Comments on “The Quincunx” from

Here is the review of, and comments on, Charles Palliser’s “The Quincunx”, from the now-defunct I’ve added numbers to the comments, so you can refer or link to them. I hope you’ll add some comments, too – or you could visit Gix’s pages for more information.

December 26, 2003

The Quincunx

A quincunx is the arrangement of five items with four forming the corner of a square and the fifth centered between them, as with the pips on a die. Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx is a book obsessed with the number five. It is made up of five parts, each composed of five books, each composed of five chapters; it tells the story of five doomed generations of five branches on a family tree. I’m not sure whether Palliser had crazy Oulipo-esque mirrorings, where as you dig further into the structure each whole element reveals itself to be five smaller components, but I wouldn’t put it past him; the figure of the quincunx (and quincunxes of quincunxes) is itself a major plot point on at least three occasions. But beyond the formal gameplaying, The Quincunx is mostly an unashamed page-turner. Its hero, John Mellamphy, begins the novel as an upper-class child in the rural England of the early nineteenth century, but he does not stay there for long. His mother (a widow, or so she claims) is vague about her past; she believes that there is some sort of conspiracy against them that revolves around a mysterious document in her possession and her unnamed enemies who would kill to obtain it. Her predictions are, of course, accurate, and the Mellamphy household suffers a number of reversals, slipping into direst penury in the slums of London. From there, it’s a whirlwind tour of lost wills, buried family scandals, insane asylums, arguments about the morality of law and man’s innate nature, gangs of criminals, murder plots, fallen women, low humor among the servant class, dark doings in the London sewers, stock fraud, mad aunts, thwarted romance, &c. The first thirty pages or so were slow going, and I found myself asking why my friend recommended this so highly. Everything after that was a wonderful blur; it’s all of Dickens (of whom I am not fond, but after this I am considering giving Bleak House another try) put through a blender and then cranked up to 11. Yummy good fun, and the perfect beach book for the howling winter months.

posted at 9:17 PM


I think it is a brilliant book, you can’t leave the story till it’s finished. Then, all those characters hunt you and you keep asking yourself what the hell happened the wedding night. Who was John’s father- Martin Fortisquince I would say – and you pray for a second part. We all want to know if our unfortunate hero managed to make justice or not in the future. I love this book and it is one of the most interesting plots I’ve ever read.

posted by: ana at February 3, 2004 6:54 AM


Yes, it occurred to me that Martin was the dad. I don’t think Peter and Mary had time to consummate their marriage, for one thing. Then Martin appears.

I was puzzled by the last sentence. John says that his grandfather killed Lydia’s intended. Was this Sancious? Butt supposedly, John’s grandfathers are John, Mary’s father, and Silas Clothier, Peter’s father. And if it’s Martin, then it’s Martin’s father.

Also, I thought that John was a little rough on Henrietta.

posted by: Jeannot at February 4, 2004 4:41 PM


“Also, I thought that John was a little rough on Henrietta.”

That was one of the nicest things about the end, in my mind; John’s treatment of Henrietta, his dismissal of the promise he made Sukey and Harry, the rather shocking way he dismisses Joey, and his attitude to the estate all make it perfectly clear that when he’s not being a Dickensian hero, John’s something of a worm.

Jeannot, the exact wording is “by my grandfather’s sword.” Palliser is clearly leaving it ambiguous, but I think Ana’s reading is correct.

posted by: Steve at February 4, 2004 10:45 PM



Good points. I obviously haven’t had time to meditate adequately on this work. My impression right now is that the web of relationships and intrigue, matched only perhaps by the London sewer system, is too intricate for a first reader to follow.

But I think your point is that the mystery remains even when we have finished the book. As to the protagonist, he does seem to change his ideas about the inheritance a number of times. But at the same time, he seems fairly scrupulous throughout most of the work–and pretty considerate. Thus the ending seems like a ‘diabolus ex machina.’

Yes, the fact that it was ‘his grandfather’s sword’ doesn’t mean that his grandfather had killed Lydia’s betrothed.

Is it that John has taken on some of the characteristics of the Mompressons at the end? That is, that now he is going to be the lord of the manor, with the wherewithal to put the estate to rights?

posted by: Jeannot at February 5, 2004 3:05 PM


Peter was probably not John’s biological father. Apart from the fact that in his mother’s account ( and that’s all we have, so, she may not be telling the whole truth here… ) there’s no marriage night consumation time. There’s the fact that the Porteouses said something nasty to him about his parentage when they had him locked up in the backroom – something so horrible to him that he refused to write it down for us. There’s the people commenting on how much John looks like his grandfather, but not like Peter. There’s Peter seeming to be surprised that he has a son, and then killing himself so soon after the revelation. And there’s Mom’s missing pages. Was it Martin? He did like the younger women, and he did selflessly keep Mary and John alive and well and safe all those years. And Mrs. Fortinquince sure didn’t like Mary very much, did she? And the story hints at the double meaning when Mrs. Fortisquince says “I knew the murderer couldn’t be your father.” Why does John wonder over that line? Maybe he’s substituting “Peter” for “murderer”. As for THAT murder, I think there’s little doubt that it went down the way Escreet re-enacted it. Peter was very much not guilty.

Yep, John’s a bit of a worm, one that made sure to wriggle out of that contract with Sukey’s brother right away. Now that wealth was a concrete reality for him. I don’t think he disproportionately hard on Henrietta though. He was never sure he loved her, and she never came across as entirely in love with him either. Just interested in him because her world was so tiny. and by the end she was downright nutty. I hope she wound up happy ( with David Mompesson? Or stalking him??? ) in Calais.

posted by: Torquil at March 13, 2004 3:58 AM


Yes, it certainly crossed my mind that Martin was the real father, for the reasons you named.

I just thought that Henrietta got a bit of a short shaft. She did need drawing out, though.

posted by: Jeannot at March 19, 2004 10:17 PM


I’ve been puzzled/fascinated by this book for a while now. I think ‘uncle’ Martin is John H’s biological father. This is for all the reasons give by others, plus there is a reference to how similar the older John and Martin looked when they were boys. And there’s a Freudian slip in the last sentence of the book, I reckon.

The older John H could have been killed by either Martin or Escreet. I tend to think it was Martin’s father and, when Escreet killed Sancious, he was avenging by killing Jemima Fortisquince’s (second) husband in return for the actions of the first husband. However, it could have been Escreet.

As for the death of the John Umphraville, I think it was Martin’s father. He and his wife were living at the old hall at the time. He is John’s grandfather. He is the statue that moved in Mrs Bellflower’s account, and his wife took that statue to her new home (John’s first home) when he died. John consistently idealises him (because he is his father) but why should such an ideal link up with Jemima?

What do others think?

posted by: Simon Courage at April 11, 2004 10:29 AM


i also considered martin to be john’s father (for all the reasons stated above) but the last sentence of the novel “… where miss lydia’s lover had died by my grandfather’s sword.” refers to jeoffrey huffam who had ordered the murder of j. uphraville rather than to mr. escreet whose hand had done the slaying. so if jeoffrey h. is john’s grandafather, then his son, mr escreet must be john’s father. this would also explain mary’s hate and fear toward escreet, for that must had been a rape.
(excuse my english, i am a foreigner :))

posted by: mirjana novakovic at May 29, 2004 5:42 PM


to me it seems that mary’s father is also john’s father, a particular case of victorian time’s incest (see the afterword). That would explain the fact that M. Escreets constantly talks about john’s grandfather, while john thinks M. Escreet is just confused in time. to be honest i don’t think the author had this possibility in mind, but anyway it is one.

posted by: saar at August 13, 2004 7:09 AM


Working on a theory, that may interest you.
You’ve always wondered about Miss Lydia’ s possible baby.

Premise: She had a baby with Umphraville, who was killed, the baby was taken away, that baby was John Huffam Senior,
and given to childless James and Eliza to be a male heir of Jeoffry Huffam. Lydia is JH’s great grandmother.
Pro args:

1. Lady Monpesson does mention a sordid affair ch 99
“I presume you never forgave your parents for that scandal….which brought shame and humiliation on them.
I know you are obsessed with revenge I dont know quite what you imagine your parents did, but the truth is that it died”

2. JH thinks ….she was so evasive about a question, because of her Aunts(Anna) connction with her own (tradgedy of baby) ch 99

3. ch 100 JH thinks ….Lydia loved Henrietta “like her lost child” and “for the child she should have had” christening robe for “a child
that did not live to be baptized.

posted by: Michael Levine at October 11, 2004 6:37 PM


4. ch 99 again Lydia saying “imagine her anguish(anna) her pain and grief, (annas) father and Jeoffry Huffum took the baby from her, and told her it had died.

5. ch 98 JHsr is named after Umpraville, (might it be that it was his son, not his nephew) and thats why Lydia said she
took an interest in JHsr, got him the will, supposedly to save MC from the odious marriage

6. She takes too much of an interest in helping JHsr MC and JH, is it only to right the wrong of the stolen will, or might it be that
she wants her blood to own the estate, that she was deprived of because she was not a boy.

posted by: Michael Levine at October 11, 2004 6:39 PM


7. Lydia says “His sister…My father …in short” and stops, Hugo Monpesson (Lydias father) would never have allowed Jeoffry to
give Lydias baby to James and Eliza, unless he was forced to. Might Jeoffry have known about an illicit affair and blackmailed him
into saving himself from a scandal and providing a male heir as James’ son…????

posted by: Michael Levine at October 11, 2004 6:40 PM


8. Lydia says about Umphraville “he died, ahh how many young lives have been blighted by that business and will be” Seems
to me, if there was no one else, then the only lives affected by Umphravilles murder would be his and Lydias. Who else?
She know something, then mentions “and now the Huffan heir is in this house”

posted by: Michael Levine at October 11, 2004 6:45 PM


9. and finally..same chapter…Lydia says she met JHsr once…”He came to (the Monpessons) ask about things he had been told by an old retainer
of his Grandfather. He had requested him(Monpesson) to tell him about his parents and old Jeoffry Huffam”

Cons: 1. ch 95 Lydia says that JH has no Monpesson blood….but Lydia mentions or frowns upon illicit affairs,
e.g. Wicked Mother of MF, wicked behavior of MF and MC…Anna’s affair….
is she going to admit to JH and Henrietta that she conceived a baby before marriage.

2. see 7 in pros.

Just a theory

posted by: Michael Levine at October 11, 2004 6:46 PM


We will find all answers :

Sry still in frecnch but a web slater may help.
Something not on my site : i think Johnnie is born in 1813 and not 1812 as all try to make us believed.

posted by: Gix at November 16, 2004 5:47 AM


The incest comment above is interesting. If the afterword by Palliser (in the 2nd printing) is staightforward, then a reader made a suggestion to Palliser about John’s parentage that shocked and surprised him. That suggests to me the notion that Mary’s father committed incest with her, and that John is indeed the child of that act. However, I find it odd that Palliser could be genuinely surprised by this, even if most of his hints point to Martin Fortisquince or, perhaps, Mr Escreet. I read Palliser in the afterword as *continuing* the mystery, rather than genuinely illuminating it! A crucial point in the mystery is that Mary could only have become pregnant on or about her wedding night. We ‘know’ that Peter Clothier could not be the father (or do we…..), and that it was crucial to the Huffam family that she have a child. Had Mary’s father and Fortisquince – in a truly bizarre plot – agreed that one of them must impregnate her when Peter is unexpectedly ‘unavailable’?

posted by: Gary Brown at March 23, 2005 9:35 AM



Ran across this page after finishing the book.

Here are some thoughts.

John talks about Martin’s mother bringing the statue to the house and that it saved her lover. He also talks about who he suspects her lover to be.

It must be Jeoffry Escreet. Assuming that Martin is indeed John’s father, then it all fits in nicely — Escreet is John’s grandfather, who killed Lydia’s lover amongst the statues.

What I don’t understand is when he gives one of the reasons for not marrying Henrietta as being that he doesn’t want to see the estate “tainted” with Mompesson blood. It is he who is tainted wiht Mompesson blood, not her. So perhaps he is saying that he will not pursue the plans to acquire the estate? Then why bring up the issue with Sukey?

Of course, Mary would have the answers to who John’s father really was. In the same paragraph where John says that his paternity is doubtful, he brings up “the circumstances of my mother’s death”. I went back and read that section and apart from the destruction of part of her story, I can’t imagine what clues lie there. I can only suppose that perhaps this section revealed who the father was.

I agree that there does not seem to have been time for Peter Clothier to be the father. Martin seems a likely choice; it explains well why he was so kind to Mary, and perhaps why Jemima was so cruel towards her. However, wouldn’t have Jemima taken the opportunity to tell John of his illegitimacy? At the very least, she certainly would have used this to her purposes in pursuing the estate.

posted by: Jordan at April 23, 2005 12:03 PM


Wow people, it is really amazing to read what you all think of this magnificent book. I for myself must say I found it hard to follow all the events and understand the several mysteries.
But like Saar and Gary implicated: the fact that John (Palliser) so clearly points out Escreet must be confused, seems to me a big hint/argument for the incest possibility. I can only believe Palliser wants us to consider that possibility. So why does he act surprised? Afraid to reveal it all?

posted by: Pieter at June 24, 2005 6:04 PM


Thanx by the way Gix, I wanna know more so I’m gonna read your website now! Luckily it is easy to get it translated in English, although not everything becomes completely understandable. But I will manage 🙂

posted by: Pieter at June 24, 2005 6:09 PM


Probably you are right

posted by: Bellflower at August 25, 2005 11:50 PM


Rather a shame about the French site, it doesn’t seem to hold any page anymore.

I do agree with Gary that it is strange Palliser would be so shocked by the reader’s suggestion he mentioned.
Personally, I suspect Martin Fortisquince. It would be a nice explanation for his care later and the way Mrs. Fortisquince/Sancious treats Mary. She must have found out and hated Mary for it.

posted by: Maarten at October 4, 2005 6:49 AM


I don’t have the book in front of me now but in Mary’s account didn’t the events described in the pages she destroyed precede the wedding night, at least their flight to Hertford? Meaning her night with Martin F. (or her own father?) wasn’t necessarily spent at the Blue Dragon, but before? And didn’t the Porteous/Clothier family continually put forward that Peter had been duped, or was in a way a sorry victim? As if her pregnancy had been known/suspected? But according to Mr. Nolloth, Peter was grateful (and sure?) that no child had come of their brief marriage, which confirms (or does it?) that the marriage was not consummated, and that at least he did not know of any pregnancy.

A question for Simon Courage above (11 April): who do you mean when you say “Martin’s father” if you do not mean Escreet?

A question regarding the French site: Hugo M. had an affair with Eliza U.? I don’t read French, but maybe someone can enlighten me? I seemed to have missed that little scandal altogether.

posted by: Sharon at November 14, 2005 10:17 AM


First of all, if Martin is John Jr.’s father why wouldnt the author of ever made that clear? It is never disputed in the actual pages that anyone but Peter is the father, all theories aside.
And if Peter is later “grateful” that no child came of their union….then the possibility is clear a child may have been created, ie, they had sex.

posted by: valerie at December 13, 2005 12:12 PM


Oh yes, another addition. Fortisquince is Strong Five in latin. Mull that one.

posted by: valerie at December 13, 2005 12:14 PM


I’ve just finished this book, and I’d like to contribute something I noticed. When John meets Henrietta in the last chapter could the thing that startles him about her so much be that she’s pregnant with Henry’s child? This could contribute to why he brushed her off so harshly, and his comment about not wanting to marry her because he didn’t want to taint the house with Mompesson blood.

posted by: Charlie at December 21, 2005 1:37 PM


Also, in the continuation of Henrietta’s story earlier in the book, it says that she moved in with Miss Quilliam, and they lived together sustaining themselves by needlework until the youngest member of the household dies (the baby). Then Miss Quilliam drops out of the picture, and Henrietta moves to Calais (To live with Sir David?).

Just a thought. I don’t have the edition with the afterword, so I don’t know if this has been covered.

posted by: Charlie at December 21, 2005 1:41 PM


Henrietta must be pregnant with Sir David’s baby. I think Henrietta actually functions as the hero of this novel, if not as its protagonist. She, after all, embodies many of the virtues that Johnnie claims most to admire. Chiefly, she disdains the family intrigue that has brought such ruin to all five of the houses. Her tragedy seems to be that she has acted rashly in a love affair with a heel (Sir David) and that she is abandoned by Johnnie, whom she has perceived as an ally for much of her life.

posted by: John at December 22, 2005 6:34 PM


I think some of the above comments that seem to call for a sequel to this book rather miss the point. Consider where Johnnie finds himself at the end of the novel. He is heir to the Clothier fortune, monies wrung from the poor and the desperate. He has one suit before Chancery, at the urging of the Mompessons’ lawyer, and is considering placing the will itself before the court. He believes that Henrietta is unworthy of him because of her arriviste blood.

posted by: John at December 22, 2005 6:45 PM


Most important, he has given up trying to discover any further truths about the past, including the identity of his father. In other words, he has become, by his own ethical standards, utterly compromised.
Palliser is offering, I believe, a critique of the Dickens novel in the guise of an homage. Dickens’ characters arrive at their inheritances or homes with their goodness intact. Not so Johnnie Huffam (if that is his name). There may be a solution to all the knots in this puzzle, but it matters less than the fact that our leading man has stopped caring.

posted by: John at December 22, 2005 6:49 PM


I like this last take. I recently reread Oliver Twist and John’s right (above) – Dickens likes his heroes to remain heroes. But does John Huffam truly no longer care, or is he just worn out? It is not clear in the end that he is going to inherit both estates; he is still undecided. And his comment that he does not want to taint the estate with Mompesson blood could just as well be a reference to his own and not Henrietta’s ‘arriviste blood’ (assuming Martin is his father). I agree that Henrietta retains many of the qualities that Johnnie admires, but I’m not so sure he has himself necessarily lost them. He seems to still be contemplating letting the whole thing go and moving off into (somewhat well-heeled) anonymity – perhaps as a last ditch effort to save just that part of himself? Or am I too much pining for Dickens?

posted by: Sharon at December 27, 2005 9:10 AM


I think Sharon’s right that Johnnie Huffam is worn out by the end of this book (and, let’s face it, the reader is, too). Perhaps that exhaustion is the endpoint for the bildungsroman aspect of the novel. Maybe the author’s point is that adulthood means ambivalence about ethics and principles. After all, Johnnie’s position at the end of his story isn’t so different from that of, say, Percival Mompesson (before his death). He’s reasonably comfortable; he has inherited a plausible claim to some kind of fortune, but it’s unclear how it’s going to work out; and in order to further his claim, he has to suppress some piece of damaging information. In the case of Sir Percival, that is the “new will.” For Johnnie, it’s his growing suspicion that he is not the legitimate scion of the Huffam line.

posted by: John at December 27, 2005 10:53 AM


But he’s still a Huffam. Even if all suspicions are true, he still (albeit in a rather round about fashion) descended from Jeoffrey Huffam. What he really needs to hide is that oh so wobbly claim of his to the Clothier fortune. But regarding the Huffam line – is there really any cause for fear? Good Lord, isn’t everyone else who could have possibly stood in his way (save for poor Henrietta) dead by now?

posted by: Sharon at December 28, 2005 12:51 PM


If Johnnie is Martin Fortisquince’s son, then he is born out of wedlock, and therefore illegitimate. In that case, we should call him a Fitzhuffam. I have a habit of returning books to the library the second I’m done with them, so I may be forgetting some obvious plot point, but doesn’t Fortisquince’s widow still have an active claim? My brain is now pretty thoroughly buried in Trollope (and stuck in the 19th century), so I honestly can’t remember.

posted by: John at December 29, 2005 8:23 PM


You mean wily Jemima? Yes, she’s alive, although the new will nullified her chances as well. (Poor bloodthirsty dear.) You’re right about Johnnie – I plumb forgot about that illegitimacy business. I must still be digesting how a woman so hair-pullingly helpless could manage a husband and a lover, and all, it seems, in one night. The only true heiress is Henrietta and, considering the carnage and general nastiness surrounding the Huffam estate, who can blame her for preferring to piddle about Calais with Sir David? (My copy is still on my bookshelf due to a vague (and unrealistic) notion that it deserves a second and more attentive reading, but my brain has moved on as well…)

posted by: Sharon at December 30, 2005 9:12 AM


I’ve just discovered this interesting discussion. My own impression is that John Huffam’s two grandfathers are Escreet and Silas Clothier and that his father is Martin Fortisquince. Does anybody have any enlightening theories on what happened at Charing Cross as opposed to Hertford on the wedding day? And has anybody noticed the multitude of chronological errors throughout the book? By the way, the date of birth of John Huffam was 12 February 1812, the same as …. guess who?

posted by: Brian at January 2, 2006 8:31 AM


Happy New Year to everybody! I have to correct my last message. The date of birth was 7 February, but the point is still the same. What should be borne in mind in reading this book is that the author strongly hints that there are layers of truth and that what John believes may be subject to revision in the light of subsequent discoveries. At the very end he is giddy at the thought of further complications.
Three things that have always puzzled me a bit:-
(a)What happened at Charing Cross on the wedding day?
(b)Who was really contributing to John’s upkeep with the Digweeds?
(c)If Lydia gave the will to Martin Fortisquince to give to John Huffam the elder, how did it return to the possession of the Mompessons?
This novel contrasts strongly with “The Unburied” by Charles Palliser, which has a complicated plot but does allow the reader to reach a satisfactory explanation. “Betrayals”, like “The Quincunx” leaves us a bit in the dark.

posted by: Brian at January 2, 2006 8:57 AM


How do you come to the conclusion that Escreet and Clothier are Johnnie’s two grandfathers? You lost me there. It is odd that in all those family links we are never clearly told who Mary’s mother was. And who else was born on 12 February? The details are sadly fading from my memory. I think Escreet stabbed Old Huffam just like Jemima said, and I assumed he also, somehow, returned the will as it was in his best interests (didn’t the new will nullify his ownership of the house?). With regard to the Digweeds – is it impossible to think that they were supporting him on their own?

posted by: Sharon at January 6, 2006 9:21 AM


Sorry I expressed myself so poorly on 2 January. My point about the grandfathers is that John legally inherited the (worthless) Huffam estate through John senior and Mary, but that his true blood descent from Jeoffrey Huffam was through the latter’s illegitimate son Escreet and his illegitimate son Fortisquince. The (substantial) Clothier fortune comes to him from Silas Clothier and his son Peter, who is no blood kin of John. Your point about Mary’s own parentage is well made. The other person born on 7 February 1812 was Charles John Huffam Dickens!

posted by: Brian at January 13, 2006 4:20 PM


Further to my last posting, it seems highly improbable that the Digweeds, who are scraping a very rough living and have been through even worse hardships previously, would have enough ready cash to look after John, who on one occasion is mystified at seeing so much money before them on a table.
You might find it worthwhile to give this book a second read, because some of the issues raised by contributors could change your perceptions. But it is very long, though highly readable. The writer must have a real affinity with 19th century English fiction to have produced it, though he is an American.

posted by: Brian at January 13, 2006 4:39 PM


You’ve read it a second time? Oh, hat’s off. I’m sure I would read it again with very open eyes, but the size of it is so, well, bloody daunting. I read somewhere that Palliser himself said that everything is there in the book, i.e. he does not leave us hanging. So if it’s all in there, here’s another thought: the French site claims that John Sr. is the son of Lydia and John Umphraville. Meaning…? I don’t know. Could the Mompessons or Lydia or someone from that secretive clan have been supporting Johnnie? I admit, it’s a bit of a stretch. Alas, I can’t think of anyone in whose interests it would have been to keep the poor chap alive.

posted by: Sharon at January 27, 2006 11:27 AM


I think one can safely assume that this novel will never be dramatised because nobody would be able to put the plot together on screen. As to the interesting suggestion about the true parentage of John Huffam senior, one interesting implication would be that in the duel at Hougham John’s great-grandfather was killed by John’s grandfather, assuming Escreet was the father of Martin Fortisquince and that the latter was the father of John.

posted by: Brian at January 30, 2006 6:14 PM


And what do you think of the possibility that John Huffam Sr. is the real father of Johnnie? It would make more sense as to why Mary was so freaked out about her son ever finding out the truth (why oh why did he not ask Helen when he found her all those years later?!). And there are all those references to how similar they look, etc. But…blech.

posted by: Sharon at January 31, 2006 10:33 AM


Here is a list of questions and the most important mysteries of The Quincunx,
that I had hoped I would understand after reading the book the first time.
I had to reread the book to answer them.

1. Who is Johnny’s Father?
2. Who are Johnny’s Grandfathers?
3. What was in the missing 16 pages of the diary (i.e. Mary’s confession) ?
4. What additionally was discussed between John Huffam and Martin Fortisquince, when Fortisquince was trying to dissuade Huffam from marrying Mary to Clothier?
5. Do you have any ideas about Miss Lydia’s child, that was taken away?
6. Who killed John Huffam, and who killed Umprahville?
7. When was Johnny born? (Easy question if you know that Wellsley
was the famous Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napolean)!
8. Whose hands touched the Will.
9. Whose hands touched the Codicil.

posted by: Michael Levine at February 4, 2006 6:22 PM


So. Are you going to tell us? Begging via Internet is so pathetic, but I dare say I might just stoop.

posted by: Sharon at February 6, 2006 10:40 AM


In response to Sharon’s question, I should dismiss the possibility entirely because Mary writes in her diary that she could not bear the thought that the father of her child had killed her papa. It they were the same person, she would be making no sense at all.
In response to Michael’s questions, these are my guesses.(1)Martin Fortisquince. (2)John Huffam and Jeffrey Escreet. (3)Information about the events leading up to her wedding and events in Charing Cross and Hertford. John could have pretended to burn the pages at Mitre Court because his mother would not have been able to see what he was doing. (4)Possibly an offer by Fortisquince to marry Mary and thus reduce the Clothiers’ hold on John Huffam. (5)No, but your suggestion in 2004 was a good one! (6a)Either Escreet or an outsider. I don’t see Martin Fortisquince or Peter Clothier as realistic murderers, nor do I think Mary’s missing pages would have thrown any light on the question. (6b)Escreet, who openly admitted it. (7) 7 February 1812, the same day as Charles Dickens. But a case for 1813 could just be made because Sir George Rose’s legislation did not come into effect until 1813, and Sir Perceval on first seeing him at Hougham remarks on how small John is. But then that leaves the question of what happened to Mary in the year after her wedding. (8) Which will do you mean? Incidentally, I couldn’t fathom how John could know the precise date of the 1770 will when he had never seen it and couldn’t even be sure of its existence. (9) You would have to spell this question and the last out to me. Escreet was probably instrumental in concealing the codicil and pretending to buy it back at enormous expense. Surely John Huffam Snr and Silas Clothier would have asked questions about who had been holding on to it all those years. There were very few people who could have had knowledge of it or have had any financial interest in it. Another point that bothers me is that Barbellion, an astute lawyer, tells John near the end of the book that the Hougham estate is practically worthless because of all the debts and encumbrances. How is it that a sharp old money man like Silas Clothier with all his sources of information is unaware of the condition of the estate, which would be of no profit to him if he gained possession?

posted by: Brian at February 11, 2006 6:51 PM


Question 8

1. Jeoffrey Huffam authored it (presumably)
2. Paternoster stole it
3. Hugh Mompesson bought it
4. Augustus and Percival inherited it
5. Lydia stole it
6. Fortisquince unknowingly carried it to John Huffam
7. Escreet sold it back to Percival
8. Johnnie stole it
9. Henry Bellringer steals it and gives it to Escreet
10. Sanctious takes it from Escreet
11. Escreet takes it back and gives it to Jemima
12. Jemima gives it to Johnnie ( who knows why??)

posted by: Michael Levine at February 11, 2006 8:23 PM


In reponse to Clothier not be aware of the worthlessness of the estate, there are these explanations.
1. He coveted the estate for so long, and had the means to rebuild it
2. A mistake by Palliser, of which there are several others
a. The Papers say Bellringer and David were cousins!!! Noone knew of Excreets relationship to the Mompessons!!
b. Johnny later reflects on Barbellion as not being so bad, the cad that hounded his Mother and helped bring her to an untimely death

and there are others

posted by: Michael Levine at February 11, 2006 8:33 PM


1812 Jan. 9-19 Ciudad Rodrigo

Advowson writes on the Baptism Certificate:

” A fine frosty day, excellent news of the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo by Wellsley..Baptised John, Son of Mary Mellamphy of this parish…..”

posted by: Michael Levine at February 11, 2006 8:53 PM


A couple of comments:

1) Some of the posts above seem confused about the legal definition of legitimacy, which is an important concept to understand in reference to inheritance laws. Babies born to women who are married at the time of the birth, or who were widowed less than nine months prior to the birth, are legitimate regardless of their actual paternity. These children are legally presumed to be the offspring of their mother’s husbands, and while this presumption is rebuttable in court, there was no DNA technology in the early 19th century so success was rare. Babies are considered to be legitimate even if the marriage takes place only a few hours before labor starts! Thus Peter was John’s legal father under English inheritance laws, and John was neither “born out of wedlock” nor “illegitimate.”

2) When John passes through the village of his childhood on his way back to London from his North Country school, he looks up his baptismal record in the church. He notes that it was witnessed by Martin Fortisquince “Godfather and father” and that another “hand” (another person’s handwriting) had added “Peter Clothier” after the word “father.” This provided a strong indication that Martin was John’s biological father well before the book got into the circumstances of Mary’s wedding night etc.

posted by: Lutraa at February 15, 2006 8:17 PM


I misspoke about the definition of legitimacy. Under English Common Law in the 19th century, a woman had to have been married for at least seven months before her baby was born for the child to be considered legitimate. The Church (canon law) was more liberal, allowing children whose mothers wed shortly before childbirth to be considered legitimate.

posted by: Lutraa at February 15, 2006 8:36 PM


Thank you for the comments, Lutraa. In my opinion it would be hard to put forward a convincing case for anybody other than Martin Fortisquince as John’s father. The real issue for the main parties in the struggle for the Huffam estate is not legal legitimacy but the existence of evidence (or its lack) to substantiate it. John takes the wise precaution of having the baptismal certificate copied by Mr Advowson because he can forsee its disappearance and even his own identity being called into question at a later date.
In response to Michael’s observations, the errors I detected in the book were mainly chronological, but some were in prominent places. The first one is at the very start of chapter 11, which states that Lady Day (25 March) was a little more than two months after the shock visit of Mr Barbellion to John’s mother, but chapter 10 clearly relates the visit as occurring before Christmas. Besides palpable errors, there are some problems with the whole chronology of the events in the book. The newspaper report to which you referred gave the dateline as Tuesday 2 December. That would mean Christmas Day in that year would fall on a Thursday. But when John is a servant with the Mompessons Christmas Day falls on a Friday, because Joey tells John that George Digweed had died on a Sunday, two days after Christmas. From this we deduce that it was in 1829, and that John escaped from Brook Street on his eighteenth birthday on 7 February 1830. The death of Henry Bellringer therefore, if we take the newspaper date as correct, occurred in 1834 when Christmas did fall on a Thursday!

posted by: Brian at February 19, 2006 9:51 AM


With regard then to your (Brian) three questions put forward on 2 January, the third seems to have been explained. At least I’m satisfied with the Michael’s explanation that Escreet sold it back to the Mompessons. But can anyone clear the air as to what happened then at Charing Cross/hotel on the wedding night? Are we to assume that everything happened the way it is told (by Peter, by Mary, by Jemima), and that when Martin went to tell Mary they got a little…cuddly? Was that the first and last of their “romance”? Or was there something going on earlier? What confuses me is just how horrified Johnnie was when the doctors in the nuthouse told him who (they believed) his real father to be. I realize we live in different times, but still…
As to the issue regarding who was paying the Digweeds to keep Johnnie, I’m in the dark. I can’t even think up a good guess. Anyone else?

posted by: Sharon at February 22, 2006 11:11 AM


Other fun references to the number five in the book:

“Phumphred” (coachman) fumpf = five in German

“Sancious” (AKA Steplight) cinque = five in French and is pronounced somewhat like “sahnk”

I’m sure there are others . . .

posted by: Lutraa at February 23, 2006 2:19 PM


In reply to Sharon’s questions, I’d say there is more mystery about Charing Cross than about Hertford. My own reading is that Martin Fortisquince seduced Mary Clothier at the Blue Boar in the very same room in which Henrietta Palphramond was seduced by Henry Bellringer many years later. Recurring patterns is the main underlying theme of the novel. But if anybody can provide a coherent account of the murder of John Huffam Snr, I’d certainly read it with interest and post comments. Did you have the impression that John was horrified at his father in the asylum? My feeling was that he was horrified at the poor man’s condition, and not at what he might have done. As for the Digweed question, I’m with you in your puzzlement. My surmise is that when the book ends (in 1832?) John is a young man in considerable confusion with no belief that he will ever get to the bottom of the mysteries of his life.

posted by: Brian at March 8, 2006 5:26 PM


Just to clarify my comment about Johnnie being horrified. I didn’t mean when he saw his father, rather when Daniel Clothier and his hired doctor told JH who is real father was. (This was in his cell, I think right before they took him to see Peter, but I could be wrong). He called them liars, and then told the reader it was too horrible even to write down for us. That’s what made me wonder. It seemed an extreme reaction to a seduction. Don’t you agree?

posted by: Sharon at March 9, 2006 10:12 AM


Oh, and with regard to Charing Cross – I take it you don’t buy Jemima’s story that it was Escreet? I thought the only doubt there was in Johnnie’s own mind, and we know by now that he is often wrong. So couldn’t it have very well been just as she said/described? And Barney was nothing more than a red herring of sorts?

posted by: Sharon at March 9, 2006 10:27 AM


It would have been a terrible shock to John to hear it suggested that Peter Clothier was not his real father after he had wondered about the identity of his father for so long and thought he had arrived at the truth. As for the Charing Cross murder, Escreet appears the likeliest suspect, but it is strange that he should deny the deed when he was willing to admit killing Umphraville, and Nolloth in the asylum seems to be of the opinion that it might have been somebody from outside the house. But if we accept that there are recurring patterns in the book, then it would not be out of place for Escreet to kill Umphraville and then John Huffam Snr who might possibly have been Umphraville’s son by Lydia. Bear in mind that Jemima Fortisquince did not see the murder done and might, by giving her account, have been trying to goad an old man who was deranged. I consider the murder at Charing Cross to be the biggest mystery in the novel, but many would disagree.

posted by: Brian at March 9, 2006 2:50 PM


I finished the damned book today. Remarkable construction. Seeing how all readers on the net warned about the complexity of the book, I read it noting every new character and some of the impotant clues in a little book. So I finished the monster understanding more or less all the intrigues, family relationships and illegal children! But it was really too heavy stuf. An overdose of Agatha Christie (the murder of old John Huffam is a “closed chamber”-mystery) and Charles Dickens. How many times have I wished that finally one of his innumerable ennemies would kill that indestructible John Junior! He seemed stronger weed than JR Ewing himself! Didn’t you, fellow readers, noticed a taste of cardboard when Palliser kept on fooling around with the characters to obtain the 125 chapters of his story?

posted by: Arteb at March 10, 2006 5:45 PM


Just finished today as well. Holy cow! And I’m a fast reader… One note on Silas Clothier not counting on all the debts of the Estate… isn’t it revealed by Mr. Barbellion at the end that Silas has gone about “buying up” the debts related to the Estate. If he had come into ownership the debts would be “owned” by himself— i.e. nothing. John in inherited the Clothier estate is relatively debt free.

posted by: Lynka at April 17, 2006 6:14 PM


I’m in my second reading of the book, and this time – the first time was some years ago – I have read and re-read sections of Mary’s diary several times while going through the rest of the book. The missing pages are supposed to contain a revelation that she is very much ashamed of, but it is strange that in the rest of her story which is quite detailed, there are no clues whatsoever to the missing section. In the first part of the diary this is understandable because she is putting off the difficult part. But in the remainder of the diary, why are there no references to the missing pages? One possibility is that the missing story is less shameful than we think, which would support the seduction-by-Martin story. However, why would it be so terrible for John to read this? Another possibility is that Mary is less innocent than we think and even in her own diary is not always telling the full truth, in other words that she drops the veil just for these few pages and then resumes her innocent victim role? In this respect there are two more clues that something could be terribly wrong with Mary’s past: first, the hideous story told by the Porteous family to John jr; second, the remark by the man in Mrs Purviance’s house that Mary was not inexperienced when she came in. And finally, when she writes in her last entries that “he should never learn the Truth about me”, are we sure that this refers only to her final stay with mrs Purviance?

posted by: erik at April 18, 2006 6:45 AM


I’ve read the novel twice from cover to cover some years ago and have been rereading bits and pieces lately. It’s great to find a forum of fellow-enthusiasts!

In response to Erik’s post: And let’s not forget Silas Clothier’s appraisal of Mary as a scheming manipulator who stood to gain by John Huffam’s death in Chapter 108. Like Daniel Porteous, Clothier tells Johnnie “something further” about Mary, which Johnnie chooses to suppress in his account (916, US edition). These suppressed remarks may refer to indecent conduct on behalf of Mary (or perhaps even an earlier history of prostitution, as Erik seems to suggest); they can also have bearing on the incestuous encounter with or rape by her father John Huffam of which Johnnie is the product – a possibility hinted at several times throughout the novel.

posted by: Leon at April 18, 2006 12:19 PM


In response to Lynka’s observations, while it is true that Silas Clothier had been buying up debts, you have to recall that the estate is very dilapidated by the end of the book and that no money had been spent on it for years. Also Mr Barbellion admits that the corrupt receivers will plunder it even more and will have administration of it for years. Even if he had succeeded in inheriting the estate, Silas Clothier would have been a nonagenarian by the time it was restored to its former splendour. In response to Erik and Leon, I think it unlikely that Mary Clothier did have a shameful past, because when was her opportunity? She never left her home in Charing Cross until her marriage, and then she had to stay away from London so that she could not be found. The one who does have a shameful past is Miss Quilliam, about whose motivations many questions could be asked. Erik mentions the missing pages of Mary’s diary. It could be the case that these might have thrown some light on the murder of her father, something she could not bear to think about because of the consequences for her. Could Martin Fortisquince have told her something unbearable that she did not want anybody else to know? Her shame might not have stemmed from her own actions, but she still wanted to shield her son from it. Hence the tearing out of the pages. I’m pleased this discussion is still going on with some many participating, and I look forward to reading more soon.

posted by: Brian at April 20, 2006 3:05 PM


I agree with Brian that a shameful history of prostitution on Mary’s part is highly unlikely. ‘Edward’s remark that Mary “knowed the trade. […] I kin allus tell” (Ch. 48, p. 455 US edition),is the only bit of info we get that may be read as directly supporting that claim. I agree with Brian that it would seem that until her marriage she had little opportunity to do anything even remotely shameful (although his claim that “She never left her home in Charing Cross” is contradicted by Ch. 61, p. 543, where Mary describes her walks through the Charing Cross neigbourhood), but we have to remember that we have only Mary’s own word for that. After the wedding/murder night you may be right that “she had to stay away from London so that she could not be found,” but not necessarily so: she could be hiding in plain sight, right under the noses of her enemies (as she would do again; remember the different interpretations of the family motto!). And suppose Johnnie is indeed born in 1813 rather than in 1812 (as Michael has suggested above) then that would leave a gap of a year and a half in Mary’s life between the murder night and the baptism in Melthorpe, which might have been spent in London. (Do we know when exactly Martin takes Mary to Melthorpe?)

But anyway: I agree that it is unlikely that the missing pages in the diary would have contained a confession of having not once but twice earned her living as a prostitute. I find it much more likely that they contained information about a shameful episode in her life just prior to the wedding/murder night, i.e. the fact that her husband Peter Clothier was not the father of her child. Many pieces of evidence point to Martin Fortisquince, but there is also the much more hideous possibility that it was her own father, John Huffam sr (as Sharon has suggested above and as Palliser in the ‘Author’s Afterword’ to the Penguin edition himself admits is a possible, if unintended, interpretation). Even Brian’s point against Sharon that this possibility should be dismissed entirely because Mary writes in her diary that she could not bear the thought that the father of her child had killed her papa does not rule it out entirely, I think. Brian argument is that if “the father of my child” and “my papa” would refer to one and the same person (John Huffam sr.), Mary “would be making no sense at all.” But suppose we read the verb ‘kill’ metaphorically. Mary would then be saying something like: ‘The John Huffam who had sex with me (by force?) by doing so has made it impossible for me to regard him as my father, the man I have known and trusted my entire life.’ I agree this is perhaps stretching things a bit, but Mary’s words here (as elsewhere) are ambiguous enough to allow for the incest-scenario as a possible alternative to the Martin Fortisquince-as-father plot.

posted by: Leon at April 20, 2006 4:42 PM


Leon’s comment has me wondering all over again: could the father be someone other than Martin? Regarding the incenst possibility, I now agree with Brian that it’s unlikely, owing to Mary’s horror over the father of her child killing her own father. I am no doubt forgetting some details, but was Martin ever a plausible suspect regarding the murder? I recall Peter, Jeffrey Escreet, Barney, even Jemima – but I don’t recall any sincere (or noteworthy) doubt of Martin’s innocence. After all, it was he who rode quickly to Hertford to tell Mary the news. And in all her writings I never had the impression that she suspected Martin. Quite the contrary; he was just about the only person she trusted. So if she never linked him to her father’s murder, who is she talking about in the above-mentioned sentence?

posted by: Sharon at April 21, 2006 7:53 AM


These discussion make me plough through the book once again – and I like it! 🙂

Let me make my position clear: I think that the plot Palliser has in fact devised (and so cleverly hidden) indeed has Martin Fortisquince as Johnnie’s biological father (and, therefore, Jeoffrey Escreet as his grandfather). However, as the man says himself in the ‘Author’s Afterword’: “I see an novel – like anything made for publication – as a structure of possible meanings which the reader is entitled to interpret in any way that is appropriate” (1205, Penguin edition).

This means that the incest scenario with John Huffam sr. as Johnnie’s father AND grandfather is one of the many possible alternatives to the solution to the mystery of Johnnie’s parentage intended by Palliser when he wrote the novel. As such, it is no more ‘correct’ than any other solution, provided of course that the arguments presented for it are convincing enough.

With regard to the (related) mystery of the identity of the murderer of John Huffam I am a lot less sure what Palliser’s intentions must have been, but here, too, there are sign pointing towards Martin F. There definitely are “sincere (or noteworthy) doubt of Martin’s innocence” even if Sharon does not remember them. And Mary DOES suspect Martin; he is not “just about the only person she trusted.” In her notebook she writes:

“I never gave up thinking about the mystery of Papa’s murder and at the end of that first year – in the December before you were born – there was a terrible reminder of it when two families in the Ratcliffe-highway were slaughtered at night by a man who broke into their houses. I wanted to believe that the person who murdered Papa had not been Peter but someone from outside, and I wondered if it could be the same individual who had carried out those terrible crimes. But the authorities caught the man they believed responsible and he hanged himself before he came to trial, so I could never find out. As time passed I thought of many things. I suspected everybody, everybody. Peter, Mr Escreet, and even … Oh Johnnie, I could not bear to think that the Father of my child had killed my Papa! I even feared that it was I who was responsible – though all unwittingly – for the murder of my Father and the imprisonment of my husband. That it was not his fault for his passion for me had driven him to it.” (575-576, US edition)

To answer Sharon’s question who Mary is talking about in the sentence discussed earlier and quoted above: I think she DOES link Martin to the murder precisely by not mentioning him explicitly (“and even …”), but there is no way of being absolutely sure. The point is that the passage is phrased in such a way that we can never know for sure what she means exactly (and deliberately so, of course, from Palliser’s point of view). The incest scenarion cannot be rules out definively for that reason. Notice how, for instance, the sentence “That it was not his fault for his passion for me had driven him to it” can both mean ‘That Martin cannot be blamed for killing my father for he did it out of love for me’ (or ‘That Peter cannot be blamed for killing my father for he did it out of his obsessive passion bordering on insanity’) and (when read slightly out of conjunction with the topic of the preceding sentence; but Mary’s writing style is often rather incoherent) ‘That my father cannot be blamed for raping me for he did it out of his love for me.’ (Which is a perverse reading, of course, yet quite appropriate for a young Victorian woman who clearly idolizes her father.)

And come to think of it (now that I’m offering wild interpretations), even that preceding sentence can be read in such a way as to support the incest scenario: “I even feared that it was I who was responsible – though all unwittingly – for the murder of my Father and the imprisonment of my husband” can mean something like ‘I let my father rape me and because of that he had to devise a scheme to trap Peter Clothier into marrying me, a scheme that ultimately led to his murder and my husband’s incarceration.’

To conclude: I think the most likely and intended (intended by Palliser, that is) father of Johnnie is Martin F., who may also be the murderer of John Huffam (although here I am somewhat less sure of Palliser’s intentions). But this should not refrain us from the entertaining activity of coming up with such interesting alternatives such as the incest plot for which a rich and ambiguous text as The Quincunx provides so many great opportunities.

So, does anybody else have an interesting ‘overinterpretation’ of these central mysteries or any other aspect of the novel? (I noticed a quite hilarious one concerning Sancious and Joey Digweed on that French site 🙂 ) I welcome all!

posted by: Leon at April 21, 2006 12:52 PM


To judge from the most recent postings, I assume that this correspondence is now closed, as newspaper letter pages used to say. Am I right?

posted by: Brian at May 29, 2006 7:33 AM


Sadly, I suppose so, unless someone can offer a convincing clarification to the above-mentioned mysteries. The Digweed explanations are still most unsatisfying, but I doubt the recent newcomers would have much to say to that.

posted by: Sharon at May 30, 2006 7:39 AM


Let’s not close the correspondence just yet; I have just finished rereading the enitire novel and am hooked yet again…

And I think I have solved one of the minor mysteries contained in it – or rather I think I have been able to integrate one of the seemingly coincidental occurrances with the convoluted plot. As we know preciously little in Johnnie’s narrative happens by coincidence; every character is somehow implicated in the plot, every meeting performs a function in the grand design. (According to Palliser’s intentions; see the ‘Author’s Afterword’ in the Penguin edition.)

With that idea in the back of my head whilst reading the novel for the third time cover to cover it suddenly struck me who ‘Lushing’ Lizzie really is. Lizzie, to refresh your memory, is the old beggar woman whom Johnnie and Mary meet in Chapter 49, who is with Mary in the last hours of her life, and who after Mary’s death robs her corpse of its clothes (Chapter 52). After learning that Johnnie and Mary have rich friends, she goes away with no money and returns some time later with a jug of gin (466, US paperback edition). It seems likely she has contacted an agent of Clothier and has been paid for providing information concerning the whereabouts of Johnnie and Mary and the condition of the latter, since later Clothier and his agents know about Mary’s death and the circumstances of her demise (see, for instance, Hinxman’s taunts in one of the scenes in the asylum [674, US paperback edition]).

But Lizzie performs a further function in the plot of The Quincunx in that she is also related to several of its main characters, including Johnnie. I can’t believe I missed the clues to her true identity during my first two readings (my only excuse is that the main clues are several hundreds of pages apart), but Old Lizzie is of course none other than…

Eliza Umphraville!

(i.e. the sister of John Umphraville, Miss Lydia Mompesson’s lover who was killed by Jeoffrey Escreet.)

I’ll explain in my next post if you are interested in details and (what is, I think,) irrefutable textual proof, but for now I am just curious to know if other readers have been more quick-witted than I have been…

posted by: Leon at May 30, 2006 9:04 AM


Much of what I have read here has confirmed my suspicions about JHs parentage, and solved many of my outstanding questions (I particularly like the Lushing Lizzie/Eliza Umphraville twist). But the one thing that continues to baffle me is why Jemima gives up so easily at the very end? She has been particularly tenacious and evil in her pursuit of Johnnie, so why suddenly drop it? The only reason I could think of was that he reminded her of Martin in some way (but I am not convinced…).

posted by: Saskia at May 31, 2006 9:17 AM


Rest assured that we (I assume I speak for most of us) were certainly not more quick-witted than you. Lizzie is Eliza. Well. How about that. I would indeed like to hear more on the subject (i.e. your “irrefutable textual proof”). So what do you think: was Eliza John Sr’s mother, or were John U and Lydia his real parents? In other words, does she rob her granddaughter of her clothes, or her great-niece?

And does it bother anyone else that Mary’s mother is never, ever mentioned? It strikes me as odd in a book teeming with genealogy that he would leave out such a major character. Or did he??

posted by: Sharon at June 1, 2006 9:27 AM


Thanks to all three of the most recent contributors for reviving this discussion. Though Leon’s idea is good and original, I have to express doubts about his Lizzie theory. From my recollection, John’s account to her of their predicament would not have provided Lizzie with enough information to recognise John and his mother. It would not have cost much to buy the gin either, as it was cheap in those days. But with reference to the significance of apparently stray characters, I have long wondered about Mr Parminter who offers his assistance to Mary Clothier on her way to the registry office and is rebuffed, to John’s puzzlement. Any views on what was in Mary’s mind? The man’s surname is used as one of the many aliases of John and Mary later in the book.

posted by: Brian at June 1, 2006 1:39 PM


I finished the book today and I very much liked it. Ofcourse, I was puzzled with some of the loose ends of the story. Fortunately, I found this website.

In my opinion Martin Fortisquince is probably John Jr. ‘s father, for many of the reasons mentioned by other contributers. I would like to add one thought. In his accounts John describes Martin Fortisquince as unearthly kindhearted. I think it makes much sense that John gives such a positive image of his biological father. It also makes the perfect end to a book about inheritances that in the end the estate is inherited by the illigitimate son (Johnny) of the illigitimate son (Martin Fortisquince) of the illigitimate son (Jeoffrey Escreet) of a Huffam (Jeoffrey) and a Mompesson (Anna).

I also very much liked the position that John finds himself in at the end of the book. Now that he has at last become a member of the old aristocracy, he is starting to loose all the high principles he claimed himself to have. This also explaines the inscription on the statue in chapter CXXV: Et ego in arcadia, which means something like: here it used to be idyllic for me. It shows that Johnny has lost his innocence.

Also interesting is the position of Mr Barbellion. In the end of the book it turns out that whatever the outcomes, he never looses. A rather cynical twist!

At this moment I basically have two questions left.
1. Why does Mrs Fortisquince/Sancious give in so easily at the end of the book?
2. Who is the narrator in the chapters that do not have a first person narrator?

Regarding the second question, a possible answer might be Mr Pentecost of Mr Silverlight, but this is a mere guess.

posted by: Joris at June 3, 2006 4:29 PM


To Brian,

“I have long wondered about Mr Parminter who offers his assistance to Mary Clothier on her way to the registry office and is rebuffed, to John’s puzzlement. Any views on what was in Mary’s mind?”

Mary knew that he was trying to pick her up as a prostitute!

posted by: Michael Levine at June 3, 2006 8:58 PM


Michael Levine’s suggestion was the notion that struck me on my first reading of the book, but I am inclined to reject it as Mary was closely accompanied by John at the time, and it was commonly acknowledged that a young child would be an impediment to operating as a prostitute. Remember how Mrs Purviance wanted John out of the way so that ‘Marigold’ could live at her establishment. Also, according to John, Mr Parminter showed some surprise at Mary’s reaction. Would not such a man be used to such reactions from ladies? In reply to Joris, John cannot be described as a member of the old aristocracy. His source of wealth is the Clothier inheritance and the landed estate is deeply entailed and under administration. The inscription is interesting because John realises that his recollection of younger days was faulty, and the reader might wonder how much of his narrative is to be considered in that light. I think the author is telling us that you cannot necessarily take everything as a straight fact, even when there is no deliberate attempt at deception. John will never get to the bottom of the mysteries, because any explanation will raise further questions and problems.

posted by: Brian at June 4, 2006 7:04 AM


Great that the forum has come back to life again!

To Saskia: I like the Lizzie/Eliza twist, too, especially since it never becomes an explicit revelation and none of the characters seems to be aware of the connection between them (with the possible exception of Mary). To Brian: I am pretty sure that Palliser meant for Lizzie to be Eliza Umphraville; he just made it rather hard for his readers to spot the clues.

I think Lizzie is Eliza because (all quotations from US paperback edition):

1. The obvious connection in the names of both characters (Lizzie as an abbreviated form of Eliza), though not so obvious as to give the secret away immediately. Notice that Lizzie is included in the list of characters (as is the enigmatic Mr. Parminter who is the subject of much interesting discussion and speculation in recent posts here), which means she is of some importance. She is also listed at a safe enough alphabetical distance from Eliza Umphraville so as not to give the game away too easily.

2. Old beggar women having fallen from a more respectable position in a former life and preferably also being secretly related to one of our main characters is a frequently used plot device in 19th century/Victorian fiction and melodrama. In a novel so self-consciously parodying Victorian fiction you just cannot miss out on the opportunity of including that topos.

3. Reasons of dramatic irony.
A delirious Mary cries out “Mamma!” on her death bed and Palliser has Johnnie write that “As if in response, the old woman came across” (Ch. 50, 469). I am not arguing that Mary recognizes Lizzie as her mother (which Lizzie is not), or that Lizzie recognizes Mary as a blood relative; my point is that Palliser uses the literary convention of a character calling out for his/her dead or absent mother while in a delirium just before dying to an ironic effect (if we take Lizzie to be Eliza). Mary calls out for her mother in the company of the best thing she could ask for given the circumstances: someone who is quite possibly her grandmother. (And notice, too, how Mary hereby joins the ranks of the many characters in the novel who confuse generations – the most obvious example being Jeoffrey Escreet in Ch. 87-90.)

If we take Lizzie and Eliza to be one and the same Johnnie’s answer to Mrs Lillystone’s question (Ch. 52) if there is a relative with his mother’s body acquires a nice touch of irony, too. “Not a relative,” Johnnie answers her, “An old woman” (481).

It is fitting that in a novel where nearly every character in one way or another has tried or is trying to rob family members of their (supposed) possessions, that Mary’s corpse should be robbed by exactly that: a family member (as opposed to a ‘stray character’ as Brian put it).

4. But, next to all these plot-related reasons (Lizzie being Eliza makes for a ‘better,’ more tightly constructed plot) there is also the “irrefutable textual proof” I promised earlier. Here is how Lizzie describes her past life to Johnnie and Mary:

“Why, my Guyneys, when Lizzie as a gel she was in high keeping. She kept company at Mother Kelly’s in Arlington-street. She was on the Town then. Why she was kept by a baronet’s son […]. She lodged in Bond-street and rode down ‘Dilly in her carriage dressed in a silk-gownd, and didn’t all the folks stare at handsome Lizzie then! […] But he died shoreditch for he was foul of the strawberries – the only marks of a baronet that he lived to show, poor devil! – or I might have been a Lady.” (465)

Of the antecedents of the Umphravilles we learn next to nothing, and Eliza in particular remains a shadowy figure. Jeoffrey Escreet says he “hardly knew” her (742). Our main source for information about Eliza is Lydia Mompesson, who was once the lover of Eliza’s brother John. During Johnnie’s third meeting with Miss Lydia she tells him that Jeoffrey Huffam “opposed the marriage of his son, James, to Eliza Umphraville,” and whereas on an earlier occasion she did not tell “the whole truth about that” matter, she proceeds to do so now:

“I am afraid, John, that your great-grandfather, James, was a drunken and dissolute spendthrift, although he had great charm. The real reason for my grandfather’s [i.e. Jeoffrey Huffam’s] opposition to his [James Huffam’s] marriage to Eliza Umphraville was that she had been openly kept by him for some years. He had seduced her when she was hardly more than a child, but she was a very fast young woman who had little regard for modesty. Later on, the fact that she had been his concubine was exploited as proof against their ever having married.” (868)

O.K., so perhaps this is not irrefutable proof (hey, I was excited about my ‘discovery’!…), but it is undeniable that these two stories, although 400 pages apart, nice fit together. So nicely in fact that I think we are intended to conclude that Lizzie and Eliza are one and the same person. We learn from Jemima Fortisquince that James’ father Jeoffrey Huffam indeed “had begun to be received at Court and had hopes for a title” (996). We do not learn if he succeeded, I believe, but if he didn’t (and remained a prospective Baronet only) Lizzie is simply boasting when she calls James the son of a baronet.

To my mind this clinches the matter of Lizzie/Eliza. Please feel free to disagree violently. 🙂

I haven’t figured out Lizzie/Eliza’s exact relationship to Mary. As Sharon rightly remarked she can be either Mary’s grandmother (though I don’t believe we ever get any evidence that she and James Huffam actually had a child together [John Huffam]), or her great-aunt.

Sharon’s point about Mary’s mother being so conspicuously absent from the story (about the only thing we learn is that she died when she [Mary] was “very young” [Ch. 61, 543]) has made me wonder how much more ironic Mary’s death would be if Lizzie/Eliza actually IS the mother she calls out for in her delirium…

posted by: Leon at June 4, 2006 8:49 AM


In response to Joris:

Yes, I also think that the Chapters in which Johnnie is not our narrator, are in fact narrated and written by Pentecost and Sliverlight (so that what at first appears as typical Dickensian omniscient narration turns out to be not omniscient, but from the perspective of two of the characters within the narrative world itself – this means of course that their perspective is just as trustworthy or untrustworthy as that of Johnnie’s).

In fact, the idea of Pentecost and Silverlight collaboratively writing a book pops up in Ch. 36 of the novel itself (pp. 317-318, US paperback ed.). The Quincunx itself, then, is the proof that Pentecost and Silverlight followed Miss Quilliam’s suggestion that they should work together.

“Mr Silverlight could take responsibility for describing the motives of the characters (particularly, of course, in the upper ranks) while you, Mr Pentecost, could concentre your talents upon the elements of plotting and intrigue.” (318)

(On the basis of this suggestion you can decide which chapter is narrated by whom, Pentecost or Silverlight.)

By the way: did you notice the system in the division of narrative duties throughout the novel? They follow exactly the “tinctures” (colors) in the pattern of the ‘quincunx of quincunxes’ on the invitation to the ball to celebrate the marriage of Hugo Mompesson and Alice Huffam Johnnie finds on the dead body of Lydia Mompesson (887, see also 872-877) which helps him to open the hidden safe in the mantlepiece sporting the same design (included at the back of every edition of the novel). Pentecost and Silverlight are represented in the scheme by black bud or petals, Johnnie by white ones, and the other two narrators who get to take center stage for 4 chapters each (Miss Quilliam [Ch. 37-40], Mary [61-65, i.e. 5 chapters] and Jeoffrey Escreet [Ch. 87-90]) by red ones. Every quatrefoil in the design represents one of the 5 books in every one of the 5 parts of the novel. Every petal and every bud represents one of the 5 chapters of each book. If you start with the bud of each quatrefoil the sequence of narrators follows the color scheme exactly. The ambiguous tincture of the bud of the central quatrefoil corresponds to the missing pages in Mary’s diary which are at the heart of the central mystery in the novel. As Mr. Silverlight had already said: “In any novel I collaborated upon everything would be part of the whole design – down even to the disposition and numbering of the chapters.” (318)

posted by: Leon at June 4, 2006 9:35 AM


Brian, I respectfully disagree on that point. It is quoted somewhere(I’ll find out exactly where later) that “a young pretty girl in London need never want” (or something like that)…

posted by: Michael Levine at June 4, 2006 9:56 AM


And finally, in response to Brian’s latest post where he writes that “John will never get to the bottom of the mysteries, because any explanation will raise further questions and problems”:

Quite right! And this is also connected to the use of the figure of the quincunx. As a structuring device to bring order and design to Johnnie’s life story the quincunx pattern, from our perspective, fails: we do not get final answers and explanations for everything.

Throughout the novel the quincunx pattern, when we encounter it in garden designs, mantle pieces, mosaics etc., has the effect of disorienting and confusing Johnnie, because the center of the design does not hold (as in the pattern of tiles on the floor of the Old Hall “making black and white lozenges like endlessly proliferating and ramifying quincunxes […] whose centre changed as [Johnnie] advance[s].” [975]) or is actually absent (as in the cenral tree in the quincunx of trees at the Estate). So, rather than offering Johnnie the reassurance of ‘patterned-ness’ he so desperately wants to find in the events that he gets involved in, the quincunx figure stands metaphorically for the endless deferral of a final solution and the proliferation of possible meanings, stories and interpretations. As Johnnie reflects in the final chapter:

“How much more I knew and understood now than when I had last looked upon this place before our flight to London! And yet there was still so much that was mysterious. I had been told and had overheard so many stories since then – Mrs Belflower’s, Miss Quilliam’s, my mother’s, Mr Escreet’s, Miss Lydia’s – and had heard so many lies and inconsitencies and distortions and omissions.” (1015)

posted by: Leon at June 4, 2006 10:10 AM


Your find about Lizzie is the most intriguing one to be uncovered in a long time.
Lets estimate ages. Escreet, and the Umprhravilles are at marriageable age, lets say around 20, when Umphraville is killed. Escreet is now around 90 (at Marys death), so the toothless old hag could be about that age. No inconsistancy!!!

posted by: Michael Levine at June 4, 2006 10:15 AM


Michael…..Simply brilliant!!…

posted by: katie at June 4, 2006 10:25 AM


Thanks for doing the math, Michael! I hadn’t really taken the matter of age into account, but I’m glad your calculations (which are correct) support my thesis.

posted by: Leon at June 4, 2006 11:01 AM


From Leon:
“It seems likely she has contacted an agent of Clothier and has been paid for providing information concerning the whereabouts of Johnnie and Mary and the condition of the latter, since later Clothier and his agents know about Mary’s death and the circumstances of her demise (see, for instance, Hinxman’s taunts in one of the scenes in the asylum [674, US paperback edition]).”

I dont think that Lizzie conveyed this info to Clothier. After Marys demise, Johnnie had no other place to go, but to Bellringer. He told Henry of his Mothers death, but didnt directly reveal who he himself was, just “John”.
We know later, that Bellringer knows all too many people associated with Chancellery and the finance guys like Clothier, and later sells the fake will to Clothier. So I believe Bellringer could have been the one to convey that info to Clothier.
That assumes that Bellringer knew who Johnnie really was. Well he knew that he was on the same farm as Stephan, and its not implausable that Jemima, did have contact with her first husbands nephew, Henry Bellringer.
So my thesis is Lizzie did not contact anyone.
Bellringer deduced that Johnnie was Huffam from info supplied by Jemima.
And Bellringer conveyed this to Clothier.

posted by: Michael Levine at June 4, 2006 1:06 PM


From recollection, I think the quotation Michael is looking for are the words of one of the women employed in a clothing sweat-shop who wants to console Mary for being unsuccessful in looking for work. Though I don’t agree with his interpretation of Mr Parminter, I do agree with his most recent posting about Lizzie in Mitre Court. Two points I want to make to Leon. He says that nearly every character is trying to rob family members. Are we then to speculate that Mrs Popplestone and her son are in some way connected with other characters? Leon also makes excellent points about the quincunx pattern, but it should be pointed out that the pattern is wrecked. The chart at the end of the book shows not five, but six family lines. His explanation of the fivefold narrative (pardon the infelicity of the expression, gentle readers) does illuminate the structure of the book. The author himself wrote in his afterword that readers had failed to appreciate the 5x5x5=125 design of the chapters. A final thought in this posting. Has anybody given much thought to the quotation from Quintilian before the first chapter? Maybe it is more relevant than it looks. What a lot of postings have been written since my question of 29 May, and I was only angry at the stupid advertisements! Hope to read more soon.

posted by: Brian at June 4, 2006 3:37 PM


I read and reread chapter 29. Parminter gives Mary and Johnnie directions and condolances about being a governess, then offers her, his assistance. Mary cuts it off…and Parminter is seen by Johnnie, looking at them with “an expression…of mild amusement”…not surprise. Like a confident womanizer, who is not used to rejection, but feigns amusement to save face!!!

Tell me what else there could be to this, I dont see a thing!!!

posted by: Michael Levine at June 4, 2006 7:05 PM



Check out Chapter 61, 19th. of December!

Mary’s entry in the diary states
“You see, My Grandfather had died when Papa was only a few months old and then his mother died
when he was a small child…”.
This kills the theory about Lizzie unless we disregard the accuracy of Mary’s knowledge of past events!

posted by: Michael Levine at June 5, 2006 3:49 PM


I also do not think that Lizzie = Eliza. The reason for this is that Lizzie speaks slang (at least in the Dutch translation I read), which a lady like Eliza would probably not do.

posted by: Joris at June 6, 2006 5:20 AM


This quote also kills the theory that John Sr. is actually the child of Lydia and John Umpraville, unless Mary believes Lydia to be dead. Of course Mary could just as well think Eliza dead, too, I suppose. Was there ever a third possible mother for John Sr. in the running?

posted by: Sharon at June 6, 2006 8:32 AM


Ah, great! Discussion about my Lizzie-Eliza thesis! 🙂

In response to Michael: But of course we have to doubt what Mary lets Johnnie know about her family’s past! It makes perfect sense that she wouldn’t mention her grandmother lived on as a low-life prostitute after her grandfather’s death. That is, if she knows about that fact in the first place. For do you think John Huffam Sr. or any other family member would have told her the truth in the first place? We can safely assume that after James’ death from a venereal disease in impoverished circumstances, Eliza very soon became dead to her late husband’s (extended)family as well and had to take up her old profession.

In response to Joris: But Eliza Umphraville was not a ‘lady’ at all (except in the sense of ‘a lady of the night’ of course :)); that was precisely the problem Jeoffrey Huffam had with his son James’s marriage to her! Like I said, we know almost nothing about the antecedents of the Umphravilles (Eliza and her brother John), but we do know they were considered not to be of the proper ‘stock’ to marry into the Huffam and the Mompesson families. They were not gentry. And “wild young” Eliza was working as a “concubine” at that! Also, decades of life in the trade in the slums of London have not done much to improve Lizzie’s English either of course… 🙂

As for Michael’s suggestion that it was Bellringer rather than Lizzie who informed Clothier and his henchmen of (the circumstances of) Mary’s death: that is a certainly a possibility. But Lizzie’s behaviour in Mitre Court is undeniably very suspicious and does require an explanation: she asks Johnnie for money, which he hasn’t got either, and after learning that he and Mary have rich friends she hurries off only to returns later that night with a jug of gin for which she must have paid something… Well, perhaps Lizzie got lucky and found herself a customer, even though she must be in her eighties… I’m sure there was a market for that sort of thing 🙂

In response to Brian: Nah, I don’t think Mrs Popplestone and her son are somehow connected to other characters; they merely serve the plot function of speeding up the process of Johnnie and Mary’s ‘Verelendung’ right from the start at their arrival in London. They are just a case of ‘bad luck’, not part of some conspiracy or even of Clothier’s eloborate network of criminals and petty thieves. But feel free to link them up with either; I look forward to any theory underpinned by quotes and valid arguments. It is strange, by the way, that the Popplestones are not listed in the list of characters, whereas other ‘walk-on parts’ are: Lizzie, for one. And Mr. Parminter (who, I agree with Michael, is quite obviously meant to be a pimp trying to recruit Mary). And there is also Luke, the orphaned street urchin who helps Johnnie to some food in return for the ring Henrietta has given him. And speaking of Luke and his appearance in the list of characters: here we have a likely candidate for yet another seemingly stray character turning out to be somehow sharing a family connection with our hero, if you ask me… The fact that Palliser has Luke explicitly mentioning he does not know who his parents are, right before Johnnie hands him a ring worn by Henrietta’s mother Louisa (maiden name unkown, but starting with an ‘R’) would seem to point us in the direction of the Palphramond family. (Dramatic irony again, and the typically Victorian plot device of a poor orphan coming unwittingly in the possession of a gem that belonged to a dead or long-lost mother.)But I am completely in the dark as to how Luke and Henrietta can possibly be related… Brother and sister perhaps? Did the Mompessons only take in the female Palphramond descendant after their parents’ death and did they have the boy sent out for adoption? But why? And what concrete textual evidence do we have? But then again: I probably am way too paranoid a reader when it concerns such seemingly loose ends as a character who features in one scene only – a scene that has no narrative function in the plot at all… This may actually be one of those very few chance meetings in the novel.

posted by: Leon at June 6, 2006 10:40 AM


My thoughts on your suggestions:
1.”doubt what Mary lets Johnnie know about her family’s past” – I always believed that Mary was confiding that she was kept by Martin in the missing pages of the diary, so its unlikly that she considered her familys past, and not revealing it to Johnnie.
2.”That is, if she knows about that fact in the first place.” – true , she might be misinformed on this.
3. “Eliza very soon became dead to her late husband’s (extended)family ” – a definite possibility, after all Mary was a little girl at the time of her Grandmothers death, she could have been told anything.

posted by: Michael Levine at June 6, 2006 1:00 PM


My proposed thesis regarding Lydia and John Umphraville’s stolen child is that it was given to James and Eliza as the Huffam heir by Jeoffrey and the blackmailed Hugo.
Mary would still have believed Eliza was the mother of her father, so her knowledge of her Grandmothers death doesnt change anything about Lydias baby…( I think).

posted by: Michael Levine at June 6, 2006 1:07 PM


Three more questions:
1. The papers report that “Baronet Flees After Death of Cousin in Duel, later it states “remote connexion”. Chap 122, after Bellinger is killed by David Mompesson. How does anyone know that they were cousins? Do they mean the are related thru Bellringer’s Aunt Caroline’s first marriage to Maliphant???

2. Who did Barney Murder?

3. Why do so many people seem to know that Fortisquince was the Father of Johnnie. Martin seemed to try to keep that under wraps?

posted by: Michael Levine at June 6, 2006 1:18 PM


Correction regarding how Clothier knew that Mary died!!
ch59: Johnnie recounts his Mothers death to Sam, Barney and Nan.
ch66: Sanctious reveals to Clothier’s delight that the Mother but not the son is dead.

Of couse we knew that Barney is Sanctious’ main informant and criminal agent.

posted by: Michael Levine at June 6, 2006 6:42 PM


Turns out I was slightly wrong in my response to Joris: We DO learn something about the Umphravilles’ antecedents (from Lydia Mompesson). They are “an ancient land-owning family who had held property in Yorkshire for almost as long as the Huffams, and certainly longer than the Mompessons” (855, US paperback ed.).

So I was wrong in saying that they were not gentry. However, by the time John (did you realize he was “in holy orders”? [855]) and Eliza enter our story, the Umphravilles “had lost most of their land and all of their money, for the father of John and Eliza was a drunkard and a spendthrift who, having driven their mother to an early death, himself died while they were children” (855).

I was right in suggesting that Jeoffrey Huffam “believed that Eliza was not rich or well-born enough to be allied with his family,” though (856). And my point that after practically a lifetime on the streets of London Lizzie, born in poverty though descended from an ancient land-owning family, would not speak ‘lady-like’ still stands of course.

posted by: Leon at June 7, 2006 3:04 AM


In response to Michael’s latest post: whether it was Bellringer or Barney Digweed who informed Clothier of Mary’s death – and I’d say after your latest post Barney is the more likely option – you have to take into account that Clothier’s henchman Hinxman has told Peter Clothier “often and often enough” what has become of his beloved Mary: “Turned w—- and died mad” (676). (And for “w—-” of course read ‘whore’.)

Upon hearing these words Johnnie looks at Hinxman’s “jeering face” and “[can] not tell if he had spoken merely at hazard” (676). So, it looks like Clothier has been informed about the PRECISE circumstances of Mary’s demise. I haven’t checked yet, but I think it unlikely Johnnie told these exact circumstances to either Bellringer or Barney.

This means there must have been another link in the chain of information leading from someone in contact with Mary in the last weeks of her life to Clothier and via him to Hinxman… And you have to admit Lizzie fits that bill rather nicely. (She does not know whom she is betraying of course; as a regular of the Rookery at Mitre Court she merely knows that the owner of her ‘lodgings’ [whom we can infer is Clothier] is looking for a young woman and a boy with connections to people with money. And in Johnnie and Mary she meets a couple fitting that description perfectly…)

Unless of course you think that Hinxman is indeed making it up just to taunt Peter and just happens to be right on the spot.

posted by: Leon at June 7, 2006 3:39 AM


snip(“Mitre Court she merely knows that the owner of her ‘lodgings’ [whom we can infer is Clothier])

1. Ashburner, I believe is Clothiers rent collector.
2. Its very unclear how much detail Johnnie reveals to Nan and Barney in his “narrative” about his Mothers death(ch 59), but I doubt he mentioned her last occupation and her illness.
However I believe Hinxman was just tormenting Peter with his remarks, although by that time Clothier and thus Hinxman knew that she was dead. Lizzie wouldnt have known that she was a w—- either!
3. I still believe that its still a possibility that Lizzie is Eliza, and that her death was fabricated to the young Mary.

posted by: Michael Levine at June 7, 2006 12:48 PM


Quoting Leon above:
“We do not learn if he succeeded, I believe, but if he [Jeoffrey] didn’t (and remained a prospective Baronet only) Lizzie is simply boasting when she calls James the son of a baronet”

The Son of a Baronet, Lizzie may be referring to, could be Sir Hugo Mompesson, and not James. There are several references to that affair being used as blackmail to take Lydias baby!!!

posted by: Michael Levine at June 7, 2006 1:39 PM


It looks as if anybody who wants can post irrelevant matter on this site. Have readers and contributors noticed a similar problem elsewhere on the internet? To make a quick point to Leon about his posting of 7 June, it is clear that Hinxman is fond of taunting because he tells Peter that he had committed the murder with an axe, which is so far off the mark that even Peter can contradict him, and then Rookyard tries to say that using a sword made the crime even worse, a statement that is designed to cause even more pain to a man in torment. I think Mr Nolloth offers the view that the purpose of Dr Alabaster’s establishment is to drive people mad if they are not already so. There is plenty more I could write on other topics, but time does not allow.

posted by: Brian at June 15, 2006 2:38 PM


I hate to sound like a broken record, but I am still curious as to just whose money the Digweeds were counting at the table the night Johnnie woke up and saw them. Was someone in fact paying them for his keep, as he for a time suspected? And, if so, who? I can’t believe that scene was merely to fill empty space, seeing as how meaningful even the tiniest tidbits seem to be.

posted by: Sharon at June 16, 2006 8:18 AM


You have come back to a big unanswered question, and nobody so far has offered any suggestion. In addition, one might ask how John’s escape from Dr Alabaster’s establishment was organised, because it shows great ingenuity and worked even though John himself was not in on it. One approach might be to ask which parties had most to gain (or lose) from John’s confinement and probable death in the place, but then there is the problem of who had knowledge of the Digweeds, besides their immediate family.
Could I raise a completely different question? Can anybody offer a suggestion as to how Mrs Bissett was contacted before her appearance at the wedding of Henrietta and Henry Bellringer? It is clear she was duped by Bellringer’s forgery, but how did he know of her and her whereabouts?
I’m pleased the extraneous advertising has been removed. Somebody must be reading us.

posted by: Brian at June 17, 2006 4:50 AM


Somebody must be reading us, but few seem to be writing. Purely out of interest, how many contributors have an edition of the book with the inset maps from the 1813 Horwood map of London? As this is a novel with many imponderables, I have wondered why some editions have these interspersed and some have not. One thing is certain though: John Huffam clearly states that the map was published the year after his birth, which confirms he was born in 1812. If anyone has a suggestion about Sharon’s last question, I’d be interested to read it.

posted by: Brian at June 28, 2006 4:17 PM


Sharon and Brian,
I’ve reread the parts of the book after the rescue from the Asylum very carefully. Johnnie is very suspicious of the Digweed’s motives. He mentions the costs of his stay, maybe 5 or six times. Eventually he starts to believe that he was wrong, after his relationships with all the Digweeds show themselves to be most trustworthy. Mrs. Digweed treats him as a mother, because of her obligation to Mary in Melthorpe. George risks his life and freedom and gives up his life assisting Johnnie, and Joey, finally admits all his wrongdoing, and becomes Johnnies most trusted associate later, at Bellringers and Henriettas wedding.
There also doesnt seeem to be anyone who would have any contact with the Digweeds, except for Barney and they hate him since he cheated them.

