “I found what seemed to be a simple crystalline salt of a white colour. The phial…might have been about half full of a blood-red liquor…contain phosphorous and some volatile ether.” However, when he can’t make sense of the notes, he says that “all of this, though it whetted my curiosity, told me little that was definite.” The definitive answers become that much more important for him. Clear, precise language.

That changes once Hyde enters the picture. Stevenson’s language and writing style shifts to become a lot more narrative based, and when he notices Hyde’s mannerisms and intensions, he claims to “believe the cause to lie much deeper in the nature of man, and to turn on some nobler hinge than the principle of hatred” (Stevenson). In this sentence, we already see the shift from Lanyon’s ordered structured mind to the more mystical realm that he fears to understand. When it finally comes to him at the end of Hyde’s transformation, he exclaims that “my life is shaken to its roots; sleep has left me…I feel that my days are numbered, and that I must die” (Stevenson). These are no longer the words of a scientist but of a frightened man who just witnessed a horrible event.

Lanyon’s behavior has a precedent: in a previous chapter, he states that “I sometimes think if we knew all, we should be more glad to get away.” His answer to what we do when confronted with dark truths is to get away. Instead of answering the question as a scientist (with an ordered mindset), Lanyon is forced to answer it as a man, which frustrates, frightens, and follows him in the aftermath of his discovery. Lanyon now knows that some dark truths, those that help us “know it all,” may not be worth discovering, including those found by scientific means. Stevenson does not explicitly state which one he prefers, but through the language he uses here, it would seem that for him, knowing the truth about the world’s dichotomy is much better than denying it.


The Broadview edition says farrago means – confused mixture, mess. Yes. Yes, this story by Robert Louis Stevenson is just that. The insanity of Henry Jekyll is questioned as the author paints him in a sickly light. Could there have been any other explanation for the mysterious turns that ailed him, found him seemingly restored for a couple of months, and fallen again to a ruinous state of health?

What it Means to be Human

The narrative of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exudes tension. This theme (tension), which we’ve been analyzing in different forms and measures all semester long, bellows from every page as it composes not only the predicament of this novella, but the predicament of every human life.

It is the internal warfare between good and evil that wages within the breast of every human being. This combat, which Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde highlights, constitutes the fundamental friction responsible for every other character tension we have noted in previous books. This battle, inherent to man, propels the plight of Dr. Jekyll and rouses every reader.

From the first introduction, Mr. Hyde is presented as a creature bereft of humanness, as he is described as “troglodytic”. This description aligns with the theory of de-evolution that was circulating during Stevenson’s time. De-evolution surmised slum inhabitants, but more specifically criminals, were the pinnacle of biological human regression. Within this context, Hyde represents an erosion of human nature.

The textual allegations of Hyde being sub-human raises the reverse question: what does it mean to be human? As one traces his de-evolution, one can likewise discern what true human nature means, for it is against this standard that Hyde’s behavior appears starkly fallacious and inhuman. These two subjects— the definition of humanity and the definition of inhumanity— prove inseparable.

In his narrative, Jekyll himself pinpoints perhaps the cardinal characteristic of human nature: the very duplicity with which he struggles. He laments how his transformation to Hyde “severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature” (76). Furthermore, Jekyll contends it “the curse of mankind that these incongruous faggots were thus bound together—that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling” (77). In his attempt to separate these natures, then, Jekyll takes a deathly stab at his humanity. To be only wholly good or only wholly evil would eliminate the humanity from that being. If humans were morally perfect, with no inclination towards evil, they would be gods but not humans. If humans were solely desiring of evil and had no inclination towards what is good, they would be devils. The ability to discern between right and wrong, the inner conscience of man that compels us towards what is right and burdens our hearts and minds with guild when we have done wrong, is largely what it means to be human. In his final descent, as Edward Hyde takes over Dr. Jekyll more completely and as he becomes only evil with no inclination towards good, he becomes a “child of Hell” with “nothing human” within him (88).

While every human struggles with the internal combat between right and wrong, redemption, as Jekyll finds, cannot be found formally detaching these two natures. His discovery poses another question: if detachment proves not the redemption of this dilemma, what redeems us? While duplicity marks human nature, there is also a longing within every breast to be redeemed. This desire to be redeemed, in some shape or form, also cardinally constitutes what it means to be a human.

Mr. Utterson

Who is Gabriel Utterson? Or, better yet, who is he meant to represent?

