The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Herbert Badgery, the aged narrator of Illywhacker, warns his readers bluntly at the outset that “lying is my main subject, my specialty, my skill. “He is assigned, by himself and others, a variety of names from his Australian vernacular: “ratbag,” “illywhacker,” and so on. Leah Goldstein explains this last term: An illywhacker is “a spieler” she says. “A trickster. A quandong. A ripperty man. A con-man.”

Herbert’s six hundred pages of anecdote, diversion, and fabrication describe a varied and colorful rascal’s life. He is at once a nest-builder who can turn scraps into houses and an itinerant who wriggles along so quickly that even a ten-year stint in jail cannot slow him down. In a typical period of his life, he says, he wandered about Victoria “writing bad cheques when I could get hold of a book, running raffles in pubs, buying stolen petrol.” Yet he is no malicious criminal and no ordinary rascal. His disdain of legal and social restraints and his fabrications are his ennobling defense against society’s large-scale, demeaning lies that win easy, infuriating acceptance. As he says, lying is his main subject.

The lie of Australian independence is for Herbert the largest of all. It fuels his disdain for others and disappoints his vision of the rich potential in Australia’s resources. He says: “I would rather fill my history with great men and women, philosophers, scientists, intellectuals, artists,...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Herbert Badgery

Herbert Badgery, a retired former freelance flier, crack car salesman, entertainer, and confidence man; he is also a convict and a lifetime liar. He claims to have possessed the ability, in his late youth and early manhood, to make himself disappear. In his old age, he is something of a celebrity, claiming to be 139 years old at the time that he tells this tall tale of his life and that of his family, friends, and enemies. He is very bright, having learned to read in his middle age and obtained a college degree by correspondence while in prison; he is intellectually lively despite his age. Severely bandy-legged and only modestly attractive in his prime, he is possessed of brilliant sapphire-blue eyes that do not dim with age, and he has been a passionate lover and loser of women. Interesting in himself, he is well able to spin the tale of his adventures, of trying to make a living through the hard times of the first half of the twentieth century, but his story does not stop there. He has a very peculiar family and is determined to give them full play as they comically and sometimes tragically work out their lives, often hindered by the influence of the rogue parent, Herbert Badgery himself, who has an instinct for putting many feet wrong, an enormous zest for celebrating his errors, and a wicked eye for the follies not only of his own making but also of humankind in general.

Charles Badgery

Charles Badgery, Herbert’s son, the proprietor of the largest pet store in the world, located in Sydney but doing business worldwide. He is physically plain and awkward, as well as deaf in one ear as the result of a parental disciplinary blow from Herbert. Charles leaves home while still in...

(The entire section is 713 words.)