All of the people out to do Johnnie harm, Clothiers, Mompessons, Sanctious, Fortiquince, Barbellian, Bellringer, and Barney, all have no connection to the Digweeds.

The money they were counting, could easily be and most likely was, the nightly take from the “shores”.
Im sorry, but I’m satisfied that there is nothing in this theory.

posted by: Michael Levine at June 28, 2006 7:34 PM


“Can anybody offer a suggestion as to how Mrs Bissett was contacted before her appearance at the wedding of Henrietta and Henry Bellringer? It is clear she was duped by Bellringer’s forgery, but how did he know of her and her whereabouts?”


Thomas or David Mompesson might have asked Barbellion, (their Lawyer) if he knew of a Chaperone(or whatever they call it) in the area. Barbellion already had Bisset on the payroll, earlier in the book!

posted by: Michael Levine at June 28, 2006 7:59 PM


I finished ‘The Quincunx’ on Sunday and have read this site with interest. I tend to believe everything I read, and so the last chapter came as a total shock. I had, however, worked out about Martin Fortisquince being the father. I also reckon he was the murderer of John senior. He was presumably in love with Mary, and wanted to pin the murder on Peter.

The minor question that is puzzling me concerns Pentecost. I agree that he is one of the author’s of the book (the ‘hidden sixth’ refered to in the author’s afterword). However, in Mary’s diary, it appears that he has died in debtors’ prison. Also, Mary changes her opinion of him, but without any explanation why. Does anyone have any theories?

Also, in the author’s afterword is a suggestion that John is a blood relation to the Digweeds, but I haven’t worked out how.

posted by: Ben Hardy at July 13, 2006 8:15 AM


A response to the last of Ben’s points. When John has a look at the old Huffam memorial in the churchyard, one of the families mentioned on it is Feverfew. George Digweed later tells John of a relative of his who was an excellent sculptor, and his name was Feverfew. Thus John and the Digweeds could well be distantly related. A comment on the ‘hidden sixth’ – my understanding was that it refers to the illegitimate line through Escreet and Fortisquince that breaks the quincunx pattern, but the quincunx pattern does underly the ‘authorship’ of the chapters, so I would not dismiss his notion. If Ben gives the novel another read, he will probably modify some of his original impressions. For instance, I doubt if many of those contributing to this discussion would select Fortisquince as the likeliest murderer of John Huffam senior, though a case could be made out. This book is not one to be read just once, but it is interesting to hear what the first time reader thinks. I’ve mulled over many of the problems in its plot and construction without coming to any definite conclusion, other than that solutions will raise further difficulties, and that, like John himself, the reader will never get to the bottom of it.

posted by: Brian at July 13, 2006 7:29 PM


In the shower this morning, I had a thought about who is paying the Digweeds to keep John (if anyone). Could it be Jemima? It is in her interests that Silas dies before John. She has close connections to Sancious, who has close connections to Barney, who has close connections to the Digweeds. Therefore, she will want to see John rescued from the asylum, and Sancious will know that John has gone to the asylum, because Clothier will have told him.

The rescue from the asylum is one of the few events that seems like a genuine coincidence. Not in the rescue per se, but the details. Isn’t it a little convenient that Mrs. Digweed happens to be skilled at laying corpses out and is employed at exactly the same time that Peter Clothier has died? Or am I missing something.

I also have a theory about Mr. Parminter, who I bookmarked when reading, thinking “He will be important later on”. In Palliser’s notes at the end, he comments that the book was about twice its published length on first draft. Perhaps Parminter did have a role to play in the excluded narrative, and had to be sacrificed in the final version. The character had to be kept in though, as John later takes his name to hire a room. Otherwise, the meeting strikes of a false significance. I know this is a fairly rubbish explanation, but is the best I can come up with.

posted by: Ben Hardy at July 14, 2006 4:02 AM


If I may bring up another thread . . .
One of the things that comes up again and again in the novel in “hazard”. Along those lines, there are references to playing only with loaded dice (though a different term is used for that) The fortune was originally lost in a game by that name. Mary’s mother tells her son that she chose a particular surname at hazard. I elieve there may have been other such references.

Another pattern: the woman pregnant with one man’s child marrying another one that she does not get to live with. What happened to Mary reoccurs in Henrietta’s case, which could be a reason why John drops her (in addition to the Victorian idea of not being able to love a woman who was not pure). She says, “He seduced me,” which could refer to Henry, but also to David. He’s the one she seems most attached to. But if she already knew she was pregnant, she may have had reasons of her own to marry Henry than his apparent (and very sudden) feeling for her.

That is a parallel to Mary and Peter. Perhaps old Clothier is right that she duped him, for she could not marry the father her child (Martin had already married Jemima). And of course that would explain why Clothier is so ruthless about the boy listed as his own grandson.

On a sep. issue: I can’t grasp what motive Sanctious would have besides money. He seems to have no family vendetta issue like the other characters do.

posted by: Ariella at July 14, 2006 2:32 PM


Another observation: the novel has some hints of anti-Semitisim, which is, admittedly consistent with its Dickensian orientation. The Jews appear as the stereotyped pawnbrokers.
I recall one sentence that suggests that the arch-villain of the novel — Silas Clothier — is of Jewish extraction. There was a reference to a name change from Abraham (or some derivative of that name — I don’t have the novel in front of me).

posted by: Ariella at July 14, 2006 2:45 PM


Thank you to Ben for the suggestion about who is paying the Digweeds for John’s keep. It seems improbable to me that the Digweeds have much money to live on, because the toshing business seems to be precarious. And another thank you for the suggestion about Mr Parminter, who makes a fleeting appearance and yet appears in the list of characters at the back. If he is simply trying to pick Mary up as a prostitute, it seems strange that he is listed. In regard to Ariella’s last point, there is no doubt at all that Silas Clothier is Jewish. Both Mr Sancious and Mr Escreet make it clear, and the former takes Clothier aback by remarking on his ‘Christian fortitude’. But I don’t see any anti-Semitism in the novel, nor can I see Clothier as the arch-villain, because it is clear that he does believe he has some claim to the estate, and that he has been cheated. He is by no means the only one to want John Huffam dead.

posted by: Brian at July 14, 2006 7:16 PM


Ive mentioned several times about the circumstantial evidence that leads me to believe that Lydia is John Huffam Sr’s. real Mother and that Umphraville was the father, before he was killed by Escreet…..
Here is something new I found!
In chapter 99, Lydia offers Johnnie some money to assist with his aspirations with laying the suppressed will to the courts…
she says over Johnnie’s objections after he says “I cannot accept it”, she responds “Yes you can, for Henrietta’s sake, if not your own. And for mine and John Umphravilles’s”.
Umphraville’s ancient name is pulled out of the air once again!!

I am more and more convinced that she is assisting John Huffams Sr and Jr, with reclaiming their estate, because she is Huffam’s Mother, and not simply for fairness and discord with the Mompessons!

posted by: Michael Levine at July 16, 2006 9:14 PM


Michael’s view has something to recommend it, as it would fit in well with the other strands of the novel. If John Umphraville is the true father of John Huffam Snr, then he is the true great-grandfather of John Huffam Jnr, and therefore in the duel at Hougham the latter’s great-grandfather was killed by his grandfather, which most would agree Mr Escreet to be. It would tie up well if we knew Mr Escreet to be the murderer of John Huffam Snr, but the mystery of that death is probably the biggest problem in understanding the book. Incidentally, how does John Jnr know the exact date of the 1770 will which he wishes to establish? He has certainly never seen it, and cannot be absolutely certain that it is still in existence.

posted by: Brian at July 17, 2006 2:28 PM


Hi Brian,
We know that Johnnie comes to the conclusion that Escreet killed Huffam Sr. Johnnie says in chapter 122 after Escreet kills Sanctious…”..for by his action Escreet had surely confessed to the murder( of Huffam) in a manner more impossible to retract than any words”.

Johnnie also says in the last chapter when reflecting on his relationship with Henrietta…
“…if I was not the son of a man who had committed murder (Peter Clothier)…..then I was at least the grandson of one (Escreet)”
Im convinced that all the murders were done by Escreet!!!

posted by: Michael Levine at July 19, 2006 9:24 PM


Escreet probably was the murderer, but he denies it at a time when lying will not do him any good, and Mr Nolloth seems to incline to the view that it might have been committed by somebody from outside the house. John’s conclusions are not always the only ones that can be reached, as the author himself remarked in his Afterword. It is one of the attractions of the novel that some of the neat conclusions can be questioned. Michael’s last quotation is open to more than one interpretation, depending on which names one fits into (Michael’s) brackets.

posted by: Brian at July 20, 2006 2:03 PM


A quincunx was also a very popular machine in the time the novel is describing: see wikipedia:

For Sir Francis Galton’s machine for demonstrating the normal distribution named “quincunx”, see bean machine.

This machine gives a mathematical explanation on patterns or chance. A beam may go left or right 50% chance. So with the novel there are more solutions to solve the murderers…

Design or chance is also a recurring theme in the book!!!

posted by: Ton at August 5, 2006 3:11 PM


To add to the last posting, the observations made are borne out by the quotation from Quintilian before the first chapter, which says that whichever way you look at a quincunx, it is the right way up.

posted by: Brian at August 8, 2006 2:10 PM


A new enquirer arrives!

The descent of Johnnie from Escreet via Martin is persuasive. I would also like to think that John Huffam is the son of Lydia and Umphraville, because then every one of Johnnie’s male forbears would than also be illegitimate. That is a delightfully ironic comment on Victorian fiction. But the argument/evidence for this is surely thin: can someone summarise what I have missed here.

Escreeet is indeed central to the story, being the pivot of much birth. death and deceipt. His murder of John Huffam (convincingly mirrored, despite his denials, in the murder of Sancious) follows precisely the pattern of his murder of Umphraville.

There is, however, one aspect of that earlier murder that I cannot follow. Lydia must have known Escreet well – they are about the same age and lived in the same place. But on p1010 (UK edition) she says: “I saw [the killer of Umpraville’s] face full in the moonlight. I did not recognize him. I am sure I would have known him if I had ever seen him ….. most of all I was struck by the expression. I have never forgotten it: such a terrible picture of suffering on such a young face.” What is all that about? And why the emphasis on the suffering?

posted by: Peter at August 8, 2006 3:26 PM


Just got back from two weeks in Brittany having galloped breathlessly through the Quincunx, swept away by the breadth of the detail, plot density and all the other reasons that are evidenced by the compelling posts above. I’m going to re-read the darned thing, beginning next week, and this time pay attention! In the meantime, due to my passion for geometric shapes and their relevance to everyday lives, I’d like to make a suggestion about the complex web of relationships between almost all of the characters in the book. The shape of a quincunx allows it to be symmetrical and ‘true’ whichever way up you view it – but is there a name for a 3D quincunx? That is, a cube with eight dots at the corners with a central point? In the accursed ‘Afterword’ (which I’m beginning to regret ever having read now!) the author refers to the attraction of some kind of ’empty centre’, like the burnt pages of Mary’s journal. With so many apparent coincidences, and with so many ways of viewing the central issue, I suspect that a 3D quincunx would be a helpful way of analysing the plot. One could place any of the major themes in the book at the very centre and rotate away to one’s heart’s content – themes such as trust, hazard, parentage, charity, and so on. I’ve tried not to forget that the author is playing with us throughout the entire piece – abiding by the conventions of the Victorian novel (where coincidence would be seen as Divine Providence and much enjoyed by the audience) while teasing us with the flavours of almost-incomplete and half-hinted modern prose. I would love to imagine holding a transparent cube, spinning it in my hands, reading the central point differently through each of the six faces; where one face would be through a traditional Victorian glass and yet another through a modern glaze; and yet others through a mix of perspectives.

Many thanks for all the provocative thoughts, very helpful for first-time readers like myself. I shall follow with interest…

posted by: Nick at August 20, 2006 1:09 PM


Interesting debate.

It seems to me that Martin Fortisquince as John’s father is as near certain as anything is in this novel. Here’s another piece of textual evidence that I don’t think has yet been cited in this discussion. Up until the point of the missing pages in Mary’s account, she refers to Fortisquince as ‘Uncle Martin’. After the missing pages, presumably containing Mary’s confession regarding John’s father, Fortisquince is referred to by Mary simply as ‘Martin’. No more ‘Uncle’.

Also, regarding the theory of Escreet as Martin Fortisquince’s father – Lydia says, of Martin Fortisquince’s mother: ‘She and her husband were estranged a few months after the events I am speaking of and that is when she went to Melthorpe. It was suspected that she knew something of the stanger (ie Escreet). In short, that…And she believed the statue saved his life. But never mind.’

What is Lydia about to say when she stops herself? That Fortisquince’s mother and Escreet were having/had had an affair?

posted by: Pheasant at August 29, 2006 9:21 AM


I’m glad the discussion is still going, it’s a fascinating puzzle of a book.

I agree that Escreet is Martin’s father and that Martin is Johnnie’s father, although it’s not quite clear when Johnnie was conceived. Possibly a detailed timeline of the events in the book would make that clearer – has anyone constructed one?

The main mystery to me is who killed Mary’s father. The events of the night of the murder are described by
Martin (as reported second-hand in Mary’s journal)
Peter (as reported second-hand by Nolloth)
Peter (directly to Johnnie)
Jemima (overheard by Johnnie)
Escreet (or at least he comments on Jemima’s description)

The accounts vary somewhat, but what seems clear is that Peter received the package from Escreet, and at that point the blood-soaked money must have been in the package. This must mean that Mary’s father was already dead, Escreet knew it, and was trying to frame Peter.

But Escreet claims to Jemima that he didn’t commit the murder, and Jemima admits to Johnnie that she was only guessing about what happened.
She says something like “bluntly, I never believed that your father was the murderer”, and I can only make sense of “bluntly” if she is referring to Martin. She saw Peter and knows he didn’t do it, but she couldn’t see what Martin and Escreet were doing.

I tend to believe that Escreet didn’t (directly) commit the murder, but I think he must have planned it. He payed someone (Barney?) to do it, but was double-crossed and attacked as well by the murderer, who then took the will back to the Mompessons. Because otherwise, I can’t see why Escreet would have wanted the will to leave his possession (“where it belongs”).

Another question I have is why Martin married Jemima? Was it simply that she wanted to marry a lawyer with some means, in order to be able to pursue her own interest in the Chancery case?

posted by: Chris at August 29, 2006 1:39 PM


John was born Feb7, 1812 same as Dickens…the year is known because of Advowsons entry on the Baptism certificate about the victory by Lord Wellsley!
See notes above!

posted by: Michael Levine at August 31, 2006 4:12 PM


I agree wholeheartedly with Chris that the murder of John Huffam senior is the biggest mystery in the book. The notion that it was planned by Escreet and carried out by Barney is plausible, and I think Escreet’s denial of having committed the deed when he had nothing much to lose by admitting it might be accepted as true. As to when John junior was conceived, I should be inclined to go for the evening when Martin Fortisquince came to the Blue Dragon from London to see her with tidings of Peter. If he seduced her then it would be mirrored well by the later seduction of Henrietta by Henry Bellringer in the very same room. The novel abounds with repetitions. The matter of a timeline is a tricky one because there are very few definite dates in the narrative, and many incomplete ones. If you want a guess, John was born in 1812 and the novel ends in 1832 or 1833. For those who read French, there is a detailed, and in my view erroneous timechart on and a huge amount of discussion and dissection of the plot. Some of the material on the site is based on false assumptions, one of them being that John was born in 1813. The arguments put forward for this view cite John’s small stature and also that Sir George Rose’s Act establishing procedures for registration of births was passed in 1812 and did not come into force till 1813. The argument for 1812 is much stronger, as mentioned by Michael Levine and myself.

posted by: Brian at September 2, 2006 4:02 PM


Brian – regarding Martin’s fatherhood of Jonnnie (forgive me for being well behind in the detailed discussion) something jumped out at me towards the end. Bottom of page 1083 (end of third para in Chapter 111) he expresses his frustration that ‘English mercantile life was a vast system of uncles, nephews, friends and neighbours from which I was excluded.’ I understand now that due to his rather vague paternity, he would prefer to use ‘uncles and nephews’ as his primary reference to family ties, when ‘father and son’ would have been more natural. Perhaps only a fragment of evidence but I’m warming to the idea of Martin being his father. It’s not entirely clear when Peter and Mary could have conceived anyway, is it? Chris – could Martin have sought to cover the indignity of his liaison with Mary by marrying Jemima and distancing himself from the whole episode? His conscience wouldn’t let him rest, so he continued to support Mary, as catalogued through the early part of the text.

It’s a pain having to try to recall details, without a full re-reading – isn’t it?

posted by: Nick at September 2, 2006 4:51 PM


I’m glad to see we’re getting some discussion going!
On the subject of Johnnie’s conception, I’ve been re-reading Mary’s journal account of what happened.
Mary states that her marriage was on May 05, and given that Johnnie was born on Feb 07 of the following year, I think that rules out any affair between Martin and Mary before the wedding leading to the conception.
Also, I don’t think Martin seduced her in Hertford – her description of that night doesn’t leave any time for it, and in any case when she wrote this passage in the journal she’d already written about how Johnnie was conceived (in the pages she later ripped out), so there was no need to try and conceal it here.
I think it must have happened when Martin set her up in the cottage in Melthorpe, where she says “… he escorted me there and made me mistress of the house … and we gave out that I had been recently widowed and that Martin was my late husband’s Father. Thank heavens I have already told you about all of this and need not go into it again”

I think this implies that Martin was living there with Mary, otherwise why have to explain that Martin was “my late husband’s Father”?

Brian: I think you are mistaken about Henry Bellringer seducing Henrietta at Hertford. The way I read it, Henrietta had already had an affair with David Mompesson, and it’s his child she bears, not Henry’s. There is various textual evidence for this, e.g. Henrietta says (about Henry) “He said that David’s engagement showed how little he cared!”, which Johnnie misunderstands. And also, she goes to live in Calais in the end, where David went into exile.

posted by: Chris at September 3, 2006 6:10 AM


There is annoying lack of dates and ages ( of people) in this novel. I kept guessing as to the age of the principal characters when I first read this book. On the subsequent reading I am trying to pay more attention to this and again, it seems as though, the lack of this information is deliberatem and yet there are some clues to figuring ages and dates out only if you are paying very close attention.
I believe Johnnie to be 5 years old at the start of the novel, Mary 22 ?? Any thoughts?

posted by: deb at September 18, 2006 11:46 PM


deb, just look at the diary entries, and the note above on his birthdate…Feb 7, 1812

posted by: Michael Levine at September 24, 2006 10:59 AM


In response to Deb’s observations of 18 September, I’d say that there are a few clues sprinkled about, but they need research. Ch 9, p 89 (U.K. paperback edition 1990) mentions sovereigns and half-sovereigns, reintroduced in 1817, which might indicate that the meeting with Mr Barbellion in the churchyard was on 20 December 1819, and that Martin Fortisquince died the previous day. Mary’s diary entry reveals that the Digweeds came to Melthorpe on 24 December 1822, when John and Joey were ten. From my reading of the text, I’d have to say there are a few places where references to events don’t seem to match up. I could certainly give you a few from my latest reading of the novel, but out of courtesy I’d have to ask whether you want page numbers from the U.K. 1990 paperback edition (£8.99) or the U.S. 1990 hardback edition ($25). I know there is also a U.K. hardback and there may well be a U.S. paperback. My guess is that John is five and Mary is in her mid-to-late twenties at the start.

posted by: Brian at October 22, 2006 4:32 PM


Just a quick note to say that after reading some of the previous postings I have discovered that there is a U.S. paperback edition and that the page numbers do not correspond to the U.K. one.

posted by: Brian at October 22, 2006 4:36 PM


Yes please, Brian! I’d certainly be interested in your views on references to real-world events that do not match the timeline of the fictional world of the novel. And what about [who was it]’s suggestion on this forum that Johnnie wasn’t born in 1812 but in 1813 (this had something to do with Sir George Rose’s Act not being passed until late 1812, or something like that…)?

There is indeed a US paperback edition (1990, Ballantine; compact and very cheap), but I think the UK paperback edition (1990, Penguin; with the Afterword) is the one most widely used.

posted by: Leon at October 24, 2006 5:20 AM


In response to Leon’s posting of 24 October, I did not want to give the impression that real-world events do not match the events in the novel; on the contrary, the historical background seems very well researched indeed. What I meant was that there are occasions when what is written is at odds with other parts of the text. I’ll cite instances by chapter number, then U.K. paperback page, and then U.S. hardback page.
Ch.11/97/65 – the very first words are in conflict with the very end of ch.10, which must have been at least three months previous, and not two, Lady Day being 25 March.
Ch.11/99/67 – though it is only a few days after Lady Day and still March, Sukey refers to the fetch in the burying-ground ‘the Christmas a-fore last’, or fifteen months previously, and then refers to ‘this Christmas jist gone by’.
Ch.18/132/87 – Mrs Digweed says that she and Joey started their journey from Stoniton on the day previously, but Mary expresses surprise that they should have covered twenty miles in one day.
Ch.25/195/127 – The Farmer takes Mary and John north from Sutton Valancy to Gainsborough, which is about 145 miles from London, but the milestone on the turnpike near Hougham, which must be a good distance south of Gainsborough, shows the distance to London as 151. I’d like to hear any opinions as to where Stoniton and Sutton Valancy are.
The instances cited are all from the first part, the Huffams. When I’ve worked through the Mompessons, I’ll add a few more.

posted by: Brian at October 26, 2006 5:25 PM


Just in case anybody is still reading this, I am now adding to the discrepancies noted on 26 October. All are from part two, the Mompessons.
Ch 27/212/140 – the Golden Cross was a famous coaching inn, mentioned by Dickens, but it did not serve routes to the North of England.
Ch 32/256/171 – Smithfield is quite a distance from Regent Street for a hackney-coach to travel. How long would it have taken to go so far?
Ch 32/270/179 – how does John have the section of the map showing Bethnal Green when he has previously stated that he took only the central area from his box before the Popplestones stole John and Mary’s property?
Ch 36/341/226 – Mary drinks Cream o’ the Valley, but earlier the gin was termed the Out-and-Outer. Maybe the latter is a colloquial term for the former.
Ch 41/404/266 – Mr Acehand is guilty of some exaggeration when he speaks of seeing Peter Clothier with his father ‘nigh on twenty years agone’. The year is 1825.
Ch 42/426/278 – to run from Miss Quilliam’s in Orchard Street to Giltspur Street is an amazing achievement.
Ch 44/464/304 – Stephen says that Mrs Fortisquince came to see him in Canterbury the previous Christmas, but must mean the one before that, because it is now 30 July 1825, and John and Mary visited Golden Square on 26 December 1823 to be told Mrs Fortisquince had gone to Canterbury.
Ch 48/508/333 – Sir George Rose’s Act did not come into force until 1813, and so there would have been no separate register. Obviously this touches on the question of John’s date of birth, which has been discussed previously.

posted by: Brian at November 13, 2006 12:37 PM


I am still reading this, Brian!

In response to Brian’s two previous posts: I have also been struck by the temporal inconsistencies in Johnnie’s narrative, particularly those having to do with the ‘confused Christmas’ in the first part of the novel that he notes. Johnnie’s citation of Sukey’s reference to the meeting with Mr Barbellion in the graveyard as having occurred the Christmas “a-fore last” (Ch 11, 87/99), while Johnnie’s narrative is very clear that this must be last Christmas, is indeed puzzling. (References here and below to Chapter number, US pocket edition issued by Ballantine [NOT their paperback edition]/UK paperback edition)

Gathering from the hints Johnnie drops us, I think Brian in his post of October 22 is correct in dating the meeting with Barbellion as 20 December. In Ch. 7 Johnnie tells us of “Late one morning a few days before Christmas” (Ch 7, 69/ 79) when Mrs Belflower tells him the final part of her story of how (in Johnnie’s words) “the Mompessons stole the land from the Huffam family by deceit” (Ch 7, 70/79) while he helps her to prepare the Christmas pudding. In Ch. 8 and 9, which describe the afternoon of the same day, we learn the exact date: it is the eve of St. Thomas’s day, i.e. 20 December (Ch 8 74/84; Ch 9, 77/87). (St. Thomas the Apostle’s feast day was 21 December until the revision of the General Roman Calendar of 1969, when it was officially changed to July 3.)

However, the dates later supplied by Mary in her journal (Ch 61, first relation, 542/625-626) are inconsistent with Johnnie’s account of the events. Mary dates the quarrel she has with Johnnie after Barbellion’s visit to the cottage not on December 20 (as Johnnie would have it), but on December 18. And it is on the morning of December 19 (and not on the morning of 21 December, as Johnnie’s account states) that she learns of Martin Fortisquince’s death. (So, more internal inconsistencies there… Any thoughts on their significance, anyone, assuming they are not mistakes on the part of Palliser?)

But now for the more important matter of the years in which these events from Johnnie’s early childhood in Melthorpe take place. Throughout Johnnie’s narrative we never know for sure what year it is (or how old he is, for that matter). It is not until we learn the contents of Mary’s journal that we can establish dates and years to certain events. The very first two entries fix the year of Barbellion’s visit as 1819 (Ch 61, 542/625).

Let’s follow Mary in ascribing Barbellion’s visit to 1819 and track the events as described in Johnnie’s narrative from that moment (Ch 7-10) up to that other important visit to the Mellamphy household around Christmas-time, that of Maggie and Joey Digweed (Ch 18-19):

• In Ch. 7 Johnnie explicitly lets us know that the pudding he assists Mrs Belflower in making a few days before Christmas 1819 is intended “not, of course, for that festival but for the following year”. He adds in parentheses that “In fact, we were destined for the first time in my life to eat that pudding without her.” (Ch 7, 69/79) This means that next year’s Christmas will be the first one without Mrs Belflower, which, according to the year of 1819 given in Mary’s journal must be 1820.
• Mrs Belflower leaves the household on 25 March 1820, and it must therefore be the Christmas of 1820 that Johnnie describes briefly in Ch. 18. as the “bleak first Christmas without Mrs Belflower’s cheerful good-nature and excellent fare” (Ch 18, 110/126).
• Meanwhile, “a few weeks after Mrs Belflower had gone” (Ch 17, 107/122), i.e. sometime in April 1820, Mary has purchased shares in the stock of the Consolidated Metropolitan Building Company on the advice of Mr Sancious. From Mary’s diary we learn the exact date: April 12 (Ch 61, second relation, 546/629).
• “In the late Spring of the new year” following the Christmas Johnnie describes in Ch. 18 as the first without Mrs Belflower – i.e. in Spring 1821 – Mr Sancious writes to Mary that there will be “a slight delay in the completion of the contract” (Ch 18, 110/126). Johnnie remarks that the delay turns out to be more than slight for “the months passed without Mr Sancious finding himself able to give my mother a firm date by which a return could be expected” even though “the following Spring” – i.e. Spring 1822 – will mark the end of the two years his mother’s investment was originally to have matured (Ch 18, 110/126). This is consistent with the earlier established year of 1820.
• The Summer of 1821 is uneventful, save for Johnnie’s fight with the village boys who are torturing a cat (Ch 18, 110-111/127-128).
• There is no news from Mr Sancious until a letter arrives on 24 December 1821 (Ch 18, 112/129)…
• … and it is on that very same day in Johnnie’s account that the Digweeds find shelter in the cottage (Ch 18, 113/130).

Ergo: the Christmas of the Digweed’s visit is, in Johnnie’s version of events, the second Christmas without Mrs Belflower.

Mary, however, records the arrival of the Digweeds as taking place at “Christmas-day, 1822” (Ch 61, 549/626), i.e. one year later than Johnnie. This, then, would be not the second, but the third Belflower-less Christmas – if, by Mary’s own account, we take the first one to be that of 1820 (since Mary dates the Fortisquince’s death as 1819). In Mary’s journal there are three years between Barbellion’s visit and Fortisquince’s death on the one hand and the ‘chance’ meeting with the Digweeds on the other. In Johnnie’s version these events are separated by just two years. This means that there would appear to be a whole year missing in Johnnie’s account of his early life (if we take Mary’s journal to be correct, that is)!

This leaves us with the following questions:
• Could Palliser really have been this sloppy? Or should we read Sukey’s words in Ch. 11 – “Do you mind that fetch as we seen in the buryin’-ground the Christmas a-fore last” (Ch 11, 87/99) – as an accidental slip of Johnnie’s pen deliberately ‘planted’ by Palliser in a rather obvious way to alert us that something is wrong in Johnnie’s apparently straightforward narrative? (The second option seems the more interesting and attractive one, of course…)
• If so, is Johnnie confused himself or is he deliberately confusing us? If he is deliberately confusing us, what can he be trying to cover up? It seems obvious (to me at least) that this has some bearing on the question of Johnnie’s real year of birth, as discussed earlier and as touched upon by Brian in his latest post. Has Johnnie been lied to about his year of birth all his early life by Mary? Is the entry in Advowson’s register deliberately post-dated or ante-dated by year? Why would Johnnie want to appear a year younger than he in fact is? (I’ll try and share my thoughts on this subject with you in one of my next posts.)
• Should we trust Mary’s journal as far as the dates of her entries are concerned, as I have done here? If not, for what reason should she post- or ante-date entries in a journal meant for Johnnie to read?

And then there is the other ‘confused Christmas’ noted by Brian in his post of 12 November: Stephen Bellringer remarks (according to Johnnie) that Jemima Fortisquince visited him (Stephen) in Canterbury “at Christmas last year” (Ch. 44, 404/464), which by Johnnie’s own account must mean the second Christmas he (Johnnie) and Mary spent in London; i.e. the one they passed in the company of Helen Quilliam (Ch. 36, 319/365). Jemima’s journey to Canterbury, however, is dated by Johnny as having occurred “a few days before” his and Mary’s first Christmas in London (Ch. 32, 215/246). According to Mary’s journal the first visit to Jemima after the arrival in London takes place on September 22 of what must be 1823 (Ch 63, 558/643); the second visit around Christmas-time when Mary and Johnnie find Jemima absent since she is visiting Stephen in Canterbury is not recorded in the journal, but must have occurred in the same year, if we go by Johnnie’s account.

Any thoughts on what to make of this inconsistency, anyone?

posted by: Leon at November 14, 2006 10:32 AM


Thanks to Leon for his detailed response to my postings. The matter of the two confused Christmases is possibly even obscurer than we might think. To take the case of Sukey first, if her father died on Norfolk Island, then news would be more likely to take fifteen months than three to travel. In the case of Stephen, considering the harsh conditions of the Quigg’s establishment, would he have lived over a year? What Sukey and Stephen say is contrary to other details of the narrative but is nevertheless inherently more plausible.
Despite what I have written so far, I believe the non-chronological discrepancies are more telling than the chronological ones, and when I have posted my notes on part three, the Clothiers, you may see why. This is the first time I have read the novel noting down discrepancies as I have spotted them but my vague recollection is that they occur throughout, and it is hard to believe that they are due to negligence.
On the topic of the year of birth of John Huffam, last year I posted a comment on a French site on which the consensus seemed to be that John was born in 1813. I stated the case for 1812, and was treated to a withering riposte. But what was most interesting was that somebody had written to the author on that particular topic and had received a reply in English seeming to express surprise that the question was raised. Quite likely the French readers were unaware of the date of birth of Charles Dickens. Unfortunately I cannot find any trace of the site now. There is another French site which is informative, but has lost an interesting timeline which related events in the novel to calendar years.
Any comments on any of the above will be appreciated, and I hope to post my notes on part three soon.

posted by: Brian at November 15, 2006 8:35 AM


Just a quick response to keep the conversation going:

I never even checked where exactly Norfolk Island is (I have only not being British as an excuse for this lacuna in my geographical knowledge; I was naively thinking of an island near the Norfolk coast.) Given its location in the Pacific Ocean fifteen months indeed seems a more plausible period of time for news of her father’s death to reach Sukey in Melthorpe than a mere three. This, of course, only strengthens the case of a missing year in Johnnie’s narrative.

Looking forward to your comments on the non-chronological discrepancies, Brian, and I hope that by non-chronological you mean the geographical ones in particular. Let’s assume none of the discrepancies are due to negligence or slip-ups, but, by contrast, are deliberate hints at a real but secret history behind Johnnie’s story.

Concerning Johnnie’s year of birth: if Johnnie is born in 1812 (as Advowson’s reference to Wellesly’s capture of Cuidad Roderique suggests [Ch 48, 440/…], as do the other references to real-world events – the Radcliffe Highway murders of 1811 [Ch 2, 19/20; Ch 64, 575/663, the Great Comet of 1811 [Ch 92, 764/885]) then why should his baptism be recorded by Advowson as the very first entry in a new, separate register, according to Sir George Rose’s Act, which came into force in January 1813? Are we absolutely sure the Act came into force in 1813, as a previous contributor to this forum has claimed?

The only French site that I am able to find is at Its author, too, is convinced Johnnie was born in 1813 even though he is aware of Charles Dickens’ date of birth. There is also an interesting timeline, which begs some questions.

posted by: Leon at November 15, 2006 2:03 PM


As promised earlier this week, here is list of apparent discrepancies from part three, The Clothiers. First of all, I’d like to confirm that the legislation about parochial registers was definitely passed in 1812, and I doubt if it could have applied to February of that year. As before, the references are to chapter/ U.K. paperback/ U.S. hardback.
Ch 52/556/367 – the cart would only have needed to travel a very short distance indeed from Mitre Court to Holborn. The narrative implies a journey of some length, whereas it would have been possible to walk from Mitre Court to the burial ground in under five minutes. Some months ago I enquired generally whether other editions of the novel besides the U.K. paperback contain the inset maps, because I think they have relevance. A glance at the map for Holborn will show what I mean. Incidentally, Mitre Court still exists and is now called Ely Court.
52/560/369 – did John really have fourpence halfpenny left? Not by my reckoning!
53/562/370 – if John was going from Mitre Court to Coleman Street, why should he make his way through Soho, which is well over a mile in the opposite direction? But was it Coleman Street in any case? John never spoke to Miss Quilliam at Coleman Street, but at Gough Square. But that is very close to Mitre Court, and certainly would not have required a walk through Soho. To my mind, this is the biggest and most blatant discrepancy so far.
54/563/371 – Fig Tree Court was actually situated in the Inner Temple and not in Barnard’s Inn, according to the index of the 1813 map. There was another one at the Barbican, but I don’t think that one relevant. These three errors about places so close together must be significant, but what inferences can be drawn?
55/571/376 – as mentioned before in postings, the date of Mary’s first relation, 18 December, appears to be slightly wrong.
61/625/411 – same as last note.
63/649/426 – Mary and Peter’s wedding day was 5 May 1811 and was celebrated in a church. But could a church wedding have been on a Sunday, as this date was?
68/699/459 – Barney’s gang’s robbery at the gaming hell took place on 17 December, if we allow for it being brought forward a week in order to forestall Pulvertaft. Therefore John made his escape early on 18 December. But the porter at Barnard’s Inn tells John that the day is a Thursday, which, to my reckoning, makes the date Thursday 22 December 1825. The narrative doesn’t indicate that four days had elapsed.
69/703/461 – Joey asks John if he has been sleeping out ‘these last few nights’. If it is Christmas Eve, where have the days gone in John’s account? Joey has been trailing him all the time.
70/712/467 – there is no mention of John using the surname Cavander, nor any indication as to when he might have needed it as an alias.
70/714/468 – if Mary died on 12 November, is it likely that her corpse would have collected and buried the next day when 13 November 1825 was a Sunday? Mr Limpenny says that it is the regular burying day. Unless the year is not 1825, there must be something amiss here.
70/724/474 – Mr Gildersleeve says that John and Mrs Fortisquince were introduced ‘some three years ago’, not very accurately if the date is now January 1826, because they met in September 1823, just after John and his mother arrived in London. But this may be an instance of vagueness on the lawyer’s part.
72/734/481 – ‘those terrible nights at Mitre Court a few months before’ is inaccurate because it is now January and John’s stay at Mitre Court was in November.
A possible reason for some of the inconsistencies in John’s account is hinted at in 59/599/394 where his reference to the present occupier of the gang’s house shows that he is writing a good few years after the events.

posted by: Brian at November 16, 2006 4:56 PM


There are more comments I have to offer in addition to what I posted previously, but it doesn’t look as if this site is being read by anybody except Leon. The recent irrelevancies don’t inspire confidence either.

posted by: Brian at November 22, 2006 6:13 PM


Yeah, where did everybody go? I’ll post something more substantial very soon, Brian.

posted by: Leon at November 24, 2006 2:42 PM


To my knowledge all editions and translations of the novel have the maps inserted at the start of each part showing locations relevant to the narrative for the chapters to come. The maps, then, do not just play a part in Johnnie’s narrative; they are part of the formal structuring of the text in 5 parts, 25 books, and 125 chapters. Just like the family trees – which to a certain degree are questionable when compared to the alternative interpretations the text of Johnnie’s narrative offers – the maps raise questions regarding the accuracy and trustworthiness of Johnnie’s story. Other than that, I have no idea what to make of most of the geographical inconsistencies you point out, Brian.

(On a related point: We may wonder why the maps of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green have been placed so prominently in the collaborative (auto)biographical account that Johnnie, Pentecost and Silverlight have produced. In some editions both maps are in the front, in others both are in the back, in yet others the Spitalfields map is in front and the Bethnal Green map is in the back. And what of Johnnie’s off-hand remark that at the time of writing he passes “quite frequently” the “large and imposing mansion” that once served as the HQ of Barney Digweed and his gang and is now occupied by “the Earl of N——” (Ch 59, 519; all references to US pocket edition)? Should we take this to imply that Johnnie lives in the Bethnal Green neighbourhood?)

(And speaking of geographical inconsistencies: What do we make of the confusion that surrounds the lay-out of the park at the Huffam/Mompesson estate?)

However, I am struck in particular by one of the temporal inconsistency Brian mentions: Peter and Mary’s wedding day (5 May 1811)being a Sunday. In 1811 May 5 was indeed a Sunday (see, which is curious – and not just for the reasons Brian mentions. 5 May 1811 may have been a Sunday IRL, from Johnnie’s account we gather a different day altogether:

Lydia Mompesson tells Johnnie she decided to steal the will during one of Martin Fortisquince’s annual courtesy visits to the Mompessons when he tells of John Huffam’s intention of marrying Mary to one of the sons of Silas Clothier:

“I decided that very instant that I would regain that document […] from the possession of my nevy. […] I knew that Perceval and his wife would be abroad the following Monday, so I decided that on that day I would go into his closet and force the drawer (Ch 95, 834).”

During that same visit Lydia manages to speak to Fortisquince in private. Johnnie immediately guesses her plan: “And you told Mr Fortisquince to come that day and receive a gift to give to my grandfather!” Lydia acknowledges that this was indeed her design but wonders how Johnnie knows all this. He explains “how Mr Nolloth had recounted […] Peter Clothier’s story of the events of that fatal day” (Ch 95, 834). The problem is, of course, that “that fatal day” cannot have been a Monday…

However, Mr Nolloth’s version indeed does correspond to Miss Lydia’s in that theft, exchange and wedding occur on one and the same day:

“You grandfather [John Huffam] had secret conference of your father [Peter Clothier] and Mr Escreet and told them of the promise that had been made [by Lydia Mompesson to obtain Jeoffrey Huffam’s second will] – though he did not identify the individual in the Mompessons’ confidence. He explained that his unknown helper had proposed using Mr Fortisquince as the unwitting agent to convey the document from the Mompesson’s house to himself. The intention was that the will would be removed from Sir Perceval’s safe place on the morning of the wedding and would immediately be placed by the unknown party in the hands of Mr Fortisquince who would be told that it was a gift for your grandfather and should be given to him that very day. Mr Fortisquince, having no idea of the significance of what he bore, would bring it to the house that evening. So it was in order to provide Mr Fortisquince with a reason for coming to the house that your grandfather invited him and his wife to the wedding-feast.” (Ch 78, 668)

The trouble with this version of events is not only that it impossibly dates the wedding night (and therefore the theft and the exchange of the will via Fortisquince) on a Monday, but that this version of the events (a) implies a very narrow time-frame, which, moreover, (b)is not corroborated by the ‘evidence’ from Mary’s journal:

ad (a)
Note that in Miss Lydia’s version of events there cannot have been more than a week between her learning of Mary’s circumstances and the day of the theft of the will – an act meant to prevent that forced marriage. Lydia learns from Fortisquince that Mary will have to marry a man she detests and conceives to steal the will “the following Monday,” which implies that Fortisquince’s courtesy visit took place on the Monday preceding the Monday Lydia has in mind at the earliest. This limited time-frame dictates she should immediately write to John Huffam with her plan, stipulating the date of the theft and the method of exchange via Martin Fortisquince. It also dictates that John Huffam, upon receiving Lydia’s letter, should promptly announce himself quite happy with the wedding plans of Mary and Peter, and arrange the ceremony on the date stipulated by Lydia. This leaves several questions unanswered:
— Does Lydia Mompesson know John Huffam has planned his daughter’s wedding on the same day as the theft in order to have an excuse to invite Fortisquince over (as Mr Nolloth’s words may imply)?
— Does Lydia Mompesson know that Mary will not marry a man whom she detests (Daniel Clothier), but rather his brother whom she appears to love (Peter Clothier)? If Lydia does, then she acts out of mere revenge against her own family in stealing the will and not out of altruistic motives (i.e. pitying yet another young woman being forced into a marriage, just like her aunt Anna and she herself). But how can Lydia have known of Mary marrying Peter rather than Daniel? Martin Fortisquince cannot have told her, for he does not know who Peter will be the groom until the wedding dinner. If Lydia knew, the information must have come from her correspondence with John Huffam.

ad (b)
However, in the version of events as described by Mary in her journal, events unfold very differently from the hurried one-week-scenario described above:

• During dinner a couple of days after the clash between John Huffam, Silas Clothier and Mary described in Mary’s fourth relation in Ch 61 (see 555) John Huffam receives the letter from Lydia Mompesson offering him the will.
• “For the next three weeks” (Ch 61; fifth relation, 557) John Huffam keeps Clothier dangling with false promises of bringing the codicil before the court.
• Around that time, Peter Clothier manages to secretly visit Mary to warn her and John Huffam of the Clothier plot against them. Mary sees him being followed by the man Johnnie will com to know as Hinxman. The evening after that (Ch 63, 559) Silas Clothier visits in order to pump John Huffam about the marriage of James Huffam and Eliza Umphraville.
• “Late one evening a week later” (Ch 63, 560) Peter escapes from his brother’s house and finds refuge at the Huffams.
• In “the period that followed” Peter and Mary are “brought much together by circumstances” and discover that their feelings towards one another are the same. The writ of lunacy is issued, and Peter has to overcome much scruples before he is able to ask Mary to marry him. Mary accepts and they break the news to John who declares himself “delighted” (Ch 63, 562). John arranges for the ceremony to take place “a week tomorrow” (Ch 63, 562), suggesting that this scene occurred on 27 April.

In Mary’s version of events, then, there is a considerable amount of time separating the receipt of Lydia’s letter and the wedding – at least a month, if not five or six weeks!

Mary’s account of Martin Fortisquince’s movements in the days preceding the wedding, too, is at odds with the events as narrated by Lydia and Mr Nolloth. Fortisquince makes two visits to Brook Street: (1) the ‘courtesy visit’, (2) the ‘exchange visit’ during which he unwittingly smuggles the stolen will out of the house. According to Mary during the dinner Martin says:

“I was at Brook-street two days ago where I found the whole house upside down. I will tell you why so far as I understand it. But first, that reminds me, John, that I have brought…”(Ch 63, 563)

If Martin means that this visit to Brook Street two days ago was his annual courtesy visit (and if he does not mention the exchange visit earlier that same day of May 5), then why was the house upside down for reasons unclear to him? If Martin’s assertion that he was in the house in Brook Street two days ago for the exchange visit (his courtesy visit having occurred more than two days ago) this would explain why the house was upside down for reasons unclear to Martin (the theft is discovered almost immediately in this case), but raises the question of why Lydia Mompesson and/or John Huffam have changed their plan(s). Why let Fortisquince have possession of the will for two days?

Above all, all of this makes me wonder whose version of events is correct, and if Mary’s isn’t, then why is she not telling Johnnie the truth?

posted by: Leon at November 27, 2006 6:18 AM


I was delighted to find this thread on the same day that I finished reading this excellent, haunting and thought-provoking novel. Don’t know if this forum is still active, but thought I would toss in a couple of questions/observations anyway.

I’m pretty convinced that Johnnie’s father was Martin F. although there are some pretty broad hints that his father may have been John Huffam Snr, particularly during Mary’s delirium immediately before her death. She addresses her Papa, and then goes on to say something like “Why do I need a husband? We’re happy as we are”. In addition she doesn’t seem terribly attached to Martin and her sorrow when he dies is more the sorrow of someone who’s lost a friend than a lover. I don’t really know what I’m arguing here. I just really love how the mystery seems to have no definitive answer, just a bunch of equally plausible possibilities.

When would Johnnie have been conceived? The book implies that it was in the Halfmoon room at the Blue Dragon inn in Hertford, and Mary’s narrative suggests that Martin F. is the father. If Mary got pregnant on her wedding night (but not by her husband) and was therefore not pregnant before, how exactly can Silas Clothier suggest that Peter Clothier was “duped” into marrying her?

Does anyone have any light to shed on the story of the duel amongst the statues as told by the Mellamphys’ cook whose name I’ve forgotten? I’m sure other people here know the book better than me and it seemed to me that her version of it did not square with the official family tree at all. For one thing, in her version Lady Lydia is in love with a Huffam (I forget the Christian name), not John Umphraville!

Finally, how much does Johnnie himself actually know and what isn’t he telling us? Can he really be ignorant of the fact that Henrietta is in love with Sir David, not Bellringer? Why can he not bring himself to acknowledge this possibility? Seems to me that Johnnie has pretty much come to terms with the fact that his father is Martin F.

posted by: Ziggy at November 30, 2006 2:05 PM


Sorry to interrupt the recent flow of interesting postings with some more notes on discrepancies in the fourth part, the Palphramonds. Recent relevant postings have raised some deep questions, and I have to regret that what I am about to write is more likely to darken than to clarify, because I am not answering any points made but simply continuing my list. As previously, references are to chapters/U.K. paperback/U.S hardback.
Ch 83/809/530 – if Joey stuck to John for two or three days after he left the Neat Houses, it would not account for the whole period up to Christmas Eve.
86/841/551 – the reference to the middle of May right at the beginning of the chapter is blatantly wrong because the escape from the asylum was in the winter, February 1826. This error is strongly reminiscent of the one at the very start of ch. 11, which might make the reader wonder what the narratives are conveying. Leon has written extensively on similar points.
86/844/553 – the reference ‘exactly four years ago’ corroborates that it is May 1828 as the stay with the Isbisters was in the Spring of 1824. This is not a discrepancy, but from now on there are several contradictory indications as to the current year.
86/850/557 – John did not in fact drive any hard bargain for his share of the toshing earnings. He accepted George Digweed’s reasonable apportionment.
92/889/582 – the reference to Miss Quilliam’s early morning return to the Mompesson’s house as ‘almost five years ago’ indicates it is early to mid-1828.
93/895/586 – moonset on 23 June 1829 was at 11.24 in the morning, which would mean a moonless night, but suddenly we seem to have a discrepancy of a year. Leon has mentioned this sort of ‘slippage’ previously.
93/906/592 – it would have taken time to go from Mount Street to Wapping and back. Then Joey went to Bethnal Green and came back with Isbister’s horse and cart, all by noon! Mr Digweed might have been hidden in Mount Street by 4 a.m. but could Joey have done all that travelling in eight hours or so?
94/942/616 – Mrs Peppercorn says she saw John at Hougham over ten years previously, before the visit of Mr Barbellion, which indicates it is now late 1829.
95/956/624 – ‘five or six years since we last met’. If it is Christmas Day 1829, it must be over six.
95/961/627 – how could John have known the exact date of the 1770 will? A really glaring discrepancy. Previous mentions of John Huffam’s final illness would lead one to believe that he died in the Spring, but the will is dated 18th June. Possibly it could be argued that technically the season extends to the solstice.
95/971/634 – why would Joey have gone to see John on Christmas Day when it was not a Sunday?
97/976/637 – John and Mr Nolloth did not in fact come to any conclusion about the murder of John Huffam, though Mr Nolloth had definite ideas which he did not have a chance to expand.
97/978/638 – if John Huffam died ‘almost exactly sixty years ago’ then the year must be 1830.
97/981/640 – John escaped from the asylum early in 1826, so four years have elapsed, and there cannot be two to go before he is assumed dead. This is assuming that an action to have him declared dead was started in 1826. Silas Clothier would not have allowed time to elapse.
98/993/648 – a minor point, but the American hardback edition shows Amelia’s husband as John Palphramond in the genealogy when it should be Roger.
99/1004/655 – in February 1830 the first Sunday was the 7th, which is the day John made his escape from the house. Of course, in 1829 the first Sunday was the 1st, which makes sense, but see the next note.
99/1024/667 – Mr Digweed died on Sunday 27th December, which must have been in 1829, and that in turn makes the present year 1830!
100/1026/669 – the visit of Mary to Brook Street when accompanied by the bailiff is mentioned by Bob as ‘three or four year back, one summer’, which seems to mean the Summer of 1825. But that clashes with supposition that the date is February 1830 and fits in with 1829.
These notes, as I stated at the beginning, add to the confusion about chronology. I hope to finish with discrepancies in the final part, the Maliphants, which I shall post before Christmas.

posted by: Brian at December 6, 2006 6:14 PM


I find all this discussion most fascinating! But I think we need to recall that some of these inconsistencies may be introduced by Palliser – and put into the mouths of his characters – simply to prevent readers being able to pin down events and places with certainty; his world is after all an invented one, not a fact-certain one. And it’s convincing to have characters with different memories of sequences of events, of locations, and of relationships. Can you recall with certainty the date and location of your great-aunt’s wedding, and the name of her sister-in-law? I know I can’t; and, even if I said I could, I’m sure my third cousin would have an entirely different recollection!
This leads me to think that Palliser is wrapping a couple of real mysteries – e.g., just who is John’s father – inside puzzles that don’t matter.
And maybe this further disguises some other possible lines of speculation – for instance, are we 100% certain that John is in fact Mary’s son? If it’s crucial (but exactly to whom?) that the Huffams have an heir – John – but Mary’s new husband – Peter – is snatched away before the union can be consummated, then either Mary is impregnated by someone else (Martin, her own Father, Mr Escreet….) or she rears a young ‘introduced’ baby as if it were her own…..


posted by: AGB at December 6, 2006 8:33 PM


In response to AGB: I’d say that many of the temporal inconsistencies Brian is so meticulously cataloguing are not so much “puzzles that don’t matter”, but are directly connected with the “real mysteries”. It matters a great deal, for instance, that the year of Henry Bellringer’s death implied in Johnnie’s narrative (either 1829 or 1830 – we’re not even sure about that!) is inconsistent with the date mentioned in the newspaper article read by Jeoffrey Escreet in Ch. 122. December 2 was a Tuesday in 1828, not in 1829 or 1830 (see

I do agree with you that we should not read too much in vague references such as “five or six years ago” – these indeed mainly serve the purpose of preventing the verisimilitude of Palliser’s story from evaporating. What indeed could be more unrealistic than characters having perfect recollection of events having occurred years or even decades ago? It is therefore precisely when characters in Johnnie’s narrative DO remember dates with precision – Lydia Mompesson mentioning a Monday as the day of the theft of the will, for instance (see my earlier post)- that we should pay close attention. Not because all these inconsistencies will eventually point us to the solution to the “real mysteries”, mind you, but because they allow for a proliferation of possible answers. Like Ziggy (30 November) I, too, “just really love how the mystery seems to have no definitive answer, just a bunch of equally plausible possibilities.”

And one of these possibilities (opened up by the uncertainty surrounding the year of Johnnie’s birth and the year of the events in the present of his narrative) is that we cannot ever be 100% sure whether Johnnie is in fact Mary’s son or an ‘adopted’ baby, as AGB suggests. Following that line of thought (and entering the field of wild speculation) I would suggest the Digweeds as Johnnie’s biological parents. Martin Fortisquince must have known that family from his days at the estate and could therefore have provided Mary with one of their offspring. And have you noticed how Joey Digweed’s eyes have the same color as Peter Clothier’s? (Palliser makes sure Johnnie mentions the eye-color of both characters several times.) Could Martin Fortisquince have exchanged the child Mary conceived with Peter out of wedlock for an infant untainted with Clothier blood and given the Digweeds the Huffam-Clothier heir born to Mary? (Probably impossible to corroborate with textual evidence, but an entertaining idea nevertheless.)

(And speaking of eye-color and blood-relations: have you noticed that Johnnie describes the eyes of both Barney Digweed and Lydia Mompesson as strikingly blue, not to mention the fact that Barney seems to share the high-domed head of the Mompessons… Food for thought, I’d say, especially since there are those nagging questions concerning the ultimate fate of Lydia Mompesson’s child with John Umphraville…)

posted by: Leon at December 7, 2006 7:11 AM


Agreed that there are mysteries that almost certainly admit of no one solution (so, though biology dictates that Johnny must be the son of one specific individual, it’s possible that neither he nor we – nor maybe Mary! – can ever know who…..).

So I wonder whether, instead of following the clues and mystery-clues as to who did what, when and to whom (which I nevertheless enjoy), we could take a step back, and ask some Why? and Who Benefits? questions. Some of these questions are very simple to ask – but I confess that, over many years, I’ve been puzzled to answer them.

Why does Mary inherit almost nothing at all from her father? Who – apart from Johnny himself – benefits from his being the Huffam heir? Why does Mary do almost nothing at all to advance Johnny’s (and indeed her own) claim? If Johnny eventually comes into ‘his’ inheritance (and I’m not 100% sure he does), then how did he prove his claim? (and I’ll re-read the book soon, looking at the questions I’ve scribbled in the margin of my battered old copy!).

On my speculation that Johnny is not Mary’s son, I of course have to say that there’s not a jot of ‘evidence’ that he isn’t. And there’s plenty that he is (not least in the writing of Mary’s maternal instincts and behaviors). But I’ve just got this feeling that it is very strongly in the interests of someone other than Mary that there is a Huffam heir to John Snr – and that Mary is, to some considerable extent – just a dupe. But whom, exactly?


posted by: AGB at December 7, 2006 9:50 AM


Just to clarify – I don’t at all suggest that detailed ‘discrepancy’ posts above lack worth – just the opposite. I’m just wondering whether the questions we’re asking in relation to the discrepancies are necessarily the right questions. Palliser’s sleight-of-hand may be as much to hide the question, and to obscure the answer…


posted by: AGB at December 7, 2006 10:15 AM


Good to see the real discussion has displaced the irrelevant postings at last. Thank you to Leon and AGB for commenting on my lists of discrepancies. I’d like to make two quick points; namely, that not all of them are to do with chronology, and that many of them, like the vague references to times, occur in very prominent positions in the narrative. If the author spent twelve years in writing the novel it is unlikely that many of them are genuine oversights. In another of his novels, ‘Betrayals’, there is a great deal of humorous treatment of deconstruction and texts yielding their meanings, and I can’t help wondering whether we are being teased a bit by the author. Another (totally irrelevant) matter I’d like to point out is the author’s fondness for Christmas. There are plenty of references in this novel, and this may be a fondness he shares with Dickens. The excellent novel, ‘The Unburied’ is compressed into the short period of late afternoon, Tuesday 20 December to early morning, Saturday 24 December.

posted by: Brian at December 7, 2006 7:14 PM


39 irrelevant messages all on the same day! I’m hoping to post my final list of discrepancies later this week, but in the meantime I’ll just say that a good while ago somebody pointed out that there were a few names in the book that had suggestions of ‘five’ in them. Well, ‘pump’ as in Pumphred is the Welsh for ‘five’ and ‘cuig’, pronounced nearly the same as Quigg is the Irish for ‘five’. Not that I know what to make of it, but at least it is something to do with the book.

posted by: Brian at December 11, 2006 5:38 PM


Apologetic correction to my posting mentioning Phumphred’s name and the connection with five. Firstly I got his name wrong and secondly discovered that somebody had already pointed out the similarity to the German word for five. We’ve been treated to eight more irrelevant postings in the last two days. Does anybody have any explanation for people bothering to write all that stuff? I hope to post something more interesting tomorrow, and maybe that will be my last contribution because it will take me to the end of the book.

posted by: Brian at December 13, 2006 6:24 PM


Just to break the run of nineteen intrusive and irrelevant postings, here is my list of discrepancies and observations on chronology for the last part, the Maliphants. The references follow the same scheme as before.
Ch 102/1046/683 – 7 February was a Sunday in 1830, and so the description of the people in the streets given would indicate that the year is not 1830.
103/1047/683 – Henry had last seen John at the court hearing in January 1826, but John states it was about two years previously. Irrespective of what the year is now, it is impossible to compress John’s committal to the asylum, his escape, his stay with the Digweeds, the attempted burglary at Brook Street, and his employment there into two years.
110/1082/706 – John could not have had £47 left. Lydia had given him £51, Vamplew had taken £2 and Joey had spent £4.
111/1085/710 – Mrs Purviance’s servant was Betsy, and not Nancy, who worked for Mrs Malatratt in Coleman Street.
113/1103/722 – John absconded ‘nearly four years ago’. This seems to indicate it is late 1829 as it is late autumn or early winter in the same year as Silas Clothier died.
118/1116/732 – If Lady Mompesson last saw John more than six years ago in the summer of 1823 at Hougham, then 1829 is indicated.
119/1125/737 – If John passed through Hougham in 1825 on his way back from Yorkshire, Mr Advowson’s reference to ‘three or four years ago’ indicates 1828 or 1829.
119/1127/738 – Not a discrepancy this time. ‘The elopement of my great-grandparents’ could be taken as referring to John Umphraville and Lydia. Notice the wording is ‘the wedding’ and not ‘their wedding’. Evidence that Lydia might be John’s great-grandmother?
120/1132/742 – How far away was the old house? Could John have seen it ‘about a mile away’ in the gloom?
120/1133/742 – If the elopement was sixty years previously, the year would be 1829.
122/1159/760 – Why is Henry Bellringer described as the cousin and remote connexion of David Mompesson? How could the reporter have knowledge of their affinity? The dateline Tuesday 2 December would fit either 1828 or 1834, neither of which is plausible.
122/1165/764 – If, as Jemima Fortisquince makes out, Escreet saw the document for the first time for thirty years in May 1811, what significance would 1781 have had when Jeoffrey Huffam had died in 1770?
122/1166/765 – ‘Nearly sixty years before’. The duel was in 1769, which points to 1829 or 1828 as the year. If Escreet possessed a bundle of bank-notes, was he better off than he seemed?
125/1179/773 – If the house in Melthorpe had been empty six or seven years, the year would be 1829 or 1830.
125/1180/774 – It is significant that the inscription on the statue in the garden is different from what John was certain of. I take this as a strong hint that besides all the prevarications, lies, omissions and concealments in the accounts given in the novel, there are some genuine errors of memory occurring when characters believe they are telling the exact truth.
125/1184/776 – ‘Nearly eighteen months ago’ is wrong. The death of Silas Clothier was in early February and it is now only June of the following year.
125/1189/780 – The first meeting with Henrietta was more than ten years previously, in the summer of 1819, which means it cannot be earlier than June 1829.
My calculation when I reached the end of the Palphramonds was that it was now 7 February 1830, and that John was eighteen when he escaped from Brook Street, but nothing in the final part bears that out. Trying to reconcile the chronology of this novel is like trying to cover an irregularly shaped room with a rectangular rug: whichever way you turn and twist it there are bits of floor showing! Leon has suggested that there is something being concealed by John about his early years, hence the slippage of a year, but my impression is that there is more than one slippage in the later stages. Is there something else being concealed as well? Does John know so much himself? The last chapter portrays him as bewildered and needing time to sort his thoughts out. As I stated previously, before I started listing discrepancies, I doubt if there are any satisfactory solutions to the problems, because answers lead to questions.
If you have been, thanks for reading this, and if you want to read about media personalities, I apologise.

posted by: Brian at December 14, 2006 4:59 PM


Thanks, Brian, for those interesting posts. I hope your latest one will not be your last.

Two remarks:

The confused chronolgy has me baffled as well, especially that impossibly dated newspaper article reporting Bellringer’s death. It can’t have been 1828 and surely 1834 is too late even if we account for the multiple slippages of a year that occurr in Johnnie’s story? Or is it?One day soon I’ll sit back and construct a timeline allowing for the different interpretations of the chronological clues…

And then there’s also the question of why these slippages and confused Christmasses should occurr. Is the uncertainty about dates and years intentionally created by Johnnie and if so, for what purpose exactly? Or is it just that his memories of when events took place have become confused. How long after the last recorded event in the novel – the supposed death of Henrietta’s child and her move to Callais (Ch. 111, 939, US pocket edition) in 1831 or 1832 – are Johnnie and Pentecost and Silverlight writing their collaborative autobiography? It would seem that Pentecost and Silverlight are writing their sections of the work in their shared prison cell; see Pentecost’s remark in Ch. 121 concerning “our misguided friend” Silverlight “(with whom [he is] now chuming again, as when [they] first met)” (991).

Brian has noted a curious discrepancy in Jemima’s ‘reconstruction’ of the night of the murder: “122/1165/764 – If, as Jemima Fortisquince makes out, Escreet saw the document for the first time for thirty years in May 1811, what significance would 1781 have had when Jeoffrey Huffam had died in 1770?” She is off by a decade!

Her story contains other inconsistencies as well:

• Contrary to what Jemima claims, Escreet does know where the key to the strong-box is hidden: in acting out the events of the wedding night (or is he?) he unerringly moves to a piece of floorboard that can be removed to reveal a hiding-place (1003). This would seem to imply that Jemima has indeed invented her story: Escreet knew where John Huffam kept the key to the strong-box and so there would not have been a reason for Huffam to dismiss Escreet from the plate-room. (Notice that Jemima is contradiced also by Mary’s journal, from which we learn that John Huffam trusted Jeoffrey Escreet: He protests when Martin Fortisquince wants Escreet out of the room for a private conversation and apologizes upon his return; John Huffam entrusts him with the money for the codicil, etc. (Ch. 61, 546-547; “My daughter and I trust you absolutely”; Ch. 61, 548). Of course we know after Escreet’s confession that this trust is misplaced – at least Jemima seems to be correct about that.)

• Jemima is certainly wrong about what happened to the codicil and the letter on the wedding night. According to her version Escreet puts them in the package with the bank notes to be handed to Peter Clothier after he (Escreet) has killed John Huffam (1003). In Mary’s journal, however, John Huffam himself has handed the codicil and the letter to Peter Clothier well before the dinner (563). Incidentally: how does Jemima know of the existence of the letter?

posted by: Leon at December 16, 2006 6:01 AM


Jemima Fortisquince’s account of the night of the murder is a clever reconstruction formed from actual observation, guesswork, and nearly twenty years of thinking about it. Her main purpose at the time of relating it is to recover the will from Mr Escreet, who interrupts her with denials and corrections. On balance, I think that Mr Escreet’s denials merit some consideration, because he did not have much to lose by admitting the truth.
If Leon is going to try to lay out a chronological framework, I wish him well in his task, and I know he will have more sense than to base it on the French site, which has the first attempt at recovering the will from the Mompessons dated as October 1828(!) and other questionable dates besides. There are plenty of time references in the book, but I have concluded, after listing the discrepancies, that reconciling them may prove impossible. By the way, judging from my brief visits to it, the French site appears inactive now.

posted by: Brian at December 17, 2006 6:15 PM


Very happy to see all the bombardment of messages removed. If there is anybody who has any postings to offer, maybe the discussion could be revived. With reference to the chronological discrepancies I have noted (at some length!), I have since read The Unburied and noticed a few in that novel also, but I cannot believe that they are really significant. Are the ones in The Quincunx quite as important as some of the contributors to this discussion believe?

posted by: Brian at February 23, 2007 6:29 PM


I just stormed through the book in about 2.5 days, and, enrapt in the plot, missed out on many of the details … I’d hate to think I now have to go read the damn thing again; I don’t have that much time!

posted by: ben wolfson at February 25, 2007 3:17 AM


Good to see we’re back in business. I look forward to new contributions to the discussion.

posted by: Leon at February 27, 2007 6:06 AM


Many thanks to Steve Cook – who owns this site – for removing and now blocking all that spam mail. So we can get back to work……

I’ve been pondering – to no great end…. – on the many geographical inconsistencies in the book, many of which are noted in posts above. Given the great emphasis that Palliser puts on maps and locations, it’s difficult to think that these could be mere author errors; though some are so curious as to have me genuinely puzzled as to what point they serve, if intentional.

If you spend time with maps and notes you’ve made on journey times, you can get very lost in trying to place either the Huffam / Mompesson estates and Melthorpe, or the far north country “academy”. I’ve always likes to think that this is a deliberate obscurity by Palisser – ie, you are not meant to be able to locate these fictional places with any accuracy: the geography is “plausible” without being “real”. [And by the way, I’m English by origins and know my native country pretty well….].

But this seems a tad more difficult, in my view, in the London scenes. Some of the Charing Cross geography seems perfectly accurate – ie, you can trace the narrative on a map – but then occasionally both the distances and directions go to hell. For example, when Mary and young John flee their last “proper” lodging in London, they seem to run across literally miles of the city in a trice. And quite often Golden Square – a perfectly real place – seems to shift from one side of town to another (sometimes it’s a few minutes walk from the Charing Cross area – true – and sometimes similarly near either Bethnal Green or Holborn – wrong). And, perhaps most clearly odd, when Mary dies just off the north of Holborn, the journey to her burial site takes some considerable time, yet in “reality” is only a couple of hundred yards at most.

Why? There’s a literary trick sometimes used by authors who want to both use and disguise real locations. You can invent a small street (or particular house) just off a real one, but have in your head two or three different exact locations for it, sometimes giving directions relating to one location, sometimes another. That way, everything is “plausible”, without being “pinned down”. Is this what Pallister is doing? As I said, this makes a certain literary sense with the north country locations; but seems to me to introduce positive irritations into the London narrative. It reads as either sloppy or excessively mysterious – that is, if there is a point, what on earth is it?

It’s worth remembering that authors – even otherwise meticulous ones – sometimes just make mistakes! As good a writer as Patrick O’Brian (he of the Aubrey / Maturin tales) sometimes mixes up logitude and latitude, and his geography of southern England occasionally confuses the great naval ports of Portsmouth and Plymouth. I once was asked to review another naval early 18th century novel whose plot was highly dependent on the niceties of sailing round the Portland / Weymouth area, but whose author had clearly never actually visited the region (amongst other howlers, he had a small boat casually tie up at Portland Bill…..): what ill luck to have a reviewer whose family lives there! I recall with great puzzlement reading a thriller by a US author which had the notion of “downtown London” at its core (and even odder was that this seemed to be either side of the Fulham Road…….).

So, is Palliser mysteriously yet intentionally vague; or is he “just all over the map”?


posted by: AGB at March 2, 2007 7:56 PM


And yes, I really can spell “Palliser”! (I plead jet lag…..)


posted by: AGB at March 2, 2007 7:59 PM


Thank you to AGB for his comments on the geographical inconsistencies of the narrative. One which struck me occurs at the end of chapter 25 when John describes the stage-coach journey south from Gainsborough. At that date in the early 1820s there were good turnpike roads and a mail coach would not have taken as long as John’s narrative states to travel about 150 miles. Also it is hard to match all the sights he describes on the journey with real locations. The later journey to somewhere in the West Riding of Yorkshire,(one assumes), in the company of Mr Steplight must have been considerably farther but seemed to take less time. There remains the problem of the location of Melthorpe, which is about 151 miles from London and yet is some distance south of Gainsborough. If I had to guess which county Melthorpe is situated in, I should go for Nottinghamshire. The Stoniton mentioned by Mrs Digweed when she talks to Mary and John on Christmas Eve might be Sheffield. As I remarked in a posting last year, the geographical puzzles are greater than the chronological ones.
On another topic, could AGB or anybody else explain to me in simple language what anybody could achieve by posting all that spam mail on this site? I share AGB’s gratitude to the site owner for removing it, but cannot see why it was put on to begin with.
On a brighter note, I am really pleased to see the discussion alive again.

posted by: Brian at March 3, 2007 6:00 PM


There is a possibility that Mrs. Fortisquince killed JHSr. She is a fascinating character.

I think Johnnie is the biological child of Mary because of the references to how he resembles his grandfather and because of Mary’s statements in Ch. 64: “it became clear what my situation was.” and “I became aware that I was expecting a confinement.” If Johnnie is not her biological child, what was in the torn pages? Her attitude towards what is in these pages does not correspond with Johnnie not being her biological child.

If they ever do a movie, Willem Dafoe will be Barney. The author describes Barney in Ch. 2 as “not tall”. But in Ch. 58 he is “tall”.

posted by: cbk at March 25, 2007 7:05 AM


The missing pages contain(IMO) an admission by Mary, of her affair with Martin Fortesquince, something that was mortally shameful for a person of her upbringing and station in that era.
What always mystified me is how some others, e.g. Clothiers, knew she had a child by MF. Also the
Rector of her church says in Ch. 4:
“I wish you well Mrs. Mellamphy. I often see you…and reflect there is more rejoicing in know?”
Johnnie adds” “My Mother coloured and nodded briefly.”

I’m reading this as the Rector knows she has had a child out of wedlock. How would he know, as the story she told was PC was the father(as on the Baptism Certificate)?

posted by: Michael Levine at March 28, 2007 3:23 PM


it’s been a few weeks since the last post so i don’t know if folks are still keeping this site up, but i figured i would throw in my two lincolns. i finished the book about an hour ago and instead of doing work for school (i’m a law student, which is part of the reason i started reading the darn thing) i read the comments here in an attempt to gain some insight.

this hasn’t been mentioned as far as i can tell and i thought i was worth suggesting: what of the possibility that mary deliberately sold herself to martin and that he impregnated her well after the 1811 wedding? there is much discussion about the motives of folks in the book and it would fit if mary had less-than-honorable bits in her past (apart from apparently bearing johnnie out of wedlock). if mary seduced martin into this arrangement it would explain the comment to the effect that she wasn’t new to whoring. it would put her more in line with the other characters who all seem to be both “good” and “bad.” also, if johnnie was born later than 1812, it would explain why he was small for his age and why the chronology is messed up. it would explain why the record of his birth was made in the style demanded by the new law in effect in 1813. the fact that the year reflected is 1812 can be explained by how easy it apparently is in this world to pay people to do what you want them to do. it would explain why initially martin fortisquince is listed as “godfather and father” and why someone came later and added peter in.

so what would her motives be? one possibility is that she learned of her father’s death and desired to prolong the huffam line in the hopes that her beloved father’s dream of re-establishing his claim for his heirs would be realized. this would jive with the theme of people doing shady things for colorable reasons. she probably did love peter. she might have felt he would be glad that his father’s claim on the estate would be extinguished by the huffam heir.

as for martin, he might have agreed for several reasons. he might have hoped to profit when mary and her son came into the estate. he might have loved mary. he might have wanted to stick it to the mompessons. and, if jemima had an inkling of any of this, it would explain a bit better her hatred of mary.

this isn’t exactly the most expertly-developed theory, but it’s something that bugged me while i was reading the book. mary was too clean in all this. what did she tear out of that notebook? i thought it was a good observation that she stopped calling martin “uncle” after the ripped-out pages.

i’m rambling, but i wanted to put that out there. i hope y’all haven’t abandoned the discussion here because i’m pretty sure that i’m starting a small obsession.

posted by: amy at April 12, 2007 10:07 PM


I am a bit puzzled why my response to CBK and Michael Levine which I posted around 3 April has now disappeared. It was posting 157, but now Amy’s is number 157. One observation I would make to Amy is that if John was born on 7 February 1812 he and Charles Dickens were born on the same day, and in view of the author’s interest and appreciation of the Victorian novelist it would be hard to make a good case for 1813 as the year of John’s birth. That said, chronology is one of the big problems in understanding the workings of the plot. But let us keep this site going. It has always been interesting when people made their contributions (relevant ones, that is!).

posted by: Brian at April 13, 2007 1:54 PM


Brian, it was almost certainly an accidental casualty of my efforts to keep these pages spam-free so that you and others can continue having this discussion. This weekend, I’ll be installing a Movable Type plugin that will hopefully cut down on this problem, but since I receive hundreds of comment spams a day, I’ve been relying on fairly indiscriminate methods to weed them out.

posted by: Steve at April 14, 2007 4:03 PM


Thank you, Steve, for the explanation, and I wish to thank you for clearing the spam away.

posted by: Brian at April 15, 2007 5:41 AM


The last line of the book refers to the sword which was used by the murderer to kill his grandfather. His grandfather owned the sword that was on the wall before the murderer used it on him. The identity of the murderer is still very muddled. Although Escreet seems to be the obvious choice through his actions, there are clues that indicate that it was possibly Barney commiting the murder for hire (maybe Silas sent him?). Also it could have been Martin or even Peter Clothier.
Palliser wants to leave the truth muddled and loose ends to reflect the fact that we cannot always answer all the questions, even in our own lives.