In the beginning of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we are treated to the narrative point of view of Mr. Gabriel Utterson. He is the lawyer of the eponymous Dr. Jekyll, and is the central protagonist of this novella. Everything that we see is from his point of view. In fact, Stevenson starts his novella by giving us a description of Utterson himself.

“Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable” (Stevenson).

In the second section, “The Search for Mr. Hyde,” Stevenson also includes a short segment about how he had a Sunday tradition that follows:

“It was his custom…when this meal was over, to sit close by the fire, a volume on his reading desk, until the clock of the neighboring church rang out the hour of twelve, when he would go to bed” (Stevenson).

The structured routine of his monotonous life and the physical details that Stevenson uses to describe him give us a slight understanding of the type of person that he is: Mr. Utterson is, quite literally, utterly unexciting. His physical features are bland, and his habits and hobbies are depicted as just simple. In our modern context, this would be a rather boring character.

While this is one reading of his character, another look suggests that Utterson has a bit more to his personality than we believed. He has a good heart and a compassion for others, which is shown in the beginning of the novella where the narrator states that “it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men” (Stevenson). As a lawyer, it is his job to respond and defend those who are accused of crimes. In most lawyers, that would result in cynicism, but in Utterson, it’s compassion.

So we have a sensible, kind, and overall simple man who guides and leads this novella. The question is why?

Could he be a contrast to the socially and physically alluring Dr. Jekyll? If we look at how Stevenson describes Jekyll himself as having a “large handsome face” and a “blackness about his eyes.” These details clearly fly in the face of Utterson’s initial treatment of a bland countenance. A certain “blackness about his eyes” gives the reader hints to Jekyll’s inner darkness and reveals that there is something inside of him that Utterson does not have. If his thoughts and impulses are left unchecked, in the form of Hyde specifically, it could lead to disaster. Jekyll does not have the same control or the same stability that Utterson has.

If he could be a foil for Henry Jekyll, then he can also be a foil for the reader as well. Utterson’s plain introduction but ultimate care for the story that unfolds reads very much like the reader who has picked up the novella. Anyone can place themselves in his shoes and see this sort of “de-evolution” of the Victorian man (Jekyll) firsthand. Here, Utterson becomes a literal everyman in order to account for every man. If we say that he is the reader themselves, then his curiosity towards Hyde and his fondness for Jekyll make sense. In all, Stevenson loves playing with the dichotomy of the two characters. While Utterson doesn’t display a dark side to his life, he is drawn towards it just as we are.

Author to Author

As a reference to the women of the time, the idea of the disappearing ink fits as a symbolic view to a woman’s place in society. In certain instances, women were influential in the lives of men, but like the parchment, the marks were hidden from view. The men made their marks and displays of life evident as they wrote in visible ink on the same paper. Was this an intentional reference by the author?

Then, as men do, the author turns the story around and Tobias Oates destroys his own work. With this action, the author creates a situation that not only erases Tobias’ contemplations of Maggs, but creates a false sense of security that he has hidden the truth.

The papers being destroyed in the fire are juxtaposed with the destruction of the women’s lives through their deeds; taking matters into their own hands. Two other places the author uses as a parallel display of tension, come from, first, Tobias has Maggs hypnotized, take off his shirt, and leaves him in the room by himself, and second, when Tobias is not present as Jack is confronted by Mr. Phipps with a gun. The truth of the situation is hidden by the author, from the author (Tobias), as the intended audience threatens to kill an author.

My what tangled webs we weave.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Narrative Perspective

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a mystery novel. Therefore, the structure of a mystery novel dictates that the reader’s viewpoint must be limited, especially in the beginning, and then slowly move outwards until the entire picture is revealed. DJMR follows this quite closely, allowing us (the reader) to only see what Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s lawyer, also sees. The way that Stevenson chooses to do this, however, breaks with traditions by combining the third and first person perspectives and directly interacting with the audience through the text.

