Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jack Harkaway's Schooldays and After

When Samuel Bracebridge Hemyng quit Edwin J. Brett in the middle of a serial, Jack Harkaway among the Brigands, and took his character Jack Harkaway to America and Frank Leslie in 1873, Edwin Brett immediately issued Edwin J. Brett’s Jack Harkaway’s Schooldays with color plates of the main characters. The story ran to 192 pages and then was continued in Edwin Brett’s Jack Harkaway after Schooldays his Adventures Afloat and Ashore for a further 313 pages. The following images are from an edition of 1877.

The stock characters of the penny blood and the penny dreadful had a close kinship with the characters of the stage melodrama. For this reason villains and secondary characters often had more substance than the cardboard heroes. Jack Harkaway has no real personality, and nothing to recommend himself to boys, other than a bit of a mean-streak in his make-up, and his sidekick Dick Harvey is so lightly sketched that his presence is almost invisible. The story begins at Pomona School, run by Mr. Craucor and his wife, where Jack is introduced to his chum Dick Harvey, the villain Harry Hunston, and Mr. Mole.

Hunston and Jack are schoolmates but something about Harkaway, perhaps his smug, superior air, drives Hunston to apoplexy whenever he is in Jack’s presence, resulting in numerous attempts at murder. He stuck out his leg to trip Jack up and received a deliberate kick in return. He never gave up trying to kill Jack and kidnapped Emily several times. He was beaten, tarred and feathered, tattoo'd by savages, and even lost an arm. Jack wished him dead but often saved his bacon when he was about to be tortured or eaten by cannibals. Wherever Jack went Hunston would show up; in Singapore or Naples, Oxford or America. Emily also showed up wherever the two rivals might be, only to be kidnapped and kissed by Hunston. In Jack Harkaway among the Brigands Hunston orders the murder of an undercover policeman who has seen them without masks.

‘“Cut off his head,” said Barboni. This was done, and Bigamini, after considerable hacking, held up the ghastly trophy. Barboni called for a hammer and some nails, with which he fastened the ears on to the top of the head.’

Frank Davis was another villain who first appeared during Afloat and Ashore and also in its continuation Jack Harkaway at Oxford. In Singapore Emily is kidnapped (for the second time although Hunston was first) by Frank Davis, who Jack insults. Davis tries to kill Jack and carries Emily off. Here was Harkaway's revenge;

“Hold him tight, Dick,” exclaimed Jack. When Davis’s right ear was close to the door Jack put the nail against it. A sharp blow from the hammer forced the nail through the cartilage, another sent the iron into the door, a third made it fast; and Davis had his ear nailed to the woodwork.”

A gust of wind forced the door shut and separated Davis from his ear. Later a waiter appeared looking for the appendage. “Mr. Davis has sent for his ear, sir.” The American servant was not surprised. “One man had gouged another's eye out in a bar and then thrown it at him, so that acts of violence were nothing new to his experience.”

In Jack Harkaway at Oxford another villain appears in the form of “a tall, effeminate looking young man, with a pale complexion and having his hair parted in the middle.” Jack caught Kemp cheating at cards and attached his hand to the table with a fork which leads to another kidnapping of Emily and Hilda. Kemp goes so far as to try to set fire to Emily, one of the reasons we love penny dreadfuls.

‘He approached Emily, who was standing with her back to him in her muslin ball dress, looking very gauzy and fairylike.

Drawing a wax match from his pocket, he struck it gently, and held it under her skirt lighting the inflammable material in three places.

Then he retired with the same snakelike, gliding manner.’

Emily is a simpering twit, always in the way, but she does go through some mind boggling nasty adventures as the object of Jack’s love and Hunston’s lust.

Cowardly Mr. Mole (a character equivalent to the “comic man” of the melodrama) has more presence than the titular hero. Mr. Mole was the boys’ instructor at Pomona School. They met up again on the ship Fairy where Mole was on his way to China where his uncle left him a teashop in his inheritance. He gained two native wives, Alfura has “got a nose like a squashed pumpkin” while Ambonia is “fat and pudgy, with a temper like a wild hyaena.”

“Dash my wig,” exclaimed Jack, “You'd drink the sea dry, sir , if it was filled with gin and water.”

“No water, Harkaway. I abominate adulteration and will take my hand on pure spirit.”

After leaving Pomona school Jack and Harvey sailed on the Fairy with the murderous Captain Cuttle. Cabin boys mysteriously disappeared overboard after dark. Hunston was on board with his toady Maple. They were shipwrecked in Malaya and Jack forced Hunston and Maple to build a castle for him. They met Monday, the Malayan (depicted as a black man in Hemyng’s American series) Hunston and Maple escaped from captivity. Jack's sweetheart, Emily had also chanced to be shipwrecked and is kidnapped by Hunston.

Monday, the savage, has two reasons for being; to allow Hemyng to engage in dialect speech, and to show off the superiority of the white Englishman. Jacks loyal friend Monday was the son of the King of Limbi and a reformed cannibal.

“You cannibal beast, I shall never like you again,” cried Harvey, turning away in disgust and loathing, which the horrid confession was quite calculated to produce in the breast of a European.

Monday saw the expression of his face.

“No eat mans now,” he said hastily. “Monday know better, and never more eat up mans. No; never -- no.”

The illustration immediately above was redone for the cover of Tousey & Small's The American Jack Harkaway 11 May 1878.

Afloat and Ashore first appeared in the Boys of England 20 Jan 1872.

*The American Jack Harkaway image courtesy Joe Rainone

1 comment:

  1. Compared to this guy my introduction to American dime novels, Frank Merriwell, led a spectacularly boring life. (To be honest, Frank Merriwell was spectacularly boring anyway.)

    There's something especially perverse about a villain who sidles up and casually sets the hero's girlfriend afire, rather than making it the centerpiece of some torture scheme. "Hello, there's Emily. Think I'll set her afire."

    Flanders and Swann would appreciate Monday, though..."I'll never let another person pass my lips!"