Also, Escreet Murdered Umphraville as ordered by his biological father Jeoffrey. I thought he confessed this near the end and it was not one of the loose ends in the story, such as Johns Paternity.

posted by: Luis at April 17, 2007 5:23 AM


Fortisquince,Quigg, Quilliam, Quintard & Mimpriss Quinta-5
Sancious Cinque-5
Pentecost- Penta-5
Umphraville, Phumphred – Fumf-5

posted by: Jeoffrey at April 17, 2007 7:20 PM


Escreet, committed all the murders:
Umphraville, Sanctious and Huffam…..Johnnie explains that in Chapter 122, right after Escreet murdered Sanctious:

“I believed now that Peter Clothier was innocent and my doubts about the truth of what she [MF] had said had gone, for by his action Escreet had surely confessed to the murder in a manner more impossible to retract than any words.”

posted by: Michael Levine at April 17, 2007 8:15 PM


Perhaps “my grandfather’s sword” at the end is a double entendre. It can be perceived as the sword that belonged to John Huffam (the sword on the wall on his house) or perhaps he is referring to Escreet (Martin’s Father) who used the sword to kill Sancious and Umphraville and arguable John as well.

posted by: Luis at April 18, 2007 4:24 AM


On a side note, does anyone have any recommendations on books that are of the same quality as the Quincunx? It is going to be hard to follow up this book and impress me.

posted by: Luis at April 18, 2007 4:27 AM


When I read the last sentence the first time, I was so confused that I had to read the book again slowly.
I understand from Palliser’s afterword in the hard cover edition, that there was difficulty
translating the novel to Swedish, since there are two different words for father’s father and mother’s father!!!!

Try the Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas!!

posted by: Michael Levine at April 18, 2007 9:46 AM


Thank you, I actually have read this book and saw many similarities between it and The Quincunx. My new favorite main character is 19th century London and I hope to come across a few more novels that utilize this fascinating setting.

Also, another interesting fact about the Quincunx my brother noticed after reading it, although it is a bit of a stretch. The version of the novel we read has 781 pages.
5^0 + 5^1 + 5^2 + 5^3 + 5^4 = 781, strange no?

posted by: Luis at April 18, 2007 12:42 PM


Quick responses to points raised by Michael Levine. A young woman with a child and no husband visible in a small village would certainly have given rise to gossip at that time. The explanation offered by Mary was quite plausible but would not have convinced everybody. She knew that she and her son were in danger and it suited her to stay hidden away in the countryside. As to the pages torn out of the diary, they might well have contained more than an admission of an affair. There could have been other matters about which Mary did not want her son to know.
Michael’s latest posting touches on an interesting aspect of the novel. When John (or his narrator) writes “I believed now that …” he is stating what he felt at that moment. But there are indications at various points of the book that John has come to modify his views of what happened and it does not follow, in my opinion, that he would necessarily have believed in 1840, for instance, what he believed then in 1830 (leaving aside the tangled problem of the chronology!). Certainly Escreet killed Umphraville in a duel, though it was not a cold-blooded murder, because Escreet could have been killed himself. He also killed Sancious in full view of Jemima and John, but shortly before that he had vehemently denied killing anybody but Umphraville. I am by no means certain that at the end of the book John believes Escreet to have been the murderer of John Huffam senior. The very last sentence is loaded with significance and like Michael I went back and reread the book.

posted by: Brian at April 21, 2007 3:50 AM


1. Escreet certainly denied the murder of Huffam, why should he admit it!!!
2. One of the biggest incongruences in the plot is of course, JF suddenly sparing Johnnies life, it just doesnt fit!!!!
3. Brian points out:
“I am by no means certain that at the end of the book John believes Escreet to have been the murderer of John Huffam senior. ”

However I quote from the next to last page of the book:
“My paternity. For ( to express myself with brutal clarity), if I was not the son of a man[Peter Clothier] who committed murder and then lived in a hell of near-madness untill a hideous death which I myself was to some extent responsible, then I was at least the Grandson of such a one.”

I read that as Johnnie finally acknowledging that he is convinced that his paternal Grandfather, Jeofrry Escreet was the murderer!!!

In Chapter 123, Johnnie does report Ecreet to the authorities, regarding the murder of Sanctious, and Escreet was confined to a madhouse and “died raving” several weeks later!

posted by: Michael Levine at April 25, 2007 1:39 PM


You like quincunx? you’ll like neil stephensons baroque cycle!!!

posted by: dundee at May 8, 2007 9:04 PM


In the interests of eliminating most of the the truly appalling amounts of comment spam I’ve been receiving, I’ve added a “capcha” mechanism to this site — posts will be junked unless the code below the comment box is correctly entered. If you cannot enter this code, for whatever reasons, please send me an email.

posted by: The site owner at May 14, 2007 5:32 PM


Has this site finally died?

posted by: Brian at July 2, 2007 3:34 PM


According to a restaurant review I read on 14 June, Charles Palliser has just completed a novel called The Conservatory, set in the late Victorian period. It was delivered to his agent earlier this month. He has also been working on a children’s novel, Wolf Summer, first of a trilogy about children in a fictional Eastern European country in 1938. It is described as a political thriller for twelve-year-olds. These are his first novels for nine years.

posted by: Brian at July 2, 2007 3:44 PM


I hope the board hasn’t died. I thought readers might be interested to know that the UK newspaper The Guardian a couple of weeks ago (23/6/7) published a feature in which a number of prominent authors wrote about the holiday read they had most enjoyed. The novelist Jonathan Coe picked The Quincunx,,2109130,00.html

I bet there are a few postings here in a couple of weeks from Guardian readers who buy Palliser’s book on Coe’s recommendation.

posted by: Pheasant at July 6, 2007 10:20 AM


Thanks for the link, Pheasant. Jonathan Coe reviewing “a collection of short stories by Charles Palliser”? This refers to Palliser’s novel Betrayals, I take it? Or have I missed something?

And thanks, Brian, for the excellent news we can look forward to new work by Palliser. “A political thriller for twelve-year-olds” sounds intriguing. Here’s the link:

posted by: Leon at July 6, 2007 1:07 PM


A long time I didnt look after quincunx.
Reading some of the comments here (and especilay Brian’s ones), it seems some ppl raised questions discussed on my site.
Sorry I have been too lazy to translate it. Anyway I can discuss here about some pending questions :
1 – Birth date of John. I admit my 1813 assesment is.. well just an idea, but there are serious doubt to really raise this question. Yes C.Palliser, answers himself this is not true. But he also mentionned so much incredible stuff in his letter that, it makes his answer on that particular point not credible also.
I didnt read your arguments for a 1812 year of birth cause it was a so long thread i cannot find them out. If you can sum-up it will be nice.

2 – I am still unhappy with the reasons why Jemina didnt killed Johnnie at the end. Havent found anything really reliable on that point. Comments welcome.

BTW my site is still alive, I have made some very small changes, but I really have nothing new to add by now.

posted by: Gix at July 20, 2007 12:53 PM


Gix requests a summary of the reasons for believing that John Huffam was born in 1812. The author of the book is a great admirer of Charles Dickens, whose middle Christian names were John Huffam, and who was born in 1812 on the same day as the latter. The register read by Mr Advowson mentions the capture of Ciudad Rodrigo by the (later) Duke of Wellington in January 1812, just before the birth of John.
The reasons why Jemima did not have John killed by Barney could be discussed at great length without any clear conclusion being reached.
I’d advise Gix not to translate the site into English. Many people can read French, perhaps more than he realises.

posted by: Brian at July 21, 2007 4:50 PM



Yes palliser is a Dickens fan. Do not seems to be a real agurment as he, by the way, pays tribute to CD all along the book..
Yes, the capture of this Spain casttle is pointed out. But it exactly the kind of things somebody will do if he wants to create a fake.
All my doubts comes from the Rose Act. I cannot explain why Advoson follows the Rose act as it is supposed to be active from 1/1/1813

Yes, we cannot find a reasonnable reason why Jemina didnt killed Johnnie. Thats why I guess I miss something hidden and really important for the whole story. This makes me frustrated…

posted by: Gix at July 22, 2007 6:52 AM


Hi everyone,
I just finished The Quincunx last night and am so glad to have found this site. I loved the book, but because I read most of it at bedtime while extremely sleepy, I’m afraid I’ve missed a lot. Can someone point me to where it indicates that Escreet is Martin Fortisquince’s father?

posted by: Samara at July 22, 2007 11:12 PM


Dear Samara,

Check out Chapter 87, paragraph 8. 🙂

posted by: Leon at July 23, 2007 7:15 AM


Of course it is not really said, as in this book all is suggested.
However, this is quite obvious as it is said that :
– JE as a young man worked at Hougham
– He was living at the same place than Martin’ parents
– Martin’s mother was much younger than her husband
– JE was an attractive person
– JE was fired after a scandal
– Later, Martin’s mother took the statue which looks like JE to bring it into her garden at Melthorpe where she gave birth to Martin.

posted by: Gix at July 23, 2007 11:22 AM


Ah–got it. “It came about after a time that Mr Fortisquince wouldn’t let me stay there any more. Well, these things happen and I wasn’t such a bad-looking young fellow…”

I had thought for awhile that Fortisquince must be Johnnie’s father (it did also cross my mind that it could be Mary’s father, but I thought that less likely than Fortisquince)–but the last line of the book threw me for a loop! I knew it must mean Escreet was MF’s father, but couldn’t figure out where that came out in the text.


posted by: Samara at July 23, 2007 3:32 PM


The Rose Act of 1812..

II. And for better ensuring the Regularity and Uniformity of such Register Books, be it further enacted, That a printed Copy of this Act, together with one Book so prepared as aforesaid, and adapted to the Form of the Register of Baptisms prescribed in Schedule (A.) to this Act annexed

It does’nt appear that Advowson followed this exact schedule (A) but I’m not sure what that implies.

It might imply that Advowson’s memory was in error, from 8 or so years before…


more to come

posted by: Michael Levine at July 23, 2007 8:14 PM


My concern is sum-up in the following. Extract from

Of course, as many internet sources I dont know how reliable it is. But it looks serious 🙂
How can advoson follow in february 1812 a law passed in july 1812 ?
I cant figured it out.
And it is not a late declaration as Martin give the clue about ciudad rodrigo.

“George Rose’s Act of 1812, ‘An Act for the better regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers of Birth, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, in England’ (52 Geo. III, c.146) was passed 28 July 1812, and stated that ‘amending the Manner and Form of keeping and of preserving Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials of His Majesty’s Subjects in the several Parishes and Places in England, will greatly facilitate the Proof of Pedigrees of Persons claiming to be entitled to Real or Personal Estates, and otherwise of great public Benefit and Advantage’, and enacted that separate register books should be kept for baptisms, marriages and burials from 31 Dec. 1812.”

posted by: Gix at July 24, 2007 3:17 AM


The date of John Huffam’s birth is indeed a puzzle. The firmest information is in Chapter 48, narrated by John himself (and therefore, as we know, narrated somewhat for his own purposes, and presumably long after the events have taken place). Mr Advowson first says that the record of John’s baptism (*not* birth – the parish registers were baptismal registers, not birth registers) should be easy to find as it was one of the very first kept according to the new rules of Sir George Rose’s Act. Now, from historical sources we know that this Act was passed in mid-1812, and came into effect at the very end of 1812, so that new entries from January 1813 onwards were required to be in the new form. Furthermore we know that the very point of this Act was to ensure that parish registers were henceforth kept in a very standard form, using pre-printed books supplied by the government, with the parish clerk (or vicar) filling in the blanks.

John reads the entry Mr Advowson made some years ago, and amongst other things (things of great puzzlement!) the entry, dated Feb. 10th, refers to the recent news of the capture of Cuidad Roderique by Sir Arthur Wellesley. Again, from historical sources we know the capture occured on Jan. 19th 1812.

So, the “fact” of the entry being a new “Rose Act” entry points to Feb. 1813; the historical reference in the entry, however, points to Feb. 1812 (i.e. just as the January news had reached remote, rural parishes).

But it’s also interesting that Mr Advowson’s actual entry is inherently problematic if he’s reading from a Rose Act text. The whole point of the Rose Act was to establish a wholly standardised record of baptisms. The text of the entry, however, is almost exactly the type of thing – an ambiguous, personal narrative of the events – that the Rose Act was designed to prevent. Furthermore, anyone who has looked at post-1812 baptismal registers would know that Advowson’s entry would have been physically impossible – the Rose Act Baptismal books are printed documents, with gaps only for names, dates, places and occupations.

– So, has Palliser made a simple mistake? (The Act is always referred to as the “Rose Act of 1812” which might fool someone into thinking that it applied to a baptism *in* 1812, rather than a baptism *after the final day* of 1812). Even simpler, has he simply mistaken the year of Cuidad Rodrigo as 1813 (anyone can make a simple slip in their notes….)

– Does Pallister, from his extensive and detailed research, know something about the Rose Act that we don’t? For example, is it possible that various parishes, knowing of an incipient change in the law – the debate over the Act had mostly taken place in 1810 and 1811 – started using “Rose Act” printed ledgers well in advance of the legislation? (Stranger things have happened.) So, is Mr Advowson using, at the beginning of 1812, a form that would not become compulsory for another 12 months (but how then, physically, would he have been able to write what he did, in the new-style book…..)?

– Is the narrator, John Huffam, lying about or misremembering what Mr Advowson had said? We know that, within the book as written, John’s recollections and narrations have a complicated relationship with the “truth”. And we know that Palliser is also playing a literary game with the “omniscience of the narrrator” tradition.

– Is Palliser choosing to disguise the year for purposes of plot and/or literary fun? That is, has he quite deliberately made it imposssible to tell whether the birth year is 1812 or 1813 by, within a couple of compellingly written sentences, incorporating “clues” that point to both of those years? (In a note earlier above I mentioned that Palliser, in some of his geographical references, has perfectly plausible and “authentic” details that nevertheless point to utterly irreconcilable locations.)

Fun book.

posted by: Gary Brown at July 28, 2007 12:30 AM


The date of John Huffam’s birth is indeed a puzzle. The firmest information is in Chapter 48, narrated by John himself (and therefore, as we know, narrated somewhat for his own purposes, and presumably long after the events have taken place). Mr Advowson first says that the record of John’s baptism (*not* birth – the parish registers were baptismal registers, not birth registers) should be easy to find as it was one of the very first kept according to the new rules of Sir George Rose’s Act. Now, from historical sources we know that this Act was passed in mid-1812, and came into effect at the very end of 1812, so that new entries from January 1813 onwards were required to be in the new form. Furthermore we know that the very point of this Act was to ensure that parish registers were henceforth kept in a very standard form, using pre-printed books supplied by the government, with the parish clerk (or vicar) filling in the blanks.

John reads the entry Mr Advowson made some years ago, and amongst other things (things of great puzzlement!) the entry, dated Feb. 10th, refers to the recent news of the capture of Cuidad Roderique by Sir Arthur Wellesley. Again, from historical sources we know the capture occured on Jan. 19th 1812.

So, the “fact” of the entry being a new “Rose Act” entry points to Feb. 1813; the historical reference in the entry, however, points to Feb. 1812 (i.e. just as the January news had reached remote, rural parishes).

But it’s also interesting that Mr Advowson’s actual entry is inherently problematic if he’s reading from a Rose Act text. The whole point of the Rose Act was to establish a wholly standardised record of baptisms. The text of the entry, however, is almost exactly the type of thing – an ambiguous, personal narrative of the events – that the Rose Act was designed to prevent. Furthermore, anyone who has looked at post-1812 baptismal registers would know that Advowson’s entry would have been physically impossible – the Rose Act Baptismal books are printed documents, with gaps only for names, dates, places and occupations.

– So, has Palliser made a simple mistake? (The Act is always referred to as the “Rose Act of 1812” which might fool someone into thinking that it applied to a baptism *in* 1812, rather than a baptism *after the final day* of 1812). Even simpler, has he simply mistaken the year of Cuidad Rodrigo as 1813 (anyone can make a simple slip in their notes….)

– Does Pallister, from his extensive and detailed research, know something about the Rose Act that we don’t? For example, is it possible that various parishes, knowing of an incipient change in the law – the debate over the Act had mostly taken place in 1810 and 1811 – started using “Rose Act” printed ledgers well in advance of the legislation? (Stranger things have happened.) So, is Mr Advowson using, at the beginning of 1812, a form that would not become compulsory for another 12 months (but how then, physically, would he have been able to write what he did, in the new-style book…..)?

– Is the narrator, John Huffam, lying about or misremembering what Mr Advowson had said? We know that, within the book as written, John’s recollections and narrations have a complicated relationship with the “truth”. And we know that Palliser is also playing a literary game with the “omniscience of the narrrator” tradition.

– Is Palliser choosing to disguise the year for purposes of plot and/or literary fun? That is, has he quite deliberately made it imposssible to tell whether the birth year is 1812 or 1813 by, within a couple of compellingly written sentences, incorporating “clues” that point to both of those years? (In a note earlier above I mentioned that Palliser, in some of his geographical references, has perfectly plausible and “authentic” details that nevertheless point to utterly irreconcilable locations.)

Fun book.

posted by: AGB at July 28, 2007 12:32 AM


I cannot imagine C.Palliser making a mistake on this point if it is crucial from his point of view (I mean, if he really wanted to get John birth on 1813 or keep the reader confused).

Of course we can agree on few of the other points you mentionned. To me the main thing is they get this child just in time for the John (father) needs (I mean recover the will). It is too strange to believe in it. The 1813 option gives a good explanation.

At the end of the day it doesnt change so much the whole plot to get Johnnie born in 12 or 13.

By the way you post two times the same msg…

posted by: gix at August 1, 2007 11:53 AM


My take on 1812 or 1813, is that since Advowson did not use the required form, Schedule A, but used a free form style for the Baptism entry, that he simply was confused over the year the Act was passed and the starting year of what the act required. It is hard to believe, that it took a year for the news of Cuidad Rodrigo to reach him.
It is possible that he was confused about the Act’s year, since that is collaborated by the fact that, its not in Schedule A format.

Palliser slyly makes us deduce with difficulty that the year is 1812, and tries to throw us off track!!!

posted by: Michael Levine at August 2, 2007 4:56 PM


Yesterday I reread the author’s Afterword to the novel (dated exactly fifteen years previously, 7 August 1992), and near the end I noticed something I’d forgotten. He said he was pleased that critics had noticed the origin of John Huffam’s name and the significance of his date of birth. In view of that statement from the author, how can anybody reasonably maintain that 1812 was not the year of John’s birth?
Like the novel itself, the Afterword is well worth rereading to see how the author perceives the structure of the novel. One thing that I found a bit disturbing is that he claims to have spent months checking chronologies and events. My impression, detailed at length in the latter part of 2006, is of inconsistencies galore, and other subscribers have said the same.

posted by: Brian at August 8, 2007 4:15 AM


Yes, but we also agreed, I think, that these temporal inconsistencies – such as the ‘confused Christmasses’ – were intentional. So perhaps Palliser was checking his chronology for the right amount of inconsistencies and their camouflage, so that at fist glance nothing seems wrong with Johnnie’s narrative.

posted by: Leon at August 9, 2007 7:53 AM



I really hope that this discussion is still all, as I read the book and the forum so that I could keep up and make my contributions. First since Peter Clothier spent some time with the Huffams and at that time Mary admitted to having feelings for him,what prevented them from concieving a child then out of pure love.Secondly since Escreet himself denies that he killed John Huffam Snr,and it is believed that someone from outside might have done it,it leaves the possibility of Barney since we know for a fact(from johnnies narriation) that he did commit a mudder round about that time and the Digweeds knowing this would thus be motivated in genuinely caring for Johnie later on.
It is also possible that Peter himself could have killed the old John Huffman,they both set up a charade in the presence of the Fortisquence,so it could have well been their plan or maybe there was no charade at all the whole act was reality then Peter would have been angry and thus kill JH snr that will explain the blood on his hands and the money. Assuming that Peter is the father and I strongly believe this to be the case it expalins why Mary made the comment “…the father of my child had killed my papa…”,it also expalains(Assuming that Peter killed JH snr),why John feels that either his father or his grandfather had had commited a mudder.

With regard to the missing pages in the Mary’s diary, it is possible that thy conatained a debased life that she lived while John was away at the Quiggs, she was after all staying with Mrs Puviance nd was caught by john in her way to the house to possibly render service to the gentle men. I do not believe that JH snr could be the father of Johnnie judjing from his morals.

Ofcourse as a first time reader of the book I could be wrong and if I am I seek enlightenment please.I also think that that frech site should be translated into english for those of us who cannot read a word of french. I really hope to hear from you guys,I am impressed that you managed to keep this forum going for almost four years, I believe it would be something if it can make to five years for the sake of the Quincinx


posted by: Themba at August 23, 2007 6:45 PM


Well Themba,

– Yes, it is possible Peter was the father during the time he spent at Mary house. It is just not the more probable.

– Yes Barney could have killed John. However remember the very end of the book when Escreet killed Sancious and it is very suggested that he did, like in a dream, exactly the same things that in the 1811 night. So…

– It is difficult to see Peter as a murderer as Palliser describe him as a fvery fair person. I dont believe he ckilled anybody. Moreover he has no reason to kill Huffam. More probably he is the victim of the charade.

– Regarding the sentence “the father of my child..etc.” a way to understand it is to think she was talking about Martin. Reread it. However we can interpretate, thats true, on another way. I guess Johnnie thinks his father if Martin, thats why he also think his Grand father had commited a murder (J.Escreet father of Martin when he killed J.Umphraville)

– I disagree about the missing pages. They talked about the murder night as they were written much before she prostitue herself (as far as I remember – not very sure of my memory). By the way, Palliser in his postface says it give th key about the murder and John father.

Nobody is really wrong, as we can find different way to explain the whole story. I jus guess, your is not the hidden one that palliser claims to have put into the book.

May be you will have to re-read it 🙂
Sry, I am too lazy to translate my site. My be you can use a web translator… Very risky 🙂

posted by: Gix at August 28, 2007 1:15 PM


I have just been rereading bits and pieces. has anyboy realised that Johnnie and Mr. Assinder (the Mompesson steward at the estate in Hougham) are actually closely related (if Johnnie is indeed the child of Mary and Martin Fortisquince)?

Assinder is the “nevy” of the old steward, which is, of course, Martin F.’s father.

posted by: Leon at August 28, 2007 1:33 PM


Yes that’s true, and thats why Palliser noted in his postface that if the reader pays attention he will find out a kind of family link between Johnnie and the Digweed’s. I believe to remember that Assinder has something to see with the Digweed from a family point of view (a cousin or something).

posted by: Gix at August 29, 2007 2:09 PM


Can’t remember that, but I will check this! Another possible connection is via the Feverfew family: the name appears on the Huffam tombstones in Melthorpe and it is also the name of the grandfather of george Digweed (if I remember correctly…).

posted by: Leon at August 30, 2007 1:38 PM


OK, I guess your memory is better than mine. I think Feverfew is a better connection than Assinder. Sorry I made things confused. Finally :
– Yes Assinder is family related with the heros.
– The Digweed connection that Palliser poited out could probably been through this Feverfew family.

posted by: Gix at August 31, 2007 5:06 AM


Is there anybody in this forum to sort each post and split all things ? Johnnie father’s on one side, murder on another, chronology etc… ?

posted by: Gix at August 31, 2007 5:11 AM


Hi Gix,

If you would be willing to let me have your French text in, say, Word format, I’d happily translate it into English. Yours is a great site, and I’m sure the mostly non-francophone members of this group would love to be able to read it.

posted by: AGB at September 2, 2007 12:47 PM


Hi Gix and AGB,

We can also share the work load. I’d be moe than happy to translate a couple of sections as well.

posted by: Leon at September 3, 2007 3:39 AM


Hi Gix and AGB,

We can also share the work load. I’d be more than happy to translate a couple of sections from the site as well. Just let me know!

posted by: Leon at September 3, 2007 3:41 AM


No pb, for me.
Very helpfull, thx.
If you leave me an email where to send you the text we can start that.

You can send adress here :

posted by: Gix at September 3, 2007 7:38 AM


Hi Leon,

Let’s both email Gix at his Wanadoo address and get the source material. Perhaps you and I can then email each other to work out who will do what, when.

You can contact me via


posted by: AGB at September 3, 2007 11:14 AM


Hmmm ….. that should be:

posted by: AGB at September 3, 2007 11:22 AM


Johnnies Birth Year, New Info

In Chapter 92, Mrs. Digweed and Johnnie converse:

“What year was it that your Grand-Dad was done to death?”
“Why, it was in May the year before I was born.”
“And you were born about six months a-fore Joey, aint that so?”
“Why then, that was the May of the year of the Great Comet….etc
“That was the time I was nursing Polly….etc

[ There was a very Great Comet viewable in 1811…. (Internet source)

1811 Comet Flaugergues appeared between April 1811 and January 1812.
This comets tail was about 25 degrees long.
More can be found at the American Meteor Society Great Comet of 1811.
This comet was seen with the unaided eye. Two tails where observed with this comet, one straight and one curved. ]

I believe this further supports my conclusion that Johnny was born Feb 1812, disputing the
ambiguous statement Advowson made regarding the Rose Act of 1812.

John Senior was killed in 1811, the year Polly was being nursed, the year of the Great Comet, and John Jr. was
born the following February.

posted by: Micheal Levine at September 10, 2007 3:11 PM


No, it just means that Johnnie thought he was born in 1812 (because his mother told him). Thats what he said then to Mrs Digweed.
It is still logical.

yes 1811 comet is Flaugergues without any doubts.

posted by: Gix at September 11, 2007 6:36 AM


I first read The Quincunx when I was in high school, a year or two after it was published. I then read it again after I graduated from college. I have obtained a law degree in the years that have gone by and now, reading the novel a third time, I am amazed at the things I missed when I was younger.

I have very much enjoyed the postings on this site and hope I can spur the discussion forward. I will be finishing the book again over the weekend and will then post my thoughts on it. Hopefully, I may be able to shed some light on some of the key mysteries.

One thing has been bothering me. This subject has been touched on before, but who is Mary’s mother and why is she mysteriously absent from the novel? Or is she? I do not know if this question is crucial and have thought of the possibility that it is something of a red herring planted by Palliser, but still it is odd that in a work of fiction so concerned with familial ties, all we hear of Mary’s mother is that she died when Mary was very young. For the life of me, I cannot figure out who it could be. Looking at the family tree at the end of the book, I do not really see any likely candidates. If someone has any thoughts on this subject, I would be eager to read them.

posted by: BAC at September 13, 2007 12:37 PM


Last year I’ve been making a case for Old Lizzie being Eliza Umphraville (see posts from May 30, 2006 ff.). One of the points I called upon to substantiate my claim was the dramatic irony which the identification brings to Mary’s death scene. I quote myself (references to US pocket ed.):

“A delirious Mary cries out “Mamma!” on her death bed and Palliser has Johnnie write that “As if in response, the old woman came across” (Ch. 50, 469). I am not arguing that Mary recognizes Lizzie as her mother (which Lizzie is not), or that Lizzie recognizes Mary as a blood relative; my point is that Palliser uses the literary convention of a character calling out for his/her dead or absent mother while in a delirium just before dying to an ironic effect (if we take Lizzie to be Eliza). Mary calls out for her mother in the company of the best thing she could ask for given the circumstances: someone who is quite possibly her grandmother. (And notice, too, how Mary hereby joins the ranks of the many characters in the novel who confuse generations – the most obvious example being Jeoffrey Escreet in Ch. 87-90.)”

BAC’s comments about the lingering mystery of the identity of Mary’s mother have made me wonder if Lizzie is perhaps something more than her grandmother, although I do not see (as of yet) how she could be Mary’s mother as well as her grandmother.

Alternatively, Mary’s mother could just be an anonymous prostitute from the ‘bagnio’ next-door to the Huffam house at Charing Cross.

posted by: Leon at September 14, 2007 4:49 AM


And two other things have been bothering me lately:

1. Why should it be mentioned so explicitly in Mary’s diary that Peter changes from a green coat to a scarlet one before returning to the house at Charing Cross after the charade at the night of the murder. Just a disguise?

2. Has anybody else also been struck by some of the resemblances in the physical description of some of the characters? Barney Digweed, for instance, has (if I remember correctly) the “high-domed forehead” that is also attributed to Hugo Mompesson and Johnnie time and time again refers to his strikingly blue eyes. The only other character with eyes like that, according to Johnnie (although he does not make the link explicitly) is another Mompesson, viz. Lydia. And then there is the case of Peter Clothier, whose description by Johnnie calls to mind his description of Joey Digweed (brown eyes, gentle features, small of stature, etc…). (If anybody is particularly interested I can provide quotations in a later post.) And there are more matters concerning physical appearance: Why do David and Tom Mompesson resemble one another so little? And what about Barney and George Digweed? Why is Barney red-haired and his brother not?

Whaddayouthink? Just coincidences and/or meaningless details or possibly significant clues to hidden family ties?

posted by: Leon at September 14, 2007 5:16 AM


Leon, I completely agree that Lizie is Eliza. A brilliant catch on your part. Based upon this discovery, I had been thinking that it was possible that Lizzie/Eliza was Mary’s mother, but I don’t really see how that would work and, more importantly, I don’t see what the point would be, i.e., how does it really impact the story other than to add another one of Palliser’s trademark cruel ironies?

However, it is interesting that although Mary states that her mother died when she was very little and it is thus likely that Mary has no memory of her, she does cry out for her mother as she dies. Just a universal human reaction to impending death? Or is Palliser tipping his hand a bit to us regarding Lizzie? I personally think he is tipping his hand, but as previously stated do not think Lizzie is Mary’s mother but only her grandmother.

A couple of other things that have been bothering me.

1. What does the phrase “being like to to die” mean in John’s Parish birth record prepared by Advowson? I have tried looking it up but have so far been unsuccessful. Is this just an Anglicism that a Yank wouldn’t understand?

2. The missing pages from Mary’s diary. If they were only about M. Fortisquince, I am not sure why Mary would have John burn them. I understand that early 19th century England was a place very different from our own and having a child out of wedlock or in wedlock with another man would disgrace a woman, but if Mary knows that she is going to die, wouldn’t it be better if John knows the whole truth?

3. What of Helen Quilliam’s “lost” year? Where was she and what was she doing? I feel that it is something dishonorable if she feels compelled to gloss over it.

posted by: BAC at September 14, 2007 12:21 PM


Sorry, I forgot to respond to Leon’s comments.

I do not attribute any special significance to Peter’s change of coats on the night of the murder. I think it was just to throw suspicion off him if anyone noticed him in the house, such as Fortisquince.

By the way, why was the charade really necessary other than to try to fool Jemima? Which it did not even accomplish.

I am almost completly certain that Barney is a relation of the Mompessons. I am not sure exactly how, but it just feels right.

It is interesting that two of the most evil, yet most ambiguous characters, Jemima and Barney, do survive. Perhaps, it shouldn’t be such a surprise, as both are such cunning manipulators.

posted by: BAC at September 14, 2007 1:37 PM


In response to BAC:

‘Being like to die’ may be an Anglicism the Dutch don’t understand either, but I’d always just assumed it meant something like ‘unlikely to survive the first weeks of infancy.’ Lemme check the Dutch translation which I have somewhere, see what it makes of it.

Some contributors have suggested the missing pages may have contained not only information about Johnnie’s father but also about deeply shameful conduct on Mary’s part – as hinted at by Daniel Clothier.

Helen’s lost year… You have to help me out there. Is that info in her story in Part II?

And in response to his responses:

The change of coat just seems a rather pointless detail. Mary suggests the charade was necessary because John Sr. did not fully trust Martin.

I also think Barney related to the Mompessons, and like BAC I cannot quite put my finger on just how. Any thoughts on that, anybody?

posted by: Leon at September 15, 2007 4:44 AM


“Being like to die” means exactly what Leon suggests above: “unlikely to live for more than a very short time”. Although I can;t check my sources this morning (I’ll try and do so later) it was a common “trick” used to avoid the necessity of a formal ceremony of baptism in the Church, conducted by the priest and in front of witnesses. Remember that Advowson’s records are not birth records (which no-one kept) but baptismal records, baptism being what the Church concerned itself with. So “being like to die” – whether actually true or not – triggers a “spiritual emergency” allowing a baptism to be carried out (by the Clerk I think, without the need of the priest)at short notice, in private. Perhaps that was just the preferred method for children whose father’s could not be produced on the scene; perhaps Palliser intended a little more…….


posted by: AGB at September 15, 2007 12:10 PM


I had also thought that the missing pages of Mary’s journal contained something more damning than her affair with Fortisquince, but I have no idea what it could be. A previous stint of prostitution jumps to mind, but we have no information about that. Indeed we have precious little information about Mary’s early life. Sometimes I fantasize about flying over to England, looking up Palliser, and throwing my copy of the Quincunx at him.

Thanks for the help regaridng “being like to die.” I agree with the interpretations presented here.

posted by: BAC at September 15, 2007 12:51 PM


A small team is hard at work translating Gix’s excellent and thought-provoking French website into English, as mentioned above (it should be finished and published in a couple of weeks, I guess). I need a bit of simple help. Neither Gix nor I have to hand the edition of Quincunx with Palliser’s Afterword. Could somebody who does have it look up 2 things for me and post them here?

1) Is it in fact called an Afterword, Postscript, or what?

2) Incest. There’s the famous passage where Palliser says that a friend proposed a theory on Johnnie’s parentage that would blow apart the conventions of the Victorian novel. I need the actual wording of that sentence.



posted by: AGB at September 21, 2007 4:54 PM


Glad to provide the simple help requested by AGB. The piece is called the Author’s Afterword. There appear to be two passages relevant. On the first page:-
A colleague in my department at the university where I then taught, however, had read the novel very acutely and had arrived at a hypothesis about one element of the mystery contained within it which I found both intriguing and disturbing. And yet I could hardly be surprised, for I had deliberately breached the ‘implied contract’ between writer and reader on which the nineteenth-century novel is based and with which The Quincunx could – at least superficially – be assumed to be complying.
Two pages later, after referring to the matter of who John’s father was:-
What my colleague at the university, a highly alert and suspicious reader, did was to point out a hideous possibility. This was something that struck at the very heart of Victorian family values and which would certainly have shattered the conventions of the nineteenth-century novel far more devastatingly than what I had in fact devised.
I hope the above will be of some assistance.

posted by: Brian at September 22, 2007 12:43 PM


Just finishing up the novel now and will be posting my thoughts today or tomorrow.

Something that has been bothering me is the possibility that Lydia Mompesson had an illegitimate child by John Umphraville before they were able to marry; please forgive me if this has been brought up before. In Ch. 99, Lady Mompesson says to Lydia: “I don’t quite know what you imagine your parents did, but the truth is that it died. You were told so at the time and it is the truth.”

If the child did not die, as I suspect, then I have wondered if it lived on and has appeared in somewhere in the narrative. Given that Barney Digweed shares Lydia’s bright blue eyes and a connection to the Mompessons, I think he could be the lost child.

I also wonder if Mary is a possible candidate given that nothing is said of her mother other than that she died when Mary was little. We also hear very little about John Huffam’s marriage to Mary’s mother, which appears curious. However, I do not know why the Monpessons would give Lydia’s child to John Huffam. I think Mary would also be to young to be Lydia’s child.

Again please forgive me if these ideas have already been considered and/or discredited.

posted by: BAC at September 22, 2007 2:03 PM


AGB I guess it is this one : —> What my colleague at the university, a highly alert and suspicious reader, did was to point out a hideous possibility. This was something that struck at the very heart of Victorian family values and which would certainly have shattered the conventions of the nineteenth-century novel far more devastatingly than what I had in fact devised.

posted by: Gix at September 23, 2007 5:27 PM


In response to BAC:

Mary, although she has blue eyes, is most certainly too young to be Lydia Mompesson’s lost child. If Mary is 17 in 1811 (according to her diary), this means she was born in 1794. If Lydia Mompesson was pregnant by John Umphraville at the time of the duel and his death, this must have been in 1769, the child being born the following year.

Barney could be a candidate. He has the Mompesson-looks and has strikingly blue eyes, just as Lydia Mompesson. We never learn his exact age, but we do know that at the time of his first meeting with Johnnie in Melthorpe, he is “between [Mary] and Bissett in age.” Mary is 23, 24 at that time; we never learn Bissett’s age. If Barney is the lost Mompesson he would have been 47 at that time, and nearing 60 when we last meet him outise the house at Charing Cross after Sancious’ murder. Could be, but perhaps this is stretching things a bit.

The other possibility is that Lydia Mompesson’s long-lost child is none other than John Huffam Sr. himself (as suggested here by a.o. Gix).

posted by: Leon at September 24, 2007 2:11 AM


Thanks to Brian and Gix: that information is exactly what I need.

posted by: AGB at September 24, 2007 7:58 AM


I do not have the book in front of me at the moment, so I am not able to refer to certain details.

If John Huffam Sr. is Lydia’s child then who was responsible for raising him? James and Eliza? Most certainly not. Then the Mompessons? I remember reading that John and Martin Fortisquince were raised as brothers, but cannot remember who was responsible for their upbringing.

Overall, having finally finished the book again, I am a little disappointed and frustrated. I really enjoy speculating about the hidden relationships between the characters and other such issues, but I’m not sure where it gets us.

Take Martin Fortisquince for example. Possibly the most enigmatic character in the book. He is quite likely John’s father and it is suggested that he may have killed John’s grandfather, (although this seems unlikely). However, he is a complete cipher. We really know nothing about him except that he is universally described as being kind, generous, and principled. The opposite of almost every character in the book. I really have no feel for the character of Martin at all because he is so abstract. Consequently, upon finishing the novel, I did not care that much if Martin was John’s father or if he killed John’s grandfather. I suppose this may be Palliser’s point. After all, how ironic is it that in a novel where all of the characters are obsessed with familial relations, the protagonist is not even sure of the identity of his own father and, thus, of his own legitimacy. I understand the irony, but it falls a little flat for me. At the end of the novel I found myself thinking “I guess we will never know” again and again about certain issues. Oh well.

posted by: BAC at September 24, 2007 12:34 PM


It surely is a frustrating book whenever you feel that you want a clear answer…… One of the reasons I love reading it and re-reading it is a reason we don’t speak much of here (where we tend to be “plot-centric”) is the sheer quality of the writing. I think Palliser is a wonderful stylist, wring vivid, beautifully balanced sentences and paragraphs. Every place, every character leaps off the page to me – I can hear them, see them, see what they see and smell what they smell…. And that’s true even for the enigmatic characters, like Fortisquince. I can figure out who and what he is – even though I can’t figure out quite what makes him tick.

By the way, one of the more interesting things in the book is that Fortisquince is indeed always described as kind, generous and principled – in many ways, a Victorian gentleman’s ideal view of himself. But Palliser most certainly suggests – sometimes rather well-buried suggestions – that he was perhaps really none of these things. One can argue that, at every turn, he supports the Mompesson interests as against the interests of those to whom he ostensibly shows most care and attention: John Huffam Sr, Mary and Johnnie.

On a small plot-point, Johnnie surely does question his own legitimacy. But a point that Palliser certainly understood, and Johnnie would have understood too, is quite intentionally not made explicit. As has been mentioned here before, *legally* Johnnie’s doubts (or rather, his virtual certainty) that he is not the blood-child of Mary Huffam and her lawful husband Peter Clothier are of limited consequence. He was born in wedlock, and so is presumptively legitimate *unless a party with legal standing can prove otherwise*. Mary’s diary – in which she may have confessed to Martin being the father – has been irrevocably destroyed (or the crucial bit has), and Mary is dead. Peter is dead and, so far as we know, left no record of doubt (his encounter with Johnnie was wholly private). Martin is dead, and we hear of no record of his views. Who, including Johnnie, could now prove that he was in fact *not* the child of Peter and Mary? So, legally he’s the Huffam and Clothier heir even if he “knows” he isn’t…..


posted by: AGB at September 24, 2007 8:32 PM


AGB, I agree with everything that you wrote regarding Palliser’s ability as a writer. The Quincunx is a true pleasure to read. However, I can’t help feeling a little annoyed at all the loose ends. It’s not as if I expect Palliser to hold my hand and explain everything to me in minute detail, but I would like to feel that I have enough information to figure out things on my own.

Take the murder of John Huffam for example. Here are the most likely candidates for the murderer: Escreet, Barney, Fortisquince, and Clothier. While a few of the candidates are more likely than others it is still impossible to say who committed the murder. I actually feel Palliser may not know who killed Huffam.

posted by: BAC at September 25, 2007 11:25 AM


Regarding the murder I think there is not a lot of doubt. In one of the final scene, when Escreet kills Sancious, it is highly suggested he is the murderer of John.
However Palliser let the reader imagine what he wants and it is better like that I guess.

posted by: Gix at September 25, 2007 1:28 PM


Escreet is the most likely candidate for the murderer, but what of Barney’s admission that he killed a man around the time of the murder? What of the fact that Peter Clothier may very well have been mentally disturbed? Finally, what of Fortisquince wandering around in the house? Can we really account for him?

By the way, I tend to agree with Gix that John was not born in February 1812, but at a later date, most likely in 1813. I think Martin only began his affair with Mary after the murder. I think that he felt responsible for Mary and that, as the two of them grew closer, their passions got the better of them. I think that John’s baptism record was forged after his birth via a bribe to Advowson.

posted by: BAC at September 25, 2007 4:26 PM


The puzzle in the book that really irritates me is not so much ‘who is Johnnie’s father’ as this: if it is, as Palliser seems to give every clue, Martin Fortisquince, then how on earth could his have happened? Even by turning the received view of Victorian morality on its head, I can’t quite see Mary falling for Peter and being happy to Marry him, whilst at the same time willingly (or even unwillingly) bedding her father’s best friend, a man much older than her. So, if Martin’s the father, the consummation must occur *after* the disaster of the wedding night to Peter and her father’s murder.

Now, my experience of women whose fathers have just been murdered on the wedding night and whose husbands have been committed to an insane asylum for the deed is indeed limited. But I’m guessing it’s unlikely that their reaction is immediately to have sex with their father’s “brother”. (Though, if that’s what did happen, it can surely have only been for the most cynical of reasons: the two of them realizing the imperative of a presumptively legitimate Huffam heir). If it did happen later – which is just about credible, but still not very…. – then the forging of the retrospective baptism record was done as clumsily as it was possible to do the thing – in which case, why do it at all? Either accept that Johnnie is a genuine “love-child”, or do a proper forgery to cast him as the indubitable heir to the Huffam estate.

Annoying. Though I still keep re-reading it. Partly for Chapter 1 – as well-written an opening chapter as I’ve ever read. I was hooked by the third line……..

posted by: AGB at September 25, 2007 8:26 PM



Escreet committed all the murders, Umphraville, Huffam, Sanctious
Lydias child is Huffam( Johnnies GF)
Johnnies BD 1812…same as Dickens…the year after the comet, the year of Wellsleys victory in Spain

posted by: Michael Levine at September 25, 2007 10:38 PM


Glad you’ve got it all figured out! I guess this forum can be closed now.

posted by: BAC at September 26, 2007 11:14 AM



Understand the comet and ciudad rodrigo victory is not at all a proof for Johnnie birth date.

I guess Dickens is a much more convincing argument.

As AGB explain, if Johnnie BD is 1812 we have not a lot of possibilities :
– Escreet rapes Mary
– Martin before the murder
– Peter before the murder (he spent some days inside the Huffam home)
– John Huffam (incest)
– A rape just after the murder

any other idea ?

posted by: Gix at September 26, 2007 12:03 PM


I think Dickens’ birthday is another game Palliser is playing with us. When one first makes the connection, it is very tempting to say that John was born on the same day and year as Dickens, due to Palliser’s obvious affection for Dickens. However, when you realize that Mary had precious little time to be intimate with either Peter or Martin prior to and during the wedding night and that there are problematic issues surrounding John’s baptismal record, you begin to wonder when exactly John was conceived.

I think that it is most likely that, after John Huffam’s murder, Martin realized that Mary had no one to take care of her and was in danger and thus moved her down to his house at Hougham. He then visited her several times to check up on her and they began an affair. John was conceived somewhere in between 1811 and 1812. More likely 1812. I think Martin may have stopped visiting Mary after John’s birth for fear of being further compromised.

I think that we should keep in mind that it was necessary for Mary to be in hiding regardless of whether she was with child. She had reason to fear for her life because of Silas Clothier.

posted by: BAC at September 26, 2007 12:36 PM


“Mary had precious little time to be intimate with either Peter or Martin prior to and during the wedding night”. How long does it take?

posted by: Brian at September 27, 2007 7:20 PM


In response to BAC:
“John was conceived somewhere in between 1811 and 1812. More likely 1812.”

We can be more precise than this, and I don’t think 1812 as the year of conception is the more likely possibility.

In her diary Mary writes that her situation compromised her upon het arrival in Melthorpe (which is why she was treated as she was by “the better sort of people in the village”), “particularly when a few months later it became clear what [her] situation was” (US pocket ed., 574) – i.e.: when she began to show the first signs of pregnancy. Mary arrived in Melthorpe in mid/late May 1811 as a young widow escorted by Martin as her late husband’s father. For the village to talk about her behind her back, there must have been suspicion that the child Mary was so obviously carrying a few months after her arrival could not have been conceived just prior to her husbands’s death, but AFTER that man’s death by his father who was visiting her regularly until the child was born (see p. 575). This would place the date of conception in June/July 1811. (And remember that Martin was quite probably known in the village as the son of the old steward of the Mompessons.)

Also note the clue of the notorious Ratcliffe Highway Murders of December 1811 as indicating that Johnnie was born in 1812: “I never gave up thinking about the mystery of Papa’s murder and at the end of that first year – in the December before you were born – there was a terrible reminder of it when two families in the Ratcliffe-highway were slaughtered at night by a man who broke into their houses” (575; see also Bissett’s remarks in Ch. 2, p. 19).

posted by: Leon at September 28, 2007 3:26 AM


Interesting. Could give, please, chapter number of that pege 575 ?

posted by: Gix at September 28, 2007 10:38 AM


Another piece of evidence to corroborate John’s belief that he was born in 1812 is the mention (very early in chapter 4) of the arrival in the post from Martin Fortisquince of the great Horwood map of London, which John specifically says was published in the year after he was born. Both the U.K. paperback and the U.S. hardback editions acknowledge permission to use parts of the map and give its date as 1813.

posted by: Brian at September 28, 2007 1:33 PM


In response to Gix:

pp. 574-575 of the US pocket ed. are in Chapter 64 of the novel (i.e. part of Mary’s diary).

In response to Brian:

In fact, the only piece of evidence we have for a birthyear of 1813 is a dubious bit of internet info stating that the Rose Act was passed in 1812, but was effective as of January 1813. As I have asked before to all participants here: just how reliable is that info (link/quote provided somewhere in the above)?

posted by: Leon at September 28, 2007 2:28 PM


In response to Michael Levine (Sept. 25, 2007):

I don’t think we can be so sure Escreet murdered John Huffam Sr. as you claim to be (although he certainly killed Umphraville and Sancious). What Escreet is re-enacting (as probably some kind of traumatic memory) at the instigation of Jemima on the night when he murders Sancious is not so much the murder of Huffam from 1811, but the duel with John Umphraville from 1769 – with Sancious in the role of the victim of course. Like Anna Mompesson did on that earlier occasion, Johnnie distracts Escreet’s opponent, enabling him to drive the sword home. Far from ‘confessing’ to the murder of Huffam, Escreet is re-living his killing of Umphraville.

Notice how Jemima has to give the most careful directions in order to have Escreet act out the Huffam-murder. Sancious even has to hand him the sword (Ch. 122, p. 1001). And Escreet himself denies Jemima’s version of events. He says Jemima has invented all of her story and claims there was an intruder.

Indeed, there are good reasons to doubt the veracity of Jemima’s ‘testimony’:
• Jemima herself seems to be implying she invented the story to goad Jeoffrey Escreet to hand over the testament. Johnnie, too, cannot help but think so.

I understood what she was suggesting. And surely she was right! Peter Clothier was innocent and had been the unwitting dupe of a plot to incriminate him which had gone wrong because of her own interference. Everything she said provided a satisfactory explanation of the hitherto puzzling facts of the crime. But was it true or was she saying all of this merely in order to intimidate the old man? (1002)

As I came forward Mrs Sancious looked at me fearfully: ‘I did not mean it,’ she stammered. ‘I only intended to goad him into giving us the will.’
What was she saying? Simply that she had not meant this to happen? Or that she had made her story up? Or had merely guessed at what she had not seen? (1004-1005)

‘You implied just now that you only said it because you wanted to goad the old man into giving you the will. What did you mean?’
‘What does it matter?’ she said dully.
‘It matters to me. Did you mean that you invented those things?’
She shrugged her shoulders: ‘I saw Clothier.’
‘Then if you saw all that, why didn’t you come forward when he was indicted?’
‘You assume too much. And why should I? I hated your mother.’ (1007-1008)

• From Mary’s journal we learn that John Huffam trusted Jeoffrey Escreet: He protests when Martin Fortisquince wants Escreet out of the room for a private conversation and apologizes upon his return; John Huffam entrusts him with the money for the codicil, etc. (546-547; “My daughter and I trust you absolutely” 548). Of course this trust turns out to have been very much misplaced.
• According to Jemima, John Huffam orders Jeoffrey to leave the plate-room before he opens the strong-box, since even he was not to know where the key was hidden. Escreet denies that this was the case. On p. 1003 it turns out that Escreet does know exactly where the key to the strong-box is hidden: in acting out the events of that night (or is he?) he unerringly moves to a piece of floorboard that can be removed to reveal a hiding-place. This would seem to imply that Jemima has indeed invented her story: Escreet knew where John Huffam kept the key to the strong-box and so there would not have been a reason for John to dismiss Escreet from the plate-room.
• Jemima is certainly wrong about what happened to the codicil and the letter on the wedding night. According to her version Escreet had put them in the package with the bank notes after he has killed John Huffam (1003). In Mary’s journal John Huffam has handed the codicil and the letter to Peter Clothier before the dinner (563). Incidentally: how does Jemima know of the existence of the letter?

posted by: Leon at September 28, 2007 2:32 PM



Sir George’s Rose’s Act (Act of 52 George. III, chapter 146: “An Act for the better regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers of Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, in England”) was signed into law on 28th July 1812. Here’s the crucial part:

“That from and after the Thirty-first Day of December One thousand eight hundred and twelve, Registers of Public and Private Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, solemnized according to the Rites of the United Church of England and Ireland, within all Parishes or Chapelries in England, whether subject to the Ordinary, or Peculiar, or other Jurisdiction, shall be made and kept by the Rector, Vicar, Curate, or Officiating Minister of every Parish (or of any Chapelry where the Ceremonies of Baptism, Marriage, and Burial have been usually, and may according to Law be performed) for the Time being, in Books of Parchment or of good and durable Paper, to be provided by His Majesty’s Printer as Occasion may require, at the Expence of the respective Parishes or Chapelries….”

This website gives the full text, with printed examples of what was required to be done to comply:


posted by: AGB at September 28, 2007 3:06 PM


Well, that looks much more convincing than the other internet ‘proof’ I have seen so far. 🙂

The problem now is whether Palliser simply made a tiny mistake or is deliberately trying to point to a birthyear of 1813.

Given the fact that this is such specific information not readily available to the general reading public – in contrast to the Ratcliffe Highway murders, the comet, the publication date of the map, Dickens’ birthyear, etc. (which all point to the year of birth as 1812) – I think the latter possibility is slightly more likely…

posted by: Leon at September 29, 2007 4:46 AM


Well said, Leon! The evidence we have is overwhelmingly in favour of 1812. I’ve looked at the 1812/1813 discussion and cannot see what the 1813 proponents are really getting at. In respect of the murder of John Huffam, I must say I am pleased that somebody has pointed out in some detail why Escreet, though possibly the likeliest suspect, was not necessarily the murderer. Jemima Fortisquince’s reconstruction is clever, but she had over twenty years to work it out! Finally, may I say how delighted I am that this discussion has come out of the doldrums again and is providing lively debate.

posted by: Brian at September 29, 2007 6:23 AM


I meant to write that the FORMER possibility is slightly more likely, i.e. Palliser having made a mistake in his research on the Rose Act – as Brian rightly surmised. 🙂

posted by: Leon at September 29, 2007 9:28 AM


As I wrote above – a few week’s ago – the Rose Act took effect from the last day of 1812, and is always called “the Rose Act of 1812”. Even though Rose Act-style entries don’t occur in 1812. That could have fooled Palliser; or Palliser could simply be having his character Mr Advowson make a mistake of recollection.

I too conclude that Johnnie was born in early 1812, and thus conceived around May 1811. But there are three persistent niggles – the Rose Act issue; how that conception could have taken place, and with whom (and why!); why Pallister several times stresses Johnnie as “small for his age”.

It’s curious, isn’t it, that in a novel that largely maintains the high Victorian coyness about sex, everything turns on whom Mary Huffam had sex with, and when.


posted by: AGB at September 29, 2007 10:31 AM


Ratcliffe Highway Murders

Leon, thx I found it.
The problem is that Mary wrote it. In the 1813 BD hypothesis, only Mary, Martin and Advowson are aware of the real date. Both first should have swear to never, never revelate it. So when Mary write that her diary, we can expect she still do like Johnnie was born in 1812.

About the London map. Johnnie is speaking in this chapter and he though to be born in 1812. So it is normal he says the map was edited the year after his girth year. It is the same game that with the comet.

By the way, I found another clue for 1813 when rereading those parts : Mary says she gets problem because of her situation of a pregnant alone person. She always said they (with Martin) pretend her husband just die before she came to Melthorpe. If it is the case, I dont see any reason why people will reject her (well, I agree, I am not fully aware of England morality in 19th century 🙂 On the other hand if we imageni she becomes pregnant during 1812, everybody will understand she gets the children out of a wedding which is an argument to reject her for Melthrope ppl.

posted by: Gix at September 29, 2007 10:46 AM


I think one of the fundamental problems with the Quincunx is that Palliser made things so complex that he can be accused of wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

For example, take what Advowson says about the baptismal record. Fortisquince is stated to be the godfather, but then, after a pause, he writes “and father.” Mary then takes up the quill and writes in Peter’s name.

Why would Fortisquince, who is married to Jemima, indicate that he is John’s father? By doing so, he would make John a bastard and disinherit him from both the Clothier and Huffam estates. He would also make Mary a “fallen woman.” What if Jemima were to find out that Martin is indicated as the father of Mary’s child on the baptismal record?

It does not make a lot of sense, but is Fortisquince trying to say to Mary that he is willing to admit to being the father of John if Mary will give up her pursuit of the Huffam estate on John’s behalf? Does he feel that they would all be better off it they did so?

If that is Fortisquince’s offer, Mary turns it down by writing in Peter’s name. First of all, it is possible, although most of us agree, extremely unlikely, that Peter is John’s father and thus that Mary simply wants to tell the truth about John’s paternity.

I think that it is more likely that Mary does not want John to be a bastard, for propriety’s sake, but also so that he does not lose his chance at the inheritance.

So, this episode seems to indicate that Martin is John’s father and may have been willing to admit so at one time. However, Mary, either for the sake of veracity or, more likely, expediency, chose to stick with the story that Peter was John’s father.

posted by: BAC at September 29, 2007 1:17 PM


In response to AGB (Sept. 29, 2007): “why Palliser several times stresses Johnnie as ‘small for his age.’”

If Johnnie is indeed born on Feb. 5, 1812, and he is conceived by Martin sometime after Mary’s arrival in Melthorpe in mid/end May 1811 – say, July or even August 1811 – then he is born slightly prematurely and could therefore perfectly well seem “small for his age” later in life.

In response to BAC’s interpretation of Martin and Mary’s curious behaviour during the baptism episode as narrated by Advowson: That is exactly how I read that passage!

What I think could have happened is this:

• On her wedding day John Huffam Sr. makes Mary promise that she keeps the codicil safe “and use it on behalf of [her] heir” (US pocket ed., p. 563). Mary takes this promise very seriously, as we learn several times from Johnnie’s narrative.
• After the tragedies of and following the wedding night, Mary is left married to Peter Clothier who is incarcerated for life, but without a Huffam heir.
• Her only chance to produce a child that can still pass as a legitimate heir – i.e. a child that is conceived by her lawfully wedded husband Peter Clothier prior to his arrest for the murder of John Huffam Sr. on May 6, 1811 – is to find a suitable partner as soon as possible.
• The most likely candidate available to her once she has settled in Melthorpe is Martin, who escorts her there and visits her frequently during her first months there. Moreover, Mary knows Martin has had a crush on her for a long time and had even proposed a marriage (but was refused by John Huffam Sr.).
• So sometime during the Summer months of 1811 Mary, adamant to keep her promise to her dead father, seduces Martin, who succumbs (despite his marriage to Jemima) and conceives Johnnie with her. (So Mary is indeed much more cunning than Johnnie makes her seem. And she has some experience with a kind of prostitution – at least she knows how to seduce men.)
• During the registration Martin makes a tentative offer to expose himself as the biological father of the child – thereby compromising himself, turning Mary into a ‘fallen woman’ and making sure the child cannot be a legitimate heir to the estate. Mary, wishing to honour her promise to her father, of course refuses and gives ‘Peter Clothier of London’ as the father of the child.
• The townspeople of Melthorpe are suspicious of course: a young widow suddenly turns out to be pregnant after a much older gentleman, supposedly her father-in-law, has been seen visiting her frequently…

Notice how this scenario allows for a fitting symmetry in the events taking place in the Half-Moon room at the Blue Dragon Inn in Hertfort: both during Mary and Peter’s only night together as husband and wife, and during the night Henrietta and Henry Bellringer spend there on their way to the estate, NOTHING HAPPENS – i.e. no child is conceived – even though Johnnie may suspect otherwise. (In my view Henrietta is pregnant with David Mompesson’s child.)

In response to Gix: your 1813-hypothesis certainly has some appeal, but I think you read way too much into just one passage – the scene with Advowson in Ch. 48 – for corroboration. There is, it seems to me, no hard textual evidence to support it. But creative over-interpretation has its merits too! Please keep on trying to persuade me!

posted by: Leon at September 30, 2007 6:17 AM


Leon points out the fitting symmetry of the events in the Halfmoon room at the Blue Dragon Inn in Hertford. The novel has a few repetitions of events in it. My view is very different on this point. I think Martin Fortisquince and Mary Clothier conceived John in that room very shortly indeed after the murder of her father and that Henry Bellringer also made Henrietta pregnant there on their journey north. Both journeys were directly connected with weddings and the possession of the Huffam estate. Also the bride was impregnated by one not intended as her husband (for the purposes of estate!) on both occasions. It is interesting that John is very pensive when seeing the room for the first time and Joey has to call him away. Could he be aware of something being repeated, as happens to him at the very end of the novel? Just an idea. Comments welcome. I want to thank Leon for his well-reasoned and documented view, even though I disagree sometimes.

posted by: Brian at September 30, 2007 6:44 AM


Thx Leon, this a very convicing way to explain that. Especially the idea about a a premturaly child which could explain his small stature.

I also like the idea of making the child is coming from Mary in respect to her beloved father. Why not.

Be sure I have also read the other aspects, but I never find a real proof for the 1812 BD, just a trend like you mention (and some were not very convincing like the comet or other things).

Regarding this part with Advowson, I re-read it this morning ( 🙂 ) to check and try to find something else. On the French version, it is said Advowson is unconfortable (even after he has confess to Johnnie that Barbellion came to find his birth act). I really have no explanation to Advwoson attitude. By the way, I thought about another possibility, but not a very satisfaying one : Mary and Martin waited 1 year to declare the child in order to protect them from Clothier. I can imagine they were a bit paranoïd after John Sr murder, and thought that Clothier will investigate to know if a legitimate child exist. A way to do it is to look at all the birth records in the following year. If you dont declare it, you stay anonymous. Well, I know it is a little bit crazy. But it can also explain Advowson attitude obliged to record a 1 yo child which should be very uncommon in 19th century…

I agree with brian, there are symetries everywhere in the novel (and 1st in the quincunx figure) and it is an interesting point to dig in.

posted by: Gix at September 30, 2007 9:57 AM


By the way AGB with the help of Leon have translated my French language site on Quincunx. Thx to them for the great work. You can get it there :

posted by: Gix at September 30, 2007 10:00 AM


In response to Brian:
I agree with Brian it would be a nice touch if Johnnie had indeed been conceived in the Halfmoon-room at the inn in Hertford – which is actually what I was thinking until the matter of the exact date of conception was brought up here and I started getting interested in why Johnnie is so small for his age. Pushing his date of conception forward closer to his birthday seemed a fine solution. 🙂 But the symmetry between Mary’s situation and that of Henrietta is a very strong point made by Brian (if indeed Henrietta is carrying Bellringer’s child and not David Mompesson’s, which perhaps is the more likely interpretation – I’ll re-read the conversation between Johnnie and Henrietta after Bellringer’s murder tonight to see what I make of it now).

Brian and Gix are also of course right there are repetitions, mirrorings and symmetries in the novel, which itself is a symmetrical structure. I more than welcome Gix’s suggestion to dig into this aspect so here’s a start, in random order:

1. Escreet’s murder of Sancious mirrors his murder of Umphraville (see on of my posts above)
2. Important events in the Half-Moon-room in the Blue Dragon Inn in Hertford (Mary and Martin, Henrietta and Henry) mirror one another (cf. Brian above)
3. …

I’ll post more soon, if I feel like it. 🙂

Great site Gix!

posted by: Leon at September 30, 2007 11:09 AM


And all compliments for the translations of Gix’s site should go to AGB, who did 99,99999% of the hard work.

posted by: Leon at September 30, 2007 11:13 AM


Just finished the book – fairly confused.
Reading the site her a thought struck me. What if the baptism record was not of John. It could be a genuine record of a child who did die very young. John was then the product of Mary and Martin, born in 1813. This would explain the uncertainty of the birth date.

posted by: John Haines at September 30, 2007 12:40 PM


I think the baptism record is definitely John’s given that Martin and Mary both signed their names to it and it also refers to Peter Clothier. I do not think that extra records were lying around Advowson’s office for use by other parties. Whether the record was actually made in 1812 or 1813 is the outstanding issue. Several facts point to 1812, others to 1813. For the record to have been made in 1813, but dated 1812, it would have to be a forgery. If so, then it is likely that Martin bribed Advowson and/or intimidated him with his connections to the Mompessons. If Advowson was bribed, it would explain his generally nervous, squirmy behavior whenever he sees John. (I imagine he would also suspect that John was born out of wedlock, which being an early 19th century Englishman, he would also be uncomfortable discussing with John.)

posted by: BAC at October 1, 2007 1:55 PM


Anyone still out there?

If so, I just wanted to explore the possibility that Martin is the murderer of John Huffam. The most important insinuation that this is the case is when Mary writes in her journal that she could not bear to think that the father of her child had killed her Papa. This statement is ambiguous, as it could refer to Peter Clothier as well, but it does at least plant the idea that Martin was the murderer if you believe Martin is the father of John, as many of us do.

Mary provides an even more ambiguous piece of information about Martin when she describes his appearance at the inn after her father’s murder. She states that Martin gives her a look that she could not read. What does this look mean? Does it mean simply that Martin is unsure of how to break the news of John Huffam’s death to Mary? Or is he acting strangely because he knows that now he can have Mary to himself? Or is it that besides having Mary, he is acting strangely because he has killed Huffam, his “brother” from childhood?

I don’t know, but I have always found Martin’s description of himself during Huffam’s murder to be a little self-serving. I find it very hard to place him exactly in the house. What of Martin’s family connection to Jeoffrey Escreet? I find it interesting that father and son are both in the house the night of the murder. I know that they are supposed to hate each other, but could it be possible that blood relation triumphs over all and that one covers up the circumstances of the murder for the benefit of the other?

If Martin brought the will into the house from the Mompessons, he could just as easily be the one to take it back. I suppose Escreet is a more likely candidate for the murder, but I can’t help finding Martin’s behavior puzzling.

Any thoughts?

posted by: BAC at October 7, 2007 1:21 PM


BAC, to me the main pb with Martin murder, is that he has no reason to kill John. Moreover he has not the profil for a murderer (as he is described by other charachters).
Who gets a benefit for this crime ? Thats is the question.

posted by: Gix at October 7, 2007 4:46 PM


I do think that Escreet is the most likely person to have murdered Huffam, but I am fascinated with Martin’s character and just wanted to speculate about his possible connections to the crime.

As for reasons to kill Huffam, how about this: Martin hated Huffam because Huffam prevented him from having Mary. Huffam insulted Martin by saying that he was too old for Mary and then later insulted his choice of Jemima as his wife, saying insulting things about her character in particular. (Isn’t it funny that Martin’s legal father had also married a woman much younger than himself?)

Then, Huffam invites Martin to the wedding night dinner party to obtain the will and use him as a witness to the faked quarrel. Think of how Martin must feel when he arrives at the Huffam home: He believes that his oldest friend, his “brother”, has invited him to his home to reconcile only to discover that Mary, (who he might be in love with), has just married, and to a son of Silas Clothier! I think that it was quite possible that Martin was enraged by Huffam’s conduct. Whether he was enraged enough to murder Huffam, I don’t know.

I am also fascinated by the fact that Escreet is Martin’s father. Is it possible that they conceived the plot to kill Huffam together? If not, is it possible that one of them carried out the murder and the other, after the fact, aided in a cover up to protect the other? You know, blood is thicker than water?

posted by: BAC at October 8, 2007 1:25 PM


My problem with this hypothesis is that Martin is never described as a kind of person able to commit a murder. On the contrary he is described as a very fair and honest man (see Lydia’s opinion).
No doubt he was in love with Mary and John refuse the wedding, but how can this be a reason to kill John ? And finally he found a young women to mary witrh (Jemina).
Yes he did felt betrayed about the 2nd will (but did he really understand everythings during this diner ?). But is it more coming from the Lydia’s plot. And finally, even if he is on the Mompesson
side, John is his “almost brother” too….
I am quite sure he is aware that J.Escreet is his biological father but what his father have told him about Escreet ?
So I completly agree there is an agrement between father and son after the murder to accuse Peter. Also, the John attitude has may be help him to not denounce Peter.
I am unconfortable to believe Martin would have build the all plot against Peter. Guess he was more driven by this evening events.

But OK, Martin as murderer is a possible hypothesis anyway as there is nothing in the novel thats clearly state that he is innocent. Moreover I like the symetry :
– Escreet (Martin’s father) kills J.Umphraville (J.Huffam father)
– Martin (Escreet son) kills J.Huffam (J.Umphraville son)
The fathers of the 6th quincunx element kill the sons of the regular 5th quincunx element.

posted by: Gix at October 9, 2007 12:40 PM


Can anyone explain why Jemima describes being puzzled by Escreet’s business with the two keys (122)? If she’s making this up to goad Escreet into revealing the will, why does she make up such an odd sequence of events? If she saw it, why did Escreet go to all that trouble? Palliser’s putting in two front doors (vestibule-door and street-door) suggests some scheme by which an intruder might have got in or out by using spare keys (we know Henry had one, for example), but I can’t work out how this might actually work.

Another small point about the apparent contradiction between John asking Escreet to leave the plate-room while John opened the strong-box, and Escreet’s knowing where the key was hidden in Chapter 122. It’s possible either that Escreet knew the location of the key without John knowing, or that when Escreet killed John, he found the key and its hiding place visible.

posted by: Simon at November 9, 2007 1:10 PM


It sounds logical Jemina said she was puzzled by Escreet attitude. She wasnt aware of the trap for Peter, and she should find all that very strange. I guess she invents other parts of the story to push Escreet to confess, but not the “keys game” part.

I think the doors are 1 on front and 1 on the back.

posted by: Gix at November 24, 2007 9:09 AM


But Jemima is still puzzled, in Chapter 122, by Escreet’s business with the keys: “‘…I was still perplexed by your conduct. Won’t you tell me now?’ There was a silence. Then she went on…”, whereas she by then understands that the point of locking the front doors and the back-door is to trap Peter in the house, as she explains immediately after that quotation.

There are certainly two doors at the front, and one at the back. The vestibule- and street-door are mentioned immediately before the quotation above, and the back-door immediately after.

posted by: Simon Morris at November 24, 2007 11:52 AM


I haven’t contributed for some time but I thought I’d make a couple of points which I don’t think have been raised before.
It arises from the Afterword. In discussing the structure of the novel, the author states that there is a hole in the middle of the middle section of the middle chapter of the middle book of the middle part, in other words in the middle of chapter 63. The hole is the gap in Mary’s narrative where the pages were torn out (Christmas Day 1822), and obviously it is this gap in John’s knowledge which deepens the mystery. The problem is that the gap occurs in chapter 61! Now this strikes me as a glaring discrepancy, firstly because it is hard to credit that the author made such an elementary error, and secondly because it is not even in the novel itself. Could the author deliberately have been adding to the confusion, or was he hinting at something more subtle? Unfortunately not all contributors will have access to the Afterword, but comments from those who do will be of interest.

posted by: Brian at December 8, 2007 12:50 PM


Hmmm … my first reply seems to have vanished.

Brian is right – but there perhaps two ways of understanding “hole”. It’s true that the missing pages of Mary’s narrative are referred to in Chapter 61, and thus are off-center by two chapters. But it’s also true that Mary’s narrative of the wedding night is then read by Johnnie in Chapter 63, at the very center of the entire 125-chapter book.

The Chapter 61 “hole” is maddening, as the elision suggests that Mary had there revealed – and then destroyed – an account of whom Johnnie’s father really was.

But the Chapter 63 “hole” is even more puzzling, and a thus an appropriate pivot for the entire tale. Mary there recounts, in detail, the wedding day and night: but without the slightest hint of how Johnnie could possibly have been conceived, if he was truly the son of Mary and Peter. “The dog that didn’t bark”. so to speak.


posted by: AGB at December 8, 2007 10:02 PM


On the Frecnh translation it is said in the adscript that the burned pages are in the exact middle of the “mary’s condession” not in the middle of the book (chap 63). And it seems right when rereading the chap 61.
It is said however that the author will hide the Johnnie’s father info in the chap 63 relating the wedding night (as AGB states)

posted by: Gix at December 19, 2007 1:38 PM


On the Frecnh translation it is said in the adscript that the burned pages are in the exact middle of the “mary’s confession” not in the middle of the book (chap 63). And it seems right when rereading the chap 61.
It is said however that the author will hide the Johnnie’s father info in the chap 63 relating the wedding night (as AGB states)

posted by: Gix at December 19, 2007 1:42 PM


Who did Lydia’s parents try to force her to marry (Chapter 99)? Could it have been Silas Clothier?

posted by: Simon at December 21, 2007 7:03 PM


I just wanted to throw an idea out here. I haven’t even looked into it to see if it’s plausible in any way, so please feel free to shoot it down.

It has always bothered me that we have no information about Mary’s mother, not even have a name. It seems odd that Palliser, who created dozens of characters in the Quncunx, would just decide to leave out Mary’s mother altogether. I think that this may be Palliser’s way of directing us to take a closer look at Mary’s parentage. Here is my idea: What if Mary is really John Huffam’s much younger sister/half-sister and not his daughter? It would explain the absence of Mary’s mother and why she is never spoken about. I have no idea who Mary’s parents would be. James Huffam and Eliza Umphraville are possible, but it could be someone else altogether. I just think there has to be something here.

posted by: BAC at December 23, 2007 12:41 PM


Sounds interesting, BAC. I don’t have the book with me, but doesn’t Lydia refer to James and Eliza as “your grandparents”, when explaining some family history to Johnnie? Johnnie, as narrator, explains that she must have meant “great-grandparents”, but it’s the sort of mistake that attracts attention in this context.

posted by: Simon at December 23, 2007 6:33 PM


Thank you, Simon, for pointing out yet another of the inconsistencies in the narratives in the novel. As I have stated before, I do not believe that John ever worked out all the things that had happened before he was born, even when he reached mature years. There are quite a few hints throughout that the whole tangled skein of events is not capable of being unravelled. One point I’d like to make that has not been mentioned before is about the statue in the Wilderness in Mary’s house in Melthorpe. The ‘ego’ in the Latin inscription refers to death, as in the famous painting, which is very apposite considering the role of the statue in the duel when Escreet killed John Umphraville. Also interesting is John’s admission that his recollection had been at fault about the precise wording of the inscription, which might be a hint that some of his other recollections may not be as reliable as he believes. Finally, I’d like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2008.

posted by: Brian at December 24, 2007 7:26 AM


And Happy Holidays to all from unseasonably warm New York City too.

Of course, being a Quincunx devotee leads one to have a suspicious turn of mind! Is Brian wishing us Merry Christmas for an – unspoken – 2007 and Happy New Year for the forthcoming 2008? Or, as a more complex reading might suggest, the Merry Christmas referred to is also 2008 – and we are being pointed, “dog that didn’t bark” style, to something mysterious about the unmentioned Christmas 2007. What are we to make of this 2007 gap at the end (for which read “year end”) of Brian’s narrative?

