Illuminated initial S

ome of the greatest writing of the Victorian age, such as Carlyle's Hudson's Statue (text), Dicken's Little Dorrit, and Trollope's The Way We Live Now, have swindlers and embezzlers as major, even central characters. More importantly, they make such figures symbols of the age. Fenwick's Career also has such a figure, but unlike these earlier works Ward's novel does not heap scorn upon him, although her protagonist does see him as a kind of representative person.

Reading a newspaper report, John Fenwick tells his wife that his local patron has committed suicide:

And he showed her a paragraph headed 'Defalcations and suicide.' It described how Mr. James Morrison, the chief cashier of the Bartonbury Bank, had committed suicide immediately after the discovery by the bank authorities of large falsifications in the bank accounts. Mr. Morrison had shot himself, leaving a statement acknowledging a long course of fraudulent dealings with the funds entrusted to him, and pleading with his employers for his wife and daughter. [109]

Fenwick's reaction to Morrison's death produces an unusual depiction of the swindler in Victorian fiction, since he reminds us of Morrison's good points at the same time he realizes that the double life of the swindler/embezzler applies to him, too.

There had been an adventurous, poetic element in Morrison—something beyond the ken of the ordinary Philistine—and it had come to this. Fenwick remembered him among the drawings he had collected. Real taste—real sense of beauty—combined no doubt with the bargaining instinct and a natural love of chicanery. Moreover, Fenwick believed that, so far as a grasping temper would allow, there had been a genuine wish to help undiscovered talent. He thought of the hand which had given him the check, and had a vision of it holding the revolver—of the ghastly, solitary end.

Thinking “How common such things are!” and that we are “all acting,” he first realizes that “each man or woman carries this potentiality of a double life—it is only a question of less or more,” at which point he blushes “as he saw himself thus writ double—first as he appeared to Madame de Pastourelles, and then as he appeared to Phoebe.” He instantly “rebelled against the implied comparison of himself with Morrison” (111), we are told, and puts it out of his mind, but the damage is done, and the reader thinks of him as potentially a swindler and a cheat. In fact, he does not pay his debt to Morrison's family until more than a decade later, and we see him deceiving his wife — not to the extent that he has an affair with another woman, but he does hide his marriage from his London friends and he neglects her to the point that she will act rashly enugh to cause them both great pain.


Ward, Mrs, Humphry. Fenwick's Career. New York and London: Harper Brothers, 1906.

Ward, Mrs. Humphry. Fenwick's Career. [No publisher listed] Project Gutenberg E-text prepared by Andrew Templeton, Juliet Sutherland, Bill Hershey, and Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders. Last Updated: May 21, 2004 [eBook #12403]. Web. 20 July 2014.

Last modified 30 July 2014