In Jack Maggs, Peter Carey depicts several interactions Maggs has with others in order to introduce his novel's protagonist to readers. As early as the first chapter, we see Maggs' interaction with Mary Britten. We learn from Mary's words, "What do you want, Jack? . . . What're you doing here in London?", that she is not so pleased to see Jack. She asks, "They treat you bad?", indicating she does have some affection towards Maggs, despite her apparent fear and suspicion of him. She also implies that Maggs has been kept by a "they" and perhaps treated poorly. Carey has also introduced the idea that Maggs has reason to avoid London. From this description of a small exchange of words, Carey has given his readers many clues as to the nature of Maggs' history and character. In another such encounter during Chapter 6, Maggs speaks to Edward Constable, a footman employed by Mr. Buckle who seems extremely insulted that Jack has been hired to replace the second footman, a friend of Constable's who recently ended his own life. Constable takes his anger out on Maggs, perhaps because he dares not express his anger to Mr. Buckle or more likely, Mrs. Halfstairs, the head housekeeper who chose to hire Maggs.
"Now look here," said Maggs, finally gaining the security of the breeches, "I know this was your mate's kit, and he was your good friend and you miss him worse than air itself. I am sorry" — Maggs paused to tuck in the shirt, but did this is such a way that his witness raised a thin, sarcastic eyebrow — "I am sorry to remind you of the good comrade you have lost. I wish it was otherwise, but you see there is naught else I can do, in the circumstance, but wear his clobber."
In response to which explanation, the footman hissed.
"No, good fellow. I really do not think it fair for you to hiss at me. For as I said, none of this business is my fault and I would rather, just like you would, that they would send me to a tailor and have the business done fair and square. But here we are." Maggs slipped the jacket on. "The shoes are tight, but the coat fits well enough, and I am sure I can limp as far as pudding if you'll be of some assistance to me." [pp. 26-27]
1. What could Carey be trying to convey to readers about Maggs through this interaction between Maggs and Constable? What is noticeable about the way Maggs speaks to Constable? What is condescending about Maggs' way of validating Constable's loss and why is Maggs comfortable acting in this way towards his future partner footman?
2. What might we infer from Maggs' encounter with Constable here and also from Maggs' encounters with the other servants of 29 Great Queen Street? What do the servants notice about Maggs? Are they suspicious of Maggs? What leads them to consider whether Maggs is dangerous or possesses wealth?
Carey, Peter. Jack Maggs. New York: Vintage, 1999.
Last modified 1 March 2004