Sheesh – once Palliser gets under your skin……

heading off now for a little festive medication.

posted by: AGB at December 24, 2007 10:04 AM


I admit that there is not much evidence to support my idea that Mary is John Huffam’s sibling, but I cannot accept that Palliser just could not be bothered to come up with a history for Mary’s mother. There has to be something there.

Also, if Eliza Umphraville were Mary’s mother, it would make her cries for her mother at her death all the more ironic, given that Eliza is most likely Lashing Lizzie.

posted by: BAC at December 24, 2007 2:05 PM


I confess I was very skeptical of the Eliza / Lizzie / maybe Mary’s mother…. thesis – until I re-read the sections (while I was translating Gix’s French site into English. And, re-reading, it’s hard to think Palliser is *not* up to something very complex with Lizzie and her dealings with Mary. And Mary’s lack of a mentioned mother is indeed most peculiar.

That said, there are two episodes in the book that always stick out to me as well-developed incidents / characters that have nothing to do with the rest of the book (both have been discussed here before): the lady and her son who rob Mary and Johnnie of their possessions on arrival in London; and the short episode of the man who, shortly after, meets Johnnie and Mary in the streets and perhaps (probably) solicits sex from Mary.

I mention those as some “evidence” that Palliser *could* perhaps drop vivid scenes into the plot just for immediate effect, rather than by way of deep and mysterious connection with other themes.


posted by: AGB at December 24, 2007 4:02 PM


One should also bear in mind that the novel as it stands is considerably shorter than originally written. In the original draft these episodes might have had more bearing on the rest of the book.

posted by: Brian at December 24, 2007 6:55 PM


Brian makes a good point. It would be lovely to think that, when cuts are necessary, everything remaining is still tied up neatly and deliberately. But life – and deadlines – tends not to be like that. I used to work in live theater, and I can remember two “loose end” incidents (and I think they are way more common in the movie editing process…). In a musical I did in the UK, there was an elaborate joke about the artist Marc Chagall, the point of which was to reveal the philistine ignorance of a main character by having an aid deliver the punchline “But the painter is dead, Mr Palace!”. Only, as I noticed when reading the Sunday newspaper at a final rehearsal, he wasn’t – it was his 90th birthday that very day. So the Director just cut the punch-line, leaving a set-up to nowhere…

Similarly, in a production of “Annie” which had (just why, I can’t recall!) an elaborate joke about cheese, with the punch line “But the rind was orange!” (well .. you had to be there!). For assorted reasons all the set-up was cut from the script, but the punchline was left in and repeatedly sung by the chorus of kids .. Most mysterious to any audience I would have thought: “Hey honey, why where those kids saying ‘the rind was orange…..’ at the end of Act I?”


posted by: AGB at December 26, 2007 11:04 AM



I agree with AGB that it is certainly possible that the identity of Mary’s mother may only be an unexplained loose end, but after the murder of John Huffam, I personally find the issue of Mary’s parentage to be the most intriguing enigma of the Quincunx.

I am actually traveling for the holidays, so I do not have access to my copy of the book at the moment, but wasn’t it suggested that Eliza and Hugo Mompesson had an affair? I know that others think that the product of this affair is John Huffam and that Mary would probably be too young to be the daughter of any of the other male characters that we know of, but the idea of Eliza being Mary’s mother still intrigues me.

Some information that could count in favor of Eliza being Mary’s mother is that we know she was very young when she took up with James Huffam and thus would have likely retained her physical attractiveness for a significant period of time, allowing her to continue to seduce men after James’ death and, presumably, bear children. Also, like Mary’s mother, Eliza is never heard from again after the death of James Huffam, at least as far as Mary knows.

It would also be extremely ironic if both Eliza and Mary descended to prostitution later in their lives.

A significant flaw with my idea is why would John Huffam not only adopt a sister/half-sister, but also choose to make her his heir? If he were desperate for an heir, which he most likely was, why would he not secretly adopt a male child as his heir? Much the way we speculate he was himself secretly adopted by James and Eliza.

posted by: BAC at December 26, 2007 5:28 PM


Interesting. few comments :
– Eliza as Mary’s mother. I cannot believe it. I admit this is strange why have no info about Mary’s mother, but why Eliza ? Does it brings something to the all novel ? Did I forget something or it is told that Mary’s mother died when she was about 4 yo ?
– Latin under statue in Melthorpe. Why you said it refres to “death” ? Could you develop (sry my latin is far). I feel also there is something to pick with this latin sentence. Up to now I thought this just refers to the whole story and some personnal charachters story like Escreet or Johnnie(see:

posted by: Gix at December 27, 2007 6:49 AM


One more things regarding the 2 incidents AGB pointed out :
I guess it is also possible this is just to support this unsecure 19th century atmosphere. Candid ppl from country arriving in large city are easy victims for wild urban world.

posted by: Gix at December 27, 2007 6:55 AM


Gix, “Et In Arcadia Ego” (found in slightly various forms, but with those words) is a title used by Poussin in a couple of pastoral paintings set in an “Arcady” or “Paradise”: in each perfect scene, death lurks, and the Latin (which is sort of derived from a similar phrase and intent used by Virgil) means, “Even in Paradise, Here I, Death, Am”.

At first Johnnie mis-reads or mis-recalls the phrase as “Et in Arcadia Nemo”, which would mean, literally, “There is Nobody Even in Paradise”, which is a tad mysterious….

nb, I don’t have my Quincunx here: the Latin may be “Et Nemo in Arcadia”; but word-order has little impact on meaning in Latin

posted by: AGB at December 27, 2007 11:06 AM


As I have been thinking about Eliza Umphraville a lot the past few days, I have also begun to consider her brother, John. It is not a bold statement to say that John Umphraville is one of the more enigmatic characters in the book, even more so than his sister.

A few quick thoughts:

Does anyone else think that John, much like his sister, was some sort of giggolo/prostitute? He was the lover of Lydia Mompesson and we all know that Lydia is described as a strange, homely creature. It does seem odd that such an odd young woman could attract a lover. We are not given a physical description of Umphraville, but I think we can guess that he might bear some of the same physical attractiveness as his sister. Was Umphraville, like Eliza, trying to sleep his way into a great family?

I know this is completely baseless speculation, but am I the only one that has thought that Upmhraville was his Eliza’s pimp? That is, he somehow knew James Huffam and his tastes and made sure to introduce him to Eliza, in much the same way that Thomas Delameter served David Mompesson.

I also think it is odd that Lydia disparages Eliza as a “fast” girl, but really has nothing to say about John’s moral character. Perhaps she is leaving out some unpleasant information that she has heard about her poor, doomed lover, but chooses not to believe.

I have always found the phrase “Umphraville is avenged” which Bellringer and Escreet use at the end of the book to be very mysterious. It is so completely obvious that Escreet killed Umphraville as he was about to marry into a great family and that Umphraville’s death is thus avenged by the death of Bellringer, who similarly is about to marry Henrietta and take control of the entire estate, that I wonder if there is a little more to this phrase than first meets the eye. Any thoughts?

Could it possibly mean that the Upmhravilles were not merely a brother sister team of wastrels, but had conceived a plan, much like Escreet/Bellringer, to obtain the entire Hougham/Mompesson estate? If Umphraville had married Lydia, he presumably may have been able to control the Mompesson estate himself at some point, and the Hougham estate through his sister.

Why is it Jeoffrey Huffam who orders Escreet to put an end to the marriage plan anyway? Why aren’t the Mompessons also anxious to prevent Lydia from marrying a possible adventurer like Umphraville?

Any thoughts would be very much appreciated.

posted by: BAC at December 27, 2007 2:30 PM


In reply to BAC: I think we’re not really sure whether Eliza and Hugo Mompesson had an affair. In chapter 98, Lydia says “His sister… that is to say. My father. In short…”, but when she expands on this in chapter 99, she doesn’t refer to Hugo. Lizzie says she had an affair with a baronet’s son, which Hugo was, as Escreet indirectly ssys in chapter 88. But Mary could be the daughter of Eliza/Lizzie by some entirely unknown man, and John could have adopted her as his heir partly because he had no children himself, and partly because she was a blood relative.

In reply to Gix: Mary was told that her mother died when Mary was very young. But that explanation would have saved a lot of embarrassment if Mary’s mother had been Eliza/Lizzie.

In reply to BAC’s later post: I think “Umphraville is avenged” partly means “Umphraville is avenged on his killer, Escreet, by the killing of Escreet’s great-grandson, in almost the same circumstances”, as I think you’re saying. But in chapter 122, Escreet first says, of Bellringer, “Killed! Killed by a Mompesson!”, and then, after Sancious says something else, continues “So Umphraville is avenged”. This sounds as though there is more symmetry in the vengeance than in my paraphrase – that Umphraville was killed by a Mompesson. That could be essentially true if a Mompesson paid Escreet to make sure that Umphraville was killed, just as you suggest. And Escreet shortly afterwards says “[Jeoffrey] was angry that I had failed to prevent James’ wedding to his harlot. And that I had killed Umphraville”, which does raise the question of why Escreet didn’t do as Jeoffrey seems to have wanted. If Escreet had taken Mompesson money, that might help to explain his sense of guilt.

posted by: Simon at December 27, 2007 5:31 PM



Thank you for your thoughtful comments to my previous posting.

I also wonder if “Umphraville is avenged” might refer to Lydia Mompesson. After all, the murder of her fiancee, Umphraville, is finally avenged by another Mompesson, David. To put it more abstractly, the murder of a man affianced to a Mompesson is avenged by a Mompesson.

One more thing about the character of Umphraville and Lydia. Although she is ancient by the end of the book, we should not forget that she entered into a covert affair with Umphraville that most likely ended in pregnancy. Not exactly proper behavior for an aristocratic young woman at the time. Also, it is not the more well-to-do James Huffam that duels Escreet, but Umphraville. Although I am sure duels were common at the time, this also suggests a possible unsavory side to Umphraville. A seducer and a duellist. Not exactly the picture of ideal young love Lydia would have us believe.

It is interesting that Escreet and Umphraville, the two young strivers, fight it out while the aristocrats look on.

Finally, just a thought, is it possible that Anna Mompesson’s cries of “My son! My son!” actually might refer to Umphraville?

posted by: BAC at December 27, 2007 6:28 PM


Yes, BAC, the end of my post doesn’t make sense at all. For “Killed by a Mompesson! […] So Umphraville is avenged” to make sense as I suggested, Umphraville’s death must have offended, not benefitted, one or more Mompessons. Escreet might well be thinking of Lydia, or perhaps of her immediate family who have to deal with her illegitimate pregnancy.

One other point about Umphraville’s behaviour to Lydia. I think we don’t know for sure whether Hugo’s attempt to make Lydia marry a man she loathed started before or after Umphraville was killed. If Umphraville’s poverty was one obstacle to the match, then perhaps Hugo had a richer husband in mind (Silas Clothier?), and had already suggested this to Lydia when she met Umphraville, just as Mary is later presented first with Daniel, but subsequently comes to prefer Peter. That would motivate Lydia’s attraction to Umphraville. On the other hand, Hugo might just have been trying to find a husband for Lydia so as to conceal the illegitimacy of her pregnancy.

posted by: Simon at December 28, 2007 5:27 AM


Just a thought to come back to Mary’s mother.
Of course we can imagine with no limits all sort of situation. Just keep in mind that for all, Palliser always gave some clues (even if it is somtimes unclear). Regarding Mary’s mother i cannot remember where in the book with have a clue or some detail about her.

I think Joeffrey didnt care about John Umphraville, he just cares about Eliza, hoping she will never enter the family. Hugo may be thought the same (how could he approves a wedding between his daughter and his ex-lover brother)? More important Umphraville family was probably not rich enough.

posted by: Gix at December 28, 2007 6:45 AM


Just to be clear, Gix, I agree with you that there are really no clues to the identity of Mary’s mother and Palliser usually drops at least a few hints about some of the more obscure mysteries encountered in the Quincunx. The most significant clue regarding Mary’s mother is a negative one, i.e, we have no information about a mother, which seems strange in a book that presents such an elaborate family tree at its end.

The only other clue that we have regarding Mary’s mother is that Lashing Lizzie and Eliza Umphraville appear to be the same person and she is prezent at Mary’s death when Mary cries out “Mama!” This is the type of information that Palliser usually presents when hinting at a possible solution to a mystery. However, while it is quite plausible to argue that Eliza/Lizzie is Mary’s grandmother, I admit it is a bit of a stretch to argue, based upon the information that we are given, that she is Mary’s mother. On the other hand, we are still left with the fact that Mary cries out for her mother when Lizzie is present, which, knowing Palliser’s methods, cannot be dismissed as insignificant.

posted by: BAC at December 28, 2007 10:05 AM


OK, I read this part again. I have to admit I completly forgotten that strange last cry.

Well, one thing for sure is that Eliza is Mary grandmother (even if John is the son of Lydia) and as his mother died soon, she should have spent time to raise her (may be Mary could have considered her as his mother). In that case, it is understandable, near to the death, mixing a lot of thing, in presence of a very old woman called lizzie, she screams for her?

On the other hand, there is a problem of age. Eliza should be very old to biologically get a children as young as Mary?

Funny to still found out this kind of questionnement in this book!

posted by: Gix at December 30, 2007 9:55 AM


Gix, or Leon or anyone else,

Could you quote the chapter references for anything that is related to the Assinder, Fortisquince, Feverview relationship to Johnnie…

I want to explore this in detail.

posted by: Michael Levine at January 15, 2008 8:33 PM


Glad to oblige, Michael! At the beginning of chapter 48, page 330 in the American hardback edition, John mentions the name Feverfew on the Huffam tomb, which indicates the possibility of kinship. Oddly enough, the next name is Limbrick, which occurs in The Unburied. At page 557, chapter 86, George Digweed states that his great-uncle was a gifted stone-mason called Feverfew, which might be taken to hint at a distant relationship between John and the Digweeds.

posted by: Brian at January 16, 2008 4:34 PM


And as for Johnnie’s relation to Assinder:

1. see Ch. 76, when Perceval Mompesson states (or rather Silverlight has Mompesson stating) that Assinder is “the nevy of the man who served me and my father for forty years!” (657, US pocket ed.) – i.e. the father of Martin Fortisquince (who just might be Johnnie’s father).

2. see Ch. 95, when Bob says to Nellie that Percival Mompesson is “wery partial” to Assinder, “on account of his uncle, the steward that was” (822, US pocket ed.).

posted by: Leon at January 17, 2008 11:53 AM


Thank you Brian and Leon.
Ok! Assinder’s relationship to Fortisquince is clear. Now we need a good reference for the Feverfew to Assinder connection.

posted by: Michael Levine at January 18, 2008 12:31 PM



With the Chap. 48 mention of Feverfew on the old Huffam family vault, it’s worth having in mind that Johnnie says the most recent date thereon was 1614, putting that particular Feverfew – Huffam connection at least 200 years previously.

Also, shortly after George Digween (Chap. 86) recalls his Great-Uncle Feverfew as a good stone-mason, Miss Lydia tells John (Chap 99, p. 658) that it was a Feverfew (presumably the same one) who had carved the famous stone states in Huffam Park.


posted by: AGB at January 18, 2008 2:26 PM


“And as for Johnnie’s relation to Assinder:

1. see Ch. 76, when Perceval Mompesson states (or rather Silverlight has Mompesson stating) that Assinder is “the nevy of the man who served me and my father for forty years!” (657, US pocket ed.) – i.e. the father of Martin Fortisquince (who just might be Johnnie’s father).”

By “the father of Martin Fortisquince” I meant, of course, the Mompesson-steward D. Fortisquince – the husband of Martin F.’s mother – and NOT Martin F.’s biological father, Jeoffrey Escreet.

And as for the references to a connection between Assinder and Feverfew which Michael is looking for: I don’t think there is any direct textual evidence, but it seems beyond question that Assinder’s uncle (D. Fortisquince), as the steward of the Hougham and later Mompesson estate, must have known the famous stone-mason Feverfew, who sculpted the statues in the quincunx of trees in the park.

posted by: Leon at January 19, 2008 6:24 AM


So we don’t see a connection that was mentioned somewhere above:

Digweed – Feverfew – Assinder – Fortisquince

rather we see:
Digweed – Feverfew – Huffam,

based on Feverfew being buried in the Huffam crypt! (pointed out by Brian)

So the question becomes: How usual or unusual was it for a non relative to be interred in the family crypt of the upperclass, in the period 1500 – 1750 or so?

posted by: Michael Levine at January 20, 2008 10:43 AM


Waddaya mean “non-relative”? 🙂 The Feverfews could very well have been relatives of the Houghams/Huffams. A female Hougham/Huffam could have married a Feverfew and taken his name, after all…

posted by: Leon at January 21, 2008 4:15 AM


It’s always been interesting to me that Palliser named his internal book divisions for the Quincunx of Great Families: Huffam, Mompesson, Clothier, Palphramond and Maliphant. Yet there is a crucial Sixth Family Element too – the Digweeds. I’ve long thought that the Digweeds have out-of-wedlock family connections to the Big Five – but it’s also possible, via the Feverfew mentions, that the connection was, at one time, wholly legitimate. The Huffams and Feverfews seem to have been related back in the 17th century (like Leon, that’s how I interpret the tomb mention); by the 19th it’s the Digweeds and Feverfews. But, like so much else in the book, I’m very uncertain of the significance of all this, if any…… One point of interest – Feverfew is not given in Palliser’s own Index of Names at the end of the book. Again, significant, or not?


posted by: AGB at January 21, 2008 9:33 AM


I am trying to say with my question: Does
the fact that Feverfew is buried in the Huffam crypt imply that he was a relative?
If the custom of the time, was only to bury relatives in the family crypt, then we could deduce that Feverfew was a relative( with Palliser like certainty!). Then the connection of the Digweeds to John would be established.

posted by: Michael Levine at January 21, 2008 1:23 PM


I definitely think that the Digweeds are distant relations of the Houghams through the Feverfews. This makes me wonder about the maiden name of George and Barney’s mother. I suspect she might be a Feverfew, but also possibly and illegitimately a Hougham or Mompesson.

On a tangent, doesnt the Umphraville family allegedly come from the same area as the Houghams, Mompessons, and Feverfews? About how many villages are there around Hougham? It’s something like five isn’t it? Umphraville, five villages, hmmm.

Yet another tangent, has it ever bothered anyone else that, at the top of the family tree at the end of the book, it actually places all of the characters under the name of Maliphant and not the Hougham?

posted by: BAC at January 24, 2008 12:11 PM


Please tell me where you find the name
D. Fortisquince mentioned. I can only find
Mr. Fortisquince as Huffum’s Land Agent?

posted by: Michael Levine at January 24, 2008 12:29 PM


Great point about Maliphant on top of Henry Huffam in the tree!!! It never bothered me before, because I never noticed it! Have to review Esceet’s histories again.

posted by: Michael Levine at January 24, 2008 12:36 PM


In response to Michael:

If my memory serves me right the initials Johnnie finds in the books on land management in the library in the Fortisquince’s cottage in Melthorpe (somewhere in the early chapters) are D.F.

I take it these refer to the husband of Martin Fortisquince’s mother.

posted by: Leon at January 25, 2008 3:03 AM


In response to BAC and his question about the villages surrounding Hougham:

I don’t think Umphraville is explicitly mentioned anywhere in the novel as the name of a village. Umphraville isn’t among the names of the ancient families connected with place names Johnnie sees in the church in Melthorpe in one of the early chapters. Delamater, though, is.

posted by: Leon at January 25, 2008 3:14 AM



I am not suggesting that there is a village named Umphraville near Melthorpe/Hougham. I am only observing that, at some point, some of the other villages around Melthorpe are mentioned, such as Stoke Mompesson (sic?). I think the number of villages may add up to five. I take Umphraville to mean “Five Villages” or “Five Towns”. “Umphra” for five and “ville” for village or town. I think this suggests that the Umphravilles may come from the same area or villages around Hougham. In fact, as it is mentioned at some point in the book that the Umphravilles are an ancient family, I think it is possible that they were the feudal landlords of the country around Hougham at some point in the ancient, ancient past. Perhaps the Houghams are also upstarts, much as the Mompessons are perceived to be.

posted by: BAC at January 25, 2008 10:11 AM


I just wanted to point out that, a propros of nothing, Maliphant most likely means “Mal Enfant” or “Bad Child” in French.

posted by: BAC at January 25, 2008 12:14 PM


I have had very long, tedious days at work the past week, so please forgive me for posting so frequently, it keeping me from getting completely bored.

I have just thought of a theory regarding John Huffam’s murder and a possible connection to Martin Fortsiquince:

I think we all agree that the Digweeds are related to the Houghams through the distant relative of Feverfew. We also know that at certain points in his youth Barney Digweed spent some time at Hougham, working in the masonry field with his brother, most likely when he needed to hide out from the law. (Masonry as the Digweed family trade was presumably handed down through the Feverfews.) Barney had no interest in masonry but what is important for our purposes is that he did spend some time in Hougham and, possibly, got to know a few people there. It seems possible to me that he (and George Digweed for that matter) got to know Fortisquinec senior and possibly Martin Fortisquince himself. At the very least, I think that it is possible MF came to know of Barney threw his father or someone else connected to the Hougham estate and its surrounding lands. Perhaps MF got to know Barney then or got to know him at some later point. At any rate, here’s the idea: MF made note of Barney and years later, when he conceived of the idea of murdering John Hougham, hired Barney to do it. To me, this theory explains why Escreet denies murdering JH, i.e., he didn’t do it and wanted to protect his son. This theory also accounts for Barney and Jemima’s enigmatic silence on JH’s death when Johnny questions them at the end of the book. Barney might not want to admit to the murder anyway, but certainly not in front of the wife of the man who commissioned it. Jemima, if she knows, also may not want to say anything to Johnny out of a twisted sense of love for Martin. I know she tells Johnny that “his father” did not murder JH, but that is all she tells him, i.e., she does not say “and he did not hire anyone to do it either.”

This is only a theory that I have had some fun playing around with while at work today and I freely admit that I have no proof at all to back it up. However, I thought the rest of you might find it interesting and it might spark some debate.

So, have at it!

posted by: BAC at January 25, 2008 7:16 PM


Regarding the Maliphant name appearing above Huffam in the family tree:

It was common, although not always consistantly, that the family would take the name of the eldest offspring, as opposed to the heir’s name. If the eldest offspring happened to be a female the family would take the name of the husband of the eldest offspring, in Huffams case Laetitia’s husband Maliphant.

I believe this is the explanation why the family is titled, The Maliphants.

posted by: Michael Levine at January 25, 2008 11:27 PM



I like what you’ve come up with to explain why all the families fall under the name of Maliphant in the family tree.

Just a few other notes about my wacky theory regarding Barney, Hougham, and the Fortisquinces. I haven’t read the Quincunx cover to cover since last summer, but as far as I recall, it does seem extremely coincidental that Barney would just stop by Martin’s home in Melthorpe at the beginning of the book. I think Barney knows Hougham and the surrounding villages very well and it is quite possible that he knew that he was stopping at the Fortisquince house. Perhaps the Fortisquinces had extended him some kindnesses years before and he was looking for food and shelter or perhaps he just wanted to break into the house. Or perhaps, more sinisterly, he was sent there by Martin to take the codicil from Mary. I don’t know, but what I like about my theory is that it really connects Barney with quite a few characters. It might also flesh out Barney’s relationship with Sancious and Jemima.

All I know is that I am going to get out my copy of the book again soon and read it all in just a few days and make copious notes.

posted by: BAC at January 26, 2008 11:28 AM


“The Maliphants” occurs at the top of the family tree at the end of Part 5 only because that’s the title of Part 5 – check the family trees at the ends of the other Parts.

posted by: Simon at January 26, 2008 7:56 PM


Funny, so much for my research and fancy explanation…..good point Simon!!!

posted by: Michael Levine at January 27, 2008 8:16 PM


Today is the 196th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens and John Huffam. Just thought I should mention it.

posted by: Brian at February 7, 2008 3:54 PM


Lol, good point !!

posted by: Gix at February 12, 2008 1:06 PM


Wow, what a read your thread here! I have just finished the book and thought I have a look for some hints online. Especially the authors afterword made me think about the hidden narrative of Illegitimacy and mental illness that runs though the book.

One puzzling thing I have come across that I have not seen mentioned. In the final chapter after Jemima and John have left the scene of Mr Sancious murder, Barney catches up with them and tries to murder John . In the ensuing conversation between him and Jemima Sancious he calls her “mum”. Either that is meant to be a slang pronunciation of the word “mam” or is it a hint at another connection. She does not seem old enough to be his mother…any thoughts???

Oh, and just in case you guys are interested: My research also brought up a chapter in another book that explores the narratives in the Quincunx. The chapter is called “Mirror Games and Hidden Narratives in The Quincunx” by Susana Onega. The book is called “Theme Parks, Rainforests and Sprouting Wastelands: European Essays on Theory and Performance in Contemporary British fiction” (Strange title – but it is just a collection of essays)

You can actually read part of the above mentioned chapter as a preview to the book – I found it by typing martin fortisquince in at google books, and then previewing it. Or try the link!,M1

She has a very definite,but convincing point on many of the mysteries discussed here.

posted by: Lea at February 26, 2008 11:01 PM


Thanks for that link, Lea! If anybody’s interested, here’s a list (incomplete in some places) of other scholarly articles on The Quincunx that I’ve compiled over the years:

Letissier, Georges, ‘Dickens and Post-Victorian Fiction,’ in: Onega, Susana & Christian Gutleben (eds.), Postmodern Studies: Refracting the Canon in Contemporary British Literature and Film, 35 (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2004), 111-128.

Martínez Alfaro, Maria Jesús, ‘Text and Intertexts in Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx,’ (Postgraduate research paper, Universidad de Zaragoza, 1995).

Martínez Alfaro, Maria Jesús, ‘Narration-Parody-Intertextuality: Rewriting the Past in Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx,’ in: Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies, 18 (1997), 193-212.

Martínez Alfaro, Maria Jesús, ‘When the Symbol Swerves: Spatial Designs and Meaning-Slides in Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx,’ in: Symbolism, 5 (2003), …-…

Martínez Alfaro, Maria Jesús, Narrative Strategies in Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx, The Sensationist, and Betrayals, (Ph.D. thesis, Universidad de Zaragoza, 2003).

Onega, Susana, ‘The Symbol Made Text: Charles Palliser’s Postmodernist Re-Writing of Dickens in The Quincunx,’ in: Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses, 6 (1993), 131-42.

Onega, Susana, ‘Charles Palliser,’ in: Post-War Literatures in English: A Lexicon of Contemporary Authors, 19 (Groningen: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum & Wolters-Nordhoff, 1993).

Onega, Susana, ‘An Obsessive Writer’s Formula: Subtly Vivid, Enigmatically Engaging, Disturbingly Funny and Cruel. An Interview with Charles Palliser,’ in: Atlantis, 15 (1993), 269-84.

Onega, Susana, ‘Textual Selves / Worlds and the Treacherous Nature of Writing: A Misreading of Charles Palliser’s Betrayals,’ in: Alfinge, 9 (1997), 315-32.

Onega, Susana, ‘Charles Palliser,’ in: Post-War Literatures in English: A Lexicon of Contemporary Authors, 35 (Groningen: Nijhoff, 1997).

Onega, Susana, ‘Mirror Games and Hidden Narratives in Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx,’ in: Todd, Richard & Luisa Flora (eds.), Theme Parks, Rainforests and Sprouting Wastelands: European Essays on Theory and Performance in Contemporary British Fiction (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 1998), …-….

Hillis Miller, J., ‘Parody as Revisionary Critique: Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx,’ in: Onega, Susana & Christian Gutleben (eds.), Postmodern Studies: Refracting the Canon in Contemporary British Literature and Film, 35 (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2004), 129-148.

posted by: Leon at February 28, 2008 6:38 AM


If John was killed by an intruder, I wonder whether Johnnie’s movements as he enters the plate-room, in Chapter 122. Everything in the book seems to happen at least twice, and the plate-cupboard would be a natural place for the intruder to have lain in wait for John. I’m not sure if that gives any more hints as to what happened on that night, though.

posted by: Simon at March 23, 2008 7:14 PM


Simon’s observation is a good one. If there was an intruder, he might have gone into the plate-cupboard to avoid detection when he heard people making their way towards the plate-room, and he would have had surprise on his side when he attacked John Huffam. Hence Escreet would have been confused by the rapidity of events. Not a definitive solution, but worth considering.

posted by: Brian at March 24, 2008 7:33 AM


Hi everybody, I’m new here and have been reading all your posts. Sorry for my spelling being a non-native speaker.Ciudad Rodrigo was taken by storm on the night of january 19 -20 1812, so maybe Johnnie was born on that night instead of 2 february 1812, or am I completly wrong ?Thanks for your reply!

posted by: Rita at April 9, 2008 9:16 AM


Hi Rita,

I think the issue with Johnnie’s birth is not whether it happened in January or February of 1812, but whether it happened in 1812 or 1813. Most evidence in the book suggests 1812, but there are subtle hints that it could be 1813. For instance, Hugo Mompesson makes note that Johnnie is very small for his age when he first meets Johnnie. There is also the curious behavior of Mr. Advowson toward Johnnie. He generally seems nevous around Johnnie and, when telling him of the circumstances surrounding the signature of Johnnie’s baptismal record, suggests that Martin Fortisquince desired to declare himself to be Johnnie’s father, which would make Johnnie illegitimate.

In general, if it were to be discovered that Johnnie were born in 1813, he could not be Peter Clothier’s son and would thus would have no claim to either the Clothier or Huffam fortunes. I think this mystery remains unresolved at the end of the book.

posted by: BAC at April 9, 2008 11:14 AM


Thanks BAC ! What a story ! I read the book quite recently and with all this questions still going round in my mind, I like to discuss about it , hoping to get some answers on all kind of questions, relevant or not, just out of curiosity. One of these questions is (don’t know if it is in any kind relevant, just something that I noticed) about Helen Quiliam : in chap. 22 : first meeting H.Q. with Johnnie (apparently not with Mary ?). Next Chap. 111 : Helen Q. says something like : … I went to Hougham and because of that I met you AND your mother AGAIN. Chap.38 : HQ is teaching in a school conducted by 2 sisters, and in chap.3 : Johnie walks by a school conducted by 2 old sisters. Does this mean that H.Q. saw little Johnnie and/or Mary before ?
By the way does anyone on this site know who killed John Huffam senior so I can sleep again ! 🙂
Sorry again for my English !


posted by: Rita at April 17, 2008 11:52 AM


The “school run by two sisters” issue is, I think, a genuine co-incidence, with Palliser perhaps just re-using a phrase, or image, that he liked. The school that little Johnnie passes in Chap. 3 is up in the north of England; in Chaps 37 and 38 Miss Quilliam makes it clear that she had lived, and a attended a “two sister’s school”, in far southern England, somewhere near Portsmouth and Southampton.


posted by: AGB at April 17, 2008 5:52 PM


Rita, regarding the murder, nobody knows really.
There are more or less good possibilities, but palliser doesnt give his solution.
So keep sleeping well… 🙂

posted by: Gix at April 20, 2008 5:54 AM


The missing pages from Mary’s pocket book almost certainly relate details concerning Johnnie’s conception. As we are told that the passage begins at the time before John senior borrows money from Clothier (“I must first go back to what passed when Uncle Martin was trying to dissuade Papa from having anything to do with Mr. Clothier”) and ends with the night of the wedding (“… that happened that night before we arrived at the inn at Hertford”), should we not assume that something happened between Martin and Mary, and that Johnnie was conceived, during this period?

posted by: ZER at June 5, 2008 3:34 AM


Well…… It’s true that Palliser leads readers in that direction, and I personally think it’s more than likely that Martin, not Peter, was Johnnie’s father (not that this makes any difference to Johnnie’s legal status – he’s presumptively the son and heir of Peter and Mary unless anyone can prove otherwise….). But Palliser twists and turns his tale, with inconsistencies, downright lies, misunderstandings and careful vagueness. As he alludes in his own post-script, it’s possible that Johnnie could be the offspring of incest between Mary and her father John…..

The great difficulty is knowing when the act of conception took place. If *before* the marriage, then the only real possible (however unlikely) fathers are Martin, Peter, John Snr or Mr Escreet. If Mary was a virgin at marriage, then really only Peter and Martin are possible. But even then, Peter’s opportunities for sexual congress with his new wife before his arrest are enormously limited, and perhaps scarcely possible at all. If the father is Martin, we have to suppose that Mary – her father murdered, her new husband arrested, mad – leaps straight into the sack with her father’s erstwhile best friend….. Unless the baptismal date of Johnnie is indeed forged, and he was born rather more than 9 months after the marriage date……

Note that several of these instances – sexual relations with Martin either immediately after the wedding to Peter, or some time later – don’t tie in neatly with the “missing pages”. If after straight after the wedding, then why destroy the pages before the wedding? If some time after, then why destroy the “wedding” pages at all?

One question we never tackle directly – at what point in time did Mary become convinced that it was imperative to her family’s inheritance hopes that she bear a child? I’m not sure we can answer that; but if we could, much would become clear…..


posted by: AGB at June 5, 2008 12:27 PM


A very good summary of the possible identities of Johnnie’s father, AGB. I also agree with you that if Martin is Johnnie’s father, and if he and Mary got together after John Huffam’s death, and Johnnie was born in 1813, then the missing pages would not necessarily be about Johnnie’s parentage. I think that we will never know what was in those pages and that is the point Palliser is trying to make. There is no certainty in this world and some mysteries remain mysteries.

Regarding your point about Mary’s conviction that she must have a child: I think she is concerned that she will lose the Huffam estate without a child, a male child in particular. If Mary were to inherit the Huffam estate on her own and is still married to Peter Clothier, the Clothiers (Silas and Daniel) would control the estate, as women at that time had no right to any property held commonly through marriage. The Clothiers would in effect inherit the Huffam estate if Mary inherits. Mary absolutely abhors this possibility and rightly so. A male child on the other hand has no such problem. He can take the estate outright when he is an adult. I think Mary’s design was to wait until Johnnie comes of age and then make a claim for the estate. She’s more clever than we give her credit for, in my opinion.

posted by: BAC at June 5, 2008 1:17 PM


Agreed, BAC. But *exactly when* does Mary come to these conclusions? Although this can be argued either way – as often in the book – my impression is that Mary did not hold these clear strategic views until the very cusp of the wedding, and perhaps not really until after. Therefore “someone” persuaded her of them at or about the very moments when she had her only opportunities to conceive a child. Did, following the wedding night murder, Martin take her aside and say “Mary, it is *vital* that you have a child in order to advance your now-dead father’s dream”, and offer himself in service? Had perhaps her father already made it clear to her that, although Martin had wanted to marry her, the really crucial thing in his plan was that she should have a Clothier male heir? And now, Martin himself offers the only chance of getting such (bearing in mind that, technically, it did not matter who the father was, provided Johnny was born in wedlock, and no-one could prove that Peter *wasn’t* the father….).

As you say, many of life’s mysteries are insoluble….. It is of course just possible – just barely – that Mary herself was not sure who Johnnie’s father was……..

So, in some ways Mary is “more clever”, or at least more cynical. But was this cynicism of her own making (a la Jemima) or was it foisted on her by both her father and Martin. And, just as Mary may be “more clever”, Martin is far more enigmatic, even downright selfish, than he’s usually presented.


posted by: AGB at June 5, 2008 4:22 PM



Regarding Mary’s motives and actions surrounding Johnnie’s birth, here is my own personal, completely subjective opinion: Martin was definitely in love or lust with Mary before the wedding. After John Huffam is murdered, he comes to Mary at the inn where she is staying. This is where Palliser has Mary write about Martin “he gave me a look that I could not read.” Here is my reading of that look: Martin, being older, wiser, and let’s face it, a lawyer, understands Mary’s situation far better than her at this point. He knows Peter will be blamed for the murder (perhaps because he is partly responsible for setting him up) and will no longer be a factor in Mary’s life. Martin also knows that Mary is completely alone now and in grave danger from the Clothiers. Martin is essentially Mary’s only friend in the world. While I do believe Martin cares for Mary, I think he also cynically realizes that she is at his mercy. He convinces Mary that she must get out of London because of the Clothiers and then decides to install her at his mother’s house in Huffam. I do not think that Martin throws himself on Mary on the night of the murder, but bides his time and frequently visits Mary in Huffam over the next year. During the course of his visits, they begin an affair. Martin has always wanted Mary and she must feel incredibly isolated and alone. Ultimately, Mary becomes pregnant by Martin. When Martin and Mary go to the church to register Johnnie’s birth, Martin offers to be listed as Johnnie’s father on his birth certificate. He is, in effect, offering himself to Mary. Mary, most likely due to a sense of loyalty to her father, refuses Martin’s offer and writes Peter’s name on the certificate. I believe that after this moment, a bit of a rift developed between Martin and Mary. Martin has offered to declare himself Johnnie’s father and Mary has turned him down. Martin returns to London and continues to support Mary due to a sense of obligation to her and Johnnie, but I think that at this point his visits start to taper off and he becomes involved with Jemima. At some point, most likely after Johnnie was born, Mary decided that pursuing her father’s dream of the Huffam estate was more important than her relationship with Martin. Maybe she makes this decision because of loyalty to her father or maybe because she does not really love Martin. Whatever the reason, I do think that we see a certain naive ruthlessness to Mary’s character in her pursuit of the Huffam estate. She may not really know how to make her father’s dream happen, but she loses everything in trying.

posted by: BAC at June 6, 2008 12:18 PM


“I do not think that Martin throws himself on Mary on the night of the murder, but bides his time and frequently visits Mary in Huffam over the next year. During the course of his visits, they begin an affair.”

The night of the murder is May 5, 1811; Johnnie is born on February 7, 1812. This leaves little time for Martin and Mary to begin an affair AND conceive Johnnie. (Unless you’re in the ‘1813-camp’. Are you, BAC?)

posted by: Leon at June 8, 2008 5:01 AM


In addition to the comment of Leon made today, I should like to add my opinion that John was conceived while Mary was still staying at the Blue Dragon in Hertford, because my reading of the text narrating John’s brief visit there on his chase to the North to try to prevent the marriage of Henrietta and Henry Bellringer suggests that he was beginning to suspect his true parentage and that he had been conceived in that very room at the inn. Also it could be argued that Henrietta herself was impregnated there by Henry Bellringer. Thus we would have two seductions in the same room , both of girls either already married to or about to be married to men other than the seducer, and both times connected with the Huffam estate. Finally, I should like to say how good it is to see the discussion going again.

posted by: Brian at June 8, 2008 1:20 PM


After reading the book and the comments here, some remarks/questions:

1. Johnnies rescue from the Asylum and upkeep with the Digweeds: in my opinion this is organised and financed by Mr Sancious and his new wife, mrs Jemima Maliphant-Fortisquince-Sancious. After Sancious’discovery that Jemima is the remaining Maliphant heir, he first sets off to ruin her financially (who said that about everything happening at least twice in this book?) by selling worthless bills to her, and then convinces her to marry him. Effectively, Sancious changes sides from Silas Clothier to the Maliphant heir. So it is in his interest that Johnnie stays alive until Silas Clothier dies.

2. Might it be that the experience of being defrauded and coerced offers some explanation to Jemima’s sudden ‘conversion’?

3. Any thoughts on the role of the beggar Justice and his dog Wolfe? In a sideline I read that he paid for his principles, because he became blind after his gang of revolutionaries was betrayed by one of their members. It is suggested that this betrayer was mr Silverlight, who’s voice he recognises in their sole meeting (Silverlight behaves awkward during this meeting). What could be the meaning in the context of the story?

posted by: Ipe at June 8, 2008 3:33 PM


In response to Brian:

I’m with Brian here – even though I have argued along BAC’s lines above (see my post of 30 September 2007) in order to account for Johnnie’s small stature.

The symmetry in the two scenes at the Half-Moon (!)room at the Blue Dragon Inn in Hertfort (Mary/Martin in 1811 and Henrietta/Henry in the late 1820s) is compelling evidence, too, I think. Especially if you rephrase Brian’s “both of girls either already married to or about to be married to men other than the seducer, and both times connected with the Huffam estate” into something like: “both Mary and Henrietta married – or in Henrietta’s case under the impression of being about to get married – to a man they love (Peter and david respectively), but being at least partly coerced into conceiving a child with an offspring of Jeoffrey Escreet in order to keep the Huffam estate ‘in the right hands'”

posted by: Leon at June 9, 2008 8:12 AM


I’m intrigued by the 1813 birth-date possibility, which then opens up all sorts of more realistic possibilities for Martin and Mary to have leisurely sex. By contrast, the 1812 birthdate really does mean that conception must have taken place in a very, very narrow time-frame – under very bizarre circumstances.

But, it’s equally true that I think that the 1812 birthdate is by far the more compelling choice.

Just a word again on Johnnie’s legitimacy. If he’s born in wedlock (and he is) he is regarded as the legitimate son of Mary and Peter *unless someone can prove otherwise for certain*. And the rule was that, if there’s any way at all that Peter and Mary could have had sex in the 12 (not 9!) months prior to Johnnie’s birth, the Peter is presumed to be the father, as he and Mary are man and wife. And “any way at all” means “if they were alone for even the briefest moment” (which they clearly were, several times). (And again, it’s not for anyone to prove that they were alone; it’s for an objector to prove that they absolutely could never have been……).

Note that, by my calculation, Johnnie is clearly legitimate by law if he’s born in February 1812. If he’s born in Feb. 1813, then we know that Mary had never – could never – have spent a moment alone with Peter, her husband, since May 1811. So Johnnie *could* be shown illegitimate. And that’s why, even if the birth took place in 1813, Martin and Mary have to bribe Mr Advowson to insert – or imply – a date an entire year earlier. But that’s an enormously high risk strategy – for they leave a fairly easy train of dishonesty for anyone to follow. Of, course, if that just happens to be when Johnnie is born, then Mary and Martin – if involved in a plot to have Johnnie seem the legitimate heir of Mary and Peter – have no choice but to find some way of making the backdating lie.

So, here’s another proposal – and it’s a perverse one! I half-suggested it a few days ago. What if, when Martin turns up at the inn, he straight away asks Mary if there is any way she could possibly be pregnant by Peter. Mary replies either a straight ‘No’, or a blushing ‘maybe’. That ‘maybe’ could mean that Peter and Mary had “been intimate” before the wedding (unlikely in my view), or that there had been some dismal fumbling at the inn when Peter arrives there, distressed and confused, and remains for but a few moments. It’s just imaginable – in that Victorian convention – that Mary doesn’t fully understand how a conception actually takes place. Martin tells here – frankly and plainly – that it is utterly vital that she conceives a child, that she can never now do so with Peter unless she already has, and that therefore he, Martin, must try to impregnate her immediately….

Weird, I know. But possible?


posted by: AGB at June 9, 2008 1:06 PM


Fascinating discussion. I’ve just finished a first reading and get the feeling it’s a book that could easily take over your life…

A couple of things occurred to me when I finished regarding the problem of the central mystery.

The first one was whether there was an analogy between the solution found to the Mompesson safe combination and finding the ‘solution’ to the book. I wondered whether, instead of the central section of the central chapter of the central book being the key, it was rather the central sections of books 1,2,4 and 5 that were vital, these corresponding to the ‘bolts’ that are removed to open the safe, if you make the analogy between the ‘quincunx of quincunxes’ that structures the book and that bars the safe containing the will.

I was sorry to find this didn’t ‘open’ any boxes for me, though it did make me realise how many different boxes, hiding places and thefts there are in the book.

Along the same line – kind of – there are elements in the novel that remind me of Poe, in particular the story of the purloined letter. The will is often described as being “purloined”, and there’s the recurrent motto/motif of “safety closest to danger”, or “hiding in plain view”.

These both suggest a more ‘structuralist’ approach to the mystery, or rather, trying to identify the key pattern or principle of how something is hidden rather than relying on thoroughness and details… unfortunately my copy doesn’t contain the afterward and I would sorely like to read it!

posted by: MJM at July 21, 2008 5:01 AM


If there have no contributions for two whole months, could one say that this topic is closed, or at the least, moribund? Maybe people are waiting for the author’s new novel to appear.

posted by: Brian at September 20, 2008 7:31 PM


MJM would certainly find the Afterword interesting because it gives the author’s thoughts on writing a novel in the 19th manner. As for finding the key pattern, I’m not sure there is one in this case, because the plot may have been made intricate for the sake of intricacy. One interesting revelation in the Afterword is that the first draft was even longer and more complicated, and there are traces of that in the book as it stands. For my part, I’d find it reassuring if other postings appeared on here to show the topic is still going strong.

posted by: Brian at October 1, 2008 4:53 AM


Well, I check in every now and then. But I’ve got little left to contribute for the time being.

posted by: Leon at October 2, 2008 9:28 AM


Yes, I still check in every now and then too. I don’t have much to say at the moment, but plan on re-reading The Quincunx again soon.

posted by: BAC at October 2, 2008 10:30 AM


So, does anyone think that Palliser is trying to pay homage to Dickens by leaving this jigsaw of a plot completely unfinished in an analogy to the state of Dickens’ own oeuvre, i.e. Drood? Which to me would mean that Palliser deliberately set out to craft an unsolveable mystery and we are all, alas, chasing our tails?


posted by: JBW at October 5, 2008 4:43 AM


JBW’s contribution is a stimulating one. In the Afterword the author writes at some length about the possibility of writing a novel without actually being aware of all the perspectives of the plot, and I’m inclined to believe that we are to conclude that there is no definitive solution to the mysteries of the novel, just a range of explanations, none of which will cover everything. Two of his other novels could be mentioned, and there is a big contrast between them. Betrayals, like The Quincunx, is a tangle of plots and sub-plots which I could not fathom, but The Unburied, on the other hand, though it has puzzles in it, is explained by the Afterword, supposedly written some years after the events described by somebody making a very brief appearance in the main account. There has been a great deal of discussion about inconsistencies of many sorts in The Quincunx and I have wondered to what extent they are deliberate or just plain oversights. One thing that has struck me every time I read the novel is that John Huffam makes it clear that some years after the events related by him he is still trying to find a pattern in them himself. At the very end of his Afterword, the author relates how he witnessed a heated discussion between two readers who had reached diametrically opposed conclusions about the motives of Henrietta Palphramond and about the ambiguity of the last few words “where Miss Lydia’s lover had died by my grandfather’s sword”. From my reading, I’d say he was pretty pleased!

posted by: Brian at October 5, 2008 9:03 AM


Could be an interesting matter : is there sufficent clues in the novel to be able to find THE solution.
As Palliser is not a mathematician, I guess it is not the kind of questionning he thought about. He said he cut a lot from the original novel, then he may be cut very important clue.
So I believe it is indecidable. then JBW, u might be right, but CP didnt did it on purpose I guess.

posted by: Gix at October 5, 2008 5:43 PM


Hi, I’ve just dicovered this thread and hope its not completely dead even though its over a month since the last post. I’ve read through the whole thing and have found many of the questions arising in my mind as I read the book have been ‘answered’ or developed.

One that intrigued me in particular is the 1812/13 birth date and more specifically the circumstances around Johnnie’s conception and father. I lean towards 1812 simply because of the other corroborating facts that have been listed above and also because of my suspicions of what took place and the facts about the subsequent registration of the birth. Here’s my theory for what its worth (and I appreciate its been set out separately and hinted at by various contributors above):

John was proably not conceived on the day of the wedding, for many of the reasons already listed by others (lack of opportunity, Mary’s dicovery of the events of the night and therefore her state of mind, etc). As alluded to above, in the subsequent months she and MF either began an affair with the express purpose of creating a ‘legitimate’ heir, or this happened accidentally as a result of an affair. Whichever this was, it had to occur relatively quickly after 5th May, or a convincing case wouldn’t be made for PC being the father.

Whether intentional or not, subsequently Mary (and maybe Martin if it was intentional) would have had to consider that a birth occuring much after the middle of February would not make a convincing case for PC being the father. So what does this mean for how they should deal with the problem?

I suspect that the reference in the record suggesting the child was unlikely to survive was due to him being significantly premature, maybe 1-2 months, and comments in the book about Johnnie being small for his age, are a clue to this.

My theory is that realising the implications of the dates, John’s mother, maybe with MF’s knowledge and encouragement, made sure that the pregnancy came to an end almost exactly 9 months after the wedding (they left it as late as possible). There are ways to achieve this without the aid of modern drugs.

One such way is to take the naturally growing plant in the UK Tanacetum parthenium, otherwise known as Bachelor’s Buttons, or Wild Quinine (quin!), or….Feverfew.

As we know from the afterword and the book itself CP had been collecting and is attracted to interesting names. It really wouldn’t surprise me that he put this little clue in there amongst all the others for his own amusement.

These are my thoughts on this one. As I said, I hope this thread isn’t dead and would be interested to hear the thoughts of others on this slant on the birth date/paternity/conception date debate. I have only just read it and much of what’s in the book and this forum I’ve yet to consider, but it looks like, notwithstanding the novel itself, CP has achieved something in generating such lively and though-provoking debate.

posted by: CD at November 9, 2008 7:23 AM


Good Lord! What an extraordinarily interesting post! It had never occurred to me that so many hints – the very real date difficulty, Johnnie’s premature birth etc etc – could be so neatly tied up. This ranks with the “Mad Lizzie” posts as seeing something – possibly – that I had simply not seen at all, even on multiple readings, over many years.

CD – any thoughts on why the 1813 birth-date is so elaborately suggested (though I agree that Feb 1812 is still far more likely)? If Palliser is so acute as to plant the “Feverfew” riddle and solution, why would he also have Mr Advowson go on at length about circumstances of the baptismal record, some of which could not have been true (Sir George Rose’s Act) in 1812?


posted by: AGB at November 10, 2008 8:27 PM


Good question!

I don’t know why 1813 is so strongly hinted at. As I see it, 1812, unequivocally could still have allowed all the uncertainties over John’s father to exist, including maintaining the more obvious on the face of it conclusion that it was PC who is John’s father.

Maybe it was just an additional mystery CP wanted to throw into the novel, or maybe, again as has been suggested in other contexts, 1813 as a possible date had other ramifications for parts of the book that were taken out in the shortening of it – and the afterword confirms that some of the ‘complications’ were deleted (although why not delete this too?).

This sounds like its too easy and unplanned, I know, but I really can’t see that the book couldn’t have been as interesting and maintained all the puzzles and plot devices that are in there if no hints at 1813 had existed.

In short, like you I can’t see what mystery 1813 serves to create for the rest of the plot and the reader. Apart from the mystery in and of itself, of course – maybe this is good enough reason as its certainly created much discussion!

posted by: CD at November 11, 2008 11:19 AM


Oh, very good, very interesting point.
This complete the theory. In mt view (but I am not a doctor) the drug helps, but may be it not allows the excat date for the birth. In that case, it is still interesting to have a deal with Advowson. Also, as said here :

I think Mary and martin declare the boy in 1813 in order to escape from Clothier chasing

posted by: Gix at November 16, 2008 5:54 AM


Just a quick post to wish anybody still reading and contributing to this a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (2009). I’m sorry that the discussion has petered out now but it has been an interesting read most of the time. I should like to make one observation about chronological discrepancies in The Quincunx. As mentioned previously, I have recommended the author’s other work The Unburied as an excellent read, and anyone working through it will see strong similarities with The Quincunx. In my latest reading of The Unburied, which I finished this evening ( the time-frame is December 20th to 24th 1881, which makes it seasonal ) , I noticed that there are a few blatant errors of dates there too, and am now veering towards the view that they serve a purpose and are not just lapses on the author’s part. In trying to reconcile all the discrepancies in The Quincunx I may well have been missing some of the point. Any comments from contributors, especially those who have read both novels, would be most welcome. Incidentally, has anybody seen any mention of the two new novels which were reportedly going to be published this year?

posted by: Brian at December 23, 2008 5:18 PM


I agree that “The Unburied” is well worth reading. (I’d like to hear more about the errors in date, because I never notice things like that). I’ve just re-read it, with quincuncial connections partly in mind. I was struck by an anecdote it contains about a red coat being used to disguise one person as another, and looked at the accounts of the central night of “The Quincunx”, but couldn’t see anything suggestive.

But I was also struck by this reported speech, most of which doesn’t seem to relate much to the rest of the book: “There are so many passages and dark corners where we could hide, that we used to play elaborate games of hide and seek that lasted for hours. And how we plagued our elders by secreting ourselves and spying on them or leaping out at them when they least expected it. We loved dressing up – swords, cloaks, beards”.

As I’ve said before, I think someone (Barney?) was hidden in the plate-cupboard (just as Johnny is at the end of the book) and leapt out, with a sword, killing John Huffam, that night. But could that person also have spied on John Huffam first (just as Johnny does at the end of the book), so as to discover the secret hiding place that John didn’t want Escreet to know about? By Martin’s account, Escreet came to him to ask him to wait, leaving John in the plate-room. Was this not because John asked Escreet to leave, so as not to reveal the hiding place to him? So was Barney (or whoever it was) earlier secreted in the plate-cupboard so as to discover the hiding place, as well as to kill John?

posted by: Simon at December 28, 2008 4:09 PM


I think Simon is on to something here. We have seen that Barney has connections to the Mompessons and given his criminal background possibly the Clothiers(?). I think Escreet was definitely trying to sell the codicil back to Huffam, but perhaps a third party such as the Mompessons, Clothiers, or even Martin Fortisquince placed Barney in the house to murder John Huffam. To get him out of the way once and for all. The murder might explain Escreet’s confused and nervous behavior. Escreet only wanted to blackmail Huffam, not to kill him. Escreet’s strange behavior at the time of the murder may only signal that he was extremely surprised by it, was not sure how to play the situation, and was likely terrified of being exposed as the blackmailer.

posted by: BAC at December 30, 2008 11:47 AM



I just finish reading the books for the 3rd time, and I went through a part of the discussion here.
It’s clear to me that Palliser doesn’t give any solution to John Sr death, and let doors open to many theories about it, ie Barney not answering about the murder he comitted that year, etc…
I have a question from the whole discussion here though: I read several times that Henrietta ends up in Calais (where David Mompesson stays as well).
As it also clear for me that she is pregnant with David’s child when she marry Henry, the french translation I have here clearly states that it’s Miss Quilliam, and not Henrietta, who’s been seen in Calais.
If someone could clear that point for me, please, while I finish to go through your thread?


posted by: Adeline at December 31, 2008 8:09 AM


Halfway through chapter 111, Johnny says to the reader “Helen was lost from sight and her companion as well – though I have been informed that the latter went to France and was last heard of in Calais”. Together with his comment near the end of the last chapter that “…you have heard as much as I know of her later life when I described Helen Quilliam’s fate and that of her companion”, it’s clear that it was Henrietta who went to Calais.

posted by: Simon at December 31, 2008 9:52 AM


Ok thanks Simon for this, there is then a huge mistranslation in the french version, since the word “latter” in the sentence you quote is “the first one” (Miss Quilliam, then).

Another question that may sound naive, but:
John’s baptism act (i don’t know the english word) as well as Mary’s death certificate state “Mary Mellamphy” for “Mary Huffam” (or “Mary Clothier”).
Then how can they be a proof of the birth or death of Huffam’s heirs? Can’t they be easily contested by the others parts?

posted by: Adeline at December 31, 2008 10:19 AM


Hi Adeline,

In Gix’s French website on the Quincunx (and in my translation to English of the same), there are several discussion points of significant mis-translations in the French edition. Not an easy book to translate at all, mind you, given the difficulty we have with all the ambiguities in native English!

( )

Also agreed that it’s a real legal oddity that the documents use such different names. The legally crucial thing for John’s claim is that he is the legitimate son of Peter Clothier and his wife Mary, nee Huffam. Although we’ve discussed above the notion that John is “presumptively legitimate”, that notion is based on his clearly being the birth-son of Mary Huffam. As you say, a smart lawyer might say, so who’s this Mellamphy woman……..

Incidentally, thanks to Steve – the owner of this site – for allowing our discussions to meander on for so very long!

Bonne Annee!

posted by: AGB at January 6, 2009 8:41 AM


Has anyone else noticed that Johnnie seems to have inherited his mother’s gullibility?

For instance, he is under the misperception that Henrietta is in love with Henry Bellringer, and was, in fact, only taken in by Bellringer because she thought he himself dead, when in actuallity, by my take, she was in love with David Mompesson.

On my first read, I felt so sorry for Mary because she seemed to have no common sense at all as far as being a judge of character, and it seemed she was taken advantage by everyone. But on my second read, I think Mary was actually rather conniving, although, yes, lacking in common sense, but Johnnie seems to me to be totally lacking in ability to “read” people as well.

I also found it strange that she was supposedly raised in a “genteel” family, and yet her spelling was so poor and when she tried to post herself for a governess position, it was very clear she had no real skills in singing or music, which I thought every “lady” was trained in during that period. Which makes me wonder if she actually was John Huffam’s daughter or if she was his mistress. She could have been the daughter, or illegitimate daughter, of a friend or relative whom he took as his mistress at a very young age, as it is said in the book that Jeoffrey Huffam did (patterns). Could it be that Mary herself killed John Huffam? She kept having nightmares about seeing him with blood on his face, etc.

I was very glad to find this discussion board. It really is an interesting book.

posted by: cynthia at January 7, 2009 9:11 AM


Many puzzles indeed! Who is John Huffam Jr.’s father ? Who, indeed, is his mother ? (Yes – it depends what you mean by “who is” !). Who killed John Huffam Sr?

The “who is Mary?” question is perhaps the biggest puzzle of all, with scarcely any clues at all. We’re clearly “meant to believe” that’s she’s simply the daughter of John Sr. and a wife of whom we know nothing (and this in a book of immensely detailed genealogies). Yet as Cynthia (and others in the past) notes, Mary is a puzzle on many levels. Who really is she? Is it even possible that she’s not John Jr.’s mother, and even not John Sr.’s daughter?



posted by: AGB at January 8, 2009 8:57 AM


I think the simplest explanation of Mary’s birth is that she’s the daughter of James and Eliza. That would fit with Lizzie acting as Mary’s mother at Mary’s death, and with Lydia referring to James and Eliza as John’s grandparents, instead of great-grandparents.

Do we have a chronology that covers the time before the book starts, that shows that Eliza would be too old for this? I’m thinking in particular of James having taken up with Eliza when she was very young.

posted by: Simon Morris at January 9, 2009 5:21 AM


@ Simon Morris

Nope, I disagree, and precisely because I have such a chronology. But it does not show that Eliza is too old to be Mary’s mother. Rather, it shows that Mary is much too young to be Eliza’s daughter. 🙂

Whoever she is, Mary is NOT the daughter of James Huffam and Eliza Umphraville. If she was, she would have been born in 1770 (give or take a couple of months), for the secret double wedding takes place in 1769 and James Huffam dies in early 1771, which would make her not only a staggering 43 years old when she gives birth to Johnnie (!), but also of an age with John Huffam, sr. (who is or acts as her father).

posted by: Leon at January 12, 2009 2:21 PM


For my fellow chronology-freaks:

By her own account, Mary is 17 in 1811, the year of the murder of John Huffam (545, US pocket ed.; Ch. 61, first relation). This would mean that she is born ca. 1794.

posted by: Leon at January 12, 2009 2:27 PM


Leon, can you tell us when Eliza is born? Is it possible that Mary is offspring of Eliza and John Huffam? I’ll have to go back and consult the book, but is it certain that John Huffam is the son of James and Eliza?

posted by: BAC at January 12, 2009 5:00 PM


Thanks, Leon. I suppose it was foolish to imagine that a principal character’s parents might actually have been married.

posted by: Simon at January 13, 2009 10:28 AM


I see now that my post of 12 January, 2:21 is somewhat carelessly phrased. The chronology indeed “does not show that Eliza is too old to be Mary’s mother.” However, rather than showing that “Mary is much too young to be Eliza’s daughter,” it only shows that Mary is too young to be the daughter of Eliza Umphraville and James Huffam. Mary MIGHT be Eliza’s daughter with John Huffam, as I have suggested somewhere in the above.

@ BAC:

As far as I’m aware, we do not know Eliza’s exact age or date of birth. We may surmise however, that she was somewhere between 15-20 years old when she married James Huffam in 1769 and would therefore have been born in the late 1740s or early 1750s.

John Huffam (b. 1770) comes to to London and is taken in by jeoffrey Escreet to live in the house at Charing Cross “a good fifteen years” after James Huffam’s death (US pocket ed. 744). John Huffam is 16 years old at the time (545), which would make it the year 1786. By that time Eliza Umphraville is in her early- to mid-thirties and probably working as a prostitute. Just in time to give birth to a baby daughter fathered by John Huffam – but that of course is pure conjecture.

It is by no means certain that John Huffam is the son of James Huffam and Eliza Umphraville. He MAY be, but he MIGHT just as well have been the long-lost child of John Umphraville and Lydia Mompesson, the one which Isabella Mompesson assures Lydia has died just after it had been born (876). As far as I can know, we cannot be sure whose son John Huffam is.

Notice that if John Huffam is indeed the son of Eliza and James and if Eliza is indeed Mary’s mother, then we’re dealing with a case of (unwitting?) incest…

posted by: Leon at January 13, 2009 1:45 PM


Oops, sloppy math on my part. Eliza is in her early- to mid-thirties in 1786, when John Huffam arrives in London. But given the fact that Mary is born some 8 years later in 1794, Eliza was in her early to mid-40s when she gives birth to John Huffam’s child – if indeed she did.

(All of this is built on the conjecture that Eliza was between 15-20 years old when she married James Huffam in 1769.)

posted by: Leon at January 13, 2009 2:00 PM


Thanks, Leon. Even though it is interesting to speculate that Mary may be the child of John Huffam and Eliza Umphraville, (and I’m the one doing the speculation), I have to say it still feels unsatisfying. The only clues that we have that Eliza is Mary’s mother is Mary crying out for her mother as she dies and the clue by omission in the genealogy.

It just seems farfetched to me that John Huffam would either accidentally or by design develop a sexual relationship with a woman he suspects is his mother. I know other unseemly sexual behavior occurs throughout the Quincunx, but the idea of this potential union seems almost silly to me. Perhaps Palliser agreed and decided to cut all the information about Mary’s parentage.

I just wish we had some more information about Mary’s mother.

posted by: BAC at January 13, 2009 2:29 PM


John Huffam needn’t have suspected that Lizzie (as she would have been called when he’d have met her) was his mother. Escreet says that John spent his youth at Hougham (Chapter 87: “…that’s where you’ve been living yourself until now, isn’t it?”), whereas James and Eliza might well have spent their time in London. If Eliza had been ostracized from the Huffam family after James’ death, there’d be no reason for John to have recognized Lizzie as the same person. And if John is really the son of John Umphraville and Lydia, then Lizzie wouldn’t even be his real mother, which perhaps makes the whole hypothesis a bit more palatable.

Do we know any more about John’s early upbringing (whether it involved James and Eliza, or not)? And incidentally, can anyone gloss Lizzie’s comment that “he died shoreditch for he was foul of the strawberries – the only marks of a baronet”?

posted by: Simon at January 13, 2009 4:26 PM


‘And incidentally, can anyone gloss Lizzie’s comment that “he died shoreditch for he was foul of the strawberries – the only marks of a baronet”?’

I’ve always read this – somewhat enigmatic! – remark as meaning he died a drunk (“strawberries” being slang for those red blotches on the face – aka “brandy blossoms” – that mark the right true toper…); and perhaps only baronets can drink themselves to death on brandy….

Not very satisfactory!


posted by: AGB at January 14, 2009 9:52 AM


Hmmm… to follow up. A moment with the giant OED notes that “stawberries” can also be a reference to the pattern of leaves on the coronet of an aristocrat. But a Baronet doesn’t have a coronet (only Dukes, Marquesses and Earls do…..)


posted by: AGB at January 14, 2009 9:58 AM


Shoreditch is a neighborhood of London, which in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was an area of theaters, taverns, revelry, and presumably, vice. I think Lizzie’s remark means that James died of drink, venereal disease, or both, in a seedy party of London where a rich aristocrat could throw away his money and health.

posted by: BAC at January 14, 2009 10:44 AM


In answer to Simon’s question of 13 January, 4:26 AM, “Do we know any more about John’s early upbringing (whether it involved James and Eliza, or not)?”:

As for James Huffam’s involvement in John Huffam’s early upbringing all we know is that it cannot have been very long lasting:

• John Huffam is born just before Jeoffrey Huffam’s death, probably to James Huffam and Eliza Umphraville, possibly to the late John Umphraville and Lydia Mompesson. The child named John Huffam must have been born before Jeoffrey Huffam’s death, for he rather than James Huffam inherits the estate under Jeoffrey Huffam’s second and final will, made just before his death.
• We know the precise date of the second and final will of Jeoffrey Huffam: 18 June 1770. This exact date is provided by Johnnie in his account of a conversation with Lydia Mompesson (829, all page references to the US pocket edition). (Note that, at this point in his narrative, Johnnie has not yet laid eyes on this second will and the exact date would therefore be unknown to him at that moment. Here we have one of the many instances in which narrator-Johnnie’s account of incidents and conversations from his past is less than accurate.) The date given by Johnnie is corroborated by Jemima Fortisquince, who claims Jeoffrey Huffam lay dying “in the Spring of ’70” (996). (Jeoffrey Escreet informs Johnnie that Jeoffrey Huffam fell ill “early in the Spring of the following year” (752), i.e. the year following that of the secret double wedding, which would therefore have taken place in 1869.)
• This second and final will of Jeoffrey Huffam however, is repressed after his death by Paternoster. Jeoffrey Huffam’s first will now being in force, James Huffam inherits the estate. According to Jeoffrey Escreet James Huffam conveys the estate to Hugo Mompesson “less than a year after his father’s death” (753) – i.e. in late 1770 or the first half of 1771 – and dies “soon afterwards” (754). This would make John Huffam (just) under a year old when James dies. If we are to believe Mary, John Huffam is “only a few months old” (544) at the time of his (biological?) father’s death.

As for Eliza’s involvement we cannot be sure. If after James’ death she continued to care for the child named John Huffam – who may not even have been her own biological son and no longer heir to an estate – she did not do so for very long.

• According to Mary John Huffam’s mother died when he was “a small child of three or four years” (544). After his mother’s death John is raised by the Huffam steward D. Fortisquince in ‘his’ wing of the Old Hall at the estate (now owned by the Mompessons) together with Martin, the child of his late, estranged wife and Jeoffrey Escreet. Martin Fortisquince is of an age with John Huffam, and his mother, too, has died when he was still “very young” (544).

Whoever may have been the source, it seems likely that Mary has been (deliberately?) misinformed about the death of John Huffam’s mother (or foster mother passing for biological mother?), for we can be reasonably sure that Eliza did not die in 1773 or 1774, but lived on to become Old Lizzie. But we do not know what really transpired when D. Fortisquince took him under his wing. Did Eliza willingly abandon John (as he was not her biological child, but that of Lydia Mompesson)? Was John taken from her by D. Fortisquince in order to secure the well-being of the Huffam heir? Was the care of the child forced upon him by the Mompessons?

posted by: Leon at January 21, 2009 5:23 AM


Thanks, Leon. I suppose another difficulty with the John Huffam – Lizzie/Eliza hypothesis is that even if John didn’t recognise Eliza/Lizzie (which would fit with the “unwitting meeting with one’s mother (real or nominal)” motif), she would presumably have recognised his name, at least. For John Huffam must (I think) have married Mary’s mother, or Silas Clothier would have challenged her claim to the Huffam inheritance, whereas we’re told (I think) that he was only interested in John Huffam and Johnnie’s legitimacy.

On the other hand, after Mary was married to Peter Clothier, and Peter Clothier was in the asylum, and under Silas’ control, Silas would have less reason to challenge her legitimacy, because if she did inherit the Huffam estate, it would be controlled by him, via Peter, anyway.

posted by: Simon at January 22, 2009 7:08 PM


That suggests another perspective on the events of the day of Peter and Mary’s wedding. If Escreet hadn’t sent Martin to Mary, then Mary would have ended up married to Peter, but with no child. So Mary’s inheritance would have been under Silas’ control, given that he could declare Peter insane. This is exactly how the Mompessons aim to gain control over the Huffam inheritance, via Henrietta. So was the plan, that ostensibly was dreamt up by John and Escreet, in fact suggested by Silas to Escreet?

We know that the faked argument between Peter and John didn’t convince Jemima, as it was ostensibly intended to. But it worked much better as a way of providing Peter with an apparent motive for killing John.

If the plan is really Silas’, then Escreet’s sending Martin to Mary is a betrayal of Silas. And we know that Silas didn’t acquire the will, as he must have planned. So did Escreet agree to Silas’ plan only so as to acquire someone to perform the actual murder, but always with the view of subverting the plan to his own ends? Did Escreet deceive Silas, perhaps by sending papers other than the will to him, perhaps via the actual murderer, just as he did with Peter?

posted by: Simon at February 3, 2009 2:38 PM



I find your ideas interesting, but are you suggesting that Escreet and Martin conspired to impregnate Mary? Or did Escreet knowing Martin’s passion for Mary, send him to her hoping that he would seduce her? What does Escreet stand to gain from there being a Huffam heir? Just further opportunities to extort money from the Mompessons, Clothiers, and Huffams, i.e., Johnnie?

posted by: BAC at February 6, 2009 10:38 AM


I think Escreet wanted his own son, Martin, to father the continuation of the Huffam line. See his reaction to learning that Mary has a child, near the start of Chapter 64.

But Chapter 64 also says that Peter, not Escreet, sent Martin to Mary. It’s difficult to know how much Escreet could have influenced Martin, given that they seem to have been estranged even at that time. Maybe this idea is a bit short of evidence.

posted by: Simon at February 6, 2009 2:08 PM


But it’s still an interesting idea worth pursuing.

I’ll throw out another one that dovetails with yours: What if Escreet and Martin worked together on what I’ll call the Huffam Will Scam? Here’s my very speculative idea: Escreet wants to extort money from John Huffam in exchange for the will. He wants the money of course, but also wants to stick it to Huffam as an illegitimate son of a Huffam. For similar reasons, Escreet also wants to strike at the Mompessons.

I know this is unlikely given the strained relationship between father and son, but what if Escreet enlists Martin in this plan? It sounds a little ridiculous, but what if Escreet points out that with Huffam and Peter Clothier out of the way, Mary could be taken by Martin? Maybe Escreet further points out that if Mary were to bear Martin’s child, he would be perceived as legitimate and the heir to the Huffam fortune? This is far-fetched for sure, but Martin has always seemed a suspicious character to me. Several characters in the Quincunx tell us that Martin is a paragon of virtue, which to me is Palliser telling us, “Pay attention to this character.” It has always bothered me that we are expected to believe that Martin is just the innocent deliverer of the will and nothing more. He then assumes the role of chief witness of every significant event on the night of the murder. This has always seemed a little suspicious. So, in sum, what if Escreet and Martin came up with a plan where Escreet gets to extort money from the two families that he hates most and Martin gets John Huffam and Peter Clothier out of the picture so that he can have his way with Mary?

I’ll throw in one last crackpot idea: What if Martin hired Barney to murder John Huffam?

posted by: BAC at February 6, 2009 6:17 PM


I suppose I’m more convinced simply that Silas influenced the events of the wedding night. There are strong parallels between what nearly happened to Mary, and what was planned for Henrietta: an heiress enters a childless marriage with one of two brothers, who is then declared insane, so that her inheritance is controlled by her parents-in-law. I agree with an earlier poster’s observation that repetition is central to The Quincunx, so I think the parallels extend to the authors of the two plans.

A much smaller reason for suspecting a connection between Escreet and Silas is in Chapter 61, 4th Relation: “Mr Clothier and his elder son came to the house in the morning and met Mr Escreet who was very nervous. It was strange to see him so frightened of so little a gentleman!”. It does seem strange that fear should register, rather than dislike, or even hatred. But Escreet is later frightened of Henry Bellringer, in Chapter 92: “He looked frightened: ‘Nobody else knocks like that. Hurry, he has his own key.'”. I think Bellringer has the upper hand of Escreet at that time, despite being on, in a way, the same side, and that’s why Escreet is afraid. And there’s a similar case in “The Unburied”.

I’m much less clear about whether Escreet made Martin aware of his machinations. My guess is that he didn’t, but Martin is a difficult character to make out.

posted by: Simon at February 9, 2009 7:16 PM


It’s worth repeating some thoughts that have been much floated here, but never quite pinned down. In whose interest is it that Mary has a child?

Now, the conception of a child can be passionate (an unintended conception, a result of the passion of the moment), ritual (sex on the wedding night), or purposive (sex wholly for the purpose of conception). It’s always been my feeling that, if Johnnie’s conception took place at the time of the wedding, and if “ritual” was unavailable (ie, Peter the husband had no opportunity to have sex with Mary), and if “passion” was highly unlikely (it would be a damned odd night for Mary to have a wild fling with anyone!), then Mary becomes pregnant by someone other than her husband – Martin probably – quite deliberately, and with the purpose of deceit.

So, who is being deceived, by whom, and why? Is Mary a wholly knowing part of that plan?

In my many readings of the Quincunx, I’ve never been able to satisfactorily answer those questions!

[I throw in a nod to the intriguing theory that the conception took place many months after the wedding night – when it could have been the unintended result of passion, as well as utterly purposive…]

posted by: AGB at February 10, 2009 9:30 AM


@ Simon:

I see your point about the parallels in Mary’s situation in 1811 and that of Henrietta in 1829. They are indeed part of the same set of variations on a theme that recurs in the score of The Quincunx like a leitmotif (a set of variations which also includes the situation of Anna Mompesson in the late 1730s as well as that of Lydia Mompesson in 1769).

But as to your suggestion that Silas Clothier “influenced the events of the wedding night” and that there is a “connection” between him and Jeoffrey Escreet I am not quite sure that I get your drift. Are you suggesting that Jeoffrey Escreet is somehow Silas Clothier’s creature in some kind of conspiracy against the Huffams played out on the wedding night? If so, how did this “connection” come about? And in what ways are their respective interests complementary? And, if getting the purloined will in their possession was (part of) the purpose of the conspiracy, what went wrong? For we know the purloined did not end up in the hands of Silas Clothier, but was mysteriously returned to Perceval Mompesson (possibly by Jeoffrey Escreet, who would thereby have betrayed Silas Clothier) “only a few days later” (841, US pocket ed.), according to Lydia Mompesson. (And note that it is unclear what she means exactly: A few days after the day she stole it? A few days after the day she handed it to Martin Fortisquince? A few days after the wedding day?)