At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to Mr. Utterson, the viewpoint character, through an external description. By external, I mean that we are introduced to him as another character might be. We are still able to see his thoughts and follow his perspective, but Utterson is his own person separate from the reader. Likewise, we are introduced to the story of Jekyll and Hyde as Utterson is directly told by his friend, Mr. Enfield. These take the form of dialogue, temporarily switching viewpoints to the first person. These bouts of dialogue, however, can run for several pages at a time. The story of how Enfield saw Hyde beat a child in the streets runs for two full pages without stopping, only breaking whenever Utterson interrupts him. In this way, Stevenson embeds the first person within a larger third person perspective. We receive information at the same time as Utterson, but we are not fully brought into his thought processes. In this way, Utterson is limited in how he may be realized as a character, but it also allows for the reader to implant themselves emotionally onto Utterson. Such as when he goes to visit Jekyll at his home, upon which he is brought into the laboratory. We are told rather directly that it “was the first time the lawyer had been received in that part of his friend’s quarters”. A small detail, but quite telling. It is a statement lacking sentimentality, a strait-forward explanation of facts. However Utterson feels about this fact is left for the reader to interpret based on their previous understanding of the character and, more importantly, how they might feel if they were put in the same position. In this way the story keeps us at arm’s length, not allowing for the reader to become emotionally attached to the main character.

Stevenson makes attempts to interact with the reader directly throughout the first part of the novel. These come in the form of asides, which are written in parenthesis amidst both dialogue and narrative. The asides are directly linked with the topic being discussed, and are often an anticipated response to how the reader or speaker is feeling. This is introduced in Mr. Enfield’s speech about Hyde in chapter 1. Sevenson adds “what makes it worse” in parenthesis amidst Enfield’s raging about Hyde’s terrible behavior. It is framed as if Enfield were saying it to Utterson but in the choice of parenthesis denotes that Stevenson himself is speaking. This is characteristic of stage performance, where the audience is often treated as an acknowledged part of the show and therefore asides are tolerated. In novels (and novellas) however, an acknowledgement of the reader is rarely seen. Such an interruption therefore grabs our attention, allowing Stevenson to direct or mislead us as he sees fit.

Disappearing Ink

Why does Jack Maggs use disappearing ink? After all, he is found out through the hypnotic meetings with Tobias Oates. The author seems to be laying down a line of thought of his own with the action.

The pages show Jack Maggs’ thoughts and give a lot of backstory for his character that fit well, but it is my opinion that the author should not use this device in the story. The bits that are given read like a diary and this brutish character is not the sort of man to do such a thing, in my opinion.

With deferment to my bias, the disappearing ink is like the hallmarks of his life. Jack Maggs, like the ink, is a character that is mostly absent in the story of Great Expectations. Like the pattern that Jack writes, his life is backwards in the sense that his fortune comes after being released from prison. Likewise, his purpose of the expectations is oblivious to those that receive them. And, in the end, the picture he wishes to relay is all backwards to those people he intends to impress.

This device of reflection used by the author makes the whole of the story a farce. In my opinion.

What was the purpose of ending the book from the point of view of Tobias instead of Jack Maggs?

Carey leaves a gap in time between his final chapters, switching from scenes of death to a scene of Tobias cursing Maggs and the speeding time to show Maggs dying of old age surrounded by his children. I think Carey purposely ended the novel from the point of view of Tobias because it serves the novels purpose. Carey, a fellow Australian, must have felt kinship with the Magwitch he encountered in Great Expectation and felt his story was unfairly portrayed. He wanted to make it clear in his reimagining of the novel that any literature written about Maggs could unfairly portray him. He makes this clear when he shows Tobias, overcome with grief, begins warping his memory of Maggs, imagining him as “Jack Maggs, the murderer… who now grew in the flames… flowering, threatening, poisoning, Tobias saw him hop like the devil. Saw him limp, as if his fiery limbs still carried the weight of convict iron. He saw his head transmogrify until it was bald, tattooed with deep wrinkles that broke apart and floated glowing out into the room” (355). This transformation of Magg’s image shows how Tobias now sees Maggs, and this warped grief makes him into an unreliable author. Carey indicates this when his notes, “It was now, on the seventh of May, in the darkest night of his life, that Jack Maggs began to take the form the world would later know. This Jack Maggs was, of course, a fiction, and so it may not matter that Tobias never witnessed the final act of the real convict’s search: never observed Henry Phipps raise that pistol” (355). Tobias will write his book following a warped narrative that didn’t actually exist. He will portray an inaccurate series of events and make Maggs out to be a murderer. This is Carey’s warning to the reader that they shouldn’t believe what that read about Maggs, and perhaps this stems from him questioning the accuracy of the Magwitch he read about in Great Expectations.

The Way We Perceive

Throughout the narrative of Jack Maggs, there are several significant sways among the characters’ perceptions of one another. For their frequency and weight, these alterations, or revelations, become key narrative strategies. There are multiple instances where one character’s personal desires influence their impression of another character. These impressions endure until daunting circumstances challenge and crumble those views.

