In an introductory note to the novel, Porter acknowledges that Judas Griffin Vaneleigh “almost duplicates the infamous and inscrutable Thomas Griffiths Wainewright,” who contributed essays on the arts to London Magazine, exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy, and was lauded as a writer by William Hazlitt. Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and Oscar Wilde are among those who were intrigued by Wainewright; Thomas Seecombe included him in his Twelve Bad Men (1894). Yet though Vaneleigh is the protagonist of the novel, he is presented sympathetically as a reminiscing, philosophical—even charismatic—artist in a hostile, barbaric, and repugnant environment. His criminal background is underplayed, particularly by Sir Sydney, who reminds others that Vaneleigh was transported for forgery rather than for murder. He is described as “a poor gentleman,” one without vanity, who nevertheless struggles in vain against the philistinism of his fellows.
His foil, Queely Sheill, is a Cockney of twenty-two, tall and “handsome as a god,” referred to by other characters as Adonis or Apollo. Queely’s golden hair and beautiful body make him seem an Australian Billy Budd, and he is a sharp contrast to the aging, diminutive Vaneleigh; to the grotesque homosexual Polidorio Smith (called “Duchess”), who lives with Queely’s father, John Death Sheill, a former thespian and the keeper of The Shades (a tap-room) and described as “a globe”; and...
(The entire section is 563 words.)