@ AGB:

“the intriguing theory that the conception took place many months after the wedding night – when it could have been the unintended result of passion, as well as utterly purposive”

Of course that intriguing ‘many months afterwards’-theory only works if you support the thesis that Johnnie was born in February 1813 – and the evidence for that hypothesis is flimsy at best, resting as it does wholly on some internet sources claiming the George Rose act did not take effect until July 1812. It ignores all other references to real-world events connected with Johnnie’s birth date, such as the Radcliffe Highway murders and the Great Comet, as well as meta-fictionally speaking, the significance of the date of birth of Charles John Huffam Dickens.

If you support this ‘many months afterwards’-theory, however –and coming to my point – one thing the conception of Johnnie CANNOT have been is “utterly purposive”, for what purpose would a Huffam heir born out of wedlock serve to anyone?

The only way in which Johnnie’s conception can possibly have served anyone’s purpose – Mary’s, Martin’s, both Mary and Martin’s – is if it takes place within the relatively short period of time following the wedding night sufficient for the soon-to-be infant to pass off as the child of Peter Clothier – from i.e. early-May to, say, mid-July, and definitely not “many months after the wedding night”.

posted by: Leon at February 11, 2009 6:19 AM


For some reason my long-ish reply to Leon – with new and exciting information about Sir George Rose’s Act! – is being blocked by the server (maybe it has too many URLs embedded in it….). But it will appear in due course. There’s a link in it to a fascinating Parliamentary speech by Sir George on the horrors of poor parish records pre-1812.


posted by: AGB at February 12, 2009 12:30 PM



Yes, I think Escreet and Silas did conspire, so that Escreet would suggest the wedding-night plan to John Huffam, which Escreet and Silas could manipulate for their own ends.

I think the connection came about after Escreet learned that John Huffam might acquire the will, which would have cost Escreet his house. The scene between Mary and Escreet at the end of the 4th relation of Chapter 61 suggests that Escreet didn’t have confidence that John Huffam would properly compensate Escreet for the loss of his house. So Escreet could easily have covertly approached Silas at any time after the arrival of the will was announced to John Huffam, and before the wedding day.

Escreet could provide Silas with an agency in the Huffam household with which to thwart the successful marriage of Peter and Mary, and obtain or destroy the will. Silas could provide Escreet with someone to carry out the murder of John Huffam. (Jemima’s description of Escreet killing John Huffam is notably unconvincing, given that Escreet is significantly older than John Huffam, and that John Huffam would have seen Escreet carrying the sword as soon as he entered the room).

One possible explanation for Peter’s wearing a red coat when he returns to the house is that the real killer was also wearing a red coat when he entered or exited the house, so that if anyone had seen him, they would later assume that they’d seen Peter.

But if this is all true, I still don’t know how the will was returned to the Mompessons. It would have given Escreet a way to make more money, assuming that the Mompessons paid him for the will. Perhaps Escreet sent Clothier a packet that didn’t contain the will, just as he did Peter. Perhaps Barney was Clothier’s agent (as Johnnie at one stage suspects) in the house, but takes the will to the Mompessons instead (they might pay more). Perhaps Barney killed the intruder as he left the house, and took the will from him, and back to the Mompessons – that would make the scene after Johnnie and Jemima leave the house in Chapter 122 another repetition.

posted by: Simon at February 12, 2009 6:15 PM


@ Simon:

I find you hypothesis of the wedding night-events as a Clothier-Escreet conspiracy intriguing, but not, I’m afraid, very convincing. And I’ll go to some lengths to tell you why.

According to you “Escreet could easily have covertly approached Silas at any time after the arrival of the will was announced to John Huffam, and before the wedding day.”

Can you cite any hard textual evidence for such a covert approach? And why would Escreet approach a man he so clearly feared, as you yourself have shown – a man, we might add, from a family which he loathed? Escreet would rather die than seeing a Clothier come anywhere near a chance to get his hands on a means to possess the estate; hence his objections to John Huffam’s plan to ask Silas Clothier for a loan to purchase the codicil. He is, in fact, as Mary puts it “horrorfied” when he hears of the idea (Ch. 61, second relation, 548 US pocket ed.).

You write: “Silas could provide Escreet with someone to carry out the murder of John Huffam.”

Why would Silas Clothier agree to arrange for one of his ruffians to kill John Huffam if he, Silas, can only inherit the estate under the conditions of the codicil if and ONLY if BOTH John Huffam AND Mary meet their deaths during his lifetime (and there is no other Huffam heir alive)? In other words: why provide Escreet with a killer who is supposed to kill John Huffam and ONLY John Huffam while allowing Mary to elope with Peter? And taking the codicil with them (according to Mary’s journal)?!

Why would Escreet want to have John Huffam murdered? As far as we know from Mary’s diary and from Escreet’s own mouth, John Huffam (foolishly) trusts him completely. There is no evidence whatsoever that if the will now in effect is successfully challenged by the codicil or the purloined will, John Huffam will not let Escreet benefit from his new-found wealth and position. True, Escreet’s revenge upon the Huffams and the Mompessons would be undone, but provided his nefarious dealing remain a secret he would not necessarily be any worse off financially speaking.

You write: “Escreet could provide Silas with an agency in the Huffam household with which to thwart the successful marriage of Peter and Mary.”

Why would Silas Clothier design such an elaborate conspiracy just to thwart the marriage between Mary and Peter? It is not a Huffam-Clothier marriage per se he is against (in fact it is the condition on which he grants John Huffam the loan to purchase the codicil in the first place. As John Huffam remarks (in Mary’s words): “Have you considered the advantages of an Alliance with that family? […] Your and my interests in the Suit would then be identical to those of the Clothier Family: the Codacil would restore my Grandfather’s Title to the Hougham Propperty to me, and as my heir you would inherit it, and your marriage to old Clothier’s son would mean that the children of that union would be his heirs as well as mine” (Ch. 61, fourth relation, 552 US pocket ed.). What Silas Clothier is against is the fact that Mary wants to marry Peter rather than Daniel. And the conspiracy you are suggesting will not help to accomplish the desired union with his elder son in any way. However, in lieu of a union with Daniel, a union with Peter is the next best thing for Silas Clothier in order to get his hands on the Huffam estate, either by means of the birth of a Huffam-Clothier heir, or by making sure some harm comes to Mary and having Peter declared insane.

Besides, whatever conspiracy Escreet and Silas may have hatched in your view, it did NOT thwart the marriage between Mary and Peter, for the ceremony actually took place. And Silas does not need to have Mary’s brand new husband sentenced for the murder of John Huffam in order to get him out of the way; having Peter declared insane will do just as nicely. And he does not need a conspiracy with Escreet to accomplish that, as we know.

So, if thwarting the marriage of Mary and Peter was not the objective of the conspiracy from Silas’ point of view, what could it have been? You write: “Escreet could provide Silas with an agency in the Huffam household with which to […] obtain or destroy the will.”

In 1811 Silas Clothier knows nothing whatsoever about the last purloined will (1770) of Jeoffrey Huffam. All he knows or cares about at that time is the suppressed codicil (1768) to the earlier will. (In fact, in 1811 NOBODY knows about the will of 1770 except the Mompessons, Lydia Mompesson and Jeoffrey Escreet. John Huffam may have heard about from Escreet, but until Lydia writes to him disclosing the secret of its existence and offering to steal it for him, he thinks it was destroyed by Mr Paternoster or James Huffam.)

If Escreet has told Silas Clothier about the existence of the 1770-will (of which there is no hard textual evidence), why would he allow it to be destroyed by Silas? From Escreet’s point of view the will can best be returned to the Mompessons – that way his revenge on the Huffams will not be undone and he can make some serious money – which is the last thing Silas would want.

If getting his hands on one of the documents around which the plot of the novel revolves is Silas’ objective, it is the codicil. The codicil, and ONLY the codicil will get him the estate. So, if there is to be no marriage between Mary and Daniel Clothier only the following 3 situations are advantageous to Silas Clothier as objectives of a conspiracy against the Huffams with Escreet as his co-conspirator and inside-man:

1) the codicil in his possession + John Huffam dead + Mary dead = estate in Clothier hands; 2) the codicil in his possession + John Huffam dead + Peter and Mary married after which he has a) Peter declared insane and b) Mary killed = estate in Clothier hands;
3) the codicil in his possession + John Huffam proven to be born out of wedlock = estate in Clothier hands.

The conspiracy with Escreet you suggest will bring Silas Clothier none of these. So what’s in it for him?

Finally, in your hypothesis Escreet needs somebody else to kill John Huffam, since he cannot physically do so himself. You write: “Jemima’s description of Escreet killing John Huffam is notably unconvincing, given that Escreet is significantly older than John Huffam, and that John Huffam would have seen Escreet carrying the sword as soon as he entered the room.”

Escreet is indeed some thirty years John Huffam’s senior. However, only minutes after Jemima’s allegedly unconvincing account of Jeoffrey Escreet killing John Huffam that very same Jeoffrey Escreet quite effectively manages to kill Mr Sancious by surprise in a manner very similar to the one she has just described as having been used to do John Huffam in some 18 years earlier. And he manages to do so despite having reached the ripe old age of 90 (give or take a few years). You also have to take into account that Mr Sancious is only John Huffam’s junior by half a decade or so and therefore in his mid-fifties at the time of his violent death – making his age-diffence with Escreet even bigger than the age-difference between Escreet and John Huffam. In other words: I don’t think Escreet’s age is the unconvincing part of Jemima’s ‘reconstruction’ of the murder. (There are other much more unconvincing parts.)

Nor do I find your argument that John Huffam would have seen Escreet carrying the sword as soon as he entered the room very convincing. Is there any hard textual evidence to back that claim up? Is the lay-out of the room unambiguously clear? Couldn’t John Huffam have been standing with his back to the door, rejoicing in seeing his dreams of regaining the estate realized now that he has the purloined will in his hands and oblivious to Escreet entering the room behind him with murder on his mind? Remember that Martin Fortisquince finds the body of John Huffam in the plate room (in Mary’s wording) “lieing face downwards,” the sword still in his body. This suggests as attack from behind.

posted by: Leon at February 14, 2009 7:53 AM



Thanks for replying to my post so fully. Many of your points are good ones, but here are my comments on some of them.

It would probably be difficult for Silas to kill both John and Mary Huffam, so killing one of them is better, for him, than nothing. And a large part of his putative plan is precisely that Mary is not allowed to elope with Peter, for Peter will be trapped in the house, and will stand plausibly accused of murder. It’s true that Mary will be out of the house, with the codicil. But remember that if the plan had fully worked, Mary would only have gone as far as Snow Hill, which is in central London. Mary would have been completely alone, for Escreet wouldn’t have told Silas that either he or Martin would have helped her. Silas would be able to deal with her, and the codicil, later – and, once married to Peter, she wouldn’t be in a position to attract help from any potential husband.

If Peter and Mary had left London, as they planned, the position would be different. Silas wouldn’t have been able to locate them, and they would probably have had one or more children, which would have multiplied Silas’s problems.

You’re right that Silas wouldn’t have known about the will at that stage. He must have been desperate to find out why John Huffam delayed putting the codicil before the court – Escreet himself could have told him about the will. Do we in fact know when and how he ever does find out about it?

I find it difficult to see how Escreet could have entered the plate-room and killed John from behind. He couldn’t have known that John would be facing away from the door when he opened it. So what was his plan for the eventuality that he opened the door, and John had seen him? Remember that any sound from John would be fatal for Escreet’s plan. Whereas we know that someone hidden in the plate-cupboard can watch someone in the room, and if Escreet co-operates with that person to guide John to the right position and direction, that someone in the plate-cupboard could be certain of taking John entirely by surprise.

I agree that it’s less easy to see just why Escreet would have wanted John Huffam dead. Maybe my view of Escreet’s character is darker than the evidence supports, but I don’t think it’s implausible that he did, and Palliser goes to some trouble to explain how twisted and suffering he is.

posted by: Simon at February 16, 2009 5:18 PM


Hi everyone, I’m still interested in what you all have to say about “The quincunx”, and keep on reading all your interesting comments.
If it is really the intention of Escreet to help (or conspire with) Clothier , why does he not simply (= for money) tell Clothier where the marriage ( James + Eliza) has taken place, so Clothier could destroy the proof of the marriage ? Correct me if I’m wrong, but in my opinion there is no mystery for Escreet as to know if and where James en Eliza are married ? Escreet knows it because he had a duel there with John Umphraville ?

posted by: Rita at February 18, 2009 6:42 AM



Here’s where I am with Sir George Rose’s Act of 1812.

Its full name is “”An Act for the better regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers of Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, in England: 52 Geo. III, c.146″. That date tells you that the act was passed into law midway through 1812. Unfortunately, the official texts of British Statues are not available on-line, but only in Crown Copyright hard copy. Thus this text version is unofficial (and could be a Clothier forgery!):

However, here’s the full text of a published academic article that confirms: “The next important legislation relating to parish registers was passed in 1812 and became operative on 1 January, 1813. This act, known as Rose’s Act, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be registered in three separate volumes, which were to be printed according to a prescribed form.”

But there is a rather fun, further “official” confirmation of the Rose date issue. Hansard, the record of proceedings in Parliament, *is* available on-line. Here’s the Vote of Thanks of 10 February 1812 regarding the victory at Cuidad Rodgrigo:

and here’s Sir George Rose on 25 February 1812 – 2 weeks later – receiving permission to *introduce* the Bill that would later become the Rose Act:

Now, I agree with you – and always have! – that concluding a February 1813 birthdate for Johnnie from this date discrepancy is a conspiracy too far, even by Quincunx standards. My own resolution is that Palliser simply made an error in thinking that the Rose Act of 1812 governed 1812 itself, rather than 1813 onwards (a bit of Googling shows that this is a common error for folks to make….). But there are those here – led by our friend Gix – who think that this is too big a discrepancy to be an author’s error, and so have to speculate on why Mr Advowson specifically mentions both Cuidad Rodrigo and Rose’s Act, the first of which points to 1812 (as does other evidence, as you say) and the second to 1813. Gix has speculated that Johnnie may have been born in 1813 but that Mary and Martin “persuaded” the biddable Advowson to back-date his baptismal record by a year or so in order to make Johnnie the presumptively legitimate heir of Mary and Peter. That’s what I meant by suggesting that a birth in 1813 could have been a result of both passion and purpose: Martin and Mary, now genuine lovers, decide, sometime in mid-1812 that Mary needs a child and heir whose birth can be deceitfully made to appear as Feb. 1812 rather than Feb. 1813. As I say, a conspiracy too far for me (and, according to Gix, for Palliser too, whom in a letter to Gix said that a birthdate of 1813 for Johnnie was wrong). But the Rose Act recalled by Advowson simply did not come into effect until the first day of 1813…..


posted by: AGB at February 18, 2009 9:28 AM


Here I spend several hours composing the most longwinded, tortuous and convoluted essay-length- post imaginable, trying to poke a hole in Simon’s Escreet/Clothier-conspiracy-hypothesis, and along comes Rita casually posting a knock-down argument of a simplicity so sublime it actually had me staring at the screen in awe for several minutes… 🙂

posted by: Leon at February 18, 2009 3:37 PM



I think Escreet wants to preserve the entail – probably with a deliberate view to Martin entering the Huffam line. If he’d let Silas destroy the evidence of James and Eliza’s marriage, that would have disinherited Mary, and ended Escreet’s hopes of seeing his own progeny inherit. (At least via Mary, the simplest way – Martin’s marriage to Jemima provides another, but surely Escreet couldn’t have had any hand in that?)

I’m looking forward to Leon’s essay, though 🙂

posted by: Simon at February 18, 2009 5:30 PM


Thank you Leon, now I’m blushing like Mary :-)but I don’t think Simon is giving up the battle yet ! So I’m leaving it to you both and will maybe come back later 🙂

posted by: rita at February 20, 2009 11:30 AM


Another reason for thinking that Escreet is primarily interested in the Huffam line/inheritance is the timing of the events that lead up to the wedding. Why does Escreet choose to offer John the codicil at that particular moment, after concealing it for decades? I think it’s because Mary has just become marriageable, and he sees a chance to re-enter the Huffam line, through Martin.

That raises the question of whether Martin is consciously under his influence, which I can’t answer. It’s disquieting that Silas’ son Daniel pretends to have repudiated Silas, but really remains in league with him, for financial gain (if I’m remembering the building scam correctly). I think we’re supposed to consider a parallel with Escreet’s relationship to Martin, but I don’t know whether to accept that.

posted by: Simon at February 27, 2009 5:30 AM


……someone translate: Quid Quincunce speciosius, qui, in quamcunque partem spectavris, rectus est?

posted by: steve at March 5, 2009 12:37 PM


“What is more elegant than a Quincunx, which shows its perfect straight lines from whichever direction you view it?”

posted by: AGB at March 5, 2009 2:51 PM


Or in less elegant language, it is upright whichever way you look at it, and the epigraph could be taken to mean that the novel is open to more than one valid construction.

posted by: Brian at March 5, 2009 4:48 PM


Just a little question, nothing essential, just something I don’t understand : in chapter XLI a certain Acehand said something like (I have not the English version) “… I just saw him (= Peter Clothier) once Mr. Clothier sir, when I met you together with him some years ago ( You will not remember it sir but I was walking with my wife in Bow Common on Sunday at noon) he was just a boy then, because it was 20 years ago, and I knew that …it is said …. So, I said to myself Mr Clothier want to know this for sure”.
What does he mean with “and I knew that…it is said…?

posted by: Rita at March 6, 2009 8:25 AM


I think Acehand is thinking “I knew that it was a portrait of your son”, but doesn’t want to say that in front of Sancious, and is trying to think of a way to avoid being so direct.

posted by: Simon at March 6, 2009 5:20 PM


Rita – my reading is that Acehand is reluctant to actually say to Silas Clothier that Peter is known to be now confined in a madhouse, as a probable crazed murderer…..

And another Quincunx puzzle – how on earth does Acehand recognize Peter’s likeness from a miniature portrait of someone he’d seen 20 years ago, as a boy?


posted by: AGB at March 8, 2009 2:22 PM


One observation : (please, sorry for my English !!!) we know by the version of Mr Nolloth that Peter Clothier didn’t close the door when leaving the house, “so an intruder could have killed John Huffam”. But by my reading Peter Clothier left the house with a sealed packet (with the blood stained banknotes …) (version Martin, Mary (wedding night) Nolloth/Peter). So, if we do believe that it was really blood (red and sticky after several hours …) then John Huffam was already dead when Peter Clothier left te house…Or, am I wrong ?

posted by: Rita at March 11, 2009 8:41 AM


I agree – I don’t know how Peter Clothier and Mr Nolloth could have accounted for the blood-stained notes. They would have realised that the blood needn’t have been John Huffam’s. On the other hand, Mr Nolloth doesn’t get the chance to finish telling Johnnie their deductions about what happened that night. Perhaps he was going to tell Johnnie who they thought had put the blood-stained notes into the packet. Could they have suspected Escreet, and was Mr Nolloth so anguished at being interrupted because he’d lost his chance to warn Johnnie about him?

posted by: Simon at March 11, 2009 11:24 AM


Do you think a movie has been made on the quincunx, cause I would like to make it.I have read the story twice and I think that even the story was written in 1989 with a 1811 plot it would great to see it on the big screen. does anyone know how I can contact the author to get his consent for prodicing amovie on this amazing novel. Any help would be highly appreciated

posted by: pin007 at March 14, 2009 1:19 PM


I do believe that Palliser’s literary agents (who are the folks to contact at the outset) are:

Giles Gordon, Sheil and Associates, 43 Doughty Street, London WC2N 2LF, England;
Diane Cleaver, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, 55 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10003, U.S.A.

A while ago I wondered why BBC Radio had never done an adaptation of the book – I suspect it would make magnificent radio drama, and Palliser himself has written several plays etc for the Beeb. I now can’t recollect exactly whom, but a BBC source told me that Palliser had been approached but had been reluctant to allow any adaptation that would – necessarily – reduce and simplify the book as published.


posted by: AGB at March 15, 2009 10:01 AM


Has any contributor seen any news or mention of the Charles Palliser novels that were supposed to be appearing in the autumn of 2008? On the topic of dramatising this particular novel, it is hard to see how it could be done without taking a particular view of the complicated details of the plot, and that would detract from the work’s merits.

posted by: Brian at May 16, 2009 4:58 PM


This seems to be the place to post questions/ideas about this novel…. I could have sworn that when John first tells someone about his mother’s death he says he buried her under the name ‘Offland’, and when he tells the story to someone else later he says he buried her under another name (Mellamphy I think); I don’t think he mentions the name when he’s giving ‘direct’ narration of these events to the reader. Is this significant? I guess it could be; anyone trying to establish the facts of Mary’s death may or may not be able to do so depending on which version of the story they received.

posted by: Carolyn at May 26, 2009 2:02 AM


I haven’t been able to check the text yet, but wasn’t it the case that Johnnie actually tells that he hesitated slightly before using the name Offland for his late mother: i.e., that he’s telling us he deliberately deceived his interlocutor? And the second time, when he uses the Mellamphy name he no longer has a reason to deceive anyone (though in truth I remember the second incident much less well….).


posted by: AGB at May 28, 2009 12:27 PM


I’ve had a chance to look at this – and I think our memories of detail were a tad out.

When Johnnie has Mary buried (Chap.52), he gives the name Mellamphy, saying to us – the readers – that he did not wish to use their real name (by which I take it he means Clothier) for fear that word of his mother’s death would rapidly spread.

A little later (Chap.70) when he has been taken in – literally and figuratively – by the Porteous family, he gradually reveals that he is a Clothier, and that he had buried his mother in a named parish as Mrs Mellamphy. As the chapter progresses this information is confirmed in court, and Johnny is now accepted as the Huffam heir, the son of the late Mary Huffam and Peter Clothier.

Although Mary had herself temporarily taken the Offland name as a disguise (when she and Johnnie first arrived in London), I think this had been long abandoned by the time of her death. I don’t recall it being mentioned after Mary’s arrest for debt. Though as it was the name of a village near the Huffam estates, it may be mentioned again much later in the book.


posted by: AGB at May 28, 2009 5:21 PM


Interesting. I have a few theories of my own that don’t seem to be discussed above (though I may have missed them in amongst everything else). My theories are the result of a sleepless night and are devoid of the impressive scholarship I see used above! So I’m expecting they wont hold up to scrutiny.

Okay, so my theory about why Huffam Junior doesn’t accept the estate at the end of the book is all about the difference between law and equity. In law he could claim both the Huffam and Clothier fortunes. But I reckon that he’s figured out that he has no equitable claim on either as he is neither a Clothier nor a Huffam. So despite all the good things he could do with the wealth, he thinks the right thing is to walk away from the whole sorry business.

Another theory: for such a large and complicated family tree, isn’t it odd that at the end of the novel there are only two legitimate members left who haven’t fled from the law. Henrietta and Jemima. Maybe that’s why Jemima gives in so easily at the end… she’s realised that with the death of her husband there’s no point continuing the fight. She has no-one to pass it on to. So why not just give the will to John.

Might this explain part of why Johnnie doesn’t attempt to live happily ever after with Henrietta? He realises that she will inherit everything when Jemima dies (except what’s taken by the state) and doesn’t want to pollute her claim (or that of her child).

Now my most controversial alternative theory of the paternity of John Junior. My assumption was that Daniel Clothier (aka Porteous) raped Mary. Seems to be in character. The old ‘no-one else will want her now, so she’s got to marry me’ argument. Silas seems genuine when he accepts John as his Grandson. I suspect the Clothiers believe Daniel to be the father.

This in turn results in the rushed marriage to Peter (presumably on condition that any progeny is considered to be legitimate). But the wedding night goes wrong. I imagine a scene shortly after that with Martin along the following lines:

Mary: I might be carrying Daniel’s child. If I am then I’ll kill myself.

Martin: huh?

Mary: Peter said he’d marry me anyway. And if there’s a child we’d accept it unquestioningly as his. But that’s impossible now and I’ll know it’s Daniel’s for certain.

Martin: I have a cunning plan. But don’t tell Jemima. We’ll consider it mine. We’ll tell everyone it’s Peter’s. Forget about that odious Daniel. Oh Mary!

Mary: Oh Martin!

Presumably at some point previously Martin has asked John Senior for Mary’s hand in marriage. And been told ‘NO! You’re not rich enough.”. Hence the break down of the friendship. Mary may never have known this.

Some time after this Mary goes to Jeoffrey (her father’s friend, confidante and legal advisor) not knowing that Jeoffrey hates her entire extended family and has architected disputes for decades. Jeoffrey is exultant about what he’s pulled off: a dead Huffam, Clothiers blaimed, & the second will in his possession. Now the vulnerable Huffam heir walks into his office and pleads for help. And what happens next is an extended unspeakable horror of abuse, humiliation, rape, and quite possibly prostitution. Martin rescues her and spirits her away to the country. She retains an overwhelming (and otherwise irrational) hatred and fear of the old man.

My theory is that she doesn’t actually know who the father is, but that for peace of mind she thinks of Martin as the father. However, I think John Huffam Junior considers Escreet as his real father by the end of the book.

Maybe I just have a dirty mind!
Oh, and did anyone else regularly misread ‘Escreet’ as ‘Secret’?

Another theory: maybe Escreet has some proof that Huffam senior is actually an illegitimate Umphraville. Hence the Umphraville revenge. And he probably intended to use that proof when the second will is enforced so as to screw over pretty much everyone.

Thanks for reading.

posted by: Punxsutawney Paul at July 4, 2009 12:54 PM


I’m re-reading it after a very long gap. I’d scribbled a chronology on the back of my copy and now can’t read my own handwriting so am effectively still in the dark about what happens. Some interesting thoughts on here. One or 2 of my theories confirmed and some I hadn’t thought of.

I’m really puzzled what to make of Martin. As several have commented CP is at pains to make so many characters speak well of him but there’s really very little hard evidence to back up why we should have a good opinion of him.

posted by: Caitlin at July 20, 2009 6:58 PM


I’ve been planning to go back and re-read the Quincunx for over a year now, but that might still have to wait.

Martin definitely is on of the biggest enigmas in the Quincunx. It is strange that several people speak so well of him yet we have no indication what it is about him that impressed others so favorably. It’s especially interesting given her vindictive character that Jemima has nothing malicious to say about Martin even though we know that he was involved in some sort of relationship with Mary and that he is almost certainly Johnnie’s father. I suppose it would be giving away too much for Jemima to fly into a tirade about Martin in front of Mary and Johnnie, but still it is strange that she has nothing bad to say about him.

I guess that I will repeat my theory about Martin and John Huffam’s murder here and see if there are any new comments on it.

We know that Martin transported the will from the Mompessons to John Huffam’s home on the night of the murder. We can either believe that he had no idea what he was delivering or that he knew very well that he had the will. If Lydia Mompesson trusted Martin, it is quite possible that she told him that she was giving him the will.

As for the murder of John Huffam, I don’t think that anyone thinks that it was committed by a random burglar or Peter Clothier, so it appears that it was planned in advance, most likely by someone who had knowledge of the practices of the Huffam household. I think that the most likely suspects are thus Escreet, Martin, and the Clothiers. I think that all or none of these parties could have been working together. I think that they also may have had another person working for them; someone to do the dirty work.

I will concentrate on Escreet and Martin since I don’t think the Clothiers are very interesting as murder suspects.

Escreet makes the most sense, given what we know of his character. He harbors deep hatred toward the Huffams and Mompessons and we know that he is already capable of murder, as he killed John Umphraville in a duel.

However, Martin has reason to be angry at John Huffam himself. Martin attempted to gain Mary’s hand in marriage, but was rebuffed by Huffam. After a long rift, Martin and Jemima are invited to a dinner party at the Huffam house on the day of Mary’s marriage. This is a curious way to heal the rift between the two men: Inviting Martin to see the woman that he may love on the day of her wedding to another man.

So, we know this: Martin has the will; Escreet almost certainly knows he has the will; both Martin and Escreet have reason to hate Huffam and desire his death. We don’t know if Martin knows that he has the will, but it certainly possible. Peter and Mary leave the Huffam house after the feigned “row” between Huffam and Peter. After they leave, the murder takes place. Escreet is in the room with Huffam when he is murdered. Martin is asked to wait outside and is in the hallways of the house. Jemima can see Martin and Escreet at times.

Although it is possible that Escreet or Martin committed the murder, I think that someone else was allowed into the room with Escreet and Huffam. This person murdered Huffam and purposely injured Escreet. Martin may or may not have been involved in this conspiracy. He claims to have seen someone in the hallway of the house that he took for a servant in the house at the time of the murder. This person is almost certainly the murderer and is later mis-identified as Peter Clothier due to the fact that he is wearing a red topcoat like the one Peter is wearing. So, Martin sounds the alarm regarding the murder, but he also could have been acting according to a plan to frame Peter Clothier. After all, Martin could have Mary with Peter out of the way.

While Martin and Escreet in particular could be the murderer(s) of John Huffam, we receive some information near the end of the Quincunx that complicates matters. At the very end of the book, Escreet will only admit to the murder of Umphraville, saying words to the effect that one murder was “enough” for him. At this point, with Bellringer dead and all of his plans for naught, there is not much reason for Escreet to lie about the murder of Huffam. We can’t say that he didn’t do it for sure, but the fact that he will not admit to it is interesting.

Also, when Johnnie asks Jemima if his “father” could have committed the murder of John Huffam, most of us think that he is referring to Martin and not Peter Clothier. Jemima say that she does not think that Johnnie’s “father” could have done it.

If these statements by Escreet and Jemima are true then Escreet and Martin are eliminated as murder suspects. As previously stated, no one thinks that Peter committed the murder and a random burglar simply isn’t interesting.

Forgetting the Clothiers for now, we are left with one person as the possible murderer: Barney Digweed. He is from the Huffam/Mompesson part of the country, he may have worked with his brother on the Huffam estate, and he could have met Escreet and/or Martin while working there. He then turned to a life of crime where he could have come to know the Clothiers.

I think it is significant that Barney is one of the first characters introduced in the Quincunx and is one of the last left standing at the end. Johnnie asks him at the end of the book about killing a man around the time of John Huffam’s murder. Barney only smiles and walks away.

I can’t prove that Barney committed the murder of John Huffam, but we do know that he is familiar with both the Huffam and Mompesson families, is a violent criminal, keeps popping up in Johnnie’s life, and does not deny killing Huffam.

Did Escreet and/or Martin hire Barney to kill Huffam? Did the Clothiers? I don’t think we’ll ever know, but in a book as complicated as the Quincunx, I like Barney as the murderer rather than Escreet. Escreet seems too obvious as the murderer, and while there isn’t a lot of hard evidence for Barney, he does fit the pattern nicely…especially for a book filled with complicated patterns.

posted by: BAC at July 21, 2009 1:09 PM


I like BAC’s analysis, and have long thought that Barney “must” be the murderer. But in the Quincunx, motivation is always either absent, obscure or contested.

So: a question. Who wanted John Huffam Snr dead, and why? I confess that I’ve never really been able to answer that question satisfactorily. BAC says Martin and Escreet did – but again, why? Especially in the case of Martin (who may well have come to dislike John Snr – but is that enough for death?). Given that no-one actually profits by his death (perhaps because a plot went awry in detail), who in advance thought that they would profit?

It’s amazing – and one of the pleasures and puzzles of the book – how little we know of the characters at the end. Who was Johnnie’s father? In a different sense, who was his mother (I’m sure it was Mary – but, in a book of dynasties, we know so little of who she really was…..)? Who was Martin (as noted, he’s spoken of warmly throughout, but acts perhaps much less so). Who was Lydia (“who?” in the sense of the puzzle as to why she’s presented as almost the only “reliable witness” in the narrative)? Who is Barney (I’ve always felt that there’s an obscure hint somewhere that Barney is a little like Martin and Escreet – dynasty members from the wrong side of the blanket….)?

Pleasing puzzles to contemplate; but puzzles nevertheless.


posted by: AGB at July 23, 2009 9:30 AM


The Clothiers profit from the murder, so I assumed they were behind it. They hate Huffam already, and they’re quite capable of murder.

Everything Huffam owns goes to Mary. She’s married to Peter, so everything is his. He’s legally insane and Silas has the rights of attorney. They wait until after the wedding and then someone from their faction breaks in and kills Huffam.

Peter gets blamed and locked away in an asylum. They control Mary. Except of course that she disappears along with the codex they expected to acquire. So they spend a whole lot of effort searching for her.

Could Barney have worked for Silas? Why not? They seem to have connections to half the London underworld. He could be their agent.

Martin’s presence in the house was probably just a coincidence.

posted by: Punxsutawney Paul at July 24, 2009 9:46 AM


Clearly put, P. Paul! The one thing I would argue against it is that, having gone to the lengths of plotting madness, mayhem and murder, the Clothiers then fail, on the night, to bother to secure Mary’s person – which is the whole point of the exercise.

Martin does secure her person (and perhaps her intimate body too!), and easily secretes her away from the Clothiers (and Mompessons), for many years.

Again – was Martin’s role co-incidence and chance? Or was he more deeply involved in the various plots, but quite determined to add a twist of his own?


posted by: AGB at July 24, 2009 1:25 PM


Re BAC’s comments about Barney as murderer of John Huffam:

Another reason for Barney to smile at the suggestion that he killed John Huffam could be that he killed, not John Huffam, but John Huffam’s murderer, just after he left the house, and then took the will back to the Mompessons. That would fit with John Huffam’s killer being an agent of the Clothiers’, and Escreet’s betraying their plans to the Mompessons.

It would also make Barney’s nearly killing the possessor of the will on their way out from the house at the end of the book a near repetition of his earlier murder (and repetition is one of the guiding principles of The Quincunx).

Palliser goes out of his way to let us know that Johnnie assumes that John Huffam’s murderer is alive at the end of the book: “Now it occurred to me that of the people present in that house on the night of my grandfather’s murder […] the only two survivors were present once again. Except, of course, for the murderer himself.” His assumption suggests to me that he is wrong, and that the murderer is himself dead.

Finally, “The Unburied” also contains a story about a man in a red coat who is mistaken for someone else as he leaves a house, and is killed soon afterwards. And this story is told soon after the other paragraph that reminded me of “The Quincunx”, that I mentioned in an earlier post.

posted by: Simon at July 25, 2009 7:50 AM



That’s another of Palliser’s enigmatic sentences:

“Now it occurred to me that of the people present in that house on the night of my grandfather’s murder […] the only two survivors were present once again. Except, of course, for the murderer himself.”

Parse it, and it does appear that Johnnie is thinking that still alive are Jemima, Escreet and the murderer. But it’s equally possible to read it as saying that, of the people I know by name to have been there, only two are now alive: ie, the murderer is an exception to what first occurred to Johnnie, not to the tally of the dead. The way Pallister puts it reminds me of that old detective-novel saw: “So, I was the last person to see the victim alive? No, the second to last……


posted by: AGB at July 25, 2009 9:49 AM


I still like to believe that Martin is basically a good guy. My guess is that the Clothiers arrange for Huffam to be murdered on the night of the wedding. Somehow they know as much about the plan as Peter himself knows: the deception; the return later in the evening; the red cloak. But they don’t know about the second will. Maybe Escreet told them the details. Maybe Peter trusted someone he shouldn’t. Somehow they learnt the details.

My guess is they don’t even know that Martin and Jemima are in the house. They just know that there will be some guests. They expect Escreet to call in the police and, in a day or two, they’ll send in a lawyer and claim Mary is under their protection. Martin’s presence is the spanner in the works. He gets to Mary before they can.

After Peter escapes from the room Silas had him locked in, he runs to the Huffams. He’s bound to. But they don’t try to get him back even though they just have to send in a lawyer. I reckon that someone, probably Escreet, goes to them and offers them a plan for revenge. They just have to bide their time until after the inevitable marriage. This ties in with my theory that Mary is (potentially) pregnant by Daniel and there’s going to be a rushed wedding. They expect to get the Codex as part of the deal. Escreet knows about the second will and therefore doesn’t care if the Clothiers get the codex.


posted by: Punxsutawney Paul at July 25, 2009 3:51 PM


Another subject that interests me that I’ve not noticed discussed above is Palliser’s literary influences. The Dickensian references are reasonably obvious, but there are others.

For example, the idea of a multi-generational and interwoven family tree seems to me pure Galsworthy. I couln’t make any sense of the Forsyte Saga without drawing up a family tree and keeping it permanently by the side of me. And Mary’s story comes across like that of a Thomas Hardy fallen heroine, especially Tess of the D’Urbevilles (Urberville and Umprhaville do sound kinda similar too). The aristocratic but mortgaged to the hilt Mompesson family trying to maintain appearances is also familiar, though I’m struggling to think of a good reference. The central mystery of the plot feels like a Wilkie Collins novel.

Are there other relatively obvious references that I’ve missed?

posted by: Punxsutawney Paul at July 26, 2009 6:44 AM


Good to find other obsessives!

Paul, Vanity Fair is another influence, I would say. Having just re-read The Moonstone recently, I think that and A Woman In White are also very influential. I’d even cite Jane Austen – after all, a great deal of what goes on in the novel is supposed to have occurred in the 18th Century or the very early 19th. Jane Austen doesn’t dwell on illegitimacy but it’s mentioned repeatedly in her novels in a discreet way, and you do get a very good sense from them how precarious social status and affluence could be, especially for women. Jane Fairfax is a woman who has been lucky not to suffer Helen Quillam’s fate.

posted by: MG at July 28, 2009 12:34 PM


Hi MG,

Thanks for responding. I’ve not read Vanity Fair yet (it’s on my to-be-read pile) and has just been bumped up a few places! A Woman In White reminded me of the mystery of the dual and the statues and so forth. It’s been a good long while since I read it and so I’ve forgotten most of the details, but Palliser’s style of mystery does seem comparable.

I hadn’t thought of Austen as an influence. Emma is the only Jane Austen novel that really worked for me. The character of Jane could well be a model for Helen. Might have to dust that one off and give it another go too.

Johnie’s adventure felt a little like the adventure stories of Stevenson, something like Kidnapped perhaps. That said, his story reads much more like a Dickens novel. I guess there are loads of stories in which children suffer over the intrigues of inheritance.


posted by: Punxsutawney Paul at July 29, 2009 4:45 AM


Hello Simon,

You indicated!!!

“Palliser goes out of his way to let us know that Johnnie assumes that John Huffam’s murderer is alive at the end of the book: “Now it occurred to me that of the people present in that house on the night of my grandfather’s murder […] the only two survivors were present once again. Except, Palliser goes out of his way to let us know that Johnnie assumes that John Huffam’s murderer is alive at the end of the book: “Now it occurred to me that of the people present in that house on the night of my grandfather’s murder […] the only two survivors were present once again. Except, of course, for the murderer himself.”

But later in the same chapter, Johnny says to himself, “I believe now that Peter Clothier was innocent, and my doubts about the truth of what she had said were gone, for by his actions Escreet had surely confessed in a manner more impossible to retract than any words”.

IMO…Escreet murdered all three, Umprahville, Huffam and Sancious, and Johnny knows that.

It makes sense, there is a nice symmetry to the same murderer, killing, spanning over most of a century, a Mompesson (betrothed), a Huffam and a Maliphant(spouse).


posted by: Michael Levine at July 29, 2009 5:32 PM


hi all Quincunx readers!

I think I discovered another interesting point, that has not been discussed here yet. It is about the Digweed connection!

I reread the 13th chapter, because it corresponds to the first white dot in the Quincunx pattern. There is a very interesting sentence there, that does not mean anything to people who have not yet read most of the book.

It is the part where Barney first walks up to Sancious. Barney cassually says:

“weren’t you the one who saved Conkey George from the prison ships?” and then: “he was a mate of mine”.

(I read a translation so this sentence is probably not literally there).

Possible conclusions that rise from here:

– “Conkey George” is none other then George Digweed.
– George Digweed is not as innocent as he seems: he also was (or is) a criminal.
– Barney and George were (are?) friends/associates.

And most importantly:

– There is a (strong) connection between the Digweeds and Sancious!

This last conclusion would also explain why the Digweeds rescue JH from the mental institute. In that part of the book, Sancious has ligned up with (or married to) mrs. Forstisquence, and it is in their interest that JH survives until the old Colthier dies.

Loose ends:

1) What does Conkey mean?
2) What did George do that he had to be saved by Sancious?
3) Did Palliser hide this clue on purpose in the white dot (ch. 13) of the Quincunx pattern?
4) If so, what is hidden in the other white dots?

Shoot me.

posted by: Custers at July 30, 2009 7:37 AM


In British English slang a “conk” is a large nose, so “Conkey George” would mean “big-nosed George”.


posted by: AGB at July 30, 2009 8:52 AM


Hello Michael,

Johnny seems to reason that Escreet’s killing Sancious amounts to a confession of having killed John Huffam, by virtue of its being a repetition of that murder. But Johnny knows that he had to remind Escreet of the circumstances of his killing John Umphraville to induce him to kill Sancious. So the “confession” can only be a confession of having killed Umphraville.

posted by: Simon at August 1, 2009 6:12 AM


Simon’s point is a very good one. When Escreet killed John Umphraville in the duel, his opponent’s attention had been distracted by Anna, which caused him to turn around. When Escreet kills Sancious, once again there is a distraction which enables Escreet to carry out the deed. To be fair to Escreet, he does not deny killing Umphraville, and in a duel he might have been killed himself. To consider that death a murder is being a bit harsh.

posted by: Brian at August 1, 2009 4:05 PM


Concerning Custers’ questions above (July 30, 2009):
“3) Did Palliser hide this clue on purpose in the white dot (ch. 13) of the Quincunx pattern?
4) If so, what is hidden in the other white dots?”

You raise an interesting point about the identity of Conkey George, but by my reckoning Chapter 13 is NOT the ‘white dot’ of Book III ‘Fathers,’ but its top right black petal.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, the chapters in which Johnnie is not our narrator (bar 13 exceptions) are narrated by either Pentecost or Sliverlight (so that what at first appears as typical Dickensian omniscient narration turns out to be not omniscient, but from the perspective of two of the characters within the narrative world itself – this means of course that their perspective is just as trustworthy or untrustworthy as that of Johnnie’s). In Chapter 13 I believe Pentecost is the narrator

If you’ve noticed this, you may want to compare the system in the division of narrative duties throughout the novel with the “tinctures” (colors) in the pattern of the ‘quincunx of quincunxes’ on the invitation to the ball to celebrate the marriage of Hugo Mompesson and Alice Huffam Johnnie finds on the dead body of Lydia Mompesson (887 US pocket edition, see also 872-877; included at the back of every edition of the novel). As you will see, the division of narrative labour in the novel corresponds to that design. Pentecost and Silverlight are represented in the scheme by black bud or petals, Johnnie by white ones, and the other three narrators who get to take center stage for 4 chapters each (Miss Quilliam [Ch. 37-40], Mary [61-65, i.e. 5 chapters] and Jeoffrey Escreet [Ch. 87-90]) by red ones. Every quatrefoil in the design represents one of the 5 books in every one of the 5 parts of the novel. Every petal and every bud represents one of the 5 chapters of each book. If you start with the bud of each quatrefoil the sequence of the various narrators follows the color scheme exactly. The ambiguous tincture of the bud of the central quatrefoil corresponds to the missing pages in Mary’s diary which are at the heart of the central mystery in the novel.

posted by: Leon at August 5, 2009 3:53 PM


Waow, such a long time i didnt post here.

I just wanted to pointed out how Leon explanations about the scheme and drawing are very interesting. I do not remember to have read something as detailled about that. And it could be also difficult to trust the drawing following the book edition… I was just wondering if it contains clues about the plot or not ?

Regarding Escreet, it is for me obvious, that Palisser want to point him as the John murderer when he killed Sancious. Of course we can think about Umphraville, but its in the same condition, same room etc. It is a rare moment in the novel where the writter gave us such a clear answer to one of the mystery.

posted by: Gix at September 4, 2009 8:05 AM


Another point occurs to me about the red coats in “The Quincunx” and “The Unburied”. In “The Unburied”, it seems likely that the red coat is used to identify the victim to his murderers, although the victim thinks that it will instead disguise him (as indeed it does, from one person). Oddly, however, the narrator of this episode isn’t explicit about this.

Looking for a parallel with “The Quincunx” suggests that Escreet arranged with Clothier for Peter and John’s murderer to both wear red coats. He told Clothier that this would disguise John’s murderer as Peter. But he could then have told the Mompessons to tell their own agent (Barney) to wait outside the house, kill whoever leaves the house (by the back door) wearing a red coat, and to take the will from him.

posted by: Simon at October 2, 2009 7:34 AM


In connection with the question of the pattern in the narration of the various chapters throughout the book, though I think the discussion is interesting, I cannot see how anybody reading the book from beginning to end is going to notice the pattern. In fact, the author himself in his Afterword mentions his disappointment that nobody did. And of course a bigger question is whether the pattern of the novel offers any clues to solving the mysteries. May I say that I am a bit sad that this discussion seems to be tapering off a bit now, for that is my impression.

posted by: Brian at October 2, 2009 5:45 PM


Reading the book again, I have thought of something that has not been raised before as far as I am aware. When John went to the house near Charing Cross on Christmas Eve and was denied admission, he assumed that it was Mr Escreet who looked through the hole and left him outside, but could it not have been Henry Bellringer, who might have been in the house with his great-grandfather? Previously John had been told that Henry Bellringer had gone away from his lodgings for a time. Mr Escreet would not have had much reason to keep John outside, but Henry Bellringer would not have wanted to reveal his involvement with the Huffam estate. Any comments from anybody?

posted by: Brian at November 20, 2009 7:29 PM


Brian, I have a feeling this has indeed been mentioned before (though I can’t find when!): but as a suggestion is does clear up one of many mysteries. That visit has always seemed odd to me, as if we are indeed meant to make more of it that the specifics suggest. A sort of “dog that didn’t bark” plot point – why *didn’t* something happen being more important than what did happen…..

Takes me to a wider – and irresolvable – thought. We know that, however fat the final Quincunx is, the manuscript was far, far longer. What might have been cut out? Bellringer is a central figure, but maybe there was much more about him. Perhaps the mystery of, say, who was Mary’s mother was more written up. Maybe more of the Digweed’s backstory was originally included.

So I guess I’m musing on whether every one of the many deep puzzles of the book was entirely planned by Palliser. Did perhaps some mysteries arise in the editing process, when developed plot was cut wholescale?

I’ve got into the habit recently of putting my favorite books in a sort of bedside holding pattern. I have a re-read on the go; but I have the next re-read in line on the nightstand, rather than keeping company on the general bookshelf. On the bed itself is presently Olivia Manning’s “Fortunes of War”. But lined up to the side is the Quincunx once again – the first winter chill, and I always turn to it!


posted by: AGB at November 22, 2009 2:25 PM


Something I’ve just noticed during my current re-read of the book, and I don’t think anybody has mentioned it before. The warder in Dr Alabaster’s asylum who takes the sovereign offered by John is called Stillingfleet, which is also the name of a village between York and Selby which John may have passed through on his way south after escaping from the Quiggs.

posted by: Brian at December 2, 2009 5:05 PM



I agree with you that the door was not answered at the Escreet/Huffam home because Bellringer was there. Good catch.

However, as with more than a few mysteries in The Quincunx, I’m not sure there’s anything more to it. If you’re a good reader, it’s fun to pick up on things like this, but does it give the novel any deeper meaning? Does our belief that Bellringer was at Escreet’s home on this occasion provide any crucial information? As AGB suggests, maybe there was something there in the manuscript that was cut out. In that case, we’ll probably never know.

As for the question of the pattern of narration throughout The Quincunx, I did notice it was there. In fact, I’ve noticed it more and more on each re-reading. However, I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s interesting, but it leaves me cold. Apparently, Silverlight and Pentecost are responsible for the framing narration, although one of them, Pentecost, I think, might be dead. Silverlight believes in order while Pentecost believes in chaos. That’s great, but it doesn’t tell me what happened on the night of Mary’s wedding.

I think that The Quincunx is a work of post-modern fiction. It uses such post-modern devices as unreliable narrators, uncertainty of the truth, (over)-complexity of plot, all the while hinting at possibly non-existent patterns that might provide a greater understanding of the whole. But is The Quincunx a failure as a post-modernist work? Most of us that write on this forum appear to respond to the novel’s huge, Byzantine plot, not the more philosophical issues raised along the way. In essence, many of us are here because we want to know who killed John Huffam. It’s quite possible that the response of Palliser or the book is “Who knows?” or “What does it even matter?”

posted by: BAC at December 3, 2009 1:42 PM


I don’t see how it can be concluded that Escreet does not open the door for John, when Johnnie announces his name as John Clothier for any other reason but for the name Clothier. Escreet had no idea at the time that Mary’s child was a male.
The name John Clothier only denotes a Clothier.

The notion that Bellringer was present, seems completely unsupported.

So I think I’ll go with Johnnies reasoning in Chapter 69, that the reason for Escreet not allowing John Clothier to enter, was because of the Clothier name whom he hated.

Chapter 69 – Johnnie narrating

“It was a bright but chilly mid-May afternoon when I arrived back in the gloomy, malodorous court. I asked my companion to wait nearby but out of sight of the house in order not to alarm the old man. Then I knocked, remembering how I had beaten my fists against that door on that earlier occasion. And now I reflected that it was no wonder that Mr. Escreet had refused to open it since I had announced myself under the name in the world he most hated and feared: Clothier.”

posted by: Michael Levine at December 5, 2009 2:03 PM


Chapter 61 Third Relation

Mary writes:

“Now I have to make my Confession. I know that by the time you read this you will be old enough to understand. I have promised to tell you about your Father and now I will. I must first go back to what passed when Uncle Martin was trying to dissuade Papa from having anything to do with Mr. Clothier. You must know that what … [At this point several pages were missing where my mother had torn them out and forced me to burn them.] … that happened that night before we arrived at the Inn at Hertford, as you shall learn.
Now I’ve said it at last!”

I am curious about what she means by “…that happened that night before we arrived at the Inn at Hertford, as you shall learn.”

Most likely the murder of her Father???.or that a pretend argument between PC and JH occurred. However in context Mary seems to be describing and admitting to the affair with Martin, that resulted in Johnnies birth.

That did not happen the night before Hertford.
Maybe this is the source of the incest speculation, and that the Father was JH..
I dont know!!

Any ideas?

posted by: Michael Levine at December 5, 2009 2:17 PM



Mary’s exclamation, “Now I’ve said it at last!” bothers me most in the passage you quote. What could she possibly have said in the missing pages that would have caused her to write this phrase? That she had an affair with Martin? My issue is that, as readers, we actually know a lot more than Mary about the events surrounding her father’s murder. Mary wasn’t even in her father’s house when the murder was committed. The only thing we don’t know for sure is who is Johnnie’s father. To me, “Now I’ve said it at last!” suggests that Mary has written something about Johnnie’s father. I just can’t see her writing that with regard to the fake quarrel between Peter and John Huffam. “Now I’ve said it at last! My father and Peter argued that night!” That just feels wrong. So, I think it must be about Martin. However, is it possible that Mary is using the word “father” in the legal sense here and referring to Peter Clothier.

I’ve finally started The Quincunx over again. Hopefully, I will be able to read it from cover to cover in a short period of time without any interruptions.

Something that I’ve noticed immediately: How does Martin Fortisquince know Mr. Sancious? And why did he enlist Sancious as his agent for dealing with Mary? I understand that Martin is ill, (from what, we’re never told), but having spent decades in the legal profession, why would he hire Sancious to provide assistance to Mary? Why couldn’t Martin do it himself? Isn’t the point to keep Mary’s identity and location secret? If so, why involve a third party? At least Jemima is Martin’s wife and a blood relation of Mary. Sancious has no connection to any of the families as far as I can tell. And if Martin were going to involve another attorney in Mary’s situation, why would he turn to Sancious? Did he know nothing or could he discover nothing of Sancious’ reputation? I’ve noticed that Sancious calls Martin an “esteemed colleague” or something like that several times. Is this meant to imply that Martin’s legal career may have been as unscrupulous as Sancious’?

Johhnie’s inclination toward self-righteous justifications for his behavior and his indifference to true suffering are more noticeable to me this time around. From a young age, he is infatuated with the idea that rules and laws can be bent or broken to get what you desire. His treatment of Sukey borders on brutal.

posted by: BAC at December 7, 2009 12:56 PM


Doesn’t Mary at some point tell Johnnie that it was *she* who found Mr Sancious, purely at hazard out of a legal directory, and then used him as an intermediary for correspondence between herself and Martin?

But even if I’m correct, we would need to ponder a) how did Mary have access to a legal directory in which ot find his name; and b) why Martin still did not immediately alert Mary – whose location he of course knew – to Sancious’ reputation?

posted by: AGB at December 8, 2009 2:23 PM


A wild, crazy idea occurred to me as I was finishing Book I last night: Is it possible that Mary’s mother might be Martin Fortisquince’s mother as well? By John Huffam? Making Martin and Mary half-siblings?

I don’t have anything to back up this idea and doubt it will come to anything, but it just struck me last night that Martin’s mother is one of the most shadowy and mysterious characters in The Quincunx. “Shadowy and mysterious” immediately made me think of Mary’s mother and the idea just jumped into my head.

I don’t have anything to back up this idea now and don’t think I ever will, but I will keep an eye on it as I keep reading.

However, some circumstantial evidence that supports the theory: We know that Martin’s mother was very young when she became involved with Escreet, thus it would not be impossible for John Huffam to have a liaison with her after he had come of age. This would also explain Huffam’s strong opposition to Martin’s proposal to marry Mary. However, there were other reasons for Huffam to oppose the marriage as well.

Just a thought.

posted by: BAC at December 9, 2009 2:38 PM



Mary’s mother could not have been Elizebeth Fortisquince, Martin’s mother since she died when Martin was young, and JH would have been the same age as MF.

According to Mary’s First Relation, Chapter 61:

“And Uncle Martin’s own mamma had died as well when he was very young. (You remember, the lady who lived once in this little cottage of ours?)”

Mary’s mother does remain one of the most glaring omissions of the entire novel.

posted by: Michael Levine at December 11, 2009 11:32 AM



I was flipping through the book soon after I posted my idea about Elizabeth Fortisquince and happened upon the sentence you quote from Chapter 61. It does appear that Elizabeth was long dead before John Huffam came of age. However, let’s look at that sentence a little more closely.

“And Uncle Martin’s own mamma had died as well when he was very young. (You remember, the lady who lived once in this little cottage of ours?)”

To me, this sentence could be taken two ways. When Mary writes “You remember” she could mean it in the sense, “You remember, I told you about this person before” or she could mean it in the sense “You remember that lady who lived in the cottage; you remember her because she was here when you were a baby/small child.” Although Mary writes that Elizabeth Fortisquince died when Martin was very young, that might not be the case and she could be letting some contradictory information slip.

Going through The Quincunx this time, I’ve noticed that Palliser frequently uses parenthetical phrases like the sentence above and often suggests through them that a character either knows more or less about some key information. I think that this is Palliser’s way of winking at us a little bit. A way of saying, “Maybe you should take a closer look at this.” I don’t think every parenthetical phrase needs to be parsed this closely and even the ones that invite it don’t always pan out, but it can be worth looking into.

So, as I wrote before, I doubt anything will come of my idea that Elizabeth Fortisquince is Mary’s mother, but I’ll keep my eye on it.

Just to complicate things further: What if Eliza Umphraville, Elizabeth Fortisquince, and “Lashing Lizzie” are all the same person?

posted by: BAC at December 11, 2009 2:36 PM



I think (You remember….[snip]) means…what you said firstly above…“You remember, I told you about this person before”.

The cottage belonged to MF, inherited from whom Mary refers to as Martin’s Father, Mr. Fortisquince (I can’t find reference to his first name), the husband of MF’s mother, Elizabeth Fortisquince, who was the Mompesson’s land-agent.

EF came to stay at Mary’s cottage, after Mr. Fortisquince threw her out, for her affair(presumably) with JE. So Johnny knows the origins of the cottage.

As for your suggested complication. I am sure that the Mompessons would have known the land-agents wife, EF, and Lydias sister-in-law to be as separate people.
They could not be confused.

As for Lizzie being Eliza, I believe there is much merit in this. Ive commented on that before.

posted by: Michael Levine at December 11, 2009 3:59 PM


I think we are all aware – though don’t discuss directly so much – that a part of the Quincunx is a meditation on writing. How well can you put things to a) make them clear, b) leave them ambiguous, c) leave the reader not knowing whether you, the writer, are doing a) or b)….

The final sentence, often discussed, is a masterpiece of literary ambiguity – a perfectly constructed, and attractive sentence – that could mean pretty much anything a reader wants.

What’s being discussed here is perhaps even more complex. At first glance:

“You remember, the lady who lived once in this little cottage of ours?”

seems to me unambiguous, because of the comma. Mary is *not* saying:

“You remember the lady, who lived once in this little cottage of ours?”

she’s saying “You recall that which you know about the lady ….”

And we know that, if Palliser had really wanted this to be ambiguous, he’s most certainly capable of re-jigging the sentence structure to make it so. (e.g., “And Uncle Martin’s own mamma had died as well when he was very young. (The lady who lived once in this little cottage of ours – you remember?)”.

But …… then we have to recall that it is, so to speak, *Johnny*, not Palliser (!) who is telling us what Mary wrote or said. And Johnny is then, later, writing that down, for a purpose. So – has Palliser put that comma in because he wants – as authorial “God” – to make something clear to us? Or has Johnny put the comma in as an interpretation of what his mother said or wrote? And is that “interpretation” manipulation?

The funny thing about a sentence like “You remember, the lady who lived once in this little cottage of ours?” is that all depends on the pause / not pause between “remember” and “the”. Spoken, the sentence can be very ambiguous, depending on the form of the transition between the two words. But written, you – the author, or narrator – has to decide one the nature of that pause / not pause; and where to place it…..

Interesting stuff (especially if you are a writer!).


posted by: AGB at December 11, 2009 9:39 PM


Michael and AGB,

I think it is most likely that the phrase starting with “You remember” means only that Mary mentioned Mrs. Fortisquince to Johnnie before, but I do think the sentence can be interpreted in the second manner that I suggested. I don’t think that I’m necessarily right, but, as I wrote, I do think Palliser often calls attention to ambiguous information with parenthetical phrases. They occur every few pages throughout The Quincunx.

As I’ve written before, I think The Quincunx is a post-modern work. I think Palliser has constructed a narrative that often points out its own fictional nature and undermines its own credibility. I think the sentence about Mrs. Fortisquince is a good example of Palliser’s method. The sentence does not prove that Elizabeth Fortisquince was alive and well and living at the house at Melthorpe when Johnnie was a very small boy, but it makes me think that this is possible. By doing so, it makes me wonder about the reliability of Johnnie as a narrator and the veracity of the information he gives us.

As for Elizabeth Fortisquince, I had been thinking about her recently and noticed that we have three mysterious Elizabeths in the narrative: Eliza, Elizabeth, and Lizzie. What do we know about them? Not much, but we do know that Eliza was a precocious and promiscuous young woman. She married James Huffam but appears to have disappeared from the narrative after his death.

But another Elizabeth appears in the narrative. What do we know about her? That she is young, beautiful, and promiscuous. She is married to Fortisquince, but has an affair with Escreet that produces Martin. Is it possible that Eliza Umphraville was sequestered at Hougham for some reason? Was she fobbed off on Fortisquince by the Mompessons in order to keep an eye on her and then became Escreet’s lover? I don’t know. I’m about two thirds of the way through The Quincunx and haven’t found any new information about Elizabeth Fortisquince. I’m resigned to the fact that I never might. I just think it’s interesting that Elizabeth Fortisquince mysteriously appears at Hougham in time to have an affair with Escreet and give birth to Martin. We are told that she dies soon after these events, but I wonder if she lived on indefinitely at Melthorpe.

Btw, has anyone else noticed that in Mary’s diary Jemima is accused of trying to “trap” John Huffam into marriage? I took “trap” to mean that Jemima may have been pregnant by Huffam. Does anyone else think that this might be possible?

posted by: BAC at December 15, 2009 4:35 PM


Hmmmm – “trap” could mean any number of things. When I first ever read this, I was reminded of “War and Peace” (and not just because of its similar thickness!).

There’s a famous scene of the entrapment of the rich Count Pierre Bezukov by the awful (and somewhat impoverished) Prince Vassily Kuryagin and his scheming daughter Helene. Vassily is careful to throw the couple together in social settings. Helene is careful to flatter and blush. But Pierre is unengaged (in every sense….). At a reception, Vassily simply puts the two young things together in a salon, and retires, with all his guests. He expects Pierre to have been cornered into proposing. After a while – nada. So he, Vassily, simply bursts into the room and declares “Congratulations!”, followed by his smart set. Poor Pierre doesn’t have the wit to object, and is soon – calamitously – married off to Helene…


posted by: AGB at December 16, 2009 9:33 PM



That’s funny. I was thinking of re-reading War & Peace after finishing The Quincunx. I consider Helene’s unexpected death one of the great miracles of literature.

I understand that Mary’s use of the word “trap” isn’t conclusive, but it is suggestive. Overall, during this go-round with The Quincunx, I’ve been struck by the intensity of Jemima’s hatred for Mary. Mary’s relatively privileged upbringing doesn’t quite account for it, in my opinion. However, John Huffam rejecting the marital advances of a pregnant Jemima certainly would.

I’ve noticed some other oblique references to unwanted pregnancy in The Quincunx. In Chapter 35, Helen Quilliam states, “shortly after arriving here, I was taken ill and and Mrs. Peachment nursed me.” This is after Helen has been turned out by the Mompessons. As we know, she most likely had an affair with David Mompesson. To me, it sounds like she may have been pregnant by David. Sally Digweed also states that she is “ill” when she attempts to return to her family in Chapter 86. Her mother states that she won’t “help” Sally. Again, nothing conclusive, but “ill” might be a way for a woman to refer to pregnancy in polite society at that time.

Speaking of the Digweeds, I’ve just finished the section of the book dealing with Johnnie’s escape from Alabaster’s asylum and his extended stay with that mysterious family. To me, this is one of the strangest passages of The Quincunx. I plan to write more on it later, but I’ll point out something now that I noticed last night and has been bothering me.

This is Johnnie writing about shore-hunting in Chapter 85, p. 546, American paperback: “Mr. Digweed explained to me that he had been taught it by an old man, Bart, to whom he had done a favour once many years before.”

Something about this sentence bothered me. It was the name Bart. Why is this person named? And what was the favor George Digweed did “to” him. After playing around with the name in Google a bit, I noticed that it’s an abbreviation for Baronet. Hmmm. That’s interesting.

Baronet made me think of the Mompessons at first, but it also made me think of Lizzie’s line about James Huffam dying “shoreditch” with only “strawberries” to mark him as a “baronet.” I always took “shoreditch” to mean the London neighborhood Shoreditch, but noticed this time that it’s not capitalized. Could Lizzie have meant that James Huffam literally died scavenging by the shores of the Thames? Did George Digweed encounter “The Baronet” or “Bart” there? I don’t know, but it’s interesting.

posted by: BAC at December 16, 2009 10:59 PM


“Trap” might mean something like the way Rosamond traps Lydgate in “Middlemarch”. He thinks of himself as flirting gallantly with her, but is then persuaded that everyone has thought of his attentions as more serious, and that she would be socially compromised if he didn’t follow through with a proposal.

Isn’t Jemima’s dislike of Mary largely due to the fact that Jemima’s husband fathered a son with Mary, and then financially supported both of them?

Another question about her back story: presumably she knew she was, potentially, a Huffam heiress at the time she was employed by John Huffam. Does that fact help explain her trying to marry him? What might have been her game plan during those years?

posted by: Simon at December 17, 2009 8:38 AM


Sorry, I should have been clearer. Here are the reasons behind Jemima’s hatred of Mary:

1. Mary had a life of relative ease and privilege compared to Jemima. (I would dispute this a bit, as we know from various sources that John Huffam was very short on money and could barely provide for Mary’s education. Still, Jemima was a governess and, as we know from the saga of Helen Quilliam, a governess’s life is not to be envied.)

2. Jemima and John Huffam appear to have had some sort of relationship. It appears to have been casual, but Mary mentions, through her father, that Jemima tried to “trap” Huffam into marriage. I take “trap” to mean apply social pressure toward a marriage, as several of you have stated and also, possibly, that Jemima allowed herself to become pregnant in order to put A LOT of pressure on Huffam. Huffam seems to have kept his cool. If Jemima was pregnant, we don’t know what happened to the baby.

3. Martin almost certainly fathered Johnnie with Mary and provided for both of them at Melthorpe.

It just really struck me this time around how many reasons, at least in her own mind, that Jemima had for the blackest hatred toward Mary. The rejection of a marriage proposal is one thing, but the rejection of a pregnant woman is much worse. John Huffam really was a cad. Jemima’s hatred is one of the key factors driving the action of The Quincunx.

Simon, I had assumed that even at a young age that Jemima might have known that she could potentially inherit the Hougham estate. This must have made John Huffam especially attractive in her eyes and must have made her positively sick with anger when she was rejected.

posted by: BAC at December 17, 2009 11:15 AM


Jemima’s point of view is interesting. I agree that it can hardly be a coincidence that she became a governess at the house of a Huffam heir. (I think somewhere this is rather unconvincingly explained by way of the family connection). Her marrying John Huffam would then have hedged her bets – if that marriage had produced a son, then he would have been in line to inherit, and if not, then there would be fewer heirs with higher precedence than her. And proximity to the Huffams might have helped her bring the codicil to light.

On the other hand, it’s just as striking that Martin, who first tries to marry one Huffam heiress, then goes on to marry another. Does that make him more calculating then he sometimes seems?

posted by: Simon at December 18, 2009 7:24 AM


Finished the book over the weekend. Enjoyed it very much as always. I was a little disappointed that nothing new concerning the plot jumped out at me. Nothing big, at any rate. However, this time around, I experienced a greater appreciation of Palliser’s skill as a writer and his attempt to weave modern concerns into the Victorian novel. Who hasn’t felt tempted to find order in chaos like Johnnie? Even if we suspect there is only chaos.

I’ll drop in a few notes here and there over the next few weeks, but I doubt I’ll come up with anything big.

Here’s something that I noticed:

In Ch. 61, in her first relation, Mary states of her father’s house “it was built on a site of a medieval priory – St. Mary Rouncivall…”
I looked up St. Mary Rouncivall and it was indeed a priory in Charing Cross. I also found out, having not read The Canterbury Tales in many years, that Chaucer’s Pardoner was, most likely, associated with this same priory house.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, but the Pardoner is very hypocritical and tells a tale full of greed and violence. Sounds like The Quincunx to me.

The pilgrims in Chaucer’s epic are, of course, on their way to the cathedral at Canterbury, the site of the brutal murder of St. Thomas Becket.

Palliser mentions Canterbury several times in The Quincunx. Apparently, the Maliphant and Bellringer families first got to know each other there.

I’m not sure that there’s much here, but it is interesting. Is Palliser just an admirer of Chaucer and name-checking one of The Canterbury Tales? Or is this allusion to St. Mary Rouncivall a clue leading to some more important information?

posted by: BAC at December 22, 2009 11:34 PM


I think that’s an excellent observation. The Pardoner’s Tale is largely about betrayal, of which (I think) there is a great deal in “The Quincunx” (and, of course, “Betrayals”). Those of us with a particular view of exactly how John Huffam was killed will agree with one of the characters in “The Pardoner’s Tale” that two against one is a good way to carry out a murder.

posted by: Simon at December 24, 2009 6:33 AM


In addition to Simon’s observation earlier today, I should like to draw attention to the murder of Mr Stonex in The Unburied, carried out by two, and also the package of bloodstained banknotes which incriminates the man who took them from the premises of the murdered man, as instructed. And as the main account in the book ends with Christmas Eve, it would be appropriate to wish everybody who contributes a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

posted by: Brian at December 24, 2009 9:27 AM


I have recently been thinking of Palliser’s other books too, but I was concerned with a different aspect of them. Homosexual relationships between men figure quite prominently in “Betrayals” and “The Unburied.” After finishing “The Quincunx” again, I was a bit surprised that, given all the heterosexual shenanigans in the novel, there appeared to be no homosexual relationships. It would seem de rigueur for a modern writer to include a nod to homosexuality in an update of a Victorian era novel. Indeed, Sarah Waters has made a career of writing lesbian “takes” on the Victorian novel. (That’s not a putdown, btw.)

However, while going over the passages surrounding John Huffam’s murder, the sexuality of one character did give me pause: Peter Clothier.

There’s not a lot there, but enough to make me wonder. Peter is described as “peculiar” or some variant of that term several times. Now, “peculiar” could just mean that Silas and Daniel Clothier think that Peter is strange and possibly insane, but I did wonder if “peculiar” were a 19th century code-word for gay, much like the word “queer.” In Mary’s Fifth Relation, (Ch. 61, p. 420, Am. Paperback), Silas Clothier states: “Daniel is my heir, not Peter. Why Peter is…He broke off and exchanged a look with his son who said: We’ve tried to keep it from you, Miss Huffam, but the truth is my Brother has always been peculiar.”

Proof of nothing, but interesting.

I wound up thinking about Peter’s sexuality because of another character: Mr. Nolloth. Something about Mr. Nolloth has always bothered me. Just when Johnnie is at his lowest point, Mr. Nolloth shows up and presents him with a version of the events surrounding John Huffam’s murder that completely exonerates Peter. It’s always seemed a little too pat to me. But there was something else that bothered me too. It’s certainly possible that Nolloth is just a character meant to pass along yet another version of Huffam’s murder, but I found myself wondering what his motives were. He may be motivated by a sense of moral outrage at Peter’s treatment, but he also seems to care deeply about Peter. I started to wonder if there were some sort of relationship between the two men. That might add more motivation to Nolloth’s contact with John. Nolloth wants to let Johnnie know that Peter has been treated unjustly because he thinks such treatment is wrong and Johnnie has a right to know as Peter’s son, but also because he’s outraged on behalf of someone he loves. Such strong feelings could account for Nolloth’s extreme certainty about his interpretation of the events surrounding John Huffam’s murder. I’ve always thought it strange that Nolloth seems very sure of events of which he has no direct knowledge. His strong feelings for Peter make me think that he wants his version to be true because he wants to think more highly of the man that he loves.

Overall, the character of Peter bothered me a bit more this time around. First of all, Peter seemed crazier to me. He didn’t seem like a poor, misunderstood young man any longer. He seemed genuinely disturbed to me at times. I found it plausible that he might have killed John Huffam. Not necessarily likely, but plausible.

One issue that really bothered me: Why did John Huffam allow Peter to stay at the house at Charing Cross and marry Mary? It seems to me that once the will was obtained by Huffam, he had no further need for Peter Clothier. It could be argued that Huffam intended to get rid of Peter at some point, but if he did, why let the marriage happen? It only allows the Clothiers to stay in Huffam’s life. Even if the Clothier’s claim to the Huffam estate via the codicil is knocked out by the will, they still could eventually seize the property if Peter is declared insane, they take control of Mary’s affairs, and murder Huffam. Why wouldn’t Huffam just put off the marriage until he has placed the will before Chancery and then get rid of Peter? If anyone wants to argue that Huffam wants to allow Mary to marry Peter because she has her heart set on him, I think we can agree that Huffam has little or no respect for the feelings of others and hates the Clothiers. I could see him letting the marriage plans go forward only while he has the codicil, but after he has the will, there is no reason for him to allow a Clothier to marry his daughter.

Happy holidays to all!

posted by: BAC at December 26, 2009 1:43 PM


Hello, all. I’m glad to have found this site. I first read The Quincunx a few years ago, and just recently started reading it for the second time. This page has contained a lot of interesting ideas, and it will certainly affect my reading.

I have always assumed that either Peter Clothier fathered John Huffam Jr. before the wedding (he had plenty of opportunity while he was living in the same house as her) or Martin Fortisquince fathered him after the wedding. John makes it clear at the end of the book that he believes Martin Fortisquince to be his father, but we know that he is often wrong. I’ve decided to leave it at that, because, in truth, I don’t think the identity John’s biological father is really that important. As AGB has pointed out more than once, his father is Peter Clothier in every way that matters. So his paternity has never really been one of the central mysteries of the book for me, and I’m comfortable with not knowing.

The thing I struggle with the most is the murder of John Huffam Sr. I wish I could just chalk it up to another mystery unsolved, but there are so many details that just don’t make sense. The problem isn’t that more than one explanation are possible; the problem is that *no* explanation seems to fit.

Here are some of the questions I have:

1. Why does Escreet hate and fear Silas Clothier? I’m going to be looking for the back story in my second reading, but I remember never finding a satisfactory reason for this the first time through.

2. Why, as BAC just asked, does John Huffam Sr. allow Peter to live with them and marry Mary? This makes no sense that I’ve been able to determine. He has no reason to want to ally himself with the Clothiers, and absolutely no reason to want his daughter to marry a younger (and therefore non-heir) son of a lesser family who moreover has been found legally insane. Before this he has shown himself to be quite calculating about her future, and he had little regard for her interests. The only possibly reason that I’ve been able to think of is that he suspected that she was pregnant. But I doubt it, because she herself seems surprised when he says he wants them to marry quickly. So what other reason could he have?

3. Who would want to kill John Huffam Sr., and why? I can think of at least one motive for murdering Peter Clothier, and a slew of motives for murdering Mary, but among all the different characters, who had a reason to kill JH Sr.? I can think of *no one* who would directly benefit from his death. Does this mean that the motive must be a personal one? Stemming from an emotional reason?