The first notable shift is Mercy’s altered perception of Mr. Buckle, a man whom she had hitherto worshipped, body and soul. As she grows acquainted with Jack Maggs, seeing his strength and the safety it wields, Mercy’s confidence in her savior dwindles. In light of Maggs, a formidable force, Buckles is exposed as a coward. The comparison between the two men akins a candle before a bonfire. In light of this contrast, her liberator loses his luster. Mr. Buckles transforms before her eyes. Observing an exchange between Maggs and Buckles, Mercy notes the similarity between Buckle’s face and that of a ferret. Here,  “she [sees] him as she had never seen him before”, and though “she wished it were not so”, “her saviour had begun to cut a pathetic figure in her eyes” (175)

A keenly similar alteration occurs before the eyes of Lizzie Warriner regarding Tobias Oates. After informing Tobias of her pregnancy, Mercy watches as he responds in agitation and anxiety. Mercy then lies to her sister, who inquires the cause for the tears on her cheeks, and in her cover story about her necklace being stolen, Lizzie makes an all-too-accurate comment about Tobias: “He cares only for his own pleasure”. The silence following this statement confirms its truth and the recognition of it by both sisters. Undoubtedly realizing the truth of her utterance, Lizzie describes an altered perception of Tobias: “He had always appeared to her as fierce and fatherly, but now she saw how the mantel was too tall for him, and how he stretched to accommodate himself to its demands” (213). Unnerved by this new view, Lizzie accounts it as “a vision profoundly discouraging, and one she wished to God she had not seen” (213).

These occurrences call into question the nature of reality. Is truth malleable according to our hopes and desires? Or do those desires simply encourage or impede our acceptance of reality?  I would submit the latter to be true. Buckles is a coward, but it took a contender to reveal this to Mercy. It took a reorientation of her desires to reveal how those desires had filtered her view of her master. Likewise, Lizzie’s revelation concerning Tobias proves on target, yet had the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy not occurred, her infatuation and sexual intimacy with Tobias would have continued to idealize him in her mind.

It must be acknowledged that not all revelations sully impressions of the characters, for as Oates grasps more of Magg’s suffering, his heart towards him softens and he considers him, at least for a time, his companion. A realization of shared experiences shift Maggs in Oates’ from a monster to a man, a man for whom he feels pity and grief. For Maggs, empathy is the agent that alters his perceptions: “I’m sorry, Jack, from the bottom of my heart. I also have a son. It is not hard for me to understand your feelings. I would never make light of your misfortune” (275). Previously, his desire to write a killer novel about the criminal mind obstructed Oates from seeing Maggs as a creature worthy of his sympathy.

The Uncertainty Principle

What makes the “good life”?

In Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, we see the idea that the nature of what makes the “good life” is challenged by several characters throughout the story. For instance, Joe, Biddy, and Mrs. Joe all have a very set view of life as being a more humble existence, while Pip, Estella, Mrs. Havisham, and even Jaggers all see life as the accumulation of wealth and the outside validation that comes with other people. Because of the way in which the novel ends rather abruptly, we never get to see just which side Dickens prefers. He is vaguer about what makes the good life for his characters there.

Peter Carey’s reimagining of that novel, Jack Maggs, continues that same theme of what makes the good life by examining the lives of two men: Percy Buckle, the upper middle-class grocer who takes pride in the smallest and most inconsequential items in his house, and Tobias Oates, the famous writer who seeks to be a respectable gentleman. Both characters display differing ideals on what the “good life” means. Percy is more in line with the idea that material possessions, no matter if it is faux or not, provide meaning and life. Tobias is more in line with the thought that social validation and status provide, whether arbitrary or not, provide meaning and life. Carey unravels both men’s story to possibly say something how being uncertain about life’s path may be a good thing.

In Chapter 49, Carey begins by saying that “Mr. Buckle loved his house” (Carey), and goes on to talk about how his house is less spectacular than it seems. However, Percy knows this but remains in denial about his status simply because it’s his. Carey alludes to this when he sees the nails and splinters that Jack Maggs left behind. He “tenderly laid back the splinters inside the wounds, but the hurt was too savage for such ministrations” (Carey). Percy is not oblivious to the wears and tears that his house has, but he resists against that nature and, seemingly, against anyone who threatens that nature including Oates and Maggs.

