Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 864
Jonathan Adams Upchurch
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Jonathan Adams Upchurch, a nineteen-year-old Boston schoolmaster. An intellectually restless and curious young man, he is determined to save enough money to purchase a farm in Illinois, but, in an uncharacteristic moment of drunken jubilation, he buys a small sailboat and ends up on the whaling ship Jerusalem. Although walleyed and a lifelong landsman, he is strong and capable and soon becomes one of the ship’s crew. After discovering that the Jerusalem is a mystery ship, Jonathan follows clues that lead only to deeper complexities. Jonathan’s childhood fascination with Miranda Flint, the daughter of famed mesmerist Dr. Luther Flint, is reawakened by Augusta Dirge, the daughter of the Jerusalem’s captain.
Dr. Luther Flint
Dr. Luther Flint, a famed mesmerist, a large, imposing man with a fierce mustache, an imperious manner, and a larcenous nature (he once stole the crown of the king of Sweden). Through the early years of the nineteenth century, Flint and his young daughter Miranda toured New England, baffling and mystifying audiences with their spectacular and eerie shows. It was at one of these presentations that young Jonathan Upchurch first saw them and fell under the spell of Miranda. Flint’s talents for mystification make him the perfect choice to play the key role in the charade acted out on board the Jerusalem. He controls the ship while disguised as the blind seaman Jeremiah.
Miranda Flint, the daughter of Dr. Flint, a young blonde girl with a preternatural manner. In trances during Flint’s stage shows, Miranda recounts tales of her past lives and gives detailed accounts of ancient history.
Jeremiah, the aged, blind companion of Captain Dirge. His long white hair falls to his chest, and his oracular utterings seem to rule the ship, as indeed they do, because he is actually Dr. Flint. His masked but tyrannical hold over the ship and its crew is broken only by his confrontation with Jonathan and his own destruction in a spectacular fit of spontaneous combustion.
Captain Dirge, the master of the Jerusalem, a large, humpbacked man always dressed in impeccable black, with long, coarse black hair streaked with gray and a bushy black beard. His obsession is to find the Vanishing Isles, a place where lost ships have been sighted in full sail and where the lines of time may merge so that the past and future meet. His long stillnesses, broken by occasional mechanical movements, hint at what he actually is: a clockwork figure controlled by Jeremiah.
Augusta Dirge, supposedly the daughter of the Jerusalem’s captain. She is a strikingly beautiful woman in her twenties, with hypnotic gray eyes and a sensuous yet commanding nature. She is only glimpsed by Jonathan during the initial portion of the novel but emerges to dominate his thoughts and actions. The attraction between Jonathan and Augusta is consummated near the end of the novel, when Augusta, ravaged by the mutinous crew, finally reveals herself as Miranda Flint and becomes Jonathan’s at last.
Mr. Knight, the first mate of the Jerusalem, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a leathery face and ice-pale eyes. Although he seems to be destined to be a whaler, he is thoughtful and meditative, troubled into philosophy by the strange doings aboard the ship. He attempts to bring some reason to the Jerusalem, and his adherence to common decency leads to his death during the mutiny that overtakes the vessel.
Billy More, a stocky, friendly, red-haired seaman. He becomes friends with Jonathan and at one point rescues him from falling from the rigging. Like Mr. Knight, Billy More is a decent and conventional man, and like the first mate he dies in the mutiny.
Wilkins, a seaman on the Jerusalem, a strange character with a multitude of names: To the crew he is known as Java Jim and Quicksilver Nick; as an accomplice of Dr. Flint he goes by the name Swami Havananda. He is a restless, muscular man of mixed appearance, with a flat face, thick lips, and slanted eyes that are black as coals. He aids Flint in his elaborate hoax by constructing the mechanical dummy that is Captain Dirge. When the trickery is discovered, he blows out his own brains. Later, he seems to reappear, but it is only a ventriloquist trick by Flint. In a sense, Wilkins has always been nothing but an illusion of Flint’s devising.
Jim Ngugi, an African harpooner. A tall, taciturn man, he seems removed from the strange events on the Jerusalem until the mutiny hits the ship; then he halts the slaughter and helps restore order.
Kaskiwah, an American Indian harpooner. Short and powerfully built, he seldom speaks, and even in the antarctic cold he never wears more than a buckskin shirt and trousers. Jonathan calls him “a kind of heathen saint,” and it is Kaskiwah who gives Jonathan the mushrooms that reveal visions beyond reality.
Wolff, a seaman and mutineer. A didactic, humorless man with spectacles and a precise mustache, he leads the mutiny on the ship but is killed when it slips out of his control.