As for the sequence of events on the night of the murder … I just don’t understand what happened. I have a million questions. The more I think about it, the more I feel like an idiot. I have a ton of questions about all the details of that night, but I’ll just post one for now:

4. Why are Peter’s hands bloody when he returns to Mary after going back to get the package? “He came into the room smiling… When he approached me I saw that his hands were bloody. I started back in horror. He looked at his hands and said: ‘Yes, I have cut myself. But don’t worry, it’s only a scratch or two.’ He washed the blood off at the washstand and when he turned again I noticed that the sleeve of his coat was torn” (chapter 61). The blood is not from the package, because later he is astonished when he unwraps the package and discovers the bloody money within. (This question may have been answered later in the book, and I simply forgot the answer – if so, I apologize.)

I have (so many!) other questions, but for now I’d be interested in what people think of these. Any answers or speculation will be much appreciated. And of course, I especially welcome whodunit theories regarding the murderer himself (or herself).

posted by: Ellen at January 11, 2010 1:42 PM


Hi Ellen,

Just my answers (plenty would disagree with them):

1. The hatred is the authentic Huffam hatred for Silas Clothier, who must see the Huffam line extinguished if he is to inherit. The fear is because he acted as Silas Clothier’s agent in the murder of John Huffam, albeit for his own benefit, and, as a genuine, though illegitimate, Huffam himself, for the benefit of the Huffam line. You can see why he ends up mad.

2. Over-confidence.

3. Silas Clothier wants to extinguish the Huffam line, and killing John Huffam is only a part of his plan for making sure that Mary has no legitimate offspring. I think the will that John Huffam plans to reveal would mean Escreet losing his house, and we see John Huffam neglecting Escreet in other ways, shortly before the murder.

4. I think Peter cut his hands breaking a pane on the inner door, on his way out of the Charing Cross house.

posted by: Simon at January 11, 2010 5:38 PM


1. Escreet’s attitude toward the Clothiers has always been one of the biggest obstacles for me in believing in an Escreet-Clothier murder conspiracy. He’s scared to even be in the same room as Silas – so how could he have formed a plot with him? One scenario that I’ve often considered is that every single person in the house wanted to kill John Huffam Sr. (or do some other unscrupulous thing that night), and that each person did something they wish to conceal later – which is why the different accounts are in disagreement. Perhaps none of them intended to conspire, but as the events of that night unfolded they became unwitting partners, and afterward had no choice but to continue lying. I’d still like to know what each person really did that night, moment by moment, and who actually committed the murder. Escreet as the murderer has always seemed a bit too tidy to me, and by itself it doesn’t explain everything. I guess your view is that Escreet was definitely the one holding the sword?

2. Can you elaborate? I think over-confidence might explain John Huffam Sr. being (foolishly, and with his characteristic rashness) unafraid of the match, but it doesn’t explain why he positively hopes for it to take place.

3. That’s true about the neglect of Escreet (plus the house). And if Silas Clothier intended to also kill Mary that night, or shortly thereafter, it also makes a little more sense that he would plot to kill John Huffam Sr. I also think that Martin Fortisquince must have strongly resented John Huffam Sr. (for a number of good reasons), and his motives and version of events cannot be trusted. And Jemima remains an unsolved mystery to me, but surely she had her own personal reasons.

4. But Mary said that the key was always kept on the inside, so he would have been able to unlock it. This is part of the sequence of events that I don’t really understand, hence the feeling stupid. I’m going to read more carefully this time, and take notes, and maybe in a few days I’ll understand more.

posted by: Ellen at January 12, 2010 3:26 PM


Hi Ellen,

More comments to follow, but I think I can at least answer the question about the cut on Peter’s hand. There are two doors to the “front” of John Huffam’s house, (i.e., the door opening onto the court behind Charing Cross), a street door and an inner, vestibule door.

On the night of the murder, Jemima sees Escreet take the big key out of the street door and then lock the vestibule door while Peter is presumably collecting the will and other documents or murdering John Huffam. Escreet puts the key on top of a grandfather clock. After Escreet moves away from this part of the house, (presumably to lock the back door), Jemima places the key on the floor by the vestibule door.

Peter first attempts to leave Huffam’s house by the back door and then the front door. The doors are locked, but he notices the key on the floor. Peter breaks a pane of glass in the vestibule door, reaches through it, cuts himself, opens the vestibule door with the key and leaves the house.

A question:

Why does Peter break the glass? I’ll read his explanations over again tonight, but his behavior does seem a little guilty. Was he just panicking? If so, what did he have to panic about?

posted by: BAC at January 12, 2010 4:16 PM


Sorry, I meant to say “unlocks the vestibule door with his cut hand, opens it, and then opens the street door with the big key.”

posted by: BAC at January 12, 2010 5:41 PM


Hi Ellen,

1. One point about Escreet’s fear of Silas is that it’s only visible after they might have agreed to conspire. At that stage, Silas could control Escreet by threatening to tell John Huffam of Escreet’s betrayal. Another point comes from a similar manifestation of fear in the central episode of “The Unburied”. There it seems to be that the pawn is afraid of the player just because their relationship involves power, of one sort or another. To answer your other question: no, I think an agent of Clothier’s actually killed John Huffam, and was himself killed by Barney not far away from the house. (There’s more detail about this idea above, round about February and July 2009).

2. John Huffam is only pleased by Peter’s and Mary’s proposed marriage after Peter warned him of Silas Clothier’s plan to claim that John Huffam was illegitimate. That proved to John that Peter was on his side, not on the Clothiers’ side. I also notice that John was spending a lot of time with Escreet just before this point, and that Escreet seems very well-informed about how to get a marriage arranged quickly, so my guess is that Escreet was laying his plans at that stage. Notice that it suits Escreet for Mary to marry Peter, for then Escreet can solicit Clothier’s help in ensuring that Mary can have no legitimate offspring (Clothier’s goal), but then subvert that plan to ensure that his own son provides a Huffam heir.

4. I thought I understood why Peter broke the vestibule-door glass, but it turns out I don’t… We’re told that Escreet locked the vestibule-door with his own key. That explains why Peter couldn’t just open it from the inside, so presumably the lock could be overridden from the outside? It sounds a pretty odd way to set up a lock, which is normally supposed to keep people out, not in… But I’ve never understood why Palliser introduced this double set of doors anyway. Isn’t it the case that everything we know about would have worked just the same if there’d been one door, which Escreet would have locked, the key to which he would have put behind the clock, for Jemima to retrieve, and which Peter used to get out? He wouldn’t have had blood on his hands when he returned to the Blue Dragon, but that wouldn’t change the story much.

By the way, I don’t think you need worry about sounding stupid. I read “The Quincunx” at least twice without really getting to grips with the details, and didn’t really see anything very far below the surface before finding this site.

posted by: Simon at January 13, 2010 7:10 AM


1. I agree with what Simon writes about Escreet and Clothier, however, I wish this line of the plot were not dependent on one sentence in Mary’s diary. As the Clothier/Escreet/Digweed conspiracy may have been responsible for John Huffam’s murder, I wish that we were given a few more hints about it. (I suppose it has to suffice that we know that Escreet spent time at Hougham as a young man, is the father of Martin, and that Martin’s legal father, David Fortisquince, was the Mompesson’s land agent at Hougham, and he knew Barney and George Digweed. Since Barney and, possibly, George Digweed became involved in criminal activity in the London underworld, it’s quite possible they came into contact with the Clothier family as well.)

2. I do tend to agree with Simon’s view of John Huffam’s “overconfidence.” I think Huffam was so giddy at the prospect of obtaining the will and through it the Huffam estate that his judgment was severely compromised. Consequently, every aspect of his “plan” seemed like a good idea to him, even though it may sound ridiculous to us when described with hindsight.

I differ from Simon in that I don’t take as generous a view of Huffam and the wedding night plan. Given what we know of Huffam’s character, I think he wanted to hurt and insult many of his friends and family members by the time he obtained the will. I think Huffam may have thought Peter was spying for his father and only pretended to trust him. By obtaining the will, Huffam could stick it to the Mompessons and the Clothiers and he could embarrass and insult the Fortisquinces by inviting them to the wedding dinner. I also think that the “quarrel” was part of a plan to set up Peter and get him away from Mary. Perhaps Huffam just wanted to twist the dagger even further with the Clothiers or perhaps he had designs on the Clothier fortune, we’ll never know. Daniel Porteous states that Huffam and Mary were after the Clothier fortune.

4. That’s an interesting point about the vestibule door lock, Simon. In general, I think Peter’s cutting his hand on the broken window pane is one of those ambiguous incidents that Palliser specializes in. If you believe Peter killed John Huffam then breaking the glass by the door makes him seem guiltier; he would do anything to get out of the house because he had just killed Huffam. If you feel more charitably toward Peter, you could just dismiss the broken glass as the result of Peter panicking because the other door was locked.

I must admit I’ve never really understood the significance of the doors and the vestibule. Characters go out of their way, (especially Mary), to point out their significance and nothing really seems to come of it. Peter came in through the back door onto Charing Cross and left through the front door into the court behind Charing Cross, right?

posted by: BAC at January 13, 2010 2:35 PM


1. The Escreet-Clothier conspiracy theory does make more sense to me in light of the explanations of Jeoffrey Escreet’s behavior above. (Although I remain undecided about what happened on the wedding night.)

2. Over-confidence as an explanation also makes more sense now, having read your responses. However, another powerful reason for John Huffam Sr. to eschew a marriage between Mary and Peter Clothier is that this marriage puts both Mary and any subsequent heirs and their property in the power of Silas Clothier, because supposedly Peter Clothier is only safe from being carted off to “the Refuge” while he remains in John Huffam’s house or on the lam — which obviously cannot be for long. So either John Huffam Sr.’s giddiness did indeed compromise his judgment very severely, as BAC suggests, or he had other, more sinister plans that no one else knew of (which BAC also alludes to) and which I don’t yet understand.

On this topic, the very basis of John Huffam Sr.’s wedding night plan makes little sense. Why would he plot to send the will off to places unknown with his new son-in-law, when he should have been planning to present it the very next morning in court?

4. This is a troubling point. Without the key, Peter Clothier would have needed to break down the entire inner door, not just a single pane of glass. And why do this, when he easily could have gone back to ask for the key? And how could Martin Fortisquince not have heard this? For that matter, how could he not have heard even a single pane breaking? I don’t really understand the device of the double doors, either.

I’m going to wait until I finish the book before I speculate more about the murder night (I’m on chapter 118 now). Here are some other things that I’ve been thinking about since I last posted:

Has anyone else considered Barney as the possible son of Miss Lydia? (If this possibility is proposed above, I missed it.) This would explain the emphasis on his “strangely beautiful” blue eyes, which comes up more than once, and which match Miss Lydia’s own eyes. Also, as we have seen, the aristocracy had a habit of ensconcing their illegitimate children in the families of their trusted servants, which Mr. Feverfew and his relations were at one time. If Barney himself had guessed it (or at least guessed that he was adopted), it would also explain the way he doesn’t fit into the Digweed family, and has little familial feeling for his brother, Mr. Digweed, as evidenced in the scam he perpetrates on him.

I’ve also been thinking more about Henrietta, and the suggestion here (much earlier) that she is a better representation of the morality that John Huffam Jr. holds dear. I haven’t finished the book yet, but it is already occurring to me that her character may in some ways act as a foil to Johnnie’s character. She is a sort of alternate Johnnie, one who passively allows her fortunes to be determined by others for the sake of never compromising her morals even slightly. Which is the better path to take?

posted by: Ellen at January 13, 2010 7:45 PM


Hi Ellen,

Go to the end of September 2007 for a discussion of Barney being Lydia’s child.

It’s possible, but I think Barney would have to be around sixty years old at the end of the book for it to work.

Most of us think John Huffam is Lydia’s child.

Henrietta doesn’t get mentioned a lot around here, but she is a fascinating character. She acts as a sort of conscience to Johnnie and makes him very uncomfortable at times. However, as you will see by the end of the book, she’s morally compromised herself.

posted by: BAC at January 13, 2010 11:44 PM


1. Just to clarify my view of the putative Escreet-Clothier conspiracy: I don’t think Barney was involved in it, so Barney doesn’t need to have known Clothier. I think Barney was the agent of the Mompessons, and that Escreet told them who (the red coat!) would be leaving the Charing Cross house carrying the will, and when he’d be doing it. (There’s another strong correspondence with events described in the central episode of “The Unburied” here). So Escreet betrayed John Huffam to Silas, and John Huffam and Silas to the Mompessons. No wonder he went mad.

2. Nolloth’s explanation of that aspect of the Charing Cross charade is that John Huffam wanted to make sure the will, Mary, and Peter, would all be safe, and that he decided this could best be accomplished by sending all three into hiding. But he makes it very explicit that the plan was originally Escreet’s, which suggests to me that Escreet suggested it with his own ends very much in view. I think that if John Huffam had worked out his own plan, it wouldn’t have been so convoluted, and have had so many features that don’t fully fit with his own interests.

posted by: Simon at January 14, 2010 9:02 AM


1. Do you think the Mompessons had enough time to arrange for someone to be at Charing Cross in order to take back the will? Was this person, let’s say it was Barney, supposed to kill the person holding the will? Why not just take it from that person by lesser force? Did Martin know anything about all of this?
2. Yes, I think most of the wedding night plan came from Escreet and Huffam was very easy to manipulate into agreeing with it given his overexcited state. However, I still wonder what Huffam intended toward Peter. Huffam obviously did not want to be murdered, so what did he want to happen to Peter? I find it hard to believe that he just wanted Peter and Mary to live happily ever after. Did Huffam think he would lure Peter back to Charing Cross and have him arrested under the bill of lunacy and perhaps some trumped up burglary charges? Would Huffam then pursue some sort of claim against the Clothier estate? Even though Huffam had the will right before he died he still had no money. On the other hand, Silas already tells us that Peter will not be his heir.
An idea that’s been bothering me for a while now:
I wonder if George Digweed is involved in the murder of John Huffam. There are hints throughout The Quincunx that George once led a life of crime, that he once did a “favor” for a Baronet, that there is a sewer entrance close by the house in Charing Cross, and that he received a hundred pounds for his injuries suffered while working for the gas company. A hundred pounds was quite a lot of money in those days. Probably too much to have been received as just a “set-off” from an employer. Sounds more like it could be the reward for murder.

posted by: BAC at January 14, 2010 10:04 AM


Looking for evidence that the Mompessons had time to help arrange Monday’s events, I find that Perceval and his wife were “abroad” (Chapter 95) on the Monday in question, and that the will was returned to them “a few days later” (Chapter 97), between which times they accused Lydia of stealing the will (Chapter 95). I think “abroad” might only mean “outside London”, but even that wouldn’t leave them enough time to react on Monday. And if they’d known before Monday that the will would be stolen, they would just have removed it from where it was then hidden. So I think whoever held the will at (say) midnight on Monday must have kept it until after the Mompessons returned and discovered the missing will, and only then sold them back the will. That seems to point to Escreet. Could Escreet have commissioned Barney himself, without telling him what exactly what it was that he was to steal, and without telling the Mompessons? It’s possible, but I’m not sure whether it’s really convincing.

posted by: Simon at January 14, 2010 12:06 PM



I think the problem with the will being returned to the Mompessons is this: Escreet had the most to gain from taking possession of the will and selling it back to the Mompessons, but Barney’s possible involvement in Huffam’s murder suggests a Mompesson/Fortisquince angle to the will’s return. The two are at odds with each other. It is possible that Escreet and Clothier both knew Barney and hired him for the job, but it doesn’t feel right, does it?

A tangent on further Digweed involvement with Escreet and John Huffam’s murder: There are several hints throughout the book that George Digweed either knows Escreet or knows of him. First of all, he refers to Escreet as Johnnie “Grandad” several times, causing Johnnie to wonder at one point how much George knows about him.

But I like this example best: On page 460 of the American paperback, when Johnnie makes his first visit to the house in Charing Cross he writes, “The place was deserted, except that a man in a shiny cap was standing on the corner where the house protruded, and idly smoking a long-stemmed pipe.” I believe this man to be George Digweed, wearing his shiny oilskin, scavenging cap and smoking his long-stemmed pipe.

posted by: BAC at January 14, 2010 1:40 PM


I haven’t had a time to read any more, but here are my responses to some of what has been written here since I last posted. (I’m in a hurry, so please forgive any mistakes.)

BAC wrote, “Go to the end of September 2007 for a discussion of Barney being Lydia’s child. It’s possible, but I think Barney would have to be around sixty years old at the end of the book for it to work. Most of us think John Huffam is Lydia’s child.”

I found the mention of this possibility in late September 2007, but I think it was dismissed too quickly. In the family tree, Miss Lydia is of the same generation as John Huffam Sr., meaning that her child might be about Mary’s age, give or take a couple decades. Also, I can’t find any mention of Miss Lydia’s age at the time of her elopement with John Umphraville; if it isn’t specified, she might have been anywhere between sixteen and thirty-five, making it impossible to estimate her child’s age based on hers at the end of the book. Regarding Johnnie’s guess at the beginning of the book that Barney’s age is between Mary’s and Bissett’s, if Mary was in her mid-twenties and Bissett was in her forties or fifties, Barney could have been anywhere between his early thirties and forty. When Johnnie is staying with Barney at the “carcase”, he describes his physical appearance twice without giving any age-specific details. I suspect that Palliser was purposefully being abstruse about this, as usual. Anyway, my point is that I don’t think we can really say with any certainty what age Barney is, or what age Miss Lydia’s child should be. So I don’t think that age can be used as a determining factor in deciding that Barney is not Miss Lydia’s child.

I also don’t really see anything to support the idea that John Huffam Sr. is her son. Could you perhaps summarize the supporting evidence?

BAC wrote, “Henrietta doesn’t get mentioned a lot around here, but she is a fascinating character. She acts as a sort of conscience to Johnnie and makes him very uncomfortable at times. However, as you will see by the end of the book, she’s morally compromised herself.”

I read the book once before, a few years ago, and I remember Henrietta’s position at the end. While she is morally compromised in one sense, she remains the sole character who has never been even slightly greedy or vengeful, or done anything to purposely harm anyone else in the story. These are the very transgressions that Johnnie is most concerned with, and that some might argue he commits, which is why I made the foil connection.

BAC wrote, “Yes, I think most of the wedding night plan came from Escreet and Huffam was very easy to manipulate into agreeing with it given his overexcited state. However, I still wonder what Huffam intended toward Peter. Huffam obviously did not want to be murdered, so what did he want to happen to Peter? I find it hard to believe that he just wanted Peter and Mary to live happily ever after. Did Huffam think he would lure Peter back to Charing Cross and have him arrested under the bill of lunacy and perhaps some trumped up burglary charges? Would Huffam then pursue some sort of claim against the Clothier estate?”

But upon marrying Peter Clothier, Mary and her property became his. And because he was legally insane, her and her property (and her children) would devolve onto Silas, not back to her father, right? And John Huffam Sr. would have no claim to anything of the Clothier’s. So I agree with your earlier statement that this must have been Escreet’s idea, and John Huffam Sr. acted against his own interests because of his excitement. Or if John Huffam Sr. had ulterior motives, we must not have thought of them yet.

BAC wrote, “A tangent on further Digweed involvement with Escreet and John Huffam’s murder: There are several hints throughout the book that George Digweed either knows Escreet or knows of him. First of all, he refers to Escreet as Johnnie ‘Grandad’ several times, causing Johnnie to wonder at one point how much George knows about him.”

That’s because Johnnie told him that he was going to his grandfather’s house. I can’t find the exact passage, but I’m pretty sure that Johnnie remembers this himself and is reassured.

Simon wrote, “Nolloth’s explanation of that aspect of the Charing Cross charade is that John Huffam wanted to make sure the will, Mary, and Peter, would all be safe, and that he decided this could best be accomplished by sending all three into hiding. But he makes it very explicit that the plan was originally Escreet’s, which suggests to me that Escreet suggested it with his own ends very much in view. I think that if John Huffam had worked out his own plan, it wouldn’t have been so convoluted, and have had so many features that don’t fully fit with his own interests.”

I’m now persuaded that this is the best explanation for the flaws of the wedding night plan, coupled with John Huffam’s rashness. (And, let’s face it: John Huffam Sr. and his daughter are not the sharpest tools in the shed.)

posted by: Ellen at January 14, 2010 9:55 PM


Some posts about Lydia being John Huffam’s mother are at October 11 2004, and July 16 2006.

I think both Henrietta and Jemima, at the end of the book, inhabit a moral universe from which Johnnie is, or has become, entirely cut off (“…her motive for restraining Barney puzzled me.”, Chapter 122; “…something here that I did not understand…”, Chapter 125). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re both female – I think there’s a rugged version of the position of some of Dickens’ women here, though perhaps it’s more like Wilkie Collins.

Incidentally, does anyone suspect that Johnnie has been deliberately misinformed about the fate of Henrietta’s child? If it lived, and its parents wanted to protect it by pretending that it had died, then the course of its life might provide a splendid sequel to the “Quincunx”…

posted by: Simon at January 15, 2010 7:12 AM


Long digression about the nature of evidence:
I was a little taken aback by BAC’s comment that the existence of the putative Escreet/Clothier conspiracy is supported only by one line in Mary’s diary. On reflection, I could see that this is perfectly true, for the sort of direct evidence that, for example, BAC reported recently about George Digweed. Whereas I think the stronger evidence for that conspiracy is the Henrietta-Mary symmetry. But does that really constitute “evidence”? That might seem to depend on the taste of the reader, but I think it really depends on the genre of the book. Johnnie spends a lot of time wondering whether the story he’s in is a product of chance or design – even when one might think he has more pressing concerns. One could see symmetry as a principle that lies somewhere between the two, and that offers a better guide to events. Palliser used to be a scholar of literature, and it’s easy to imagine him thinking that expertise in seeing large-scale patterns would have been a useful skill for Johnnie. I can’t help thinking that it would appeal to him even more to have put clues to one book (“The Quincunx”) in another (“The Unburied”). I don’t have any evidence for that, either, and I’m not likely to… But if anyone calling themselves “Chuck” posts here, I shall pay close attention.

posted by: Simon at January 15, 2010 10:08 AM



I think I know what you mean regarding the nature of some of the “evidence” and The Quincunx. For example, I think there is some evidence that Barney or John Huffam could be Lydia’s child, but along the lines of what you wrote about Henrietta/Mary, I think the evidence is more strongly in favor of John Huffam being Lydia’s child because it fits better with the pattern of the rest of The Quincunx.

Sometimes there is hard, direct evidence and sometimes there is not. Ultimately, each reader will decide what they think works best.

I’ve read The Unburied as well. Could you elaborate on what you’re thinking?

As for the Digweed’s, there is a lot of interesting textual information about them throughout The Quincunx. For example: It appears that the youngest Digweed children, Polly and Billy, have died of Irish fever. However, a young girl named Polly does show up at Isbister’s as Mrs. Isbister’s servant. We know there is some connection between George, Barney, and Isbister, and that Joey probably worked for Isbister in the same capacity as Johnnie. Interesting. We later come across the characters “Carroty Poll” and “Will” among Barney’s criminal gang. Both appear to be somewhat young and bear the marks of some childhood sickness: Poll’s teeth are completely black and Will’s eyes are somewhat like open sores. Are these the lost Digweed children, Polly and Billy? What about the man named Silvernose? He’s missing part of his nose, like George Digweed, and might be a war/army veteran like George.

I’ve noted a lot of information about the Digweeds like this. I have chapter and page information if anyone would like me to post it.

posted by: BAC at January 15, 2010 11:49 AM



Yes, that’s the sort of thing I meant. “Pattern” is a better word than “symmetry”.

For “The Unburied”, see my comments of October 2 2009, July 25 2009, and particularly December 28 2008.

I have a bit of a blind spot about the Digweeds, perhaps because I found their part of the story the least interesting when I first read “The Quincunx”. So I’d be very interested in a collation of information about them. In general, I think an index of “The Quincunx” would be very valuable, but perhaps there are copyright issues?

posted by: Simon at January 15, 2010 4:39 PM



I’ll try to get my Digweed notes together over the weekend. They’re interesting, but I’m not sure if they come too much. I wonder if there was a lot more backstory to the Digweeds in Palliser’s original manuscript that was left on the cutting room floor.

posted by: BAC at January 15, 2010 10:24 PM


Here are some of my Digweed notes as promised. All pages numbers are from the American paperback and my comments are in brackets.

p. 68: “You’re the only cove o’ that name I could hear on. It was you what saved Conkey George from being marinated, wasn’t it?” [Conkey George. Conkey is British slang for big-nosed. Could Barney be referring to his brother, George Digweed? George’s face is already disfigured when we meet him, so we do not know if he ever had a big nose or not, but Barney was previously described as having a big nose. Conkey was also a nickname for the Duke of Wellington, who had a prominent nose. Could “Conkey” refer in some way to George Digweed’s military service, which is mentioned later in the book? Also, Wellington is mentioned, as Arthur Wellesley, in Johnnie’s birth certificate.]

p.69: “It was the summer before last. I had reasons for getting off the stones jist then what I’m sure you won’t expeck me to go into. Now I’m a j’iner by trade, and there was a great fambly what I’d worked for in Town off and on for years and I heerd as how they was doing some work on their country house…and got took on by the steward what I knowed.” [I believe Barney is talking about some trouble in the corpse-stealing business, not John Huffam’s murder, which is already close to a decade in the past at this point…I think. The steward that Barney knows is most likely Assinder, but could he be referring to Martin? Did Martin hire Barney to break into the home in Melthorpe at this time? It is also worth noting that Barney only goes to Sancious after Martin is dead. Did Barney decide to find Sancious because Martin was dead? Had he heard about Sancious through Martin or because of George?]

p. 71: “…I showed the screeve to my brother’s gal. She’s a sharp ‘un and can read you off any amount of words faster nor a dog can trot…” [The woman to whom Barney refers would seem to be Mrs. Digweed, but do we ever see Mrs. Digweed read or write during the novel? Isn’t the letter she later sends to Mary written by someone else? Furthermore, Barney says “my brother’s gal,” he doesn’t say my brother’s wife. Are we sure he’s actually referring to Maggie Digweed? Also, I don’t think we ever learn if George and Maggie are actually married. Maggie usually refers to George as her “goodman” or “my George,” I’m not sure if she ever uses the word “husband.” I think it was fairly common at that time for very poor people to keep their marital arrangements informal.]

p. 90 – 93: Mrs. Digweed’s Story. [All I will say here is that Mrs. Digweed may be telling the truth about her children and George’s accident or she may not.]

p. 90. Mrs. Digweed calls George, “the father of that boy,” meaning Joey. [Is George not the father of her other children?]

p. 92. “…George went to see the steward in Town and got took on.” [Is this steward Assinder? Martin?]

p. 124: The Letter from Mrs. Digweed to Mary. [I have read this letter a dozen times and am still not sure who wrote it and exactly what is going on. At times, the letter seems to be in the first person by the person who wrote, at others in the first person by Maggie Digweed, and at others in the third person by someone else. A few things to note: Maggie is referred to as “Miss” Digweed and states the youngest Digweed children were “took” when Mrs. Digweed returned to London. “Took” by illness is the obvious conclusion, but the word could also, possibly, mean that Polly and Billy were taken by someone. Maybe Barney. The letter ends with a reference to Maggie Digweed making her mark, implying that she cannot read or write. Btw, I think the letter was written by Mrs. Sackbutt.]

I’ll stop here for now. If people are interested, I can post further notes later.

posted by: BAC at January 17, 2010 4:47 PM


In re the identity of Lydia Mompesson’s long-lost son.

BAC wrote, “Go to the end of September 2007 for a discussion of Barney being Lydia’s child. It’s possible, but I think Barney would have to be around sixty years old at the end of the book for it to work. Most of us think John Huffam is Lydia’s child.”

Actually, MY money would still be on Barney, as I wrote on September 24, 2007 – even if this would mean that by my calculations he would be nearing 60 at the end of the novel.

Ellen wrote: “I found the mention of this possibility in late September 2007, but I think it was dismissed too quickly. In the family tree, Miss Lydia is of the same generation as John Huffam Sr., meaning that her child might be about Mary’s age, give or take a couple decades.”

In my chronology Lydia Mompesson is born in the early 1740s. In 1829 she tells Johnnie and Henrietta of events that took place “nearly seventy years ago” when she was “about the age of you children” (854, US pocket ed.). Since Johnnie and Henrietta are 17 in 1829 this makes Lydia 87. At the time of her death in 1829 she has had “more than eighty years of living” (886), according to Johnnie.

This means that Lydia’s child is not of Mary’s age or even of her generation, but of the generation of John Huffam Sr. My guess is that both Lydia’s child and John Huffam Sr. (if they are not one and the same person) are both born just after the disastrous double wedding in the late autumn of 1769.
We know from George Digweed that his father’s family are “the Digweeds and the Feverfews” and that they have been masons for the Mompessons “since time out of mind” (763). (This means that George Digweed’s grandfather was married to a female representative of the Feverfew family.) Hugo Mompesson may very well have given the unwanted off-spring of his daughter Lydia to one of his trusted builders.
When in the mid- or late 1770s the village of Stoke is taken down and rebuild as Stoke Mompesson, the family of George Digweed’s father is forced to move to London (763), taking the Mompesson heir – the toddler now called Barney – with them.

Ellen wrote: “Also, I can’t find any mention of Miss Lydia’s age at the time of her elopement with John Umphraville; if it isn’t specified, she might have been anywhere between sixteen and thirty-five, making it impossible to estimate her child’s age based on hers at the end of the book.”

Indeed, Lydia’s age in 1769 is not specified, but it may be inferred; see above. By my calculations, she is in her early 20s at the time of her elopement and pregnancy.

Ellen wrote: “Regarding Johnnie’s guess at the beginning of the book that Barney’s age is between Mary’s and Bissett’s, if Mary was in her mid-twenties and Bissett was in her forties or fifties, Barney could have been anywhere between his early thirties and forty.”

I would say: his mid- to late 40s.

Ellen wrote: “When Johnnie is staying with Barney at the “carcase”, he describes his physical appearance twice without giving any age-specific details. I suspect that Palliser was purposefully being abstruse about this, as usual. Anyway, my point is that I don’t think we can really say with any certainty what age Barney is, or what age Miss Lydia’s child should be. So I don’t think that age can be used as a determining factor in deciding that Barney is not Miss Lydia’s child.”

I fully agree with that last statement. But I think we CAN be relatively certain about the year of birth of Miss Lydia’s child: less than nine months after the violent death of her lover John Umphraville on what was supposed to be their wedding night. (This means, of course, that the child was conceived BEFORE the wedding-that-never-took-place. But it is unlikely Lydia has given birth before the elopement.)

This inferred date of birth of Lydia’s child (sometime in late 1869 or early 1770; BEFORE 18 June 1770 if said child is John Huffam Sr.; see below) is not inconsistent with the hints Palliser gives about Barney Digweed’s age. Nor is it inconsistent with the date of birth of John Huffam Sr.

Ellen wrote: “I also don’t really see anything to support the idea that John Huffam Sr. is her son. Could you perhaps summarize the supporting evidence?”

This hypothesis, I believe, wholly rests on Lydia Mompesson’s attitude towards both Johnnie and John Huffam Sr. If she suspects they are her direct descendants and the off-spring of her beloved John Umphraville, it makes perfect sense for her to help both of them in getting their hands on the second and final will of Jeoffrey Huffam (dated 18 June 1770, which must be AFTER the birth of John Huffam Sr. for him to be a beneficiary) that will put them in possession of the estate.

posted by: Leon at January 18, 2010 8:21 AM


@ BAC and his very interesting Digweed notes (keep ‘em coming, please!)

BAC wrote: “p. 71: ‘…I showed the screeve to my brother’s gal. She’s a sharp ‘un and can read you off any amount of words faster nor a dog can trot…’ [The woman to whom Barney refers would seem to be Mrs. Digweed, but do we ever see Mrs. Digweed read or write during the novel?]”

No, we do not, nor do I think that it is Maggie Digweed to whom Barney is referring here. He is clearly referring to his brother’s gal Sally Digweed, who, we are informed more than once, CAN read (see for instance p. 555, US paperback ed.)

BTW: very interesting suggestion you made earlier (Jan. 15) about the fate of Polly and Billy Digweed, surviving the Irish fever and ending up as members of Barney’s gang (as Carroty Poll and Will respectively). Rereading the relevant sections of the novel, however, the textual evidence for this hypothesis does not sit easily with the chronology. Indeed, as you say, it is implied that Carroty Poll and Will are “somewhat young” – though nowhere actually described as such – they would not seem to be nearly young enough to be Polly and Billy Digweed.

• During their stay in the cottage in Melthorpe Maggie Digweed tells Mary and Johnnie that Polly is 10 and Billy is 7. If this stay takes place during the Christmas of 1822 (as Mary’s diary has it [416], although Johnnie’s account suggest an other year altogether), this means Polly is of an age with Johnnie (born 1812, we can be relatively sure) and Billy is 3 years his junior.
• If Johnnie’s time with Barney’s gang is placed in 1825 (the chronology in Johnnie’s account leaves somewhat to be desired), this would make Polly 13 years old at that time. If Johnnie calls Sally, who is a couple of years older than he is, a “girl” (see, for instance 388), it seems inconsistent and odd he would describe a girl of his own age as a “masculine-looking female” (391) and a “man-like woman” who is good to him “in a rough way, so long as she [is] sober” (395).
• In 1825 Billy would be 10 years old – a little young, I think, to be described as Nan’s “usual fancy-man” (398) as Will is. (I take it ‘fancy-man’ implies an amorous and/or sexual relationship.) Also, Billy/Will would have to be a very sturdy 10-year-old lad indeed if he is to be able to “always hit [13-year-old Johnnie] when he notice[s] [him]” (395) – even if Johnnie is small for his age.

I think that if Palliser had meant for his readers to infer that Carroty Poll and Will are Polly and Billy Digweed, he would have dropped hints that are slightly more conclusive and less contradictory to the chronology of his story (deliberately obscured and confused though it may be) – as he does, for example, in the case of Old Lizzie/Eliza Umphraville.

posted by: Leon at January 18, 2010 8:45 AM


Good to hear from you again, Leon!

Yes, I agree that there is no conclusive proof that Carroty Poll and Will are the “lost” Digweed children, and there is information against this interpretation, however, I do sometimes think that Palliser writes these inconsistencies into the narrative as well. What I mean is that we are given enough information that it is reasonable to suggest that Poll and Will may be the Digweed children, but not enough to say so conclusively. Many would say that this is a dead end, however, I think the ambiguous nature of so much information in The Quincunx is a part of Palliser’s plan. Instead of the certainty of a 19th century novel, say by Dickens, we are left with doubt and uncertainty.

Are Will and Carroty Poll really the Digweed children? They seem too old, but maybe Mrs. Digweed lied about their ages for some reason. Or maybe Johnnie doesn’t correctly remember the ages that Mrs. Digweed stated. Or maybe the chronology of Johnnie’s narrative is all wrong. Maybe he intends it to be, maybe he doesn’t. In any case, we’re less sure of the certainty of Johnnie’s narrative.

A few of thoughts:

1. What about Polly, the Isbisters’ servant? She seems about the right age for Polly Digweed.

2. I’ll check the book for a citation when I get home, but at one point Barney refers to Will as his “nevvy.” He is joking around, but it makes you wonder.

3. Overall, I think the Digweeds were intended to play an even bigger part in The Quincunx. I know they are major characters and already figure quite prominently in the narrative, but there are so many hints to other elements of their past that I feel like there must have been sections of Palliser’s earlier manuscript dealing with them. For example: Reference is made several times to George and Barney’s father. This man is never named, but he appears to have been an abusive alcoholic. He was a joiner who seems to have lost his “connexion” to the Mompessons due to problems with alcohol. Does this man have a name? What exactly happened to him? Does it matter?

4. It is mentioned late in The Quincunx that George and Barney definitely share the same father, which suggests to me that they may not share the same mother. Who might their mothers be if they are only half-brothers?

5. Why is George’s face mutilated so badly? Is it just random chance or violence as is suggested? Or are their more sinister reasons? Would we/Johnnie have recognized his faced prior to it being mutilated? Did George break into the house in Melthorpe at the beginning of the book?

6. Why are the Digweeds so eager to help Johnnie obtain the will? Because of a sense of justice? Because they’re being paid to do it by Clothier/Sancious/Jemima/Barney? Are they related to Bellringer/Escreet somehow and helping them to obtain the will?

posted by: BAC at January 18, 2010 1:21 PM


Always a pleasure to read your contributions, BAC. I just spent an hour after dinner checking up on one of your earlier posts, so here goes:

BAC wrote: “A tangent on further Digweed involvement with Escreet and John Huffam’s murder: There are several hints throughout the book that George Digweed either knows Escreet or knows of him. First of all, he refers to Escreet as Johnnie “Grandad” several times, causing Johnnie to wonder at one point how much George knows about him.”

By my knowledge, the only reference to Escreet as Johnnie’s grandfather from the mouth of a member of the Digweed family comes from Maggie Digweed in Chapter 92 (762, US pocket ed.), but, as Ellen remarked earlier, this is AFTER Johnnie has referred to the house at Charing Cross as his grandfather’s house (740) – meaning, of course, the house in which John Huffam Sr. use to live, even though it was not his property. When after his visit to Escreet Mrs Digweed asks him if his granddad has told him anything useful Johnnie is confused, but soon understands “how we had misunderstood one another for she had been misled by my reference to my grandfather’s house” (762).

BAC wrote: “But I like this example best: On page 460 of the American paperback, when Johnnie makes his first visit to the house in Charing Cross he writes, “The place was deserted, except that a man in a shiny cap was standing on the corner where the house protruded, and idly smoking a long-stemmed pipe.” I believe this man to be George Digweed, wearing his shiny oilskin, scavenging cap and smoking his long-stemmed pipe.”

The description of the headgear certainly bears a superficial resemblance to the headgear of the oilskin outfit the Digweeds use to ‘work the shores’, but I have not been able to find George Digweed smoking a “long-stemmed pipe” anywhere in the novel. You may have been thinking of Joey Digweed, who during the period mid-May 1826 till mid-May1827 starts “cultivating a pipe” and “wasting much of his money on fine clothes and tobacco” (723; US pocket ed.). If Palliser had wanted to indicate that the man Johnny observes near the house at Charing Cross on 24 December 1825 was George Digweed, surely he would have provided us with a clearer hint – while taking care, of course, that the reference would not become too glaringly obvious? Why use a long-stemmed pipe to obliquely identify one of your characters, when that character: a) is never made to handle such an object in the remainder of your text, and b) is far more recognizable by other features, such as a disfigured face and a hook instead of a hand?

I stand corrected, of course, if you can provide page numbers for instances where George Digweed uses a “long-stemmed pipe”. ?

On the whole, I see very little evidence of a connection between Escreet and the Digweed family, either in the case of the murder of John Huffam Sr., or in any other case. There is plenty of evidence, by contrast, for a long-standing connection between the Digweeds and the Mompessons. Also, the Digweeds may have been known to Martin Fortisquince, via his father, who was steward at the estate for both the Huffams and the Mompessons, and who helped Digweed Sr. on his way in the world (735-736).

posted by: Leon at January 18, 2010 2:06 PM


Hi Leon,

You’re right that Mrs. Digweed is the one to mention Johnnie’s “Grand-Dad”, not George. However, this is an example of what I was trying to get at earlier. We can easily explain away this incident by saying Johnnie referred to his grandfather’s house and that is why Mrs. Digweed asks Johnnie, “Did your grand-dad tell you anything useful, Master John?” Mrs. Digweed simply thinks that Johnnie’s grandfather is alive because of Johnnie’s reference of a visit to his grandfather’s house. Johnnie is startled to think that Mrs. Digweed knows that Escreet is his grandfather, but quickly realizes how she came about this “mistake.” End of story.

Or we can wonder if Mrs. Digweed really does know something about Mr. Escreet. I can’t prove that she does, but I do think that Palliser wants me to think that she might. Consequently, I wonder about the Digweeds more. Who are they? Why are they being so nice to Johnnie? It’s only because they’ve been paid to, right? Probably by Sancious/Jemima. But do they have there own reasons for keeping an eye on Johnnie?

I’ll look into the issue of George’s pipe when I get home tonight, although I suspect you are right that I was thinking of Joey Digweed.

I do not mean to suggest that there is a vast, hidden narrative concerning the Digweeds and that they are the most important characters in The Quincunx. I just noticed when I recently re-read the book that there was a lot of information given about the Digweeds that was very tantalizing, but was spread out in such small pieces over the course of the book that it was difficult to understand if it meant anything. So, I went back and took notes about what looked like the important Digweed information. While some of it is very interesting, it has not really advanced my understanding of some of the key events of The Quincunx. However, I thought that I would post some of it in case someone else could make something of it.

So, I’m not suggesting that Barney and George Digweeds are grand-nephews of Jeoffrey Escreet and that they all planned John Huffam’s murder together and then, many years later, got the band back together to steal Jeoffrey Huffam’s will. I do think that, given all of the family inter-connections, the Digweeds might know who Escreet is. Someone, most likely Barney, may have told them, or maybe the know on their own.

posted by: BAC at January 18, 2010 3:31 PM



I think you have raised some very interesting points; I for one had never even noticed that pipe-smoking man near the house at Charing Cross. Now that you’ve drawn my attention to him, I am starting to wonder whether or not he is just an ‘extra’ put in the text for the sake of verisimilitude…

Let me respond to some of your points of earlier this evening.

BAC wrote: “What I mean is that we are given enough information that it is reasonable to suggest that Poll and Will may be the Digweed children, but not enough to say so conclusively.”

I agree with you that in naming these characters Carroty Poll and Will Palliser may be playing one of his games. There are, after all, several characters who share the same first name – our protagonist, for example. (NB: have you noticed that next to another Polly [the Isbister servant girl] there is also another Will in the novel? The Mompesson’s footman Roger’s real name is Will.) And the Old Lizzie/Eliza Umphraville trick sets a precedent, of course.

However, it is not just that “there is information against this interpretation” as you put it; in this case the interpretation simply does not fit the chronology or the exact wording of the text (as it does in the Old Lizzie/Eliza Umphraville case).

Let me elaborate. What – besides the obvious resemblance in names – is the sufficient amount of information that forms the basis of your “reasonable” suggestion that it is possible that Poll and Will are the Digweed children?

• You wrote that “both appear to be somewhat young,” but you do not produce any textual evidence as to how young exactly. I think my arguments show that however young Carroty Poll and Will “appear to be”, they are simply too old to be Polly and Billy Digweed. Nowhere in the text are they explicitly described as ‘young’, let alone as younger or of about the same age as Johnnie. Instead, every descriptive noun in the text connected to Poll and Will suggests that they are older than Johnnie: “masculine-looking female” (514), “man” (514) , “man-like woman” (521), etc. Your counter-argument that Maggie Digweed may have lied about their age to Mary and Johnnie is highly speculative and you fail to substantiate it. She might have lied, but to what purpose that makes even remotely sense within the plot of the novel? You also object that “maybe Johnnie doesn’t correctly remember the ages that Mrs. Digweed stated.” From a logical point of view, this applies to each and every single statement made in his account: he may be remembering it incorrectly. And indeed he often does – innocently as well as deliberately. The point however is that whenever Johnnie unwittingly or deliberately distorts the truth, Palliser gives us subtle hints that he is doing so – as for example in the many cases of chronological inconsistencies listed some time ago by Brian. Close reading will reveal the glaring inconsistencies in Johnnie’s narrative. There are no such hints that Johnnie is for some reason incorrectly remembering Maggie Digweed’s statement that Polly and Billy are 10 and 7 respectively. This is not to say, of course, that Johnnie is necessarily correct in remembering WHEN Maggie Digweed told him the ages of Polly and Billy; see the debates on the ‘confused Christmasses’ of 1821/1822 above. These chronological inconsistencies do influence the respective ages of Polly and Billy when Johnnie supposedly meets them as Poll and Will, but not by so many years as to make it plausible that Johnnie would describe 10 or 11 year-old Billy/Will as “a man [sic] with a mean, ugly face” (514).
• You wrote that both Carroty Poll and Will “bear the marks of some childhood sickness: Poll’s teeth are completely black and Will’s eyes are somewhat like open sores.” Again, you do not offer hard textual evidence in the form of quotations; you paraphrase and thereby somewhat distort Palliser’s wording to your advantage. According to the text Poll’s teeth are “absolutely black” and Will’s eyes are “like two swelling bruises”, but these are not signs of childhood sickness necessarily and nor does the text present them as such! The only direct mention of a childhood sickness in the passage pertains to Poll’s face; i.e. NOT to Will’s face and NOT to Poll’s teeth. Moreover, Poll’s face bears the mark NOT, as you put it, “of some childhood sickness”; the text specifies exactly which illness has left its mark upon Poll’s countenance. Her face is “deeply pitted” NOT from the Irish fever (aka Typhus) from which Polly and Billy Digweed are suffering according to their mother (115), but from the “small pox” (514) – a different disease altogether!
• Your point that “at one point Barney refers to Will as his “nevvy” is a perceptive one, but as you remark, Barney appears to be speaking in jest. The exact wording is as follows. Johnnie remarks that sally calls Barney “Uncle” and asks him whether this means “you are really of the same family.” Barney answers: “That’s right. In fact, we’re all one big fambly. Sam here’s my little brother and Nan’s my cousing and Will’s my nevy and so on” (522). My reading of this passage is that Barney is avoiding answering Johnnie’s question by turning it into a joke, and that Will is no more his nevy than Nan is his cousin or Sam his little brother.

I whole-heartedly agree with you that “the ambiguous nature of so much information in The Quincunx is a part of Palliser’s plan” and that “[i]nstead of the certainty of a 19th century novel, say by Dickens, we are left with doubt and uncertainty,” but this does not necessarily mean that text allows for each and every interpretation to be equally plausible.

BAC wrote: “3. Reference is made several times to George and Barney’s father. This man is never named, but he appears to have been an abusive alcoholic. He was a joiner who seems to have lost his “connexion” to the Mompessons due to problems with alcohol. Does this man have a name? What exactly happened to him? Does it matter?”

No first name given for Digweed Sr. Whatever happened to him, I do not think it matters very much plot-wise. The way I see it, he is Palliser’s means of having a Digweed present at the Hougham estate just in time for Hugo Mompesson to get rid of his daughter’s child with an unsuitable, penniless clergyman whose sister is little more than a prostitute. We know that Digweed Sr.’s “heart was allus set from a tiny boy on being a j’iner and comin’ up here” (735) to Town. And lo and behold: not long after Lydia Mompesson has embarrassed her family with unwanted offspring, the Mompesson steward Fortisquince offers Digweed Sr. the chance to go to London. According to George this was because of the quality of his work, but it may just as well be as a reward for taking the Mompesson bastard into his family, might it not? (Granted: no hard textual evidence. But this version of events fits the chronology like a glove.)

BAC wrote: “4. It is mentioned late in The Quincunx that George and Barney definitely share the same father, which suggests to me that they may not share the same mother. Who might their mothers be if they are only half-brothers?”

I think I know the passage you refer to. It occurs when George Digweed relates his family history to Johnnie: “Our dad – that’s his [i.e. Barney’s] and mine – come from your part of the country” (735). One may wish to read this as saying that according to George Digweed, he and Barney share a biological father. If this is so, and if we grant George Digweed enough narrative authority to allow him to make this claim conclusively, it blows a gaping hole in the ‘Barney Mompesson’-thesis. But, as any reader of The Quincunx knows, family appellations such as ‘father’, ‘uncle’ or ‘dad’ have a whole range of meanings, and in this instance “dad” can be taken to mean something like: ‘the man who raised us both as his sons and whom we both call “dad” – even though he is not in the strict sense of the word.’ Proponents of the ‘Barney Mompesson’-thesis will prefer the latter reading, of course.

I fail to see how this quotation suggests that George and Barney Digweed do not share the same mother, but I believe that they do not – at least not in the biological sense. There is no evidence to suggest that George is not the product of Digweed Sr. and his (unnamed and unmentioned) wife. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that George and Barney are not biological brothers and that Barney is, in fact, a scion of the house of Mompesson. I have commented upon his resemblance to both Lydia Mompesson (his mother) and Perceval Mompesson (his cousin or nephew – I forget what the distinction is; in my native language [Dutch] it does not exist) in several earlier contributions.

posted by: Leon at January 18, 2010 6:55 PM



I appreciate your criticism and agree with much of it. I’ll need a day or two to get back to you about some loose ends.

I sense a difference in approach between us. It seems to me that you think, in order to be significant, information passed on by the narrative must 1) be directly relevant to the plot of The Quincunx, and 2) possess factual or logical consistency. Please let me know if you disagree with this statement.

I feel differently, or at least, I need room for another category of information. A category of information that is intriguing, but does not add much to the plot. To me, Carroty Poll and Will fall into that category. I completely agree with you that they seem to be too old to be the Digweed children, yet there’s enough intriguing information provided to give me pause.

I suppose someone could ask me, “But what is the point? If Will and Poll can’t be the Digweed children then so what?” My response is that this “wobble” in the narrative, as I call it, makes me think more critically about the Digweeds and their role in The Quincunx. I find that I view their later actions with a more skeptical eye. This “wobble” makes me wonder, among other things, exactly how George came to the scavenging trade, whether he served criminal time in the British army, and why he and his wife agreed to help Johnnie obtain the will.

Well, “wobble” is my term for this type of intriguing information that doesn’t really go anywhere, but can influence your way of thinking about the narrative. Has anyone else noticed this? Does anyone else believe that it exists and that Palliser occasionally does it?

posted by: BAC at January 18, 2010 11:58 PM


BAC wrote: “It seems to me that you think, in order to be significant, information passed on by the narrative must 1) be directly relevant to the plot of The Quincunx, and 2) possess factual or logical consistency. Please let me know if you disagree with this statement.”

Well: yes and no. It depends on how you define ‘significant’. Narrative texts also contain information that is not directly relevant to the plot, and that information is not insignificant per se, of course, in that it may serve other storytelling functions than plot construction in the strict sense (scene-setting, verisimilitude, etc.). And these are not water-tight categories either. There can always be discussion about what constitutes plot-relevant information and what does not, about the extent of the relevance of the information, to what strand of the plot, etc.

Thanks to your perceptive contributions I have found that several ‘units of information’ which I had previously not given much attention are actually highly intriguing: the characters of Polly, Billy, Carroty Poll, Will, the pipe-smoking man… So much so, indeed, that I have spent a very enjoyable evening pouring over the text in order to try to make sense of their significance and narrative function (in the plot or otherwise). My criticism of your contributions does not imply that I think they lack value because I propose counterarguments to your interpretations (and pretty persuasive ones, I would like to think). Rather, I highly value your comments to which I responded precisely because they make me look at the text afresh and from a different angle.

But in the end it does come down to the truth-value of ones interpretation, i.e. whether your arguments are persuasive, are able to stand the test of criticism, are based on a close enough reading of the text, etc. And also the extent to which your interpretation of information x is consistent with information y.

posted by: Leon at January 19, 2010 6:07 AM



I agree with what you’re saying and I actually *don’t* think that what I’ve written about the Digweeds is very persuasive. It was information that was really bothering me and that I just didn’t know what to do with. Some of the details I noticed about the Digweeds suggested that their collective story was much more intriguing than appears at first glance. I’ve tried to follow these details through and form them into a coherent narrative, but I’ve been unable to do that. I thought I might as well post it here and see if anyone else could make something of it.

I really have begun to wonder if there was a larger Digweed story that Palliser cut for publication. If that happened, I wonder if we were left with some details that hint at other plot threads but ultimately go nowhere.

A question that I’d like to ask you: Do you think it matters that George Digweed’s face is disfigured? Do you think we might recognize him if it weren’t? I don’t have a theory here. I’ve just begun to wonder if Palliser is trying to tell us something by making George’s face unrecognizable. An obvious idea would be that it was George and not Barney that burgled the house in Melthorpe at the beginning of The Quincunx, but I’m fairly certain that either Barney or someone who would know states with certainty that it was he who broke into the house. On the other hand, if it were George that broke into the house, it could account for why the burglar is described as “not tall” while Barney is described as “tall” by Johnnie when he is encountered later in the book. George is later described by Johnnie as small of stature

posted by: BAC at January 19, 2010 1:53 PM



I cannot find any reference to the burglar as “not tall” in the relevant section of Chapter 3 (27-34, US pocket ed.)…

posted by: Leon at January 19, 2010 2:58 PM



In Ch. 2, p. 11, of the U.S. Ballantine paperback, Johnnie writes, “In age the stranger was between my mother and Bissett, and although not tall, he had the head of a much larger man.”

posted by: BAC at January 19, 2010 3:22 PM


Leon, thank you very much for the information about the ages of Miss Lydia and Barney. I don’t know how I managed to overlook that John Huffam Sr. and Miss Lydia’s child must be close in age. You have a much better grasp on the time line than I do. Of course, my conclusion is unchanged: I still believe, as you do, that Barney is her son.

BAC wrote, “4. It is mentioned late in The Quincunx that George and Barney definitely share the same father, which suggests to me that they may not share the same mother.”

Like Leon, I don’t see any implication that they have different mothers. Regarding their father, I think it’s only logical that George Digweed would say that they have the same one. Presumably the same man raised them from infants, and even if George Digweed knew that Barney was adopted (which he probably wouldn’t) he would still regard them as brothers.

Concerning the Digweed speculation: I understand the desire to make every puzzle piece fit, or to explore every possibility, but this line of reasoning doesn’t really seem credible to me. Even more important than the lack of substantiation that Leon has pointed out is the lack of bearing. I just don’t see what meaning might be added to the story if those details actually lined up. What would it mean to you?

posted by: Ellen at January 19, 2010 6:13 PM



When George Digweed finally talks about how he is related to Barney, he states, “Well…it’s like this. Our dad – that’s his and mine – come from your part of the country.” Why would George say this sentence in this particular way? If he and Barney *are* brothers, why wouldn’t he just say it and leave it at that? To me, George draws attention to his and Barney’s parentage by emphasizing that they have the same father. Why does George want to be clear that he and Barney have the same father? Is it because they have different mothers? If they do, is it important? If I thought Barney were the child of Lydia Mompesson, I might think that the possibility of George and Barney having different mothers would be important.

As for general Digweed speculation, I have stated multiple times that this is information that I *can’t* fit into a particular pattern. I have my own thoughts to be sure, but I have been the first one to admit that they are speculation. (May the wrath of Mr. Pentecost be upon me!) I’m putting it here because it bothers me and because it’s my hope that someone else can make something of it.

As for why it matters: The Digweeds play a substantial role throughout The Quincunx, however, as Palliser notes in his Afterword to the British paperback, Johnnie is not always to be trusted when he writes about them because he is a product of his class and of his time. He can’t help but treat the Digweeds with condescension most of the time. Consequently, he seems, to me at least, to miss or gloss over pieces of information about them without really noticing them.

If we take the darkest possible view of the information provided about the Digweeds, then George and Maggie Digweed are, at best, a couple of liars being paid to keep Johnnie “safe” until he comes of age and, at worst, may have had a hand in some of the most evil deeds committed in the book.

Why does it matter to you if Barney is Lydia’s child?

posted by: BAC at January 19, 2010 11:23 PM


To BAC: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be dismissive. I certainly don’t think there’s any *wrong* way to interpret or analyze this book, and it’s definitely been interesting for me to read all the different ideas that you and everyone else has had here. I also understand that plausibility isn’t the sole reason to consider an idea. When I asked what the Digweed theories would mean, I meant the question in a sincere way — not like, “Who cares?” or “Why does it matter to you?” I guess I’m not expressing myself well. The word “mean” is much too general.

posted by: Ellen at January 20, 2010 1:18 AM



No apologies necessary. It’s often very difficult to understand a person’s tone on the internet; something we should all keep in mind.

I’ve definitely been guilty of putting things here without as much substantiation as needed. At times, I’ve been lazy and I apologize for that, at other times though, there have been things that I’ve noticed in The Quincunx that are intriguing, but not easily explained. I’ve decided to put down my own thoughts about them and hope that the other people here can help me out. It may lead to something, it may not.

To me, the Digweeds are one of those things are not easily explained. They keep popping up in the narrative and there a suggestions that they have played a bigger part in Johnnie’s story than he realizes. I have some more notes and a few more ideas about them, but I have not been able to come to a unified theory.

I was sincere in asking why you cared about Barney Mompesson. I understand why you and Leon believe he may be Lydia’s child and I think there is a lot of merit to that view. I also think that there is merit to the idea that John Huffam is Lydia’s child. What tips the scales in favor of John Huffam for me is that I think it would be more interesting and meaningful if he were Lydia’s child. It would mean that the Huffams/Mompessons have again taken an unwanted child away from it’s mother; that they have tried to pass this child off as the heir to James Huffam; that this ruse worked; that all of James’s descendants are actually, if not legally, illegitimate; and that Johnnie is thus not only illegitimate, but barely a Huffam at all. I think Johnnie knows or suspects all of this at the end of The Quincunx and it greatly troubles him. Unfortunately, there are signs that Johhnie may not let his conscience continue to bother him.

I just don’t see what the same kind of meaning coming from Barney Digweed being Lydia’s child. I’m not being sarcastic or dismissive. I really would like to hear another perspective him.

posted by: BAC at January 20, 2010 12:07 PM


A very small addition to BAC’s list of “meanings” for John Huffam being Lydia’s child: it would mean that Escreet’s efforts to make sure that his own descendants become the Huffam heirs can, somewhat more nobly, also be seen as efforts to make sure that a Huffam descendant is the Huffam heir.

posted by: Simon at January 20, 2010 1:13 PM


BAC wrote: “if it were George that broke into the house, it could account for why the burglar is described as “not tall” while Barney is described as “tall” by Johnnie when he is encountered later in the book. George is later described by Johnnie as small of stature”
(January 19, 2010 1:53 PM)

Leon wrote: “I cannot find any reference to the burglar as “not tall” in the relevant section of Chapter 3 (27-34, US pocket ed.)…”
(January 19, 2010 2:58 PM)

BAC wrote: “In Ch. 2, p. 11, of the U.S. Ballantine paperback, Johnnie writes, “In age the stranger was between my mother and Bissett, and although not tall, he had the head of a much larger man.””
(January 19, 2010 3:22 PM)

Ah, I see. And where exactly is George Digweed described as “small of stature”?

So your interpretation of events is as follows:

• George Digweed burgles the cottage in Melthorpe;
• George Digweed gives the letter of Mr Fortisquince he took on that occasion to Mr Sancious, giving the name of Barney. (The description of this event in Chapter 13 is of course speculation on the part of Pentecost or Silverlight – whichever one of the two narrators is narrating that section.)
• When Johnnie recognises the gang leader he has met in the ‘carcass’ and who calls himself Barney as the man who burgled the cottage, he is mistaken.
• Later, when Johnnie is rescued from the asylum by the true burglar, George Digweed, he does not recognise him as such, since George Digweed’s face has been mutilated (on purpose? An unfortunate accident that has the fortunate consequence that he is now virtually unrecognisable from his former self?).

This sounds almost impossible to substantiate with textual evidence.

I think Palliser has George Digweed’s face be disfigured the way it is for two reasons: 1) a horribly disfigured man makes for a colourful addition to his cast of characters; 2) it allows him to slip in the historical background of the ‘wars’ between rival gas companies in the early 19th century (see 707-708).

Note, too, that two of the burglar’s most memorable features are his “reddish hair” and his “very blue” eyes (15). However bad George Digweed’s facial disfigurement may be, it does NOT disguise or eliminate those specific features. And surely Palliser would have Johnnie remark on them in his description of George Digweed in order to provide us with a hint that George Digweed and the burglar are one and the same person?

posted by: Leon at January 20, 2010 4:13 PM


“In Ch. 85, p. 541, of the U.S. Ballantine paperback, Johnnie writes of his first trip into the sewers with George Digweed, “I walked behind my companion and both of us – though we were of small stature – and I was not fully-grown at that date – had to stoop, which I found extremely painful to the neck and shoulders.”

Btw, in Ch.2, p. 13, Johnnie describes the stranger walking away “with an odd, lolloping stride, his shoulders strangely hunched.”

posted by: BAC at January 20, 2010 4:48 PM


I’ve nothing to add to the present discussions, except to say that it’s great to see debate starting up again, in a most lively fashion.

So, perhaps a collective round of applause to Steve, who own this site and who keeps it all going so that we can continue to fail to solve the “Puzzle of the Quincunx” !


posted by: AGB at January 21, 2010 8:49 AM


Hello everyone ! Really glad that the discussion has started again. I’m looking forward to it. Concerning the question Barney/George (indeed a very interesting family !) Charles Palliser himself said in the afterword something like : “(Dutch translation) : …(I saw a face) and this became Barney who, with a ladder, come in to John’s bedroom”. Can this help ?

posted by: rita at January 22, 2010 11:58 AM


That is interesting indeed, Rita.

If the burglar is Barney, (which I do think is the most likely scenario), then why does Palliser describe the burglar/stranger as “not tall” and later describe Barney as tall? Is this simply an oversight on Palliser’s part? That’s certainly possible, but given the control and brilliance Palliser shows throughout The Quincunx I’m not in a rush to dismiss contradictory physical descriptions of Barney as mere mistakes.

Btw, here is Johnnie’s description of Barney when he meets him at the “carcase”, “He was tall and strongly-built with a large head rising steeply to a high forehead, a shock of reddish hair and a big broken nose between two strangely beautiful blue eyes.”

In general, events surrounding the first failed burglary at Melthorpe confuse me. Forgetting whether it was George, Barney, or the two of them together for a second, what was the point of the burglary? To get the codicil? Did Barney (or George) act on his own or was he hired by Martin, the Mompessons, or the Clothiers? If he was hired, the burglary was obviously not a success. This possible employer must have been upset by the failure.

And here’s the part that I really don’t understand, in Ch. 13, p. 70, Barney says, “Well, then it were more than a year a-fore I goes down there again, but a six-moth back, I goes to the barn and finds the letter case jist as I’d left it.” So, if I’m reading this sentence correctly, Barney hid the letter, which he couldn’t read, in a barn, and went back for it over a year later and then took another six months or so to find Sancious? Is this long gap in time explained by the fact that Barney was put in jail upon his return to London? Which I think he was. But if someone hired him to steal the letter, why wouldn’t he just hide it on his person and bring it to London? It’s certainly possible that Barney just had a funny feeling about the letter and decided to go back for it over a year later, but wouldn’t he be just as likely to forget about it? To me, going back for the letter signals that Barney already knew that the letter had value. Did someone else tell him what was in the letter and who to contact about it?

Thanks to Steve!

posted by: BAC at January 22, 2010 2:01 PM


You are quite right, BAC. I, too, have been puzzled by that aspect of the burglary. And there is an aspect of a scene closely related to the burglary sequence that has given me much pause because of the questions it begs.

Ever since my first reading of the novel I have been struck by the way Palliser has Johnnie describe the scene of Mary’s encounter with Barney (for I take it to be him) at the cottage gate – or, to be more precise: the scene of the final part of a conversation that has ensued from that encounter. (Note that we do not get to see the actual meeting or Mary’s initial reaction upon seeing Barney at her cottage gate; we also lack any indication of how long Mary and Barney have been talking before Johnnie walks onto the scene, alarmed by Bissett’s cries.)

This is how Palliser has Johnnie describe what he saw that day:

“My mother was standing at the gate with an individual whom I had never seen before. He stood in the lane talking to her with passionate intensity, his eyes fixed on her face and his hands (one holding a stick) gesticulating, while she listened with her eyes cast down nodding her head occasionally” (11, US paperback ed.).

‘Passionateley intense’ hardly seems the way perfect strangers would talk to one another in a novel consciously using the devices of 19th-century realism. Nor does it seem to be a conversation in which a self-professed “poor honest workin’-man down on his luck” asks a lady for “a night’s lodgin’ and wittles arter a hard day’s tramp” (12) by any set of conventions. To me, it seems a conversation of a private kind. Note that Palliser has Johnnie state that Bissett has been watching them “closely” (12), as if she senses there is something not quite right.

Based on this reading of Palliser’s wording of this passage, I would like to make a suggestion that may seem far-fetched, namely: that Barney and Mary have actually met before Barney comes to the cottage in Melthorpe in the summer of 1817.

This feeling of a shared secret past is augmented a couple of lines later when Palliser very deliberately has Johnnie musing that

“seeing my mother like that [i.e. having a conversation with a man Johnnie has never seen before] it suddenly came to me that she had a life of which I knew nothing, and in that moment she seemed herself a stranger to me” (11-12).

Again I get the feeling that Mary and Barney are NOT the perfect strangers Johnnie takes them to be, but are in fact acquainted with one another from Mary’s days in London (which by that time are five years behind her). It is as if Palliser tries to convey Johnnie’s subconscious realisation that this is not a conversation his mother would have with a perfect stranger coming by the cottage by mere accident – rather, it is the kind of conversation his mother would have with someone from a life that she has kept hidden from him. In other words: why would Palliser precisely at this point in the text hint at the possibility of Mary having had a secret life of which Johnnie (and we) know nothing, if not in order to indicate that the scene which provokes the thought in his protagonist’s mind is connected with that secret life?

What do you think? Am I reading too much in this?

posted by: Leon at January 22, 2010 4:01 PM



I am with you all the way. You’ve just crystallized something that I realize had been bothering me for a long time. I also noticed that Johnnie seems to be interrupting a private conversation between Mary and Barney/the stranger.

The question is, though, how exactly do they know each other?

I’m going to throw something out here that I’ve been sitting on for a long time. It probably means nothing, but possibly implies a long-standing connection between Mary and the Digweeds. At the least, I hope it provides some interesting background information for those who read it.

I’ve been fascinated with the opening passages of Mary’s pocket-book for a while now. The initial reason was due to Mary’s brief mention of her elusive mother. However, when I recently re-read The Quincunx, I became intrigued by some of the other information Mary provides about her childhood. I’ve previously written about her mention of the priory of St. Mary Rounceval in Ch. 61, p.412, and its connection to Chaucer’s “Pardoner’s Tale,” but I’ve also been meaning to write about her allusions to the Rummer Tavern and Charing Cross in general.

Apparently, Charing Cross was one of the most notorious neighborhoods in London at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, and the Rummer Tavern was one of its most notorious establishments. If you don’t believe me, check out the autobiography of someone who was there, Francis Place:

If you use the above link, click the “Search Inside This Book” link, and do a search for “Rummer.” You won’t be disappointed.

I’ll summarize what I’ve learned for those who don’t feel like following the links:

The Rummer Tavern was a brothel and a “crimping” house, and, presumably, a tavern too. “Crimping” has several meanings, but one of them is to kidnap or “shanghai” someone into military service. In Ch. 88, p.567, Escreet makes what I take to be a direct reference to the Rummer, “You’ll maybe have noticed the Bagnio next door at No. 16 with the line of carriages and chairs outside it? And the soldiers’ tuppenny drabs along the wall of the Privy-gardens?” Certain phrases in Escreet’s statements here follow Francis Place’s remarks about the Rummer almost exactly.

As for “crimping,” as far as I can tell, the term comes up twice in The Quincunx. On p. 512, Peter Clothier states, “The father and brother whom I so revered, revealed to be no more than crimping cheats and blackmailers.” On p. 576, Johnnie writes, “Meg’s turned out to be a clean and respectable lodging-house – a most unlikely occurrence in that part of London where the crimping-houses lay in wait to prey upon discharged sailors.”

Regarding Charing Cross, on p. 412, Mary writes, “Soldiers were quartered in the public-houses all around and I was always frightened of them with their greased pig-tails and rough manners.” And further, “…for the Park was the only place I could go – and only in broad daylight, of course, though even that was not always safeguard enough. I was always made to look down while we passed the wall along the Privy-gardens and the Rummer tavern was nearby.”

First of all, I think this information provides an explanation to those of us who have wondered about Mary seeming to “know the trade” of prostitution. Of Course Mary knew the trade, she grew up around it!

Secondly, and *maybe* more importantly, being independently interested in the history of the Napoleonic era, I’ve noticed that it does not often come up in The Quincunx, even though the book is for the most part set just after that time. Only about a dozen references to the wars of that era and almost no one who appears to have served in the military.

No one, except…(you knew it was coming)…George Digweed. In Ch. 85, p. 545, when Johnny and George encounter a dead body in the sewers he states, “Reckon that’s a used ‘un, like they used to say in the army.” So, it seems likely that George was in the British army at some point in his life. Interesting. If he was, was it during the Napoleonic era? Was it around the time of John Huffam’s murder? Was he the military of his own free will or was he forced into it? If he was forced, was it at a crimping house like the Rummer or was it as a criminal punishment? Or to escape the law?

In any case, I find it interesting that there are very few references to the Napoleonic Wars in The Quincunx, yet it is strongly suggested that George Digweed served in the military sometime in that era and Mary mentions that soldiers were quartered in Charing Cross when she was growing up.

[A quick aside, on p. 395, Johnnie writes of Silvernose, a member of Barney’s gang, “Though I was at first repelled by the sinister appearance of a man who wore a pale brass nose in the middle of his face…I later found him to be one of the kindest of the gang. (I was told that he had suffered his injury in the Wars, though this was said in with so much private significance that I doubted it even then.)” So, did this man lose his nose in the Napoleonic Wars or the Gas Wars?]

The only other information that we have linking Mary and George is Barney Digweed. It is suggested in The Quincunx itself and many of us believe that Barney was somehow involved in John Huffam’s murder.

Is it possible that George and/or Barney frequented Charing Cross at the time of the murder? Possibly because George was a soldier quartered there? Were they recruited for the murder in that area by someone? Was Peter given a red coat to draw suspicion to him and away from another Redcoat who was hired to commit the crime?

There’s more than a bit of speculation here, obviously, and I am by no means claiming that this is what happened, but it does seem possible that there is a link between Mary and the Digweeds.

posted by: BAC at January 22, 2010 11:50 PM


Great post, BAC!

BAC wrote: “The question is, though, how exactly do they know each other?”

My own tentative explanation was rather like yours, though without the valuable historical information about the Rummer tavern and the ‘crimping.’ (I did not even know what that was exactly.)

My idea, too, was that Mary may have come to know Barney from the Charing Cross area. Not just because it was a bad neighbourhood, but because of both Mary’s and Escreet’s reference to soldiers being stationed in or frequenting it. We know George Digweed has quite probably been a soldier at one point in his life, but my idea was that Barney had joined the forces with him. George tells Johnnie:

“But then the drink became too much for my old feller for he had always liked his glass. And by the time me and Barney had sarved our time, he didn’t have much of his connexion left, though we still done a little work for that fambly ourselves now and again” (Ch. 86, 736 US pocket ed.)

I take ‘to serve your time’ to imply military service here, and not a prison sentence or (if it can even have that meaning in English) an apprenticeship.

posted by: Leon at January 23, 2010 3:29 AM


A very quick comment on BAC’s aside: Isn’t the brass nose likely to be a replacement for a nose lost to syphilis? I think “wars” might be a jocular reference to “love”.

I agree that the conversation between Mary and Barney seems very odd – and it would be a good trick to provide crucial information just at the start of the book, where it’s likely to be forgotten as the reader reads on.

posted by: Simon at January 23, 2010 7:50 AM


Thanks, Leon!
I think these are some of the key questions regarding the burglary: Did Mary and Barney know each other prior to the burglary? Was Barney hired to rob the house in Melthorpe? If so, why would he talk to Mary beforehand? Especially if she knew him? If Barney just happened to be in the Melthorpe area, did he decide to approach Mary because he knew her and knew where she lived? Did he think that she would help him? Did he decide to rob the house because he was not treated with the respect that he thought he deserved? If Mary knew Barney and suspected him of the burglary, why didn’t she tell the constable of her suspicions? Was she afraid of too many questions? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
When Barney meets with Sancious in Ch. 13, he never suggests that he knows Mary, however, he might have wanted to keep Sancious in the dark, revealing bits of information at a time, all the while being paid for his services.
Simon, I think you offer a valid interpretation of “wars,” however, as always, I will be looking to interpret information in a way that expands meaning, so I like to think that Silvernose isn’t just the victim of venereal disease, but as he is missing his nose and possibly fought in the Napoleonic Wars or Gas Wars, is suggestive of George Digweed.
The thing that bothers me about the Digweeds and Mary is that we are never provided with any information that gets the Digweeds close to Mary or John Huffam before the murder. Huffam lived in very reduced circumstances with Mary, Escreet, and a few servants. Why would he have any contact with the Digweeds? Even if he knew George, Barney, and their father while growing up at Mompesson Park? We don’t know how many servants Huffam has and they’re never named. So, that seems like a dead end.
The only possible avenue I can see at the moment for exploring a connection between the Digweeds and John and Mary is the mysterious father of Barney and George. It doesn’t seem like there’s much in the text, but it makes me nervous that this individual is mentioned several times and yet we don’t have a name for him.

posted by: BAC at January 23, 2010 2:38 PM


BAC wrote: “I like to think that Silvernose isn’t just the victim of venereal disease, but as he is missing his nose and possibly fought in the Napoleonic Wars or Gas Wars, is suggestive of George Digweed.”

Waddaya mean, George Digweed is ‘missing his nose’? From the description Johnnie gives of his disfigured face – the only one we get, as far as I can remeber – he clearly is NOT, and he does NOT wear a brass prosthetic either. See the description in Ch. 83, in which Johnny speaks of George Digweeds nose as “a swollen lump” (693, US pocket ed.).

posted by: Leon at January 24, 2010 2:54 AM


A couple of thoughts about BAC’s post. Mary and Barney’s conversation sounds to me as if, even if they didn’t already know each other, they had common ground for conversation. (Why else would she listen “with her eyes cast down, nodding her head occasionally”). Johnnie thinks he was trying to sell something to Mary, but that would have looked much the same as him trying to buy something from her. Maybe he was sent to buy or steal the codicil, whichever was simpler.

Might the Digweed-Mary connection have arisen through Martin Fortisquince, or Fortisquince Senior, or Escreet himself, who might have come across the Digweed family working on the Huffam/Mompesson estate?

posted by: Simon at January 24, 2010 8:47 AM



We know from Molly Digweed that the Digweeds certainly were acquainted with Fortisquince Sr., for, once again in possession of the second and final will of Geoffrey Huffam in May 1811, the Mompessons have their steward hire George Digweed to construct a safe in the mantelpiece of the Great Parlour in the house in Brook-Street in order to store the will (764-765). The steward in question, according to Maggie Digweed, was not Mr Assinder, but “the one a-fore him” (765) – i.e. D. Fortisquince, the husband of Martin Fortisquince’s mother Elizabeth.