For Tobias Oates, his wealth is in his status. When he was growing up with nothing to live for and barely anything to his name, he dreamed of becoming somebody that mattered. So whenever he writes for The Morning Chronicle and “makes” the city of London, he is living his dream and is proving himself to the world around him and he “invented a respectable life for himself: a wife, a babe, a household” (Carey). The problem is similar to Percy: it’s all a front. It’s an act and an illusion that he doesn’t want to let go. It doesn’t become a reality for him until “his fun and games had killed a man.”

In neither case does Carey seem to agree with their motives. For Percy, Carey states that you could have done anything else wrong, but if you didn’t polish the floors or dust the mantelpiece then you were in trouble. For Oates, he states that he “invented” this life for himself and that this invention is a fabrication and a lie. Readers may interpret this differently, but for Carey, the certainty that these men have established in their own lives do not give them a sense of fulfillment: instead, it seems to cause more stress and more anxiety to maintain that front and keep people from seeing who they really are.

Plot Twist AKA Constable

Constable comes into the story as a major player and character towards the end of the first half of Jack Maggs. Suddenly the entire outlook of the book is changed. Henry Phipps is gay?! Pip, the beloved Pip, infatuated by Estelle in Great Expectations is secretly carrying on an affair with Constable while in London. This is of course assuming, as I do, that Phipps is Pip from Great Expectations. However, even just the fact that there is a somewhat open homosexual couple in this novel is surprising. While Carey wrote this novel in the late 20th early 21st century, he has the novel set in the 1800s like Great Expectations. It is highly unlikely that this relationship would have ever occurred in a nineteenth century novel. Despite this, Carey introduces a one-sided love triangle of sorts. Constable and Phipps and Constable and Maggs. “My Secret? Yes. I am fond of you.” There is a possibility that this illicit, highly unlikely affair proves that Phipps is really Pip. This may explain why Pip was so infatuated with Estelle. He could have been trying to prove to himself and others that he was not gay. This could also be why he began withdrawing from his male friends. Perhaps he was developing feelings he knows he could not openly express? This could also be a reason why he keeps up the unrequited love with Estelle. If he pretended to be in love with a woman who didn’t love him back it would keep people from wondering why he had yet to marry. It’s possible his love for Estelle was an act so that he could secretly carry out his affairs with Constable and potentially others, to try and be happy. Perhaps Pip is Phipps and not just a new character from Carey’s imagination.


The Jack Maggs we see here is a man of another creation than the one of its founding from Great Expectations. Why does Jack seem different?

The author deals with Jack in finite strokes of world building. The beginning sees Jack as much the same brutish character from Great Expectations, despite the finer dressing, when he grabs the porter tightly by the shoulder blade. But then, the story plods along a different path. Details of Jack’s perspective give a new light to his character through plotting to meet Mr. Phipps, his predicament of remaining in London undiscovered, and the revelations of his backstory.

The story played out in Jack’s personal interests follows the linage of his desire to meet Mr. Phipps. The author uses this story line in a way that shows Jack in a more civil and remorseful state than one expected of a former convict. The use of civility becomes entangled with Jack’s limited patience and habitual charisma of physical stature. The tension rises with an ebb and flow when his temper flares and seems to put Jack in jeopardy of being exposed. The addition of Mercy getting into his business is a nice touch to tone down the manliness of the tension. Through this line of interest to meet Mr. Phipps, we also learn a great deal of backstory that would be lost in the other lines I propose.

An additional story is present in the scenes that Jack plays his role as a footman. The job is taken with an unexpected turn of events that benefits his purpose, but is used to great effect by the author as a sidestep from the directness of the storyline to meet Phipps. The tension is ratcheted up in this manner through many possible subversions that threaten to derail Jack’s mission. Constable is, at first, a constant source of irritating and obnoxious behavior that deserves a punch in the face. The author uses Constable with superb effect in showing how tolerable Jack will be in order to complete his mission.

Finally, Jacks backstory is coxed out of his subconscious through Tobias’ use of hypnotism. Quite interestingly, the physical appearance of Jack is marred by the additional detail that he is missing two middle fingers on one hand. The twitching of Jack’s face is a character flaw used to propel the story forward and involve Tobias Oates. This display is a great tension builder that keeps the reader on edge, wondering if the demons will be gotten rid of, and Jack’s potential capture. A well devised story becomes pivoted in a sense by hitting the snooze button.