The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Judas Griffin Vaneleigh

Judas Griffin Vaneleigh, an artist and former convict. Once a handsome, dashing figure of consequence in London artistic circles, Vaneleigh has lost his aristocratic air and has turned into a broken man, both in appearance and in spirit, even though he is only in his early forties. Vaneleigh’s character draws from a historical figure, Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, who, like his fictional counterpart, was convicted of forgery in England and transported to the Australian penal colony, Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania). There Vaneleigh eventually gains release from prison and becomes a “ticket-of-leave man” (parolee), surviving by painting portraits of local socialites. Vaneleigh’s assignment at Cindermead, the Knight estate, sets the action in motion. Thereafter, he remains in the background until his death.

Queely Sheill

Queely Sheill, Vaneleigh’s unpaid attendant. In his early twenties, he is strikingly handsome, almost an Adonis-like figure. Although he is a sex object to women and men of all ages, as well as a guardian angel to the downtrodden, Queely appears somewhat stupid and naïve. The son of an itinerant actor, Queely offers his services to Vaneleigh, partly out of pity and partly out of admiration for this rare “gentleman” in a town of convicts and their keepers, ersatz aristocrats, and wretched hangers-on. He accompanies Vaneleigh to Cindermead and there enters...

(The entire section is 588 words.)