I do not believe there is any ‘hard’ textual evidence that Escreet knows any of the Digweeds, or that any of the Digweeds knows Escreet.

posted by: Leon at January 24, 2010 8:54 AM


@Simon, to answer his question directly:

“Might the [Barney] Digweed-Mary connection have arisen through Martin Fortisquince, or Fortisquince Senior […]?”

Yes, it might, but although we DO know the Digweeds and Fortisquince Sr. go back a long time (Fortisquince Sr. has also helped George’s father [736, US pocket ed.]), there is, I believe, NO ‘hard’ textual evidence that his som Martin knows any of the Digweeds.

posted by: Leon at January 24, 2010 9:16 AM


Thanks, Leon. Another point that occurs to me: if Barney was sent to Mary, then whoever sent him knows her address. But we know the Mompessons don’t discover that until some time between Chapters 5 and 6, and of course the Clothiers don’t know it either. Martin knew it, but would hardly need to employ Barney. But what about Jemima? She writes down his letters to Mary (“… my beloved wife is having to write this letter at my dictation.”, Chapter 13 – a comment that superficially looks like somewhat of a non sequitur). I don’t know how she might know Barney – perhaps through Martin, or even Escreet?

posted by: Simon at January 24, 2010 9:50 AM


@ Leon,

The reference to “served our time” is ambiguous, but in English it certainly can refer to an apprenticeship my own father distinguished himself from johnny-come-latelies in his own mechanic’s trade by saying that he was a “proper, time-served man”…. ; and in the immediate context of the sentence I think that is indeed what it’s referring to. But of course there is no certainty here, as elsewhere in the Quincunx.


posted by: AGB at January 24, 2010 10:26 AM



Sorry for not being clear; I don’t think Silvernose *is* George Digweed, but only that he suggests George. Disfigured, kindly nature, “wars” veteran, knows Barney. I’ve had the feeling for a while now that there was a little more backstory about George that Palliser cut from the original manuscript. I can’t say this for sure, of course, but beginning with the rescue from the asylum, we’re given a lot of information about George in an abrupt and awkward manner. It feels a little forced to me.

For example, take George’s reference to military service. You would think that he and Johnnie might discuss this topic further, but it just dies in the air after one brief remark from George. A few paragraphs later, George makes another intriguing statement about how he got his start in the scavenging business. Palliser might be guilty of leaving in some red herrings about George; tantalizing information that hints at a questionable past, but substantiates nothing.

I think this is a likely scenario for the burglary if Barney, or George, depending on your taste, was hired to do it by Martin:
Martin wants the codicil from Mary, but she will not part with it, of course, and he is too old and infirm to travel to Melthorpe and take it from her. Even if he could, Jemima would not be pleased if he visited Mary. So, Martin hires Barney, or George, to go to Melthorpe and get the codicil from her.

Martin may want the codicil for a variety of reasons: He might think that selling it to the Mompessons is the best course of action for Mary and Johnnie, (which it almost certainly was); he probably knows that he is not long for this world and wants to provide for them. More sinisterly, he may only want to serve the interests of the Mompessons or may just need money himself. At one point in the book, Jemima says something to Mary that suggests that Martin did not leave her in as good a position as she would have liked.

So, Martin contacts George or Barney, tells either one to go out to Melthorpe and take Mary’s legal documents. Maybe Martin tells his man to try to reason with Mary first. After that falls apart, Barney or George decides upon burglary. The burglary goes awry, etc, etc, etc.

This plan isn’t perfect, of course, but it does provide an explanation for a burglary planned by Martin and carried out by one of the Digweed brothers.

Leon is certainly correct, however, that there is no information directly connecting Martin and the Digweed brothers. All we know is that Barney and George appear to have grown up around Mompesson Park, as did Martin and John Huffam, and that they knew Martin’s father. So, it seems likely that Martin may have met Barney and George at Mompesson Park or in London at the Brook Street residence of the Mompessons. However, there is nothing in the text providing a direct link.

Going in a different direction: It’s always surprised me that Jemima did not pursue the codicil more aggressively herself considering that she was the potential Maliphant heir. She must have known where Mary was, right? Why didn’t she just go down to Melthorpe after Martin’s death and take the codicil from her?

posted by: BAC at January 24, 2010 2:34 PM


The brief answer to BAC’s last question, which has some force behind it, is that at that stage there was not much point in her acquiring the codicil as her claim on the estate was more distant than the others. Recent discussions have been interesting in opening up new avenues of speculation but I should like to warn anybody hoping to build up a case based on the chronology in the book that it would be like building a house in a quicksand. As for the suggestion that Barney might have been instructed to take the codicil from Mary, would he have been a suitable choice considering he was illiterate? Hardly one to pick out what was desired document.

posted by: Brian at January 25, 2010 7:33 PM


An advantage of Barney’s illiteracy, to anyone commissioning him to take the codicil, would have been that it would have been hard for him to withhold it and extort more money, because he wouldn’t know how much it might really be worth – as we find out when he tells Sancious his story in Chapter 13.

Looking at the question from the other side, there are some oddities in Barney’s account of his actions, in Chapter 13. He has gone to Mompesson Park to do some work, but has no money when he leaves. After Johnnie wakes up the house, despite the prospect of “Botany Bay or the tree with only one leaf”, he doesn’t flee, but tries to break in again. He picks up some candle-sticks “jist for the sake of [his] self-respeck”, and only then finds them too big to carry easily, so immediately drops them.

Another oddity is why Bissett is conspicuously calm during the burglary, why she dissuades Mary from calling for help, why she suggests that they should stay put and let the burglary continue unhindered, and why she is insistent that there is more than one burglar (though admittedly it’s Mary who initially makes that assumption). This might help persuade Mary not to interfere in the burglary. Further, it is Bissett (fairly clearly) who makes sure that Emeris decides that Job Greenslade was the burglar. Is it a coincidence that Barney happened to use a tool that could point to another, local, suspect, of whom Barney could hardly have known anything? And does he really need the mole-spade to get a ladder over some railings?

If we conclude that the burglary was not a simple accident, we have to work out who motivated it. We know that the major players don’t then know Mary’s address, because we later see their astonishment and eagerness when they do learn it, or come near to learning it. Is there anyone else, apart from Jemima, who knows it?

posted by: Simon at January 26, 2010 5:56 AM


Just a question : : if the “informant” (chap.26) is Bisset, who is the “agent” of Mr Barbellion ? (see also chap.22)?

posted by: rita at January 27, 2010 9:07 AM


A very good post, Simon. I hadn’t picked up on Bissett’s odd behavior before.

If the burglary was planned and not simply a whim of Barney’s, I still like Martin as the driving force behind it, for reasons stated above.

A couple of things that have been bothering me:

1. Barney takes the letter to Sancious soon after Martin’s death. I’m wondering about the timing here. It seems too coincidental that Barney would track down Sancious with the letter right after Martin has died. Did someone tell Barney how to make use of the letter? If so, I would think that Martin and George would be the likely candidates to tell Barney about Sancious and that he would be willing to pay for the letter.

2. Barney’s story regarding what he did with the letter after the burglary has never rung true to me. Instead of all the business about hiding the letter in a barn and going back to find it a year later, what if Barney simply got in touch with Sancious because he was “Conkey” George’s attorney? What if Barney never had the letter at all, but was given it by “Conkey” George before the latter began a prison sentence? That sounds a lot less complicated to me. I suppose one might say that Barney’s story is so muddled it has the ring of truth.

3. I believe Mary says that she found Sancious through a newspaper article. Well, okay, but was Mary just idly leafing through a newspaper or was she looking for something? I’ve wondered if Mary were keeping up on burglary prosecutions after what happened at the home in Melthorpe. Does anyone know what was typically published in the newspapers of that time? Say, The London Times? Would you have been able to follow criminal cases and, possibly, find advertisements for attorneys? Just curious.

4. Even if Mary does find Sancious through a newspaper, I’ve never quite understood what type of service he provided for her at first. Does he forward letters for her? Why would anyone need that type of service? Is she already trying to transact codicil-related business that she doesn’t want Martin to know about? And why doesn’t Martin know anything about Sancious’s reputation? Or does he?

5. Does Jemima know that she is the potential Maliphant heir at the beginning of The Quincunx? She must know by the time she ships Stephen off to the Quiggs’s, right? I just find it surprising that, even if Jemima knew it was a long-shot that she would become the heir to the Hougham estate, she wouldn’t understand that Mary had important legal documents at Melthorpe and take them from her just out of spite.

6. On p. 571 of the American Paperback, Mr. Escreet states that Paternoster attempted to sell the codicil to Richard Maliphant, but was turned down. This has always bothered me for some reason. I guess what bothers me is whether we’re supposed to take this information at face value or to think that there was something more to Maliphant’s refusal. I wonder if Paternoster/Escreet were already trying to worm their way into this part of the family and perhaps offered Lucy Escreet and the codicil to Maliphant?

posted by: BAC at January 27, 2010 12:52 PM


Brian wrote: “I should like to warn anybody hoping to build up a case based on the chronology in the book that it would be like building a house in a quicksand.”

Well, yes and no, Brian. At certain and sometimes crucial points Johnnie’s narrative and the interpolated sections by Pentecost and Silverlight present a chronology and time-span of events that is indeed rather like quicksand (see your posts of December/January 2006/2007 and my comments on them). But within that quicksand there are a couple of very solid boulders upon which we may begin to build a very rough chronology of events. (Days of the week inferred by myself.)

• Saturday 3 September 1768: Signing of the codicil
• 1769: Double elopement and wedding of James Huffam/Eliza Umphraville and Lydia Mompesson/John Umphraville.
• Monday 18 June 1770: Jeoffrey Huffam signs his second and final will and dies shortly afterwards.
• Sunday 5 May 1811: Wedding of Mary Huffam and Peter Clothier; murder of John Huffam Sr.
• Friday 7 February 1812: Johnnie’s birth.

The following dates of events described by Johnnie in Chapters 2-35 are given in Mary’s diary. I see no reason to doubt these – contrary to the dates and temporal reference supplies by Johnnie in his narrative. (Days of the week as well as years in square brackets again inferred by myself.)

• Saturday 18 December 1819: Johnnie meets Mr Barbellion in the graveyard.
• Christmas 1822: Maggie and Joey Digweed visit the cottage in Melthorpe. (This indeed means that I take Johnnie’s dating to be wrong.)
• Wednesday 23 July 1823: The attempted abduction of Johnnie.
• Monday 22 September 1823: Mary and Johnnie have arrived in London.
• Tuesday 15 June [1824]: Johnnie and Mary move in with Helen Quilliam in Orchard Street.

If 1824 is the correct year, then Mary’s diary and Johnnie’s narrative are in agreement in having 17 months elapse until Mary’s death on the night of 12 and 13 November 1825.

Would you agree that these dates are rock solid and may serve as the cornerstones for a more detailed chronology?

posted by: Leon at January 27, 2010 2:21 PM


Seeing the names of the characters involved in the double elopement above has reminded me of something that has always bothered me:

Are we absolutely sure that Escreet is Anna Mompesson’s child? We have no way of knowing for certain, do we? We just have Escreet’s version of the story which involves, I believe, Paternoster taking Anna’s young child and secretly giving it to his clerk, Escreet. Escreet is then told that he is Jeoffrey Huffam’s child when he is a young man.

I’ve always wondered if Anna *was* actually calling out to John Umphraville during the duel. The scene is ambiguous: Anna calls out something like, “My son! Look out behind you!” I believe it is Umphraville who actually turns around, not Escreet.

On the other hand, we’re given no information to suggest that John Umphraville is Anna’s child and it feels like too much time is invested in Escreet as a character for us to doubt his parentage.

The phrase “Umphraville is avenged” has always bothered me too. I always think that I’m missing something when Henry and Escreet say it at the end of the book. It seems obvious at first, but given the shadowy, mysterious history of the Umphravilles, I can’t get rid of the feeling that there’s more meaning to the statement than appears at first glance.

posted by: BAC at January 28, 2010 3:50 PM


Thanks, BAC. Some replies to your points:

1. I don’t really understand Barney’s delay, either. My (current) thesis is that Jemima commissioned him to steal the codicil, so she would have been a bit disappointed to get a letter that she’d written out herself. Perhaps Jemima’s game-plan is, partly, simply to get Mary moving so that she’s vulnerable to pressure to give up the codicil? If so, waiting to make her move until Martin has died would be sensible, because only then is Mary really vulnerable. I’m giving Jemima a lot of credit for playing a very long game here – but remember that at the end of the game, she holds the prize, and is prepared to give it up only because she didn’t want any more killing. She also ends the book in Barney’s company – a rather surprising conjunction, to me, when I first read the book. Though of course she might have met him through Sancious (but would he have introduced them?)

3. Yes, Chapter 64 has: “…Mr Sancious, whom I chose at random from a reference in a newspaper covering a trial”. From Barbellion’s insinuations in Chapter 1, I’d guess Sancious was involved in some lurid trials, though I don’t know just how keen newspapers would have then been to cover such trials.

4. Yes, in Chapter 64 Mary explains that she doesn’t want Martin to know that she is using (a copy of) the codicil to prove to the Mompessons that she’s entitled to the annuity. Martin wanted her to sell the codicil to them, instead, so she went behind his back, and needed an intermediary to conceal her address. I think she must have written directly to Sir Perceval, giving Sancious’ address as a return address. Later, Sancious doesn’t know which noble family Barbellion is working for, so presumably he didn’t work out who was sending the letters that he was forwarding to Mary, via Martin. (Have I understood this correctly?)

5. My (current) thesis is that she certainly does know this, and that she plays a very long game to inherit the Huffam estate, all the way through the book. And probably before it, given that she tried to marry one Huffam heir (John Huffam), and did marry someone else with intimate knowledge of the whole affair (Martin).

6. I think Palliser puts this in just to provide a way for Jemima to know that she is, potentially, a Huffam heir. I think we’re told elsewhere that few people know of the existence of the codicil, but it’s easy to imagine that Richard Maliphant would have told his children about it, even if he didn’t want to involve himself in the machinations needed to benefit from its existence.

posted by: Simon at January 29, 2010 3:44 AM


A small addendum to my post of January 26th: In Chapter 92, George Digweed says that Barney “fell out with the steward over payment for some work he done and held a grudge agin [the Mompessons] ever arter”. This could have happened immediately before Barney burgled Mary’s house, in which case Barney might really have had no money. But I still think the other aspects of the burglary need an explanation.

posted by: Simon at February 3, 2010 9:03 AM


I’ve previously floated the idea that it was George, not Barney Digweed, who burgled the house in Melthorpe. The passage to which Simon has just referred puts me in mind of some questions I’ve had about George.

I’ll have to look it up later today/tonight, but I think that when Maggie and Joey Digweed first show up at the house in Melthorpe, she states that they have no money because George had to leave work at Mompesson Park to go to London to look after their other children. Because George left before his job was finished, he was not paid by the Mompessons.

If we think that the Digweeds are good, honest people we can take Maggie’s explanation at face value. If we think differently about the Digweeds, as I do, then we might suspect that Maggie and George are putting the best possible “spin” on their explanations for Mary and Johnnie.

The Digweeds say that Barney is the one that had a falling out with the steward over payment and held a grudge against the Mompessons because of it. The same could be true of the Digweeds, but it’s not in their interest to tell Johnnie that. It’s actually in their interest to lie to Johnnie.

The reason I bring this up is because the Digweeds’ involvement in the theft of the will has always bothered me. There appears to be no incentive for them to get involved in Johnnie’s plans. To put the situation in somewhat abstract terms, even though the punishment for stealing the will is at least transportation and possibly death, Johnnie still has a lot of incentive to steal the will. He is penniless, without any family that he can depend on, and while intelligent, not educated. Johnnie, in a sense, stands outside of English society of his time. He is not working class, but as he has no money, no “connexion,” he is not part of the aristocracy or even the bourgeoisie. The will is essentially a winning lottery ticket to Johnnie; if he can get a hold of it the rewards for him are great. Even though the possible penalty for stealing the will is extremely high, the reward outweighs the risk. Johnnie could walk away from the whole situation, an idea he toys with several times, but he will not be able to live much of a life without the will. It makes sense for him to steal it.

The Digweeds, on the other hand, do not appear to have much incentive at all to get involved in Johnnie’s plans for stealing the will. Yes, they may feel badly about being a little bit responsible for some of the catastrophes that have befallen Johnnie and his mother, but enough to risk George being transported or executed? I suppose one could argue that the Digweeds are good, working-class folk and maybe they didn’t think through the consequences of their actions, etc., but I’m not buying it.

The most likely reason the Digweeds decided to help Johnnie steal the will is that they were paid to do so by Jemima/Sancious. Jemima needed to obtain and destroy the will in order to ensure that the codicil would take effect.

However, another reason that the Digweeds might have decided to aid Johnnie was because of bitter feelings toward the Mompessons and their stewards. Maybe the Digweeds felt that they had been treated badly by the Mompessons and sought revenge upon them. Helping Johnnie to steal the will would certainly accomplish that.

I’ve also wondered if the Digweeds had some personal interest in the will. I don’t think they’re the long lost heirs of the Umphravilles, but I’ve wondered if they might like to see any particular branch of the five families take possession of the Hougham estate.

Has anyone else has been puzzled by the Digweeds’ involvement in the theft of the will?

posted by: BAC at February 3, 2010 10:59 AM


I think Mrs Digweed’s suggestion that the will might be behind the Mompessons’ fireplace reads a little oddly (Chapter 92, from “‘Are you sure?’ Mrs Digweed asked” to “‘George, tell Master John what they wanted'”). She puts the pieces of the puzzle together with remarkable facility. And Palliser drops the concealed hint that it was Fortisquince Senior who commissioned the hiding place, which gives us a route through which Jemima might have come to know of it.

On the other hand, the Digweeds are, initially, horrified at Johnnie’s idea of stealing/recovering the will. The evidence seems ambiguous to me.

posted by: Simon at February 3, 2010 12:10 PM


Hmmm…you’ve got me thinking, Simon.

Mrs. Digweed does get Johnnie a job in the Mompesson house on Brook Street awfully easily. Is it possible that she worked for the Mompessons in the past? Maybe as a laundry maid?

I don’t recall any information suggesting such a connection to the Mompessons, but Maggie and George did have to meet somewhere. Maggie states when she first meets Johnnie and Mary that she had never left London until recently.

Maybe Maggie and George met when George and Barney went to London to work for the Mompessons with their father.

Btw, I’ve toyed with the idea that Mrs. Digweed had some sort of relationship with Barney. I think Sally Digweed shares Barney’s striking blue eyes.

I’ll have to read the sections of the book dealing with the theft of the will tonight.

posted by: BAC at February 3, 2010 2:41 PM


Some more observations about Barney’s burglary of Mary’s house, following on from my post of January 26th.

Not only does Bissett behave oddly during the burglary, but there’s a striking contrast between her attitudes before and during/after the burglary. In the afternoon, she says that Barney has a gallows face, and she “warrants the Law knows summat” of him. She twice offers to fetch the constable, and once suggests that Sukey should be sent to fetch him. During the burglary, on the other hand, she rejects Mary’s suggestion of calling for help. And when Emeris arrives the next day, it’s fairly clear that Bissett has dissuaded him from the idea that Barney was the burglar.

This change of attitude could be accounted for by the arrival of Martin’s letter to Mary. It’s Bissett who collects it at the front door, so there might really have been two letters: one for Mary, that we see, and one for Bissett, telling her to co-operate with Barney. This assumes that the writer of that letter has already been in touch with Bissett, and paid her. But multiple betrayals are, of course, a feature of “The Quincunx”.

It would be an extraordinary coincidence for two letters to arrive at exactly the same time – unless the letter to Bissett was written by Jemima, and sent out alongside the letter to Mary, dictated by Martin to Jemima. One reason for her acting at that moment might be her fear that Martin would persuade Mary to sell the codicil to the Mompessons, who would destroy it, ending Jemima’s hopes of the inheritance.

Incidentally, this thread has now been running for six years. Is this a record?

posted by: Simon at February 12, 2010 6:23 AM


Six years for a thread is a very long time, and by coincidence today is the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens and John Huffam (on the basis of birth in 1812). In response to Leon’s post of 27 January, one point that I should like to stress about the chronology of the book is that time seems to be ‘elastic’, as a previous contributor pointed out. Without trying to dodge the issue, I think that pinning down definite dates may not be as useful as one might think. To give one quick instance – John describes his and Mary’s coach journey to London as lasting over three days, even though at that period in the 1820s Great Britain had had good turnpike roads since before the Napoleonic Wars. The journey from Gainsborough by fast mail coach should not in my estimation have exceeded 24 hours. On another occasion, when John and Mary are in the sponging house for unpaid debts, Mr Sancious (alias Steplight), insists on starting for West Yorkshire (a considerable distance farther than Melthorpe) the next day so that he can be back in London within three or four days, that is after a return journey. There a few other instances in the book of this sort of incongruity of durations. I hope to come back to Leon’s dates shortly.

posted by: Brian at February 12, 2010 12:54 PM


Quick apology for getting Charles Dickens’ birthday wrong. It was 7 February 1812. Please don’t write in to correct me. Thank you.

posted by: Brian at February 12, 2010 1:02 PM


Happy birthday to Charles Dickens and his middle-namesake John Huffam!

Very nice work regarding the burglary, Simon. I hadn’t noticed that Bissett’s behavior changes after the letter(s) arrives from Martin. Very interesting.

I think I finally will be able to explore a few loose ends of The Quincunx that I’d been meaning to take a look at this weekend, but at the moment I have a question for my British friends on this forum. I’ve been re-reading David Copperfield recently and noticed that a significant part of its action takes place in Canterbury. That reminded me of the Bellringer/Maliphant connection to Canterbury in The Quincunx. Is there something about Canterbury that a Briton would know and that I would not? I mean at a general, cultural level. I understand that it’s the seat of the Church of England, that the great cathedral is there, and that Thomas Becket was murdered in that cathedral. Oh, and let’s not forget The Canterbury Tales. Does Canterbury have any other associations that I should know about? I guess I’m wondering why Palliser decided to situate this little pocket of relations to the Huffams and Mompessons in Canterbury. I understand that there could be no reason for this decision; Palliser could have chosen Newcastle or Liverpool if he had wanted. However, I figured it *could* mean something. So, does Canterbury have any other meanings associated with it other than what I noted above?

posted by: BAC at February 12, 2010 2:39 PM


In Chapter Two, p. 18 of the American paperback, I found this exchange between Johnny and Bissett:

“Where do you think that man is now?” I asked thoughtfully.

Indignantly she replied: “I’m sure I don’t know, but I dare say miles from here, asleep in some ditch.”

I think this snatch of conversation lends support to Simon’s ideas about Bissett’s behavior before, during, and after the burglary. Bissett sounds overly emphatic to me.

I’ve just taken a look at the section of the book that deals with Mrs. Digweed finding Johnnie the job in the Brook Street house. I didn’t find anything particularly interesting, but I did go back a bit and look at the section dealing with the first attempt to steal the will. Something about Johnnie and George’s escape after being discovered has always bothered me. Johnnie writes on p. 591:

“Mr. Digweed staggered as if hit – though I was sure the gun had not been pointed at him when it had fired…”

And a few paragraphs later: “I assumed that he had been hit by the bullet despite my own impressions.”

Johnnie implies that Mr. Vamplew’s gun did not wound George. Very interesting, but does Johnnie mean that George was actually shot by someone else? Or is it simply that events surrounding the escape were so chaotic that Johnnie’s impressions cannot be trusted? If someone else shot George, who was it? The only person in the Mompesson household known to use firearms who jumps to mind is David Mompesson.

posted by: BAC at February 14, 2010 5:17 PM


Dear colleagues,

Let me introduce myself as another Quincunx-lover and therefore to take part in your wonderful discussion — I’ve been reading the whole thread for the last 3 days, and now I’m really overloaded (to my delight, of course!) with all the possible ideas and interpretations, which are so brilliantly investigated here by you — so, thank you for your time and efforts! And, certainly, my best gratitude also goes to the site owner, Steve, for hosting such a long-lived thread.

To start with, I will be delighted to answer one of the recent question, which somehow was left without a reply (and that is indeed quite a rare case here): on the January, 27, rita has asked, “if the “informant” (chap.26) is Bisset, who is the “agent” of Mr Barbellion? (see also chap.22)?”. The answer will be Mr. Espenshade, who wears, if I remember correctly, a green coat, and talks with Bisset in Ch. 22.

And now, please, also let me ask a pair of my own questions, if you don’t mind:

1. Why there was such a terrible suffering on Escreet’s face when he arrived at the Pantheon to stop the weddings? (Ch. 99: “But most of all I was struck by the expression. I have never forgotten it: such a terrible picture of suffering on such a young face.”)

2. Why Anna was crying “Watch out behind you!” (Ch. 99) if there was nobody there? Or was it this way: Anna runs and cries from behind relatively to Escreet, looking John Umphraville in the face (that’s why he thinks that she calls him), they both look in her direction (Escreet turns), and then, since Anna sees that her son, Jeoffrey Escreet, has turned back to his enemy, she adds “Watch out behind you!”. What do you think?

3. If Lydia’s child was to be given to James and Eliza, when if there any chance that they’d agree with such an adoption? Since this would mean that the child is not legitimate (and Mompessons would definitely know that), and therefore Jeoffrey Huffam could not mention his grandson, John Huffam, in his second will? And there will be no need to contest the legality of the marriage of John and Eliza, but Mompessons could simply point at any time that the child was adopted? Am I right?

From other side, since Digweeds were connected for a long time to Mompessons (as via Feverfew, as via employer-worker relations), it seems obvious to me that Mompessons could just offload their unwanted child to Digweeds. And, again, since CP purposely points us to the same eye color of both Barney and Lydia, then it seems quite logical to me for Barney to be her son. And a great Palliserian irony, of course: while mother tries her best to help the narrator, her son does his best to impede him.

And the last one (for now :)):

4. We never know who was the person Mompessons were trying to marry Lydia, don’t we? Any hint or allusion were done by CP?

posted by: Alex Sa at February 23, 2010 4:54 AM


Hi, Alex Sa, thanks for your answer and welcome to this forum ! Regarding your questions : Problem 2 : I think it was Umphraville who turned his back to Escreet. Problem 4 : I did not find it,but what we do know is : Lydia hated the person she had to marry.Possible answer (?) : The person who is always hated by everyone is Silas (loved for his money !), and, another pssobility :I suppose Lydia hated Escreet for killing her lover, but I am not sure ?

posted by: Rita at February 24, 2010 8:35 AM


1. I don’t think he wants to kill anyone (“‘Yes, the only one [I’ve murdered]’, he protested. ‘Isn’t one enough for you? God knows, it is for me!'”, Chapter 122). In the rest of the book, Escreet’s suffering is due to divided or incoherent loyalties, but I can’t work out whether that applies here, too.

2. I think Anna must have set out to deceive Umphraville in order to save Escreet. Escreet gives his version of events in Chapter 122.

3. It’s in the Mompessons interests for James and Eliza to have heirs, because that avoids the Huffam estate reverting to Silas. James and Eliza didn’t have to bring John up, and the Mompessons might even have paid them to agree to the adoption.

4. I agree with Rita that it would make sense for it to have been Silas to whom the Mompessons tried to marry Lydia. That would give her an extra reason for helping Mary avoid a (semi-)forced marriage to a Clothier.

posted by: Simon at February 25, 2010 4:17 AM


Thank you, Rita and Simon!

Rita, concerning my second question, it was Umphraville for sure, who turned his back to Escreet after all, – so, you are absolutely right. But I was trying to reconstruct what has happened just before the killing — in order to see the whole picture.

And while talking about possible Lydia’s marriage, then, yes, somebody here has already voiced this version before (sorry, I don’t remember now exactly who it was). But we haven’t got any clues, have we? Only our hypotheses?

Simon, thank you once again for your answers.

1. Yes, I thought so… But, from the other side, why? According to Escreet, he has always hated James. And seems never to like Umphraville, too. So, it shouldn’t be a problem for a young man exactly at that moment — he could realize that he had done later but not when he arrives there, I think. After all, he didn’t even knew he was going to kill somebody…

Anyway, I tend to agree with your explanation. In fact, I’ve asked just to make sure if I haven’t overlooked any other possible explanation.

2. Well, it definitely could be this way. But isn’t such a “plot” just to complex for Anna, who, as we remember, should have been half-witted, if not to say more? I see her more… more naive, may be, more sincere: she sees her child, then shouts in order to draw his attention, and then tries to save his life. But you are probably right, since the only witness is Escreet himself, and he voices your version.

3. Exactly, Mompessons would be delighted even to pay. But would Huffams ever agree? And, again, Mompessons would need no additional arguments later, such as marriage details, to deny Mary’s right for payments. So, this seems highly unlikable to me because of that.

posted by: Alex Sa at February 25, 2010 10:22 AM


1. Escreet took the sword with him when he went to try to stop the marriages, so I think he must have been prepared for some sort of violence.

3. I may have the legal situation wrong, but I think that if the Mompessons disproved Mary’s legitimacy (in order to deny her the annuity), the Hougham estate would revert to Silas, which would be much worse for the Mompessons than having to pay her annuity. But I think you’re right that it’s not quite so clear whether, for example, Jeoffrey Huffam would have had any particular desire for the inheritance to pass to a non-Huffam. It’s possible he never knew about the deception – the Mompessons, James and Eliza, and even Paternoster and Escreet, could have cooked it up themselves.

posted by: Simon at February 26, 2010 4:13 AM


1. From the other side, John Umphraville has his sword with him, too — so, taking a sword doesn’t necessary mean to kill somebody :). Also, Joeffrey Huffam had sent Escreet to stop weddings, not to kill anybody (Ch. 122: “But afterwards he was angry that I had failed to prevent James’ wedding to his harlot. And that I had killed Umphraville”).

So, it’s definitely possible that Escreet suffers exactly because he sees no other way to stop weddings, but to interfere violently. However, it’s also possible that he had other reasons for his pain. But, anyway, there weren’t any other related clues in the novel, were they?

5. Also, one more question about that day (and the final phrase):

In his Author’s Afterword CP mentions the difficulties that have arisen, while translating the final phrase to Swedish, — since in Swedish there were two different words for maternal and paternal grandfathers (and CP even finishes his Afterword smartly — almost exactly the same way he has finished his novel before).

But what kind of difficulties could be there? Is were any possibility to translate this sentence (“At my last sight of her, she was still standing motionless holding her hands crossed in front of her in the centre of the square of trees beside the dead stump where Miss Lydia’s lover had died by my grandfather’s sword.”) using “mother’s dad” instead of “father’s dad”? Is CP kidding us? 🙂

P.S. I’m re-reading now “The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins, the novel I haven’t read since being a child — and, indeed, the Victorian novel was such a pleasant, funny and easy genre until all those post-modern games have arrived :).

posted by: Alex Sa at February 28, 2010 2:13 PM



I agree that it’s curious that Escreet seems not to have carried out Jeoffrey’s wishes. Perhaps we have another example of Escreet serving two masters? For example, if we guessed correctly that Silas wanted to marry Lydia, and that there was an Escreet/Silas conspiracy surrounding Mary and Peter’s wedding, then it’s possible that Escreet’s links to Silas go back as far as James and Eliza’s wedding, and that Silas told Escreet to make sure that Lydia would remain unmarried. It’s even possible that James marrying Eliza secretly would suit Silas better than him marrying anyone else, because of the possibilities of challenging the marriage’s validity. So Escreet’s suffering might have been caused by this induction into betrayal. But I can’t think of any hard evidence for any of this supposition.


I’ve also always been baffled by that part of the Author’s Afterword.

posted by: Simon at February 28, 2010 4:03 PM



I think this is the difficulty that Palliser is referring the last sentence of the novel:

If you take “The Quincunx” at face value, if you are not a close reader, then you would probably think the grandfather referred to in the phrase “my grandfather’s sword” is John Huffam. However, if you *are* a close reader, you will understand that Johnnie is more likely referring to Escreet when he uses the phrase. Johnnie’s use of the word grandfather is very ambiguous and having to use a word that changes grandfather to “maternal grandfather” or “paternal grandfather” would destroy that ambiguity.

Changing the sentence to “Miss Lydia’s lover had died by my *paternal* grandfather’s sword”, gives away the game, doesn’t it?

posted by: BAC at March 1, 2010 10:44 AM


Hello BAC,

Yes, you seem to voice the most correct version, it’s all about keeping the intrigue and no other mysteries can be found here.

Also, another thing puzzles me (for some reason I even think that it’s the most complicated question of the novel):

6. Why Jemima gives up so easily at the very end? It was all in her hands, why to stop? Has she had any reasons (sudden sympathy? or even some kind of unrealized motherly love?) to let Johnny go? What do you think? (Of course, one can construct a hypothesis imaging Johnny as a son of Jemima and John Huffam Sr., but it just will be too complex to be true, I think).

posted by: Alex Sa at March 3, 2010 4:19 AM


It is indeed surprising that Jemima gives up at the last minute, but it is possible that she really is affected by Sancious’ death, resulting in a loss of nerve. I don’t mean to imply that she is genuinely saddened by Sancious’ death, only that the consequences of all her plotting are finally driven home by it. It’s one thing to send Stephen and Johnnie to a “school” far away in the North, it’s another to see someone killed before your eyes.

Since so much information communicated to us in The Quincunx is ambiguous, it can be hard to say when, for lack of a better word, Palliser is being “sincere.” I think he might actually be sincere when he has Jemima appear to be stunned by Sancious’ death.

On the other hand, I’ve also wondered if Jemima spares Johnnie’s life because there is a closer connection between them. I suppose it’s possible that Johnnie is the product of a relationship between Jemima and John Huffam, but I think that Palliser would hint more strongly at such a relationship between those two characters, as he does when suggesting that Martin Fortisquince is Johnnie’s father.

Btw, does anyone have any thoughts about the issue I raised a few weeks ago regarding the shooting during the first attempted theft of the will?

posted by: BAC at March 3, 2010 12:45 PM


My own tentative interpretation of Jemima’s motives for ordering Johnnie’s release from a certain death at the hands of Barney and subsequently giving up possession of the will is linked to Johnnie’s revelation to Barney about the identity of the traitor in his gang.

“He listened, however, as I told him how past events known to him in one form should be re-interpreted by substituting Jack for Sam as the traitor. He must have seen that this version better explained what had occurred for he began to look perplexed and asked me several questions which I was able to answer without hesitation. And all the time Mrs Sancious stood a few feet away watching us curiously” (1006, US pocket ed.; italics mine).

Could it be that in listening to Johnnie’s account of a conspiracy in Barney’s gang Jemima hears the true story of the conspiracy in the Huffam household at Charing Cross on the wedding night? Could it be she, like Barney, realises “how past events known to [her] in one form should be re-interpreted” to arrive at the true identity of the murderer of John Huffam? We know Jemima’s earlier reconstruction of events may have been only “intended to goad [Escreet] into giving us the will” (1004). Could it be that in hearing Johnnie’s reconstruction of a series of incidents involving charades and conspiracies and ending in murder, Jemima, like Barney, sees “how the trick had been worked” (1006) and realises her interpretation of another such series of incidents was in fact erroneous?

Notice how Jemima’s ‘conversion’ occurs just after Johnnie has explained Sally Digweed’s role in the matter of the traitor in the gang:

“‘Sally told you that she’s seen Sam talking to a bald man with a wooden leg, didn’t she?’ I asked him [Barney].
He nodded.
‘But Jack got her to say that,’ I explained.
‘Why would she do that?’ he asked, looking at me thoughtfully. ‘She was soft on Sam.’
‘Don’t blame her,’ I cried. ‘She didn’t understand that it meant his death. She didn’t know it was a description of Blueskin.’” (1006)

Could it be that here Jemima hears her own story told – a young woman involved in a conspiracy she does not fully grasp, who unwittingly causes the death of someone she is ‘soft on’? (We know Jemima once had designs on John Huffam…)

All of this would mean that Palliser has knowingly and intentionally created a structural analogy between the events leading up to and on the fatal wedding night on the one hand, and the events leading up to and on the ‘fakement’ at Henrietta Street – just like he created structural analogies between, for instance, the murder of John Umphraville and the murder of Sancious, the fate of Mary Huffam and the fate of Henrietta Palphramond. Problem is, I cannot seem to find the exact analogy in this case… Does Jemima fulfil a similar function, from a structural point of view, as Sally? If so, what about the structural functions of John Huffam, Martin Fortisquince and Jeoffrey Escreet on the one hand, and Sam, Barney and Jack on the other…

posted by: Leon at March 4, 2010 4:09 AM



The same thought occurred to me on re-reading that passage in the book, and I was also unable to pin down any parallels. Just a thought – but is it possible that it’s the (multiple?) red coats on the wedding night that she’s thinking of? I quite like “Blueskin” corresponding to “red coat”…

posted by: Simon at March 4, 2010 6:19 PM


That is some great analysis, Leon.

Jemima realizing that she was used as an unwitting dupe in a conspiracy resulting in the death of John Huffam would go a long way toward explaining her sudden loss of will at the end of The Quincunx.

I’m going to take a much closer look at the book this weekend, but these thoughts jumped out at me right away:

The conspiracy involving Sally and Jack is straightforward. Jack asked/forced Sally to say that she saw Sam meeting with Blueskin. Sam’s perceived betrayal led to his death.

If Jemima was part of a conspiracy, then what did she do? Or not do?

Some issues with Jemima’s actions on the night of the wedding:

At some point in the book, Jemima says something to the effect that Martin took the “quarrel” between Peter and John Huffam seriously while she immediately saw through it. This would seem to indicate that Jemima did not believe Martin was part of any sort of conspiracy the night of the wedding. (That’s not to say that he wasn’t, only that Jemima didn’t think that he was.) So, I think we can probably rule out the possibility that Martin approached her directly with regard to any wedding night plotting.

Next is the issue of what Jemima did after the quarrel. In the version of events that she gives at the end of the book, she states that while she was standing at the top of the starircase landing she observed Escreet behaving in a suspicious manner and, eventually, moved the key to the inner door of the house at Charing Cross from the grandfather clock to the floor.

If we believe that Jemima did not make up the above solely in order to goad Escreet into giving her the will, then what was she up to? Was it just “deviltry,” which is the word I believe that she uses, or was she asked by someone to keep an eye on Escreet? I believe that Jemima says that she decided to watch everything closely after the false quarrel between Huffam and Clothier. She implies that this decision was taken on her own and certainly does not state that anyone asked her to keep watch over the proceedings.

There’s been speculation (and some corroboration, I think) that Jemima was in the pay of the Clothiers. If so, she doesn’t admit to it at the end of the book and does not suggest that the Clothiers asked her to do anything special on the wedding night.

So, following the Sally/Jack/Sam template, what was Jemima asked to do?

Well, one thing we are sure of is this: Jemima says to Johnnie, “I saw Clothier.” I think this might be the key to Jemima’s involvement in a possible conspiracy. To me, it seems that she might have been used as a “witness” to the events that transpired on the wedding night.

I want to read the passages over again this weekend, but after closely reading Jemima’s description of what she was doing on the landing, it seems like she may have been distracted by keeping such a close watch on Escreet. It seems like “someone” entered the library while she was on the landing. Who was that someone? Escreet? Clothier? Martin? Was the murder of Huffam being committed while Jemima was fooling around with the key to the front door?

Did Jemima then see Clothier flee the house in the red coat, just as it was intended for her (or anyone) to see?

It seems to me that of the people at the house in Charing Cross on the wedding night, only Martin cannot be accounted for. Jemima saw Escreet and she saw Clothier. No one seems to have seen Martin while the murder was taking place; he appears to have been by himself somewhere in the house.

So, after the murder, when Martin appears to take control of the situation, did Jemima try to tell him what she had seen on the wedding night? Did Martin tell her to keep quiet? Did he tell her that he wanted to keep her out of the murder investigation, while he was really making sure that she wouldn’t present any information that would exonerate Clothier?

I guess this is a long-winded way of asking if Jemima appears so stunned at the end of the book because she realizes that Martin was most likely behind the conspiracy to murder Huffam?

Of course, there’s a complicating matter: Jemima tells Johnnie that she doesn’t think his father was capable of Huffam’s murder. Who does she mean? Martin or Peter?

posted by: BAC at March 5, 2010 12:48 PM


In answer to BAC’s last question, I’d say the answer is Martin. Jemima knows perfectly well that Martin is the father of John, and she knows Martin’s character too. When she says that he was incapable of the murder, she is really crossing his name off the list of possible suspects.
One thing that should be borne in mind about Jemima’s account of the night of the murder is that she has had twenty years to ponder it. My reading of it is that she is trying to goad Escreet into revealing the whereabouts of the will, and there must be some reservations about taking her account of events as being truthful, both on account of her motivations and also on account of the lapse of time since May 1811 (one date I am willing to agree!).

posted by: Brian at March 5, 2010 4:55 PM


In answer to BAC’s last question and Brian’s response to it:

What Palliser has Jemima say in answer to Johnnie’s question if she had any reason to be jealous of Mary, is this: “I’ll tell you bluntly, then: I never believed that the murderer was your father. Though of course I have no conclusive evidence of what happened or didn’t happen that night” (1008). (‘Bluntly’ is a particularly nice touch by Palliser, I think, for ‘uncompromisingly fortright’ or ‘unambiguously direct’ her words are not – and deliberately so, of course, from the authorial point of view.)

I agree with Brian that it is likely that “Jemima knows perfectly well that Martin is the father of John”, but: a) we cannot really be sure that she does – all hints to that effect are cloaked in ambiguous references; b) the fact that we think it likely that she does, does not eliminate the ambiguity of her words quoted above one iota.

I do not wholly agree with Brian that Jemima “knows Martin’s character”. She dismisses him as “gullible” and all-too-easy to deceive (1000) – rather like Lydia Mompesson, who characterizes him as “gentleness and honesty itself, and quite incapable even of the tiniest act of deceit, let alone anything else” (842) – but surely we have reason to suspect he is a good deal more cunning and manipulative than (either)she (or Lydia Momesson) give(s) him credit for. From Mary’s diary, for example, he emerges as John Huffam’s shrewd adviser, rightly suspicious of Escreet’s codicil charade (546; Ch. 61, second relation).

(Which, BTW, brings me to something that has always puzzled me: Does Martin know that Escreet is his father?)

posted by: Leon at March 6, 2010 3:42 AM



Of course, Jemima could be genuinely saddened by Sancious’ death. And it could be, for sure, too hard to see someone else killed before her eyes again — so, she decides not to murder Johnnie. But then why give him the second will? She could easily destroy it and then inherit everything according to codicil, couldn’t she?


Great analysis and indeed very interesting parallels. I can’t figure for the moment how exactly we could correlate John Huffam’s murder and the ‘fakement’ at Henrietta Street, but, however, it definitely could be that there are no any exact correspondences, but just visual ones. E.g., as you state: “Could it be that here Jemima hears her own story told?”.

Nevertheless, from the other side, I still wonder why Palliser gives so much attention to all those circumstances surrounding Barnie’s gang and the ‘fakement’ at Henrietta Street? Are there any hidden traps?

posted by: Alex Sa at March 9, 2010 8:18 AM


Indeed a very good analysis, Leon, of the changed attitude of Jemima ! I always thought it had something to do with Sam, and his little “escape” near the house of Jemima., but I could not and I still can’t place the will in it.
I agree with Brian : the only person we do not “see” in the house is Martin. Peter in his version to Johnny said something like “I turned my head when passing the diner-room, so I would not be recognized”. Maybe by doing this he could not see the diner room was (probably?) empty…
We only know Martin’s version of what happened in the court room according to Mary’s diary. Martin asked Mary to tell that Peter Clothier was beside her all the time that night. But if Martin knew for sure that Peter wasn’t with Mary all night long, and also that Mary would not give false evidence in Court, this could be a way of keeping her away from court and the testimony of all the witnesses (what is the real testimony of Jemima and Escreet ?)..
What do you think ?

posted by: Rita at March 10, 2010 7:21 AM


Rita wrote: “Sam, and his little “escape” near the house of Jemima”

I have no idea what you refer to here, Rita. Have I missed something?

posted by: Leon at March 15, 2010 5:01 AM



Sorry ! I forgot to mention the chapter !
Chapt.59 : Sam has left the coach halfway Piccadilly, I thought it was maybe near the house of Jemima (she lived on Golden square, near Piccadilly, I checked it on a old map of Dickens’London). Why did Sam take such a big risk, when it was forbidden by Barney to go anywhere alone. And where did Sam go ?

posted by: Rita at March 15, 2010 6:38 AM


You make an interesting point, Rita. Are you hinting that Sam had some sort of relationship with Jemima? That Jemima is stunned to inaction at the end of the book because she hears of Sam’s death?

posted by: BAC at March 16, 2010 12:48 PM


I thought that maybe there was a “connection” (relationship or other…) between Sam and Jemima because of the strange attitude of Jemima at the end of the book when she clearly hears the story about Sam, but I cannot explain why it makes her drop everything ? . After reading the analysis of Leon, I think his explanation is more logical.

posted by: Rita at March 17, 2010 1:00 PM


Jemima’s reaction could be to the news of Sam’s death. But if there were some connection between them, wouldn’t she already have known about it? Hmmm… maybe not. I just wish I could find something in the text suggesting some sort of relationship between her and Sam.

posted by: BAC at March 18, 2010 11:25 AM


By Martin’s account of the wedding night (Chapter 64), only “a minute or two” elapses between John Huffam and Escreet leaving him in the dining-room, and Escreet returning briefly to the dining-room. By Jemima’s account (Chapter 122), this stretch of time must accommodate Huffam and Escreet going from the dining-room to the plate-room, Escreet being sent to the hall, taking down the sword, re-entering the plate-room, then “a minute later – no, less than a minute” coming back to the hall, locking the front door, then either “[after waiting] for a few minutes” or “a minute or two later” (her account isn’t quite clear), hearing Peter come in and go to the library, and then returning to the dining-room. Are these two accounts consistent?

posted by: Simon at March 26, 2010 6:41 PM


@ Simon
That partly depends on the location of the various rooms on the ground floor of the house at Charing Cross. I believe we can say for sure the plate-room is adjacent to (and connected with) the library, but on the whole Palliser is being deliberately vague about the lay-out of the house (as he is about the lay-out of the grounds of the Huffam estate).

posted by: Leon at March 27, 2010 3:34 AM


A somewhat related thought: assume that neither Escreet nor Martin killed John Huffam. Wouldn’t Jemima have seen the (red-coated?) murderer leave the plate-room, on his way to the back door? If that murderer was Barney, then Jemima might have recognised him, assuming she’d previously met him through Martin. Might that have inspired her to get him, in particular, to try to acquire the codicil from Mary, at the start of the book?

posted by: Simon at March 29, 2010 4:03 PM


Slightly off topic, I’m afraid. Clearing out some papers today I found a restaurant review dated 14 June 2007 featuring Charles Palliser. There is some mention of a book for which the manuscript had just been delivered to the publisher, The Conservatory, set in the Victorian era, and also to a children’s trilogy entitled The Wolf Children, set in the late 1930s. Has anybody seen any more recent reference to either of these works? I’ve found nothing on the internet at all. According to the reviewer Mr Palliser claims to be an assiduous author with no writer’s block problems, so one might have expected other works to have appeared since The Unburied. Any reply would be appreciated. Thanks for reading this.

posted by: Brian at April 13, 2010 6:33 AM



In the late 1990s when I was living and working in New York City, I dated a woman who worked for Harper Collins publishing. A copy of the manuscript of the “The Unburied” came across her desk one day and she gave it to me to read. I remember that there was a cover memo from Palliser’s agent which mentioned at least three and maybe four other Palliser writing projects in addition to “The Unburied.” Alas, I cannot remember any details about them. I also have searched the internet periodically over the years for more information, but have been unable to find any. Oh well, I wish I had made a copy of that memo. Palliser must be in his 60s by now, I hope *something* will be forthcoming in the next few years.

posted by: BAC at April 25, 2010 12:01 PM


Thanks for the information, BAC! I must confess that the main reason that I enquired was that recently it has struck me that some of the theories in this discussion have been a bit far-fetched and that we might appreciate something new from the same author to discuss. Of course, he might be publishing under another name, which some good authors have done in the past. But maybe that is a bit far-fetched too…

posted by: Brian at April 25, 2010 1:39 PM


I wonder whether Palliser’s original manuscript for “The Quincunx” exists, and whether there’s any way of getting to read it? I’d pay plenty for the chance…

posted by: Simon at April 25, 2010 5:06 PM


We know from the Afterword that the first manuscript was twice the length of the book, and that some parts of the plot had to be excised. I share the eagerness to see it, because it would give plenty of clues to the many mysteries remaining. There are quite a few things in the book which appear to refer to matters not immediately apparent to us now. But wishful thinking, perhaps.

posted by: Brian at April 25, 2010 6:02 PM

486 Responses to “Comments on “The Quincunx” from”

  1. Gix Says:

    Awesome job Simon !

  2. Alex Sa Says:

    Excellent, Simon, thank you so much for this archive.

    But we haven’t got any other forum, have we? Any place to continue our discussions and research?

    The magic of snarkout seems to be gone..? 😦

    • Simon Morris Says:

      I was hoping that the snarkout contributors, and anyone else who’s interested, would carry on the discussions and research in these comments. That’s how snarkout worked for us originally, after all.

      • Alex Sa Says:

        Yes, that would be great (and there’s a link to that page even @ Wikipedia’s article on Quincunx).

        But somehow all the contributors have disappeared. May be Gix could link not only to archive, but directly to this page, with the ability to post further — since, I think, our colleagues just do not know about this site :(.

  3. Brian Says:

    I wondered what had happened to the discussion after all the contributions, and it would be good to continue it.

  4. Brian Andrew Coleman, a.k.a, BAC Says:


    Thank you so much for salvaging all of our commentary! I really appreciate it. It would have been a shame to have lost all of those interesting thoughts and opinions.

    I wish I could say that I’ve solved the mystery of John Huffam’s murder since the old site shut down, but, alas, I have not. Hopefully, we will all figure it out some day.

  5. Simon Morris Says:

    I speculated earlier that Barney’s delay in selling Martin’s letters to Sancious might be explained if he were acting on behalf of Jemima. I now notice that, otherwise, it’s a remarkable coincidence that Barney approaches Sancious so soon after Martin’s death, and a couple of years after the theft itself. I can’t work out exactly why Jemima would wait until Martin’s death to set Sancious on Mary – perhaps because only then can Sancious act freely?

    Taking this further, notice how much has to happen for Jemima to inherit. The codicil must be saved from the Mompessons, the second will must be stolen from the Mompessons and then destroyed, and both Silas and Johnnie must die. That sequence of events is more or less what Johnnie achieves in the course of the book – with the exception of the last few chapters, which wouldn’t happen without Jemima’s decision to let Johnnie live. I wonder whether we should really credit Jemima with being the author of the design that Johnnie is looking for?

    Finally, can anyone explain Sukey’s speech about (presumably) her father, in Chapter 5? I’m particularly intrigued by “something…as the persons as owned it didn’t want for theirselves and didn’t even know as they owned it…” What something might that be? Perhaps this is a remnant from the original longer manuscript, though.

  6. Brian Andrew Coleman, a.k.a, BAC Says:


    I think Jemima has to wait until Martin’s death in order to hire Sancious and set him on Mary because she has no legal rights of her own while married. At that time, a married woman was considered personal property of her husband and did not have the ability to act on her own behalf under the law. However, becoming a widow changes everything. Jemima inherits all of Martin’s property and is able to act on her own. She can hire Sancious and pay him for his services.

    A complicating factor: Martin appears to be something of an invalid in the last years of his life and Jemima appears to conduct his business for him or at least knows of his business. What was to prevent her from hiring Sancious behind Martin’s back? I don’t know.

    (As an aside, I’ve always wondered what exactly was wrong with Martin’s health. I don’t think we’re given the slightest bit of information about it. Who’s to say that he was even physically or mentally competent near the end of his life? Did he actually dictate the letter that Barney gives to Sancious to Jemima or did she write it herself? I’ve always wondered.)

    I think Barney approaches Sancious precisely because Martin has died. I think that Martin hired Barney (or maybe George Digweed) to break in to the house in Melthorpe and steal the codicil from Mary. Martin may have thought it was too dangerous for Mary to have the codicil or he may have wanted to sell it to the Mompessons. Martin may have been acting with the best of intentions toward Mary or with much darker motives.

    In any case, the burglary at Melthorpe is bungled and the codicil is not retrieved. I think Barney takes the letter to Sancious simply because he is named in the letter. I think Barney is looking for a new patron now that Martin is dead and figures that Sancious is his best bet.

    Barney knows of Sancious because he “saved Conkey George from being marinated.” I have wondered in the past if “Conkey George” is George Digweed and if Barney gets in touch with Sancious at the behest of his brother and sister-in-law. I really have no idea.

    I completely agree that Jemima’s actions drive many of the events in The Quincunx. It is still a mystery to me why she stops at the end of the book when everything is within her grasp. I agree with Leon’s idea that something seems to change for Jemima when she hears of the conspiracy involving Sally, Jack, and Sam. I still cannot figure out what it is about this tale of dishonor among thieves that is so upsetting to her. I go back and forth between the Leon’s idea that it reminds her of the night of Huffam’s murder and Rita’s idea that it is something about Sam’s death in particular that bothers her. I just can’t find enough information in the text to support either idea. I’m not saying it’s not there, just that I haven’t found it.

    Lastly, I think Sukey’s speech *is* about her father and I believe he was arrested and transported for poaching, however, I’m not sure about that. When I looked over this passage last night I was struck by the language that Sukey uses. It mirrors the language that Johnnie uses when justifying his pursuit of the Huffam estate. I also noticed that Sukey’s speech was in response to Johnnie mentioning the burglary of the house in Melthorpe. It probably means nothing, but I did find it intriguing that Sukey, in a sense, provides a spirited defense of the burglar.

  7. Simon Morris Says:

    Chapter 31 has some evidence against my suggestion that Jemima is fully in control of events from the beginning of the book. When Sancious tells her that Silas seeks a document from Mary, and describes it, she “turns away suddenly” – presumably, to hide her expression from Sancious. She then suggests to Sancious that her motive for finding Mary is financial – a motive that she knows Sancious would find plausible. I think that this is to conceal her real motive – the codicil – and that she turned away from Sancious to conceal the fact that she recognises the codicil from his description. If she already knew that Mary owned the codicil, she wouldn’t have mislaid her self-control.

  8. Simon Morris Says:

    Punxsutawney Paul wondered about Palliser’s literary influences. I think there are nods to Proust, especially at the start of the book: “summon up remembrance” in Chapter 2 surely reminds us of the source of Scott Moncrieff’s loose translation of “In Search of Lost Time”. And Pentecost and Silverlight, in their contradictions of themselves and each other, and in their tutorial relation to Johnnie, remind me of Settembrini and Naphta in “The Magic Mountain”.

  9. Leon Says:

    Good to see we’re back in business an many thanks to Simon for making it happen!

    BAC wrote: “I agree with Leon’s idea that something seems to change for Jemima when she hears of the conspiracy involving Sally, Jack, and Sam. I still cannot figure out what it is about this tale of dishonor among thieves that is so upsetting to her. I go back and forth between the Leon’s idea that it reminds her of the night of Huffam’s murder and Rita’s idea that it is something about Sam’s death in particular that bothers her. I just can’t find enough information in the text to support either idea. I’m not saying it’s not there, just that I haven’t found it.”

    I do not think it is ‘solid’ textual information we are supposed to look for in the case of my suggestion that Johnnie’s story of murder and betrayal among Barney’s gang reminds Jemima of the events of Sunday night, May 5, 1811. Rather, what is asked of us is to perform the interpretative act of formulating a structural analogy between the two events and the actors involved in them – to formulate, that is, “a pattern to events” as Escreet calls it (744; US pocket ed.), a design, etc.

    This means that, rather than look for textual evidence, we have to provide evidence ourselves by ascribing abstract ‘roles’ or ‘plot functions’ to the characters involved in one event – e,g, ‘deceiver’, ‘deceived’, ‘deceived deceiver’, ‘spurned lover’ – and then taking those functions and their relationships and ‘laying’ that grid ‘over’ the other event so that everything fits.

    Needless to say I haven’t succeeded in doing so yet.

  10. Simon Morris Says:

    There is an oddity in Jemima’s account of the Charing Cross murder (Chapter 122). Firstly, she says “Then you [Escreet] and he [John] left my husband and went into the plate-room, Huffam saying that he was going to unlock the strong-box in order to put the package away”. That’s consistent with Martin’s account (Chapter 64), and Martin’s knowledge of the events of that night must have helped inform Jemima. But from Nolloth’s account (Chapter 80) we know that John was going to pass the package on to Peter almost immediately, so John wouldn’t in reality have needed to store it in the strong-box – this was just a plausible reason for John and Escreet to leave Martin in the dining-room.

    More interestingly, Jemima then says “Now we all know what he was in fact doing: he was bringing out the codicil to give to you [Escreet] to pass on to his son-in-law”. Escreet agrees with this, but Mary (Chapter 63) says that John had given the codicil to her and Peter earlier that day, before Martin and Jemima arrived, and Nolloth’s account (Chapter 78) confirms this. So that provides no reason for John to have opened the strong-box. He might have wanted to fetch out money to pass on to Peter and Mary – but Mary (Chapter 63) says that Peter had already had two hundred pounds from him. This money is not the blood-stained banknotes that he finds in the package that should have contained the will, so John must have given it to him before Peter went back to the house.

    So why would John have wanted to open the strong-box when he and Escreet were in the plate-room? And if he didn’t open it, why would he have asked Escreet to leave the plate-room? Given that John asked Escreet to accompany him there in the first place, it’s far more likely that he expected Escreet to stay with him until Peter arrived. I can’t be sure that Jemima knows that the story of John’s retrieving the codicil from the strong-box is false – though how would the codicil have come into Mary’s possession in that scenario? But if she can’t provide a good reason for Escreet to have left the plate-room with John’s knowledge, then her claim to have seen Escreet leave, fetch the sword, and go back in to the plate-room also looks shaky. If we assume that John was killed by someone hidden in the plate-cupboard, then Escreet could emerge after that, and behave as Jemima suggests, and Escreet does not deny, in Chapter 122.

    As a separate point, I notice that Palliser mentions a window in the plate-room twice in Chapter 122, which might suggest how a concealed murderer could have left the house. There’s a parallel in “The Unburied”, too.

  11. JBW Says:

    I read an analysis–can’t remember if it was in the snarkout thread–where someone literally counted lines and sentences and established that Palliser structured the entire novel to the nth degree. What I was wondering is if anyone took the central chapter and then literally counted words, sentences and/or paragraphs.

  12. BAC Says:


    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the package that Martin delivers to John Huffam on the night of the wedding is the final will of Jeoffrey Huffam and not the codicil. You are quite right that John Huffam already possessed the codicil and had given it to Peter and Mary. He purchased it from Escreet, who pretended to represent a third party. So, on the night of the wedding, Huffam retired to the plate-room to look over the newly-acquired will and not the codicil.

    Huffam’s planning with regard to the transfer of the will on the wedding night has always bothered me. It’s complexity is suspicious, right down to the red coat Peter wears. Surely there must have been a better way to handle the matter than the fake quarrel and Peter’s later return to Charing Cross. This slightly ridiculous plan of course makes me think that Peter was being set up by Huffam himself…but to what end? If John Huffam’s murder is the goal of the wedding night then Peter’s involvement makes sense. He’s supposed to take the fall for the crime. However, if John Huffam himself was using Peter then what was he trying to accomplish? Was Huffam’s motive simply to separate Peter from Mary? If so, why go through with the wedding and all of the planning? I sometimes wonder if Huffam made some sort of agreement with the Clothiers to allow the marriage to happen in exchange for quick and immediate financing from them. After all, although Huffam has the will at the time of his death, he has no money. He would have needed a lot of money to push the will through the Chancery system. Who would be more likely to give Huffam this money than the Clothiers? However, instead of keeping to this agreement, the Clothiers might have had Huffam murdered just after the wedding.

    The above is pure speculation, but to put it another way: Does anyone really believe that Huffam truly cared about Peter and Mary’s happiness, was glad to have the possibly mentally disturbed Peter as a son-in-law, and was perfectly comfortable giving him the will?


    I understand what you mean about looking for a “structural analogy” to the Sam/Jack/Sally triangle. With regard to textual evidence, I wasn’t necessarily looking for a quote from a character explaining that Jemima was involved in a triangular conspiracy of betrayal. Just something in the book that more strongly suggests a parallel.

    I mean, here is a possible conspiracy that could have involved Jemima that is analogous to the Sam/Jack/Sally triangle: Jemima is in love with or has strong feelings for John Huffam, but she is rejected by him. She then marries Martin. On the night of the wedding, Jemima witnesses a series of actions by several people around the time of John Huffam’s murder. Perhaps when Jemima hears what transpired between the members of Barney’s gang, she realizes that she was used as a witness/dupe in much the same way as Sally. That is, maybe Martin or someone else put her in a position to contribute to the death of a man that she loved. I just wish that there were *something* that could confirm this or any other similar theory. Oh well.

  13. Simon Morris Says:


    Yes, it was the will that Martin delivered on the night of the wedding. The codicil was already in Peter’s possession. So Jemima invented John’s taking the codicil from the strong-box in the evening, to add plausibility to her claim to have seen Escreet leaving the plate-room, taking the sword from the wall, and going back into the plate-room to kill John. I don’t think she did see those things.

    I agree that the plan is poorly suited to its ostensible aims. I think it was really cooked up by Escreet and Silas, with aims to which it was much better suited. There’s a relevant conversation that starts here, and continues for about 20 comments.

  14. BAC Says:

    You raise a good point, Simon. Jemima’s references to the codicil and not the will suggest that she did not understand what happened on the wedding night, implying that her description of events to Escreet may be fictional. However, Jemima does say that she “saw Clothier” when Johnnie questions her about this very issue.

    What do we make of this assertion? Are we to accept it for a fact? Or did Jemima just see someone in a red coat in the house at Charing Cross and assume it was Peter Clothier based on Clothier being caught wearing a red coat after the murder? Again, was Jemima meant to “witness” this person in the red coat?

    Johnnie wonders if it was Barney Digweed who murdered John Huffam. I’ve wondered if George Digweed had some connection to the murder as well. If it were either Barney or George hiding in the plate room wearing a red coat, my question is, who put them there? The Digweed brothers have direct connections to the Mompessons and the Fortisquinces and to no other families, as far as I can tell. If we think that they were involved in the murder, well, it implies that the Mompessons/Fortisquinces were involved too, doesn’t it?

  15. Simon Morris Says:

    I think Jemima did see someone in a red coat, who she believed to be Peter. I can’t see a reason for her to invent that. But I don’t think Escreet needed Jemima to see him, or could have guessed she’d be in a position to see him. Escreet left the dining-room door open, presumably specifically so that Martin would see Peter/someone in a red coat. By the way, I don’t see exactly why Escreet did that – does it help to frame Peter any more effectively? My guess as to who was wearing the red coat is here, but there’s not a great deal of evidence for it.

  16. Simon Morris Says:

    Barney says (Chapter 59) that he bought himself out of the term on the prison-hulks that he served after burgling Mary’s house. If that’s true, then it explains his delay in bringing Martin’s letter to Sancious. But how would he have raised the money to buy himself out, when he was in prison? If he’d called in a favour from a friend, wouldn’t he have done it sooner? If Jemima had wanted to set the wheels of the plot in motion only after Martin’s death, then she might have waited until then to buy Barney out of prison.

  17. Rita Says:

    Hello everyone, I finaly found you ! Many thanks to Simon for this forum. Just a question : is it possible that the woman who took care of Mary in the fleet prison is Mrs.Digweed (and the prison mate =George) Mrs. Digweed is a very capable nurse – chap.84. ?

  18. BAC Says:

    Hi Rita,

    Good to hear from you again.

    The woman who takes care of Mary in Chapter 65 does faintly suggest Mrs. Digweed, not only due to her nursing skills, but because she is paid by a third party to provide them. And, yes, it is interesting that we are told that this unnamed and presumably unimportant character has a husband.

    Btw, as I was looking at the chapter, I got caught up again in one of my favorite mysteries of “The Quincunx,” the death of Mr. Pentecost. Mary’s diary entry for September 6th states, “He has fallen very ill again and his life is despared of.” The very next entry states, “Such sad news of Mr. Pentecost. I am frendless again.” The obvious implication is that Pentecost has died of illness, but how does he then go on to be one of the narrators of “The Quincunx”? I’m probably being too literal-minded, but I do wonder if there’s anything here. Mary doesn’t explicitly state that Mr. Pentecost died, just “such sad news” and that she’s “frendless” again. I’ll admit that this doesn’t sound good for Mr. Pentecost, but what if the “sad news” is that he has somehow secured his release from prison, leaving Mary “frendless.” I doubt there’s anything here; some things are probably just meant to be mysteries. But I am curious if anyone else has have wondered at Pentecost’s mysterious death and resurrection.

  19. Rita Says:

    Hi Bac :
    Also nice to hear from you and thanks for your reaction.
    The presumed ( by Mary) “death” of Pentecost is indeed an odd story. My thoughts on the subject are that perhaps the answer to this lies in the answer to the question why anyone would want to prevent any further contact between Mary and her friend Pentecost ? Who informs Mary or could inform her in the prison about the “dead” of Mr. Pentecost ? In my opinion the only possible person is her “nurse”. The nurse could be Mrs Digweed who is paid by Mrs. Fortisquince and thus acts in the interest of Mrs. Fortisquince ; Mr. Pentecost is quite opposed to Mrs. Fortisquince and has not really anything nice to tell Mary about Mrs. Fortisquince. So, could this be the reason why any further contact between Mary and Pentecost had to be made impossible, it is by making Mary believe that Pentecost is dead ? I don’t think that Mary would be sad if her friend simply left the prison, if she considers him being a friend she would be glad for him to be free ( he could always come and visit her, she wouldn’t have lost him) so I think she is led to believe Pentecost is dead. Does this make any sense, what are your opinions ?

  20. BAC Says:

    I like your theory, Rita. It certainly makes sense that Jemima and Sancious would want to keep an eye on Mary in prison. Perhaps enlist someone to spy on her in case Mary has any important secrets to reveal. And Pentecost disappears as soon as he gives Mary reason to be suspicious of Jemima.

    Were you ever able to find a connection between Jemima and Sam of Barney’s gang? I believe you pointed out that Jemima’s odd reaction to the story of Sam, Jack, and Sally could possibly be due to the news of Sam’s death. I’ve occasionally wondered if Jemima were Mary’s governess and John Huffam’s lover. I’ve also thought that Jemima may have become pregnant by Huffam and that Sam may have been the child.

    But that’s a lot of speculation. Mr. Pentecost would not be pleased.

  21. BAC Says:

    Looking more closely at the chapters of The Quincunx dealing with Johnnie’s time with Barney’s gang, I noticed that Sam is described as being “about the same age as Barney.” There goes my idea about him being Jemima’s son. Oh well. In any case, I remember Rita pointing out that Sam mysteriously leaves Johnnie and Sally near Jemima’s home while they are out buying clothes for Johnnie or some errand like that. I suppose he could have been an informant of Jemima’s. Or it could mean nothing at all.

  22. Simon Morris Says:

    Barney calls Jemima “mum” three times in Chapter 122. Of course, “mum” can be a contraction of “madam”, and perhaps Palliser is just teasing us here. Do Barney’s and Jemima’s ages rule out the possibility that they’re son and mother? I’d be interested to see how Barney’s “mum”s are translated in foreign editions. And if they were related, that would answer a question about the Melthorpe burglary raised here.

  23. Rita Says:

    I agree, BAC, Jemima was indeed the governess of Mary . I’m quite sure of this because Mary mentions somewhere in her diary : “ I was nice to her, I gave her my old clothes while she had nothing” . And on the other side, Jemima says to Mary : “ Don’t you remember, you always called me Jemima “ . Jemima was the niece of Mary so it is normal to call her by her first name, no need to emphasize this if the relation is only niece/niece, but it is rather unusual to call the governess by her first name. And she was indeed the lover of John H.
    Pregnant ? Maybe. But I think Sam is too old to be her son and I just saw in your latest reaction you have found out that yourself.
    No, I did not find any further information about a relationship between Jemima/Sam. The exclamation of Jemima “… there have been too many dead”(I have not the English version) make me think that there was one dead to much . (John, Mary, Stephen, Clothier are all dead some time ago , and that did not stop Mrs. Fortisquince. So, was it the dead of Sam that make her drop everything ? I don’t know .

  24. BAC Says:

    Mary writes in her diary, “I feared that he [John Huffam] would tell him [Martin] that she [Jemima] had once tried to trap him into marriage (which I had never believed) but that he had seen through her tricks, but of course I could say nothing.”

    This is the passage that suggests to me, albeit weakly, that Jemima may have been pregnant by John Huffam. It is the word “trap” in particular. I suppose Jemima could have tried to “trap” Huffam into marriage by threatening to expose an affair between the two, but as Huffam was an unmarried widower, I don’t think this course of action would have carried much force. However, I have to admit that “trap” does not prove that Jemima was ever pregnant or gave birth to a child.

    If Jemima did produce a child, are there any likely candidates? Sam was attractive to me for a time. Anyone else? Henry Bellringer?

  25. Leon Says:

    Interesting and though-provoking reading of that passage, BAC! In fact, it gave me a small epiphany as soon as I read it…

    But Sam a likely candidate to be Jemima’s child?! I don’t think so.

    By my reckoning Jemima is born in the early 1790s or late 1780s. She is “only a few years older” (84, US pocket ed.) than Mary Huffam, whom we know to be 17 years old in 1811, and hence to have been born c. 1794. If Jemima bore a child by John Huffam Sr. this must have occurred sometime in the period 1805-1811. This means that when Johnnie meets Sam in late 1825, that child can be 20 years of age at the most. I haven’t checked the text for indications of Sam’s age, but he has always struck me as older than 20. (But perhaps I’m mistaken…)

    On to the other candidate proposed by BAC. Henry Bellringer is “about three- or four-and-twenty years of age” when Johnnie first meets him in 1825 (491) – i.e. born c. 1802 when Jemima is (with a little interpretive good-will on our part) just about the child-bearing age in biological and social terms. (If we have Jemima born in 1790, she’d be about 12 years of age in c. 1802; but given the vagueness of the chronology on this point we are able to cast her as a little older, say 15.) So at first glance Henry Bellringer would seem to fits the bill somewhat more closely in terms of chronology. But Henry is still an unlikely candidate for the supposed child of Jemima and John Huffam, if you ask me. Or, at least not as interesting a candidate, narratively speaking, as the candidate for being Jemima’s supposed child that flashed through my mind when I read BAC’s post. (Or so I would like to think, of course…)

    A much more likely and interesting candidate for the supposed child of Jemima and John Huffam than either Sam or Henry Bellringer, would be none other than Jack.

    As is the case with my ‘Lizzie-Eliza Umphraville-thesis’ outlined somewhere amongst the posts above, this ‘Jack Maliphant-thesis’ has the attraction of tying one of the seemingly random secondary characters in the novel to the plot by making him a blood relative of our protagonist (a half-brother of Mary, in fact)!

    But now for some much-needed evidence of both the solid, textual/chronological and the interpretive kind in support of my thesis.

    We know Sam and Jack, who was “on’y a young boy at the time” (528) became the partners in crime of Barney and the Cat’s-meat-man working “down the Borough” “more nor ten years ago”, or so Barney claims in 1825 – i.e. around 1815. At that time, Jack, if he’d been born c. 1805, would have around 10 years old. That fits with Barney’s statement and would be precisely the right age to assist the gang in their grisly grave-robbing business… Might the child Jack not have been taken from Jemima after birth and given, say, to one of Martin Fortisquince’s connections among the lower classes – say, the Digweeds? Aren’t there strong hints that Maggie Digweed ‘nurses’ infants – which I take to mean nurse and nourish the [unwanted] children of others for a small fee? Might this not have been the way in which young Jack came into contact with Barney around 1815? (Notice the parallel with Joey Digweed, whom Barney also lures into his criminal activities.)

    And there is also evidence for the ‘Jack Maliphant-thesis’ of a less speculative nature. In 1825 Jack is described by Johnnie as being “tall and young” and “extremely handsome” (516), and, what’s more, he has “clear blue eyes” (516) – a genetic trait that, as we well know, runs through several of the branches of the Huffam family (see the descriptions of Lydia Mompesson, Barney Digweed, and Mary Huffam, who has “wide blue eyes” [11]). Now compare Johnnie’s description of Jack to his description of Jemima upon their first meeting. Jemima is “tall, distinctly handsome,” with a “strong jaw and a thin mouth” under “a high straight nose” – and, here it comes… – “between two clear blue eyes” (189). Given Palliser’s bag of narrative tricks used throughout the novel, this seems too much of a coincidence, doesn’t it?

    There is also a similarity in the manner in which Palliser stages the introductions into the narrative of both Jemima and Jack, which establishes a link between the characters. Palliser graces Jemima with a striking presence: “although only a few years older than my mother [she] had the manner of one much her senior,” and her “air of gravity” is increased by the stately manner in which she entered the room and closed the door behind her” (189). Jack is granted a very similar ‘grand entrance’ in the den of thieves: he is “the foremost and tallest of the men” entering, and “[e]veryone crowded around him” (516). This, to me, suggests a hint on Palliser’s part for us to somehow link the two characters – and what better way to do this than trough blood relation? It is, after all, an interpretive step very similar to the one we have to make when we postulate that Barney Digweed is Lydia Mompesson’s lost child or that Lizzie is none other than Eliza Umphraville…

    If Jack is indeed Jemima’s child, the scene outside the house at Charing Cross after Escreet has murdered Sancious, when Barney is about to kill Johnnie but is stopped by Jemima, is cast in a whole new light. Jemima stops Barney in his tracks just after she has heard Johnnie explain to him the part Jack had played in the death of Sam. Can it be that at that moment it somehow dawns on Jemima that the person Johnnie is talking about may very well be her child? (I don’t know how this fits in exactly with the plot of the novel and Jemima’s motives for giving the will to Johnnie, but at least it opens a whole new perspective on the events in question.)

    That’s as far as my small epiphany upon reading BAC’s post has taken me for the moment. What do you guys think of my ‘Jack Maliphant-thesis’? Feel free to shoot it down…

  26. Leon Says:

    Let me take the very first shot myself. 🙂

    I wrote: “We know Sam and Jack, who was “on’y a young boy at the time” (528) became the partners in crime of Barney and the Cat’s-meat-man working “down the Borough” “more nor ten years ago”, or so Barney claims in 1825 – i.e. around 1815.” My reading of that passage was hasty and, on closer inspection, questionable. It is actually unclear to whom Barney’s statement refers to, Sam or Jack.

    The complete sentence is somewhat ambiguously phrased: “‘And that’s how Sam come in with us and a little arter that, Jack, and you was on’y a young boy at the time,’ he [Barney] added, turning to him’” (528). The last ‘him’ may refer to Sam – and contextually speaking this seems likely – but linguistically speaking we cannot rule out Jack as the addressee of the remark. If you read through the scene starting with Johnnie’s account of the visit of Mr. Lavender to Barney’s gang (Ch. 59, p. 525-529, US pocket ed.), you’ll notice that nowhere Palliser mentions that Jack is present. However, he doesn’t explicitly mention that Jack is absent either…

    When we read Johnnie’s description of Sam when he first meets him, however, it becomes clear that it is likely that Barney is addressing Jack with his remark “and you was on’y a young boy at the time.” For it becomes chrystal-clear from Johnnie’s description that Sam cannot have been “on’y a young boy at the time” in c. 1815, and that Sam therefore cannot be a likely candidate for the child of Jemima and John Huffam. According to Johnnie, Sam is “short,” has “a thick black beard, a large high nose, deep brown eyes and a most lively and engaging countenance”; he wears “his hair in a pigtail like a sailor,” and is “clad in a blue pea-jacket” (511). Most importantly for our present concerns, however, is that Johnnie states Sam is “about the same age as Barney” (511).

    Which brings us back to the nagging question of just how old Barney is. I think Palliser’s only statement concerning Barney’s age is when he has Johnnie, writing of the events in Melthorpe in the summer of 1817 (the attempted burglary of the cottage), state that “In age, the stranger [i.e. Barney] was between my mother and Bissett” (15). Mary is 23 at the time; Bissett’s age is unknown, but we may surmise she is considerably older than her employer. If Barney is, as I like to think, on account of amongst other things his strikingly blue eyes, the long-lost child of Lydia Mompesson and John Umphraville, he has to have been born in 1770 (i.e. of an age with John Huffam, that is), and therefore 47 years of age when he arrives in Melthorpe in the summer of 1817. (That would make Bissett in her fifties at the time; not unlikely, I think.) So, in 1825, when Johnnie meets him in London, Barney is 55.

    Ergo: in 1825 Sam is about 55 as well.

    Even if you do not support the ‘Barney Mompesson-thesis’, and are therefore able to argue that Barney is born later than 1770, you’d have to build a helluva case to prove that he could have been “on’y a young boy” in 1815, like Sam. If you cast Sam as Jemima’s child, he’d have to be born in c. 1805. Therefore, given Johnnie’s statement, Barney would also have to be born around that year, making him a mere 12 years old at the time of the attempted burglary in Melthorpe: not just unlikely; plain impossible and contradicted by textual evidence… Unless I’m missing some vital clues in the text.

    So, where does all of this leave us? Despite the questionable presence in the scene of Jack as the addressee of Barney’s remark “and you was on’y a young boy at the time,” I would like to read the passage as if Jack is present and is the addressee of Barney’s remark. Not only can we make a very, very strong case against Sam being about 10 years old in 1815, his physical description is miles apart from that of his supposed mother, Jemima. (Except perhaps for Sam’s “large high nose” [511] and Jemima’s “high straight nose” [189].) The physical resemblance between Jack and Jemima, on the other hand, is too striking to be unintentional, particularly as far as their strikingly clear, blue eyes are concerned, as argued in my previous post.

    (By the way, Sam would have made an interesting candidate from the point of view of the Jemima/Johnnie/Barney-scene in the yard of the house at Charing Cross at the close of Ch. 122. We might have argued that Jemima stops Barney in his tracks of killing Johnnie because she has just heard Johnnie describing the death of her child, for whose sake, we might have argued, she likes to get her hands on the will…)

  27. Simon Morris Says:

    “Jack Maliphant” looks very convincing to me. Non-English readers might not know that “Jack” can be a sort of nickname for “John”. That would parallel both Eliza-Lizzie, and the habit of naming children of people called John after their fathers.

  28. Leon Says:

    Good point!

    ‘Jack Maliphant’ also gives yet another twist of dramatic irony to the following dialogue:

    “‘Barney,’ I [Johnnie] asked, ‘Sally calls you Uncle. Does that mean you are really of the same family?’
    ‘That’s right. In fact, we’re all one big fambly. Sam here’s my little brother and nan’s my cousing and Will’s my nevy and so on.'” (522)

    If Jack is the child of Jemima Fortisquince, née Maliphant and John Huffam, he and Barney are indeed ‘fambly’ in that they share an ancestor in Jeoffrey Huffam, who is Barney’s maternal great-grandfather and Jack’s paternal great-grandfather.

  29. Leon Says:

    The ‘Jack Maliphant’-thesis also strengthens another one of my theses, namely that the upper-class battle waged for several generations between the various factions of the Huffam family over the possession of the Hougham estate somehow is mirrored in the criminal-class battle waged for several decades between various factions of the London underworld (Barney’s gang, Pulvertaft’s gang) over territory. What better and more powerful way to convey this narrative parallelism than by having both battles, upper-class and criminal class – battles which at first glance seem to be of a completely different order – be waged by characters who are on second glance actually blood relations, thus showing that the criminal-class characters from the one battle are really not all that different from – ‘come from the same stock,’ so to speak – the upper-class characters in the other, as far as their motivations and tactics are concerned?

  30. BAC Says:

    Great analysis as always, Leon!

    I think “Jack Maliphant” makes a lot of sense and puts into play quite a few issues that have been bothering me about Jemima, the Digweeds, and John Huffam’s murder. I might have a long post on that later, but for now, some questions. They’re not directly related to Jack Maliphant, but they do concern some serious questions I have about Jemima.

    I’ve been toying with the idea for a while now that Jemima might be John Huffam’s murderer. She might feel justified murdering Huffam for being seduced and abandoned with child by him, but something else has been bothering me. When Jemima gives her version of the events of the night of Huffam’s murder, Escreet disagrees with almost everything said by her. I’ve begun to wonder if Jemima isn’t simply conjecturing in order to goad Escreet into some sort of incriminatory action. I wonder if Jemima’s version is actually based on fact. What caught my attention in particular was the line Jemima attributes to Huffam, “Last throw wins all. The estate is mine.” Is this simply a good approximation of something that Huffam would say? Or did Jemima actually hear Huffam say this? Did someone else – like Martin – tell her that Huffam said it? In any case, Jemima’s version of events is very detailed yet, as I said, Escreet disagrees with most of it.

    When speaking to Johnnie after Barney has left the scene, Jemima states, “Though of course, I have no conclusive evidence of what happened or didn’t happen that night.” I think this sentence can be dissected in detail, but what do we think Jemima means by “didn’t happen that night”? I honestly have no idea, but the phrase seem stranger to me every time that I read it again. What “didn’t happen that night? Did the murder not happen? Did the person who was supposed to commit the murder not do it? Did someone else unexpectedly do it? Did a plan go awry and another emerge in its place?

    Overall, I don’t think Jemima is the murderer, but I do think that some of the statements that she makes about the events surrounding the murder are troubling.

  31. Rita Says:

    I have not read all your comments yet ( it’s going to take me some time!), but I suppose there is a possibility that Jack is the son of Mrs. Fortisquince. The only thing that is bothering me is : when she hears the story of “Jack, Sam and the others…”, Jack is still alive. So when Johnny says to Barney that Jack is the traitor, they all must know that Johnny is condemning Jack tot dead in which case there is certainly no reason for Mrs. F. to spare the life of Johnny and pay Barney (who was going to kill her “son?” ) ? By the way : a very merry Christmas to you all !!! See you later in 2011.

  32. BAC Says:

    I wanted to clarify the reason for posting my previous comment, as it was not directly related to the matter of “Jack Maliphant.” I have some further thoughts on Jemima’s connection to the Digweeds, which relate to Jack as well, but as Jemima has also become a topic of discussion again, I wanted to ask some more general questions about her. Seeing what Leon was able to do with the passage regarding Jemima’s relationship with Huffam, I thought posting some of my other concerns about her might cause similar epiphanies.

    To me, this is the underlying issue: I feel that when Jemima leaves the stage near the end of the book she takes a definite theory of what actually happened – or “didn’t happen” – on the night of the murder with her. I find this frustrating because, given Johnnie’s difficulties as an interpreter of information throughout “The Quincunx,” Jemima is much more likely to have a better idea of what actually occurred on the night of the murder. To put it another way, we’re stuck with Johnnie, but we would really like to speak to Jemima. However, while Johnnie may have trouble coming to the right conclusions, Palliser often leaves the information he misinterprets out there for the reader to attempt to understand. Thus it is still quite possible that the revelations we seek are there in Jemima’s statements about the night of the murder. That is why I think a statement like “what happened or didn’t happen that night” should be looked at very closely before it is dismissed.

    I hope this clarifies what I was trying to say last night.

  33. Simon Morris Says:

    Rita: maybe Jemima’s realisation that her only son is going to be killed is precisely the spur for her deciding that “there’s been enough killing”?

    BAC: Jemima admits to Johnnie that “I did not mean it. I only intended to goad him into giving us the will.” Given Escreet’s disagreement with much of what she says, and the fact that she’s wrong about the role of the codicil, I think her account, though full of fairly plausible circumstance, is mostly invention. I think “what didn’t happen that night” means that she doesn’t know for sure that Peter didn’t father Johnnie that night, and so she can’t be sure whether the murderer is Johnnie’s father. More longwindedly, uncertainty about whether “the murderer was [Johnnie’s] father” might be caused by uncertainty about who the murderer was, or about who Johnnie’s father was (or both!). I think it’s that ambiguity, and specifically the possibility that she means the latter, that’s pointed up by “what didn’t happen that night”.

    Back to “Jack Maliphant”. My seasonal re-reading of “The Unburied” reminded me that that book also contains two characters who are eventually revealed to be mother and son. The mother is a manipulatrix par excellence; the son is handsome, tall, and vain. They both have blue eyes. Incidentally, I was also reminded that the real Peterborough Cathedral apparently has a treadmill/windlass in a tower, just like Thurcester Cathedral in “The Unburied”.

    Apologies for the delay in approving recent postings, and Merry Christmas to all!

  34. Leon Says:

    Simon wrote: “‘Jack Maliphant’ looks very convincing to me. Non-English readers might not know that ‘Jack’ can be a sort of nickname for ‘John’.”

    Non-English (-speaking) readers of The Quincunx may be supposed to know that Jack can be “a sort of a nickname” for ‘John’, since that is what Mr. Isbister calls Johnnie repeatedly (see, for instance, Ch. 34, p. 259; US pocket ed.).

    But perhaps Mr. Isbister’s ‘nickname’ for Johnnie is ‘conventional’ in a slightly different manner than Simon is referring to.

    Mrs. Isbister is persistent in addressing Mary as ‘Meg’ (see, for instance, Ch. 33, p. 258; US pocket ed.). As Mrs. Isbister explains, reminiscing about her time as a “sarvint” to “a real lady” “for nigh on ten year” (246), she, too, was called ‘Meg’ by her employer – “‘Why, Meg, we allus calls our maid that on account of it’s easier to bring to mind,’” the lady in question is supposed to have said to her (246) – so ‘Meg’ is what she will call her very own servant, Mary.

    In Victorian England certain names come with certain (socially inferior) positions. (And of course in our own age this is still true in certain contexts.) When Johnnie enters the Mompesson household as a scullery boy under the assumed name of John Winterflood he is immediately and automatically baptised ‘Dick’ by Bob (Ch. 93, 793). We know Johnnie’s predecessor in the function was called ‘Dick’, too (Ch. 93, 788) – and we may assume this was not his ‘real’ name.

    (I put ‘real’ between inverted comma’s because throughout the novel Palliser has Johnnie reflect on the idea of the ‘reality’ of the proper names of things and people, making that age-old philosophical matter one of the themes of The Quincunx; see, for example: 84, 740.)

    Mr. Isbister’s use of ‘Jack’ in addressing Johnnie can be attributed to a similar convention that has evolved in the social milieu of the gang he runs, viz. that of addressing the boy involved in the “‘bag ‘em up’ lay” as ‘Jack.’ As Mr. Isbister reminisces:

    “‘We had a boy when I was fust on this lay a good few year back. And wery useful he was, too. But he weren’t no gentry-boy like this ‘un. And the Jew has got a boy now, but Ikey’s boy don’t speak as what this ‘un do. And Jack here’ll read you off print or hand-wrote letters faster nor a dog kin trot. And write ‘em, in the bargain. […] Them was the days. Jist a-fore the War come to an end. There weren’t nobody in the business but us and the Jew” (261).

    (The “War” mentioned is undoubtedly the Peninsular War [1807-1814] during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century, with the Siege of Cuidad Rodrigo [January 7-20 1812] as one of its strategically crucial events. The identity of “the Jew” is unknown.)

    Mr. Isbister is here referring to an earlier ‘Jack’ whose age, we may infer from the reference to the Peninsular War, corresponds to that of the child supposedly born from Jemima Maliphant’s attempt to ensnare John Huffam and trick him into marrying her.

  35. Leon Says:

    Let me problematise the ‘Jack Maliphant’ thesis a little further – since we all have to admit it is built on interpretive quicksand, with the barest minimum of textual evidence as foundation – and in doing so make some remarks on Martin Fortisquince’s role and motives in the plot of the novel.

    I wrote: “Might the child Jack not have been taken from Jemima after birth and given, say, to one of Martin Fortisquince’s connections among the lower classes – say, the Digweeds?”

    Of all the pure speculation involved in the ‘Jack Maliphant’ thesis this is the most speculative bit. We know there were relations between D. Fortisquince (Martin’s foster father – not his biological one) and the father of George and Barney Digweed. We do not know for sure, as far as I can recall right now, whether or not this connection extended into the next generation. If Barney is of an age with Martin Fortisquince and John Huffam Sr. (and according to the ‘Barney Mompesson’ thesis, he is), it is likely both sets of ‘brothers’ knew of each others existence during their time spent on the Mompesson estate in Hougham before Digweed Sr. came to London and presumably took his boys with him (see George Digweed’s story in Ch. 86, 736, US pocket ed.), but we get no confirmation whether or not either Martin Fortisquince or John Huffam has kept in contact with either one of the Digweed brothers since their own departure from Hougham to Cambridge and London (mid-late 1880s). And so, we have no way of knowing whether the ‘Digweed-method’ of getting rid of unwanted Huffam-off-spring (a crucial part of the ‘Barney Mompesson’ thesis, which states that Barney is the child of Lydia Mompesson and John Umphraville and was taken from his mother and given to the Digweed family) was also used in this instance.

    If this ‘Digweed-method’ was deployed to dispose of an unwanted Huffam child around 1805, then who was involved in it? John Huffam? Apparently he does not care for Jemima and thinks her too low to associate himself (and his Huffam family name) with. But what about Jemima? Would she want to get rid of her (male) Huffam heir? Probably not – motherly love for her child and all that – but then again, if John Huffam is not going to marry her, then who will marry a young woman with no money, no prospects but a life of governessing, and an illegitimate child to boot? Better, perhaps, to dispose of the child and wait for another chance to ensnare a wealthy husband… But again, this is nothing but conjecture.

    We can be a little more sure about who was NOT involved in the implementation of the ‘Digweed-method’. It is unlikely that Martin Fortisquince was involved, for it would appear he knows nothing of Jemima’s attempt to trick John Huffam into marriage and the consequence of that trick in the form of an infant born out of wedlock in the first place. Mary’s words in her diary, at least, when narrating the fall out between Martin F. and her father, imply that she thinks he doesn’t:

    “I feared that he [John Huffam Sr.] would tell him [Martin F.] that she [Jemima] had once tried to trap him into marriage (which I had never believed) but that he had seen through her tricks, but of course I could say nothing” (550).

    (Curious sentence, that last one, by the way. Why does Mary feel that “of course” she cannot say anything at this particular point in the dispute between Martin and her father? Has she played some part in Jemima’s trick she cannot openly admit to – perhaps encouraged or goaded Jemima into making a pass at John Huffam Sr.? Or was it Mary who blackened Jemima in her father’s eyes? Is this why she feels she “did [Jemima] wrong”? [see Ch. 63, 558].)

    If Martin Fortisquince knows about Jemima’s trick and her child would he still propose to marry her? Perhaps. But what intrigues me most about that marriage is the swiftness with which it is arranged. According to Mary’s diary, there is only “a few days” between the afternoon when Mr Escreet reveals that he can get hold of the codicil and buy it from an anonymous seller (a ruse, of course) and the morning Mary meets the Clothier family, whom John Huffam has invited to the house at Charing Cross to discuss the terms for lending money to purchase the codicil (548). On the afternoon in question, Martin Fortisquince, dead set against any Clothier involvement, has “even offered to lend him [John Huffam] the money on certain conditions” (548), while on the day of the morning visit by the Clothiers he announces his marriage to Jemima. This would not be so intriguing if we could not be reasonably sure that the “conditions” under which Martin F. would have lend John Huffam the money to purchase the codicil are likely to have entailed marriage to Mary. How may we infer this?

    • The fact that Mary deliberately and suspiciously leaves these “certain conditions” unspecified: “And this is where I have to … No, I need not go into that here though I will try to explain it all soon” (548).
    • The fact of Martin F.’s insistence (as reported by Mary) to know of “any other conditions you [John Huffam] have not told me of,” save the “annuity on my [John Huffam’s] life at twenty percent, and to assign the policy to him [Silas Clothier]” – conditions which Martin emphasises were not part of his proposal [of a few days earlier, apparently] (550).
    • Mary’s remark that Martin looks “bitter” when asking this question, and the fact John Huffam does not respond.
    • Martin’s remark (as reported by Mary) that “I am sure you are both pleased to learn that I am after all getting married” (550, italics mine); i.e. ‘after my offer to marry Mary of a few days ago was refused.’ (Note the use of “both”; does Martin imply that he suspects Mary, too, is pleased he is NOT marrying her but someone else?)
    • John Huffam’s response to this announcement (again, as reported by Mary): “Then you’re a fool! As I said to you the other day, a man of your age who has done without a wife for so many years [Martin’s first wife died when Mary was …; i.e. sometime during the period 1794-1797] has no Busyness aquiring one now” (550, italics mine); i.e. this has been one of the arguments with which John Huffam has refused Martin’s proposal to marry Mary on the afternoon in question.
    • Martin’s response (again, as reported by Mary): “You have already made it clear that you do not believe that a young woman could come to love an old man like me” (550). This has NOT been made clear by John Huffam during the conversation at hand in relation to Jemima, which leads us to infer that this must have been another one of John Huffam’s arguments for refusing Martin’s proposal to marry Mary.

    So in just a few days (according to Mary’s memory, that is) Martin has gone from wanting to marry Mary to being engaged to marry Jemima. What has happened? What are Martin’s motives for wanting to marry Mary? What are his motives for suddenly abandoning that plan and proposing to Jemima and actually getting married to her rather hurriedly sometime during the next couple of weeks? Whether he knows of Jemima’s trick and her supposed child with John Huffam or not, it is likely that when he proposes to her, Martin knows Jemima has a chance of inheriting the estate. By my reckoning, in 1811 – with Stephen Maliphant not yet born – Jemima has only her brother Timothy standing between herself and the estate when the codicil is put to effect; provided that: 1) the Huffam line is extinct; 2) old Silas Clothier dies, and 3) the second will is not put forward or, better yet, is destroyed. This is a slight chance to be sure, and not nearly as good a chance Mary has of inheriting the estate at that point, but still better than his own chances – which are nil, him being the illegitimate son of someone who is himself an offspring of the illegitimate union of a Huffam and a Mompesson… (presuming, of course, Martin knows he is the son of Jeoffrey Escreet).

  36. Simon Morris Says:

    Just some brief thoughts on Leon’s post.

    I favour Escreet as the forwarder of Jack Maliphant to the Digweeds. He’s at the right social level to intermediate, and, having been forwarded as a baby himself, the possibility of doing so again could occur to him naturally. Incidentally, I wonder who might have passed Barney Mompesson on to the Digweed’s? Might his bitterness against the Mompessons have been caused by learning that they had abandoned him, much as Paternoster manipulated Escreet?

    I think Mary wouldn’t have felt able to stop John telling Martin about Jemima’s trying to trap him into marriage, mostly because the subject would be too indelicate for a young lady to raise. And how could she stop John making the allegation without making it herself?

    I’m sure Leon is correct that marriage to Mary was one of Martin’s conditions for lending John the money to buy the codicil. But Jemima looks just as keen to use marriage to increase her chances of winning the Huffam inheritance as Martin, and I wonder whether it wasn’t Jemima who proposed to Martin, rather than the other way around. Martin isn’t in the line of inheritance himself, of course, but his knowledge (partly via Escreet) of the circumstances, and his legal training, would surely be helpful to her.

    A related question is how much Martin’s wish to marry Mary was influenced by Escreet. I think it’s clear that Escreet times his revelation that the codicil is available to coincide with Mary’s marriageability (why else would he choose that particular moment?) So presumably he intends Martin to marry Mary, and win the Huffam inheritance for Escreet’s progeny. Did Escreet explain any of this to Martin, or did he just try to steer Martin towards Mary? And did Martin see things so cold-bloodedly anyway? My guess is that Martin rejected Escreet’s attempts to manipulate him, when he was aware of them (Chapter 64: “Fortisquince would tell me nothing. Nothing. He always hated me. I don’t know why… What evil thing did he make you believe about me?”) – but it’s hard to know whether to be influenced by the Silas/Daniel parallel, where a father and son collaborate more than they want anyone to know.

  37. Leon Says:

    As you can see from my lengthy posts from the past few days, I’ve been rereading sections of the novel again this holiday. With the end of the holiday just a week-end away, I thought I’d round off my contributions by pointing out two tiny details that struck me.

    (1) Concerning Jack Hinxman
    Jack Hinxman is the exceptionally tall man with a “very white”face “with deep black eyes, a lock of black hair with streaks of grey falling over one part of it, and a thin mouth which [is] twisted into a crooked smile” (154, US pocket ed.), who acts as an assistant to Dr Alabaster, and who interferes in Johnnie’s life through his involvement in the abduction attempt in Melthorpe on 23 July 1823 (?) (Ch. 23; for the date according to Mary’s diary, see: 557; the year must be inferred and is uncertain), and the attempted mugging of Johnnie and Mary in the alley off Spread-Eagle-yard on 16 July 1825 (?) (Ch. 42, which is when we learn his first name; for the date according to Mary’s diary, see: 579; the years must be inferred and is uncertain; Johnnie dates this event about a month earlier than Mary does). Johnnie meets Hinxman again when he is taken to Dr Alabaster’s asylum in late January 1826 (?) (Ch. 74, which is when Hinxman’s last name is first mentioned), and we learn that on the last day of Johnnie’s stay there, Hinxman again travels to Melthorpe to vandalise Mr Advowson’s baptism-book (see 677, 969).

    But Mary, of course, knows Hinxman from more than a decade earlier, for he is the man she sees following Peter in early April (?) 1811 when he leaves the house at Charing Cross after his unexpected visit in order to warn Mary of the Clothier plot to murder her after she has married Daniel. For Mary’s description of this event, see Ch. 62.

    The thing that struck me is that Mary in her diary entry of 23 July 1823 (?) explicitly describes Peter’s clandestine visit as having occurred in the morning (“Then one morning while I was working in the front parlour” [557]). Two years later, however, when on 16 July 1825 (?) Mary writes in her diary after the attempted mugging, she remembers Hinxman as “That horrible tall man! Who followed Peter that night” (579).

    So, the question arises: is this a) an oversight on Palliser’s part; b) a further intended hint from Palliser that Mary’s diary is not wholly trustworthy; or c) a hint that Mary may have seen Hinxman following Peter a second time – with “that night” referring to the night of the murder of John Huffam Sr.?

    (2) Concerning Mr Sancious
    As you know, I’ve been struck for some time by the similarities Palliser has (I believe intentionally) built into Johnnie’s descriptions of the some of the physical characteristics of the people he meets in the back of my mind: Barney Digweed sharing “strikingly blue eyes” with Lydia Mompesson and a “high-domed” forehead with Perceval Mompesson; Jemima Maliphant sharing attractive features and blue eyes with Jack – and there are some curiously pointed references to brown eyes as well (but more on that some other time perhaps…).

    Now read Johnnie’s description of Mr Sancious in his guise as Mr Steplight – to my knowledge the single most extensive (if not actually the only) descriptive passage of Sancious’ physical appearance in the novel:

    Aged “between forty and forty-five” in c. 1825 (and hence born in the early 1780s), and his toilet and dress being “extremely elegant without being ostentatious,” Mr Steplight is of below-average height – Johnnie has Mary describe him as a “strange little man” and Mary herself notes in her diary he is “a funny little man,” who is “very courteous” and “[q]uite the gentleman” (580). The slightly comical aspect of his appearance must doubtlessly be attributed to the fact that Mr. Sancious/Steplight has “a very large head for his small body, with a high-domed forehead, sharp features and slightly protuberant eyes” (376).

    Leaving aside the courteous behaviour and comical effect of his physique, this description of Sancious/Steplight uses similar elements as Johnnie’s initial description of Barney Digweed:

    Like Sancious/Steplight, Barney is “not tall” and like Sancious/Steplight he has “the head of a much larger man,” a head which moreover is “high-domed” (15). Barney’s face is “dominated by a large beak-like nose” (15), which may suggest Sancious/Steplight’s “sharp features”. (In contrast to Sancious/Steplight’s “slightly protuberant eyes,” however, Barney’s eyes are set “deep beneath the jutting eye-ridges” [15].)

    As noted in an earlier post, Johnnie later somewhat contradictorily describes Barney as “tall and strongly-built with a large head rising steeply to a high forehead” and “a big broken nose” (510), which produces a mental picture that is somewhat different from that of Sancious/Steplight, but Johnnie’s initial description of Barney conjures up an image of a Sancious/Steplight stripped of his elegance and refinement and his slightly comical aspect replaced by a more openly menacing quality.

    So, the question arises: Are these descriptive similarities intentional? And if so: How should we interpret them? Has Palliser, for his own parodic purposes, endowed Johnnie with a limited repertoire of descriptive nouns, adjectives and adverbs – a kind of linguistic ‘ars combinatoria’ to produce characters that are vaguely ‘Dickensian’ in their slightly exaggerated, caricatured features? Or are the descriptive similarities meant as clues to hidden bloodrelations (as the Barney Mompesson-thesis and the Jack Maliphant-thesis hold)? If so, what do we make of Sancious/Steplight’s resemblance to Barney Digweed? (What CAN we possibly make of it?)

    Well, that’s all for now. Best wishes for 2011! And let’s hope for a new novel by Palliser in the new year – it’s about time…

  38. Simon Morris Says:

    I’m looking forward to hearing about the brown-eyed characters, not least because, in the normal course of events, blue-eyed parents can’t have brown-eyed children. (This isn’t quite true, but I think Palliser’s characters tend to have very blue, or very brown eyes, which would make it more true). I think Johnnie, as a 19th century narrator, wouldn’t know that, which would give Palliser some more room for “ironic reconstruction”.

  39. Brian Says:

    One addition to my long list of inconsistencies and errors in the text, going back to late 2006. When in chapter 32 the bailiffs visit 31 Maddox Street with the warrant for the arrest of Mary for debt, Mr Fewster reads out the particulars as he was obliged to do but makes a serious error in stating her to be dwelling in the parish of St James, while the map of Mayfair and Soho provided with the text clearly marks Maddox Street as being in the parish of St George. This appears to be another example of a basic error which is internally detectable, but I don’t think it has been pointed out before. The importance of the maps to the novel would be an interesting subject of investigation.
    I’m pleased to see the thread continuing and contributions coming from the same old faces. Leon might be a trifle optimistic in hoping for a new novel, because we have been waiting a long time now.

  40. BAC Says:

    Happy Birthday to Charles John Huffam Dickens!

    I’m gearing up to read The Quincunx again – I think – and wanted to speculate a bit before I do.

    Lately my thoughts have been drawn toward Maggie Digweed. Who is this enigmatic woman who seems to know so much more than she lets on? I’ve wondered if she were ever a servant in the Mompesson household; a key member of the old Isbister gang; whether she had children by George and Barney Digweed, and why she’s so strongly in favor of helping Johnnie regain the will.

    Does anyone have any thoughts about her?

  41. Katherine Says:

    I have been reading all these comments about this lovely book. Here is a reference to the English version of the French web site – so far it is VERY illuminating:

  42. Leon Says:

    Welcome Katherine,

    If you’ve read through all of the comments above (well done!), then you’ll known that on certain points Gix’s site, rather than illuminating matters, is obscuring them to the degree of impenetrable blackness… 🙂

  43. Stefaan Says:

    I’m hooked again. I read the Quincunx when it was first published. The more I reread the novel (whenever I liked to be immersed in the Palliser’s labyrinthine world), the more fascinating it became.
    In perusing the book again, I found something puzzling in Mary’s first relation (ch. 61): “And so uncle Martin’s father took papa to live with him and his son at Hougham, where sir Perceval Mompesson’s Father, Sir Hugo, had retained Mr Fortisquince as his land-agent […].” I thought Hugo to be Perceval’s grandfather. Perceval states the same thing in his answer to David Mompesson in ch. 76: “He [Assinder] is the nevy of a man who served me and my father [Hugo] for forty years.” What has become of Augustus?

  44. Simon Morris Says:

    Hi Stefaan,

    I think Palliser has just slipped a little here. Though I think Perceval could be accurately referring to Augustus in his statement, and not bothering to mention that D Fortisquince also served Perceval’s grandfather, Hugo.

    On a different topic, I had another thought about a read-through from “The Unburied” to “Jack Maliphant”. “The Unburied” puts some weight on the fact that the money won by its equivalent of Jemima is not passed on to any relative of hers, because her son predeceases her. And it suggests that this is an emotional topic for her, though she’s not conspicuously the maternal type. If Jemima felt similarly, that could motivate her indifference to the Hougham estate, after she realises that Johnnie’s telling Barney that Jack [Maliphant] betrayed him means that Jack will certainly be killed.

  45. Bd Says:

    I’ve just finished the book and its driving me crazy too!

    I do have one theory though….re the phrase “Umphraville is avenged!” Do you think John Umphraville and Lydia’s child could be Augustus, the father of Perceval? I refer to Chapter 88 where Escreet says “Hugo and his lady’s first child turned out to be a girl…and was followed by no other child”. It also creates a pattern: John U runs off with Lydia and is killed by Escreet, Escreet’s great grandson runs off with Henrietta and is killed by Umphraville’s great grandson.

    Just a thought….

    • Simon Morris Says:

      I think that’s the best explanation of “Umphraville is avenged” we’ve seen yet. But could Lydia really be old enough to be Perceval’s grandmother?

  46. Bd Says:

    Another theory….the charade re the wedding night is perpetrated by Escreet and John Snr against Peter and Martin, ie Peter is an unwitting dupe in the whole scenario and Martin is to be used as a trustworthy witness re motive, ie the fight. This explains Escreet getting the sword and locking the doors – he and John Snr have planned that Peter will be caught stealing and also frame him for attempted murder. It also explains why Escreet denies there was a charade during Peter’s trial, but later admits a charade to Mary. I believe the purpose is to absolve John Snr’s responsibilities to Silas re the conditions of the loan (ie. that Mary must marry his son) then to make Peter ineligible to retain any rights over John’s / Mary’s property due to his being guilty of a felony (as per Chapter 125). Also I wonder if Peter has an inheritance of his own from his mother (the rich widow) which is why Daniel and Silas were trying to get him committed (as per Chapter 78) and may be additional motivation for John Snr to frame him as once a felony was proved against Peter, Mary may now become his heir (speculation…).

  47. Leon Says:

    @ BD: “Do you think John Umphraville and Lydia’s child could be Augustus, the father of Perceval?”

    Highly unlikely (although the thought has crossed my mind several times as well while constructing a detailed timeline), for it would mean that Augustus was born in 1969 or 1770. Let’s say he fathered a child (Perceval) aged 15 – i.e. in c. 1785. That child would be nowhere near the age of the old man Perceval Mompesson is consistently described to be by both Johnnie and the puppeteer-narrators. (Perceval would be in his mid-thirties when Johnnie first catches a glimpse of him, for instance, which is a far cry from the old man Johnnie describes.)

    So, @Simon Morris: “But could Lydia really be old enough to be Perceval’s grandmother?” – the question is rather: could Perceval really be old enough to be Lydia’s grandchild? And the answer is: No, he could not.

  48. Bd Says:

    Good point Leon…I was stretching the term “old” as Johnnie thinks anyone over 30 is old, however that’s taking it too far. However I’m still convinced John Umphraville must somehow be related to David Mompesson.

  49. Leon Says:

    @ Bd: “I’m still convinced John Umphraville must somehow be related to David Mompesson.”

    Well, they may be if we posit Perceval Mompesson as the child born to Lydia Mompesson and John Umphraville. This would make Perceval be in his mid to late 40s when Johnnie first meets him – with a little bit of stretch just of an age to be called “old”.

    I am not even remotely convinced by this hypothesis, but there is one piece of textual evidence for it – questionable as it is – which I do not think anyone on this forum has noticed before.

    In Ch. 95 (US pocket ed. 833) Lydia Mompesson makes a curious slip of the tongue. “Nobody in this family has ever trusted me enough to tell me anything. But over the years I’ve kept my ears open and I came to know how my brother [Augustus] and then his nevy [Perceval] acted to protect their interests […].” Now surely Lydia means “my brother [Augustus] and then MY nevy [Perceval]”, as she has just explained to Johnnie that she is Perceval’s aunt and he the son of her younger brother Augustus (833). If Perceval really is a nevy of Augustus, he would of course be a child of Augustus’s elder sister Lydia…

    This may of course be a slip of the pen on Palliser’s part, but it is curious that such an oversight should occur just a couple of centences after a statement that establishes an altogether different family relationship between the characters in question. It is not a typographical error particular to this edition of the novel, as the sentence quoted is in each and every English-language edition of The Quincunx that I own. The Dutch translation, however, reads “mijn broer and later mijn neef” (653; “my brother [Augustus] and then MY nevy [Perceval]”), which suggests an authorial slip of the pen corrected by the translator.

    However, if Perceval really is the son of Augustus, it does beg the question of when exactly Augustus was born, when he succeeded to the title of Sir Augustus, and how his ‘reign’ could have lasted at least “forty years”, as Pentecost has Perceval Mompesson claim in Ch. 76. This is how I reconstruct the chronology:

    We know that Lydia Mompesson was born to Hugo Mompesson and Alice Huffam sometime in the early 1740s. According to Jeoffrey Escreet in his account to Johnnie, she “was followed by no other child” (749) – that is, until the summer of 1770, after Jeoffrey Huffam’s death, when James Huffam has inherited the estate which he wants to sell. As Escreet tells Johnnie (thinking he is speaking to John Huffam Sr. in 1786): “So, less than a year after his father’s death, he [James Huffam] conveyed the estate to his brother-in-law, Sir Hugo Mompesson, who, now that he had a son – the present Sir Augustus – was keen to obtain it” (753). So, in 1786: (1) Hugo Mompesson is dead, and (2) Augustus has succeeded him in his title. Augustus appears to have been born some time after Lydia, but some time before 1770, as he fathers a child who in 1817 (when Johnnie first sees him) can be described as “old”. Let’s say Augustus is born in the mid or late 1750s, that he fathered a child (Perceval) around 1770 (which to my mind is the latest conceivable date for this conception), and that he came into the estate and the title at his father’s death shortly after 1770 (we are never told when exactly Hugo Mompesson dies). This means that Augustus must have died and was succeeded by Perceval shortly before 1810 – which fits the bill nicely, since we may surmise that by May 1811, when Lydia Mompesson steals the will, Perceval already is Sir Perceval (although I believe this is nowhere stated explicitly).

    That’s the best I can make of it. This reconstruction accommodates the possibility that Perceval is Lydia’s child rather than Augustus’s, but as I said, I do not favour that hypothesis as there are other more likely and narratively speaking satisfying candidates for that position to be found among the cast of The Quincunx. John Huffam, Sr., for instance, or Barney Digweed. (And, flimsy as the evidence is, we may even make a case for Mr. Barbellion, but that’s a topic I reserve for some other time.)

  50. Leon Says:

    All of the above is, of course, also in answer to Stefaan’s question of 25 April 2011 of “What has become of Augustus?”.

    It presupposes that the puzzling statement in Mary’s first relation to which Stefaan perceptively points (Ch. 61; “And so uncle Martin’s father took papa to live with him and his son at Hougham, where sir Perceval Mompesson’s Father, Sir Hugo, had retained Mr Fortisquince as his land-agent […]”) signifies the limited extent of her knowledge of Mompesson family history. Either that, or an authorial slip of the pen, of course… 🙂 (If it is, it is one that has been left uncorrected in the Dutch translation, I may add.)

  51. Richard W Says:

    One possibility which I haven’t seen mentioned above: Mary has two children. One is born in 1812 (on Dickens birthday) and dies. The second is conceived later and born in 1813. Both are called John and clearly the latter is the narrator. He is given the earlier baby’s birthday to imply he is the son of Peter Clothier and not Martin. He is then going to be “small for his age”.

  52. Brian Says:

    Unfortunately I have been unable to track it down, but I recall one of the paperback editions, UK or USA, I cannot say, had a blurb on the back cover implying that the novel’s mystery could be solved with the aid of the illustrations contained in it. I wish I could find it, because there is, in my opinion, a very strong probability that investigations along those lines would be profitable. It would take a long time to go into all my reasons for this view, but in the past I have made something of the internal inconsistencies in the narratives without coming to any definite fixed conclusions about their significance.

  53. BAC Says:

    You’re talking about the maps of London that appear throughout The Quincunx, aren’t you, Brian? Didn’t you look into them several years ago? What were you able to find? I’d like to hear it.

    Isn’t the first book that Johnnie receives from Martin Fortisquince a book of maps of London?

    • Leon Says:

      Indeed it is. Martin presents Johnnie with a copy of the 1813-Horwood map of the metropolis. And if you track the fate of that map throughout the story, you’ll find that Johnnie is left with exactly those portions of that map that he has included as ‘appendices’ to his co-authored narrative.

      • Simon Morris Says:

        Remarkable! The descriptions of the loss of the other portions of the map must be very precise. But how appropriate that Johnnie’s attempts to assemble (or conceal) a coherent story from its fragments are accompanied by the disintegration of his map into disconnected pieces.

      • Leon Says:

        Well, as it turns out, Brian has been a closer reader than I was with regard to the fate of the map. He is quite right in asserting that Johnnie is left with only the central sections of the map. There is no detailed description of which sections exactly survive, but Betnal Green and even Spittalfields can hardly be called ‘central’…

  54. Brian Says:

    Yes, BAC, I was referring to them. To be honest, I have not reached any definite conclusion about them, save to say that they indicate so many inconsistencies in the text that one might be led to think that they were put there for that very purpose. It is frustrating not to be able to locate the blurb referred to, because there may be other elements besides the maps implied. My ideas on this are nebulous, but the Afterword printed in later additions has given me food for thought. After a bit of looking, I managed to find a modern reprint of the John’s map and spent a bit of time comparing the book’s maps with the original, in the hope of finding alterations, but the book reproduces the original exactly.

  55. Leon Says:


    Might this be the blurb you’re looking for?

    “With the obsessive logic of a nightmare, the figure of the quincunx, a figure of five parts, appears at every crucial turning point in John’s quest. Herein lies the secret not only of Johns identity but of the crime that stained his family with blood on his parents’ wedding night and for generations before that.” (dust jacket, 1990-reprint of the Canongate hardback)

    If so, the reference is clearly NOT to the maps, but to the quincunx-motif in the paratextual subdivision of the novel into 25 ‘Books’.

  56. Brian Says:

    Leon, thanks for the contribution, but that is not the blurb I’m thinking of. As far as I can recollect, direct reference was made to the illustrations, and there might have been a hint that they could be used to solve the mystery. You couldn’t claim that of the quincunx!
    Now with reference to the map itself, it is a while since I’ve read the book, but I noticed a discrepancy somewhere inasmuch as John stated that he had only the central parts of the map left to him after his mother and he had had their property stolen on their arrival in London, and yet later he seems to have another section to refer to later. To be honest, I’m hazy in my recollection here, but I think I pointed that particular inconsistency out in one of my numerous notes when I was trawling through looking for them.

  57. Brian Says:

    The map inconsistency is chapter 32, p270 UK paperback, p179 USA hardback, where John has the section for Bethnal Green, which was then on the outskirts of London.

  58. Simon Morris Says:

    I think the Afterword says that Palliser commissioned a herald of arms to produce the coats of arms that precede each book. It would be interesting to know what meanings or hints Palliser wanted the coats of arms to convey. Perhaps this could be inferred by listing the meanings conventionally attached to each of their elements?

  59. Leon Says:

    Brian wrote: “As far as I can recollect, direct reference was made to the illustrations, and there might have been a hint that they could be used to solve the mystery. You couldn’t claim that of the quincunx!”

    Well, that depends on which mystery you mean. The illustrations of the quincunx pattern and the tinctures of their parts do, after all, indicate the identity of the various narrators and the regularity in the assignment of narrative duties. As such they are the code with which to unlock the novel’s very structure.

  60. Brian Says:

    Simon Morris has made an interesting suggestion, and somebody with the required knowledge might profitably follow it up.
    I have now located the part of the blurb referred to previously. It is located on the inside of the dust-jacket of the hardback Ballantyne American edition of February 1990 (cost $25).
    “The Quincunx combines the narrative thrust of the Victorian novel with the spellbinding ingenuity of a modern whodunnit — indeed, many of the clues to the mysteries that John confronts are to be found in the illustrative clues throughout the novel. Riveting in its suspense, scrupulously accurate in its period detail, and daringly original in form, The Quincunx is that rarest of literary achievements: a superbly written book of fiction that is impossible to put down.”
    That paragraph is accompanied by an ornate depiction of a key in black and white.
    The question of the placing of the maps within the novel is complicated by the fact that the American hardback edition referred to puts two of the them in the endpapers, and uses different scales!

  61. Brian Says:

    Thanks for the postings, Leon. I concede that the quincunx structure is central to the novel, but my meaning in the posting under discussion was that the quincunx would not tell you what actually happened at crucial points.
    As far as the illustrations and maps go, my feeling is that they would be me a more fruitful field for research than some of the other avenues pursued so far. But as I have said before, my ideas about them are still being formed.
    It may not be strictly relevant to this discussion, but The Unburied was published with no illustrations, till in a later edition somebody kindly drew a map of central Thurchester, which clarified a few things to me.
    May I say how good it is to see this thread alive again, with only six months to go to the bicentenary.

  62. BAC Says:

    An issue that is somewhat related to the maps of London and has always bothered me is the layout of the Huffam House at Charing Cross. Mary writes in her diary, “When it was built the front was the back, but long ago other houses had been built between it and the street, so it was turned around and the vestibble was built on. You could reach the street by an alley-way directly from the back door, and that is important as I will try to explain one day.”

    My question is why is this important? I think from Mary’s point of view it is important because – the night of John Huffam’s murder – someone could have got into the house from the street and could have been delayed in the vestibule while trying to exit it. That is certainly possible and Peter Clothier, of course, even admits to being hampered by the doors of the vestibule. However, is the fact that a vestibule was built on to what used to be the back of the house significant in any way?

    To put it another way, the murderer could have had the same problems exiting the Huffam house without all the business about the house being “turned around.” If it really isn’t necessary, then why does Palliser describe the house this way? Just for the sake of needless – and fun – complexity? Or is there something important about this backwards house? To me, the emphasis on the layout suggests that the house is a confusing place and that whoever the murderer was, he may have had trouble finding his way out of it, panicked, and broke out through the vestibule. Martin Fortisquince’s description of seeing the murderer walking back and forth in the house several times has always implied confusion to me on the murderer’s part. Unless, of course, Martin himself was the murderer.

    • Simon Morris Says:

      Maybe Mary just means that there are two ways in and out of the house. (Compare the Mompesson’s town-house, of which the rear entrance leads to an enclosed yard). Another point is that the main staircase probably faces towards the old main entrance, and away from the new one, which might affect what Jemima would have seen from it.

  63. Simon Morris Says:

    I’ve looked around for information about heraldry. Wikipedia, this, and this were the most helpful sites. I didn’t find anything very striking, but here are some results anyway

    Lion: courage. Goat: victory through politics, not war. Eagle: high-spirited, quick-witted.

    Goat and lion.
    Stag: one who will not fight unless provoked; peace and harmony.
    The quincunx in the quartering probably refers to Hugo’s marrying Alice. The other non-Mompesson quarter might be Augustus’ wife, or Isabella.
    I think “Cancerata pereat rosa” means “May cancer destroy the rose”, with a crab/canker pun from Latin.

    Spider: wisdom, labour, prudence.
    Snake: wisdom.
    Vulture: purification, maternity, virginity [! but perhaps a reference to Silas’ indignation at Mary’s pregnancy?]
    Crab: inconstancy.

    The crescent indicates a second son, so this is probably Roger’s coat of arms.
    The quincunx in escutcheon perhaps indicates a claim that Amelia is an heiress.
    The division of the field seems very unusual.
    Leopard: valiant warrior.
    Dove: loving constancy and peace.

    The quincunx in escutcheon probably refers to George’s claim to have married an heiress.
    Fox: One who will use all that he/she may possess of wisdom
    and wit in his/her own defence
    Vulture: maternity [fits with the ‘Jack Maliphant’ thesis].
    Two serpents: twice as wise as Silas? But it’s almost a caduceus, which indicates medicine [Jemima’s refusal to kill Johnnie?] and a balance of opposing forces, which fits with the symmetry of the pattern on the shield.
    Star: celestial goodness.

    • Antelope Says:

      To my eye, the Huffam and Palphramond goats are more likely to be antelopes: “Harmony, political cunning, peace”.

  64. Brian Says:

    The map of the area shows a nameless court with two houses, 14 and 17, having a passageway to connect them with the street. That seems to bear out the account of other houses being constructed between them and the street and then the Huffam house having to change its aspect. From John’s account, it must be number 14.The court no longer exists, but Craig’s Court is still there.

  65. Alex Sa Says:

    Sorry to interrupt the discussion, but can anybody suggest any good mystery/detective novel, set in 19 century? The more postmodern it will be, the better :).

    As you may obviously understand, Quincunx is an ideal example, but now I do need more “like this” 🙂 (Unburied is also read already).

    Thank you.

    • Simon Morris Says:

      Maybe Sarah Waters’ “Fingersmith”? I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard it praised. Her background is similar to Palliser’s (academic specialising in Victorian literature who wrote a novel she’d like to have read), and her Wikipedia page mentions him by name.

  66. Alan Brookman Says:

    I stumbled across something curious the other night whilst reading the Book in Question: John relates that the Thames froze over, which it had not done for 40 years. According to my research, the last time the Thames froze solid was 1814, and the times previous to that 1795 and 1788. But the narrative presumably must be taking place in the mid 1820’s if John was born in 1812 or 1813. The old London bridge was demolished in about 1824, and the new bridge improved the flow of the river so that it wouldn’t freeze over as readily. Is this a deliberate obfuscation on Palliser’s part?

    • Simon Morris Says:

      I think this is artistic licence. Palliser needs a cold winter to hang some economic and social commentary from, so he’s moved the freeze of 1814 to the mid 1820’s. Wikipedia says the old London bridge was demolished in 1831, so that doesn’t clash. The Wikipedia article suggests that the freezes of 1788 and 1789 were better documented than that of 1795: if Palliser didn’t know about that of 1795, then a gap of about 40 years is consistent with the oral history to which Johnnie would have had access.

  67. BAC Says:

    I haven’t been thinking much about The Quincunx recently, but I did notice this:

  68. Brian Says:

    Thanks for drawing our attention to the work. We’ll just have to wait and see what it is. On the subject of The Quincunx, I’d like to make some observations, though the points may have been touched on previously.
    Firstly, when John is hiding in the Charing Cross house while Mr Escreet is talking to Mr and Mrs Sancious, the thought occurs to him that of those present on the fatal night in May 1811 only Mr Escreet and Jemima are there now, other than the murderer himself. But Barney Digweed, though not actually in the house, is only a few yards away in the alley, where he might have been on the night of the murder.
    Secondly, there are mentions of Barney having a grudge against the Mompessons over some work done for them. There is little evidence in the book of Barney’s ever having done any joinery or carpentry work for anybody, though it was his early trade. Could the work for the Mompessons have been something more nefarious and for which he considered the remuneration inadequate?
    Thirdly, and not connected with the above, I’ve noticed that in the final chapter of the book all the characters appearing, Mr Advowson, Mr Barbellion, Henrietta and Sukie, are from John’s childhood. Is there something cyclic here?
    Finally, I’d like to wish all the contributors a Merry Christmas and a Happy New (bicentenary) Year in 2012. The correspondence may be flagging a bit now, but let’s hope we can keep it going.

    • Simon Morris Says:

      To Brian’s first point: John makes the pointedly specific observation that all those who were in the house on the evening in May 1811, and who are still alive, are in the house, “[e]xcept, of course, for the murderer himself”. Certainty on John’s part induces immediate scepticism on the reader’s part. Partly this makes me suspect that the murderer might be no longer alive (I think the murderer might by now be quite anonymous, and have been killed by Barney just outside the house). But I agree that Barney could fit into John’s words as Brian suggests.

      To the second point: seems plausible to me.

      To the third point: I feel sure so. I think Palliser’s comment in the afterword about feeling gratified when a reader felt they had to restart the book after reading the last sentence reflects his desire for a reader to re-read the book, at least as much as his pleasure with the last sentence itself. A re-reading reader will be more alert to the (non-)coincidence of Barney’s arrival at Johnnie’s house, more likely to associate Barney with Jemima (having seen them allied at the end of the book), and more suspicious of Bissett’s behaviour during the burglary.

  69. Leon Says:

    No joy:

    But a very happy 2012 to all of you nonetheless.

  70. BAC Says:

    That really hurts. I thought the title was a bit odd.

  71. BAC Says:

    Regarding Brian’s post from December 21st:

    I agree with Simon that when Johnnie assesses information and draws a conclusion from it the reader should be skeptical. Further, I think the Palliser often uses Johnnie’s erroneous conclusions to lay interesting or important information before the attentive reader.

    For example, Johnnie’s observation that Jemima and Escreet are the only two living survivors of the night of John Huffam’s murder – besides the murderer – leads me to think not only of Barney as a possible candidate for the murder, but also of Escreet and Jemima. That is, Johnnie can’t understand that the murderer might be standing right in front of him.

    Escreet makes a plausible murderer, but he does deny killing Huffam and seems to stand to gain nothing from this denial now that Henry Bellringer is dead.

    I’m more interested in Jemima. Her hatred for Huffam and Mary is motive enough and she makes some interesting statements at the end of The Quincunx.

    When she tells Johhnie that his father could not have killed Huffam, we’re uncertain if she is referring to Peter Clothier or Martin Fortisquince. However, if Jemima is the murderer, then what she could be saying is something like, “I know neither man killed John Huffam because I did.” This might also explain why Jemima refuses to say any more to Johnnie about Huffam’s murder at that moment; she doesn’t want to incriminate herself any further. It might also explain Barney’s silence on the subject. He may not have committed the murder, but knows that Jemima did and doesn’t want to implicate his current employer.

    The biggest complication to the my Jemima-as-murderer theory is her account of her actions on the night of the murder and her goading of Escreet. She seems to think that Escreet committed the murder and is trying to force him to admit it. However, what if her purpose with Sancious at the end of The Quincunx is to get Escreet out of the way for good? Why not try to force him to confess to the murder in front of Jemima’s attorney so that Escreet can be packed off to jail or an insane asylum? I can just see the two of them bringing Escreet before a magistrate with “extreme concern.”

    I’m not convinced that Jemima is the murderer, but she did have reason to want to kill Huffam, she is exceedingly clever, and she fits in well with the theme of Johnnie being unable to recognize information that is right in front of him. “Hiding in plain sight” as it were.

    Any comments?

  72. Brian Says:

    Tomorrow, 7th February 2012, will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, and also of John Huffam. In response to Simon Morris’s point about John’s reaching erroneous conclusions, I do not think he is wrong so very often, but a full treatment of that would require much more time than I have available at the moment. Anyway, I hope all the remaining followers of this thread enjoy the day tomorrow.

  73. Simon Morris Says:

    I’ve just finished reading, with much pleasure, Wilkie Collins’ “No Name”. I noticed, or thought I noticed, a number of Quincunxian echoes. In particular, part of Magdalen’s story reminded me of part of Jemima’s presumed back-story, and other parts of it reminded me of Jemima’s alter ego in “The Unburied”.

    Does anyone else wonder whether “The Quincunx” owes more to Wilkie Collins or to Charles Dickens?

    And does anyone else see parallels between Silverlight/Pentecost and Dickens/Collins? I don’t know enough about those writers to be sure about why I suggest that, though.

  74. @style Says:

    I’ve just finished re-reading The Quincunx for the second time. This time, I’ve kept notes all the way through, determined to solve (at least SOME of the) the mystery. One thing I can’t work out, and apologies if this has been discussed above, is who is Mary’s mother?

    My head is still reeling with it all (again!) but I agree with many of you that Escreet is John’s grandfather.

    Such an incredible, if infuriating book. I shall be re-reading again on holiday this year, otherwise I’ll be haunted by it forever!

    Lovely to see this thread going strongly almost ten years after it started!

    Looking forward to anyone’s thoughts.

  75. Brian Says:

    Mary Clothier’s mother is a mystery, but it has been very plausibly argued that her grandmother was Lushing Lizzie at Mitre Court where Mary died. I have made a considerable number of notes on the unresolved issues of the novel without coming to clear conclusions. Escreet is certainly John’s grandfather and Martin Fortisquince’s father. There are plenty of thoughts I could share if you wanted to hear them.

  76. @style Says:

    Yes! Always delighted to hear other opinions! I’ve been dragged into the Quincunx wormhole again, pressing the book on everyone I know to see what they think.

    I did think Lushing Lizzie was something to do with Mary, and as others have said she might have been Eliza, but the mystery of her mother seems an important one, and it’s something that never comes up in discussion.

    All thoughts v appreciated.

  77. Bd Says:

    I guess that Palliser drew from a number of historic and literary sources in creating the Quincunx, but I have recently been struck by the number of themes the Quincunx has in common with The Merchant of Venice, particularly, Law vs Equity, hatred as a cyclical phenomenon, the difference in what is preached and what is practiced (Portia, “the quality of mercy etc..”, does not necessarily exhibit that same quality herself, for example), the evils of usary, let alone that one of the main villians is Jewish. Interesting….maybe….

  78. Leon Says:

    @ @style:

    Mary’s mother has come up in discussions here several times; it’s just that, as Brian rightly points out, she is a mystery. We know nothing about her, except for the fact that, according to Mary herself, she died when Mary was “very young” (543, US pocket ed.). But Mary’s mother is not the only mysterious woman in the little circle of people in the house at Charing Cross in the late 1780s and early 1790s. We may also note that nowhere in the novel there is any mention of John Huffam Sr.’s wife. In fact, as far as I recall, there is no mention that he ever was actually married at all. We assume – as we are perhaps meant to – that the mother of which Mary writes was also the wife of John Huffam Sr., but this need not have been the case of course, and it is certainly nowhere explicitly stated that it was. Mary’s mother may not have been John Huffam Sr.’s lawfully wedded wife. If she was not, two possibilities as to her identity suggest themselves – to my mind at least.

    In the very same journal entry in which Mary mentions the death of her mother when she (Mary) was “very young”, she also off-handedly and parenthetically mentions that Martin Fortisquince’s first wife “died when I [Mary] was still a very little child, and left him no children” (545). By that time – in the late 1790s – Martin had set up his own establishment as a lawyer and was no longer living at the house at Charing Cross. This means that the deaths of these two women – Mary’s mysterious mother and Martin Fortisquince’s equally mysterious first wife – practically coincided, and that, in its turn, at the very least leaves open the interpretative possibility that these women were in fact one and the same woman; in other words, that John Huffam Sr. around 1794 fathered a child with the wife of his best friend and (after her death) raised it as his own daughter. ‘Hard’ textual evidence is lacking, but it is an entertaining thought, especially since it mirrors the Escreet-Fortisquince love-triangle in the late-1760s of which Martin is the product.

    Another possibility is that Mary’s mother was a prostitute, or John Huffam’s ‘kept woman’ (just as Eliza ‘Lushing Lizzie’ Umphraville was James Huffam’s ‘kept woman’ before they were married). Note the pointed way in which Palliser has both Mary and Jeoffrey Escreet mention that during the 1780s and 1790s the house at Charing Cross was practically surrounded by prostitutes: they do their business by “the wall of the Privy-gardens” (543), probably at the “Rummer-tavern” “nearby” (543), and certainly at the “Bagnio next door at No. 16 with the lines of carriages and chairs outside it” (748). Note in particular how cunningly Escreet draws the attention of the person whom he thinks is the grandson of the man who has grievously wronged him to the next-door Bagnio and the “soldier’s tupenny drabs along the wall of the Privy-gardens” (748). What sweet revenge to drive the last scion of the once great house of Huffam in the arms of some low-life whore, and perhaps have him father an illegitimate child with her and catch some nasty venereal disease in the process! (Like father, like son.) Again, ‘hard’ textual evidence is lacking, but there is also no evidence against this hypothesis. And it would make perfect dramatic sense to have the man who is the product of his father’s affair with a prostitute, himself father a child with one, and then to have this child be forced into prostituting herself in later life. “It’s almost enough to make a body believe there is a pattern to events,” as Escreet would have it (744).

    So much for my thoughts on the subject of Mary’s mother. As I said, we have next to nothing to go on. I, too, am looking forward to any of Brian’s thoughts on any of the many unresolved issues of the novel!

    • Simon Morris Says:

      I’m sympathetic to Leon’s suggestion that Mary’s mother might have been a prostitute. It opens up many possible parallels to Eliza’s life, as well as to Mary’s. Though if there had been any doubt about John Huffam Senior having been married to Mary’s mother, wouldn’t that have been as much of an obstacle to Johnnie’s inheritance as the uncertainty surrounding James and Eliza’s marriage?

      • Leon Says:

        Yes, it would. And so it should be seen by the close reader of the novel, I would argue. My point is that Palliser plays with our automatic assumption that Mary is the legitimate child of John Huffam Sr. (an automatic assumption which Johnnie seems to share) precisely by creating a narrative silence surrounding the identity of Mary’s mother and John Huffam’s wife – a silence which becomes a very telling one once you’ve noticed it.

  79. Brian Says:

    I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my theories on the various mysteries of the novel are not so firm that I should be confident enough to express them in writing, at least not for a while yet. My pessimistic view of this book is that the mysteries cannot be fully resolved because any ‘solution’ will generate another problem. This is well expressed by a sentence near the start of Ch 120:-
    “Beneath my feet I noticed the pattern of tiles making black and white lozenges like endlessly proliferating and ramifying quincunxes, it occurred to me, whose centre changed as I advanced.”
    In the marvellous last chapter, very close to the end John writes:-
    “I felt a dizzying sense that there was something here that I did not understand and I suddenly wanted to leave that place.”
    One wonders if John came any closer to a resolution many years later.
    On the entirely separate topic of literary influences, has anybody mentioned Henry James, one of the acknowledged stylists of about 100 years ago? He wrote in a way that accorded great importance to punctuation ( worth looking out for in The Quincunx!) and was an American living in England.
    Sorry if this contribution is a bit inchoate, but my thoughts are not well ordered.

  80. Leon Says:

    Brian wrote: “My pessimistic view of this book is that the mysteries cannot be fully resolved because any ‘solution’ will generate another problem.”

    That’s my view of the novel as well, Brian – The Quincunx as a semiotic machine which generates interpretations without ever achieving closure – but I would hardly call it a “pessimistic” one. It is only a pessimistic view from the vantage point of a nineteenth-century, realist aesthetic – the very aesthetic the novel so cleverly parodies. From the vantage point of a postmodern aesthetic this ‘undecidability’ or ‘unknowability’ is precisely its outstanding quality – a quality thematised in the novel by the very figure of the quincunx which gives it its title (see also the quote from Quintilian which serves as its motto). I see the various solutions to the many mysteries of the novel proposed by the contributors to this forum – including my own (especially my own) – not so much as attempts at achieving narrative closure, but rather as celebrations of its impossibility.

  81. James Says:

    I finished reading the Quincunx recently and have very much enjoyed reading the comments above. I have one idea: does anyone else think it might be worth asking whether Charles Palliser would be interested in releasing the original (uncut) text as an e-book? There would be little cost in doing so if the text already exists and I’m sure there would be a small but eager market of people keen to see if the longer version answers any of the questions raised by the published text.

  82. Brian Says:

    A very interesting suggestion. The Afterword mentions that the original manuscript was twice the length of the published novel, so one must assume that the original would provide a few answers, and maybe raise a few questions too. Has anybody had a look at Betrayals recently? I found a copy in the reserve section of a library, and though I read it many years ago, I was surprised this time just how good a read it is. The underlying theme is given in the title, and it has given me food for thought about its relevance to The Quincunx.

  83. Simon Morris Says:

    I agree that the original text would be a wonderful thing to see, though I wouldn’t like to guess whether it would increase or decrease the ratio of questions to answers.

    I also recommend ‘Betrayals’, though it has a very different tone from ‘The Quincunx’ and ‘The Unburied’. I don’t think it relates to ‘The Quincunx’ quite as specifically as the ‘The Unburied’ does (concealed mother/son, red coats), but the thematic similarities are as interesting (the repetition of stories with variations reminds me of the links between Mary-Peter-Daniel and Henrietta-David-Tom). And of course ‘The Quincunx’ is full of people inadvertently betraying their own secrets to the reader, and deliberately betraying other people. Perhaps there are more concrete links between the stories in ‘Betrayals’ and ‘The Quincunx’, though?

  84. Simon Morris Says:

    A couple of ‘Quincunx’ questions that I can’t resolve seem to relate to one person betraying another to third and fourth parties. I think Escreet betrays John Sr. to both Clothier (apply ‘cui bono?’ to Mary’s situation if Peter had not been able to escape from the Charing Cross house on the evening after the wedding) and the Mompessons (how else did the Mompessons recover the second will?). And I think Bissett betrays Mary and Johnnie to Barney (she behaves oddly, in a number of ways, during the burglary), as well as Barbellion.

    Are there any multiple betrayals in ‘Betrayals’?

  85. JD Says:

    Hi all,

    I’ll be visiting London next week. Which Quincunxian places would you suggest me to visit, where to walk, which route to choose?

    Thank you :).

  86. jwrhff Says:

    Quite a few Quincunxian places are familiar to me. I used to live in Pimlico, in one of the stucco-fronted buildings that were part of the building scam (or their real-life equivalents). Pimlico is nice for a quiet stroll but there’s not that much to do there.

    I now live in Westminster, pretty close to the lodgings where John and his mother were staying with Pentecost, Silverlight and Miss Quilliam.

    I work in the Temple, just off Fleet Street and not far from Staple Inn and Ely Place (where Ely Court is). I think it’s an interesting corner of London and I would recommend a stroll from the Temple, up Chancery Lane (pop in to Lincoln’s Inn to see where modern Chancery barristers tend to work), up to High Holborn and then east to Staple Inn and then to Ely Place. During the day you can wander in and out of these places easily. You could have a quick visit to St Etheldreda’s Church and then have a drink at Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, 1 Ely Court.

    • @style Says:

      Which street did they stay on with Miss Quilliam, Pentecost and Silverlight? I seem to recall Orchard Street (have loaned my copy of the book out so can’t check) but that doesn’t seem likely, due to its very close proximity to Mompessons in Brook St.

      Is it more likely to be Abbey Orchard St in the Devil’ Acre?

      Sorry if this is a completely dim question, been google-mapping places for hours today! Great fun, but brain-befuddling 🙂

  87. JD Says:


    Thank you so much for the hints!

    I’m trying to go through the book now. And have already spotted a few places: Martin Fortisquince @ 27 Golden-square; Mompessons @ No. 48, Brook-street; Mrs. Purviance’s brothel @ No. 12 East-Harding-street.

    However, the most interesting ones were given w/o addresses, as far as I can recall (I was reading the books some three years ago).

    E.g. John Huffam’s / Jeoffrey Escreet’s house: “[T]he house was at Charing-cross, over-looked Northumberland-gardens, and was in a court with an alley-way to the street. I could see from the map that it must be either in Northumberland-court to the east of the mansion, or in one of the courts to the west: Trinity-place, one without a name, or Craigs-court. The nameless one seemed most likely.”

    Or Silas Clothier’s office: “Let us imagine that it is near shutting-up time on a cold wet winter’s evening and that we are following Mr Sancious once again a day or two after we last encountered him. He descends Ludgate-hill, making for the river through a labyrinth of back ways until, a little to the west of Upper-Thames-street, he finds himself at the top of a dark narrow alley which declines by a cobbled lane towards one of the old Thameside stairs. He cautiously descends and, reaching the river’s edge, peers about him.” [Besides, some pages later Addle-Hill is also mentioned as another reference point.]

    [BTW, I don’t remember anything about Silas’s house? Was he living with his son?]

    Or – since I’ll be staying near the Tower of London – does anybody remember any hints on latest Digweeds’ place: “When I reached the lane in Wapping in which the Digweeds lived I approached their house with the same circumspection?”

    What do you think? Are there any chances to locate those? 🙂

    Thank you once again :).

  88. Brian Kenny Says:

    I was going to reply to this interesting enquiry earlier today, but jwrhff has got in first. There is, however, a bit I can add and I hope it is helpful. The Golden Square house and the Brook Street one are still there, the latter being quite recognisable from the description of its location in the book. In both cases the street numbers have changed, of course. Ely Court is a very sinister little alleyway and well worth a visit. The pub goes back to the reign of Henry VIII. East Harding Street is still there too, near Dr Johnson’s house in Gough Square. The courtyard where John Huffam lived is no longer there, though Craig’s Court remains. Silas Clothier lived in Bell Lane, which still exists, but his office was situated in Edington’s Wharf, which doesn’t. The Church of St Sepulchre has benches outside where you can sit and look across to the Old Bailey, where Newgate prison once stood, and the Saracen’s Head is only a short walk away. Aylesbury Street, where Mr Sancious lived, is still there. Working from memory, I think the Digweeds moved to somewhere near Cinnamon Street in Wapping. Oh, and enjoy your visit!

  89. Jade Says:

    How totally bizarre! I’m in London next week for a conference and I’ve sneakily booked myself an extra day so I could look for Quincunx-esque places too! Have read the last few posts with interest and will definitely be visiting a few of the places mentioned.

    Good work and thanks to all 🙂

  90. JD Says:


    Thanks a lot! Both your and jwrhff’s suggestions do make my London trip more and more interesting :).

  91. jwrhff Says:

    I haven’t got my copy of the book in front of me but Abbey Orchard Street sounds right. I remember that I when I read it I though ‘oh, that’s just round the corner’ so I think it’s Old Pye Street and that part of Westminster. Of course, I might have misremembered completely.

  92. Brian Says:

    Miss Quilliam lived at 47 Orchard Street, now Abbey Orchard Street, very close to Westminster Abbey.

  93. @style Says:

    Yes, I thought Old Pye St and the surrounding was right too! Good stuff. Have google mapped Abbey Orchard St now and not much there from the 19th century, but interesting anway.

  94. Simon Morris Says:

    Are there any quincunxes, or 80%’s of quincunxes, on any of those maps?

  95. JD Says:

    BTW, have anyone made some related Google maps? Some GPS tracks? Can you share it?

  96. John Says:

    Hey everyone!

    I just finished reading the novel and thanks to this site i beleive i have been able to understand some of the mysterious in the Quincunx. Although i have had a hard time of understanding Henriettas character. I do not fully understand her motives throughout the book.Did she really love Henry or was it John or was it David? I also dont understand John being so harsh on her at the end? Could it be becasue she was pregnant? and i also dont know what to make of this line at the end.
    “And yet as i looked at her now she looked quite composed and sain. I felt a dizzying sense that there was something here that i did not understand and i suddenly wanted to leave that place”. If you all could clarify these points for me it would be much apreciated!

  97. Simon Morris Says:

    My guess is that she most loves David. She goes to Calais, presumably to be with him, and, perhaps, to be financially supported by him.

    I think John’s final attitude to her is simply due to her being pregnant by someone else, whether that was Henry, or, probably, David.

    And I think John’s dislike of motives he can’t understand says more about what he’s become than about Henrietta. He’s learned to navigate a world in which people seek money and power, and Henrietta doesn’t live in that world.

  98. Brian Says:

    Thank you, John, for a very interesting enquiry. I’ll just answer the last part, though my own view is that Henrietta was impregnated by Henry Bellringer, just as Mary Clothier was by Martin Fortisquince, in the very same room of the Blue Dragon in Hertford. John feels a “dizzying sense” because he’s starting to discern a pattern of events around the Huffam inheritance which he cannot quite grasp, and Henrietta’s pregnancy somehow fits into that pattern, the pieces of which he cannot fit together. He needs to go away and think, perhaps fearful that others are more cognisant of what is happening than he is. That’s my view. I might add that in my opinion the last chapter is the best in the book.

  99. John Says:

    Thank both of you for your thoughtful responses.And i agree with you Brian the last chapter is defiantly one of the best.I wonder if Palliser would ever let a film director take his masterpiece to the big screen? Or maybe even a television series…what do you guy’s think?

    • Simon Morris Says:

      There’s a reference to a TV series here. I don’t know if it’ll actually happen, though. An indirect look at their website shows that they also have a project for Thomas Mann’s “Joseph And His Brothers”, another of my very favourite books.

  100. Brian Says:

    The Quincunx could certainly be dramatised, but the director would need to decide what happened at certain crucial points in the plot, and not leave events open to more than one construction. I recall The Mystery of Edwin Drood was dramatised, and quite successfully. Personally, I do not expect to see The Quincunx on the screen. Charles Palliser has written drama, I believe.

  101. Leon Says:

    I don’t expect an adaptation of The Quincunx to make it to the big or small screen any time soon either. And, frankly, I’m not all that sad about it. I am not so much worried that the script writer(s) and the director would not be able to somehow retain the ambiguities at the plot level. Multi-media such as film and television have their own techniques and devices to create ambiguity, and skilled and sensitive writers, directors, editors and actors will undoubtedly be able to do a complex ‘plot-with-gaps’ such as that of The Quincunx justice. (In a perfect world, of course – the reality will quite likely be that the plot will be somewhat simplified and much of the ambiguity and uncertainty will be ironed out due to all kinds of pragmatic constraints that go hand in hand with the formats of the feature film and television miniseries. 🙂 )

    Rather, I am afraid the novel will be turned into a ‘mere’ historical costume drama (much like any Dickens adaptation that I’ve seen) and nothing more than that – and thereby (deliberately) disregard its postmodern character as an “ironic reconstruction” (as Palliser himself has called it) – a piece of metafiction which offers comment on the kind of text which it itself consciously and deliberately imitates. To capture that characteristic of the novel in an adaptation for film or television is neigh impossible without drastic and daring steps such as the ones taken by Harold Pinter when he adapted John Fowles’s “ironic reconstruction” The French Lieutenant’s Woman into the screenplay for Karel Reisz’s film. Check it out; Pinter’s solution to the problem of adapting a piece of metafiction such as Fowles’s novel is rather ingenious, though not wholly successfull to my taste…

  102. norfolkmountain Says:

    Just a mention – feverfew is also called wild Quinine.
    It could be used to end a pregnancy – does this hint that the Digweed line is useful for getting rid of unwanted offspring before birth and, as many of you think, once born too?
    Quinine looks like another hint at 5.
    There are 5 jumps down each of the family lines after they divide from Henry Huffam which end with Stephen, Henry, John, Emma, David and Henrietta.
    I wonder if the Digweeds may have re homed 5 children for the respective family lines.
    Also last family tree headed Maliphants – not meaning Bad Child but also Sickly Child – the line of sucession is sickly ie not legitimate but
    there is time for Peter to father John.
    “It was now very late, or, rather very early and we were both very tired. All seemed well now but later he returned to the topic”
    The “later” provides the opportunity.
    Could the key to the mystery of the murder be the large Key that opend the door and that Jemima claims to move from on top of the clock to the floor. Have been spending this morning looking at Jemima in more detail – do we know her maiden name? I have a suspicion she “holds the key” and this is why the whole key/door business is included.
    Do you not also think that there is more to Joey than meets the eye. He is almost John’s age (6 months difference) and their are lots of interesting hints about him. Anyway must go – hope somebody may be following this link still.

  103. Brian Says:

    The latest posting mentions something which I have long cherished notions about, namely the key. A publisher’s blurb once mentioned that the novel might be solved by means of the illustrations provided, something which has led me down a few cul-de-sacs! Both my American hardback and my UK paperback edition display a key prominently on the front. The significance of that has puzzled me for a few years, but any possible theory that I’ve come up with I’ve later rejected.
    Away from The Quincunx, I’ve reread The Sensationist for the first time for many years, having found a copy in a bookshop. It is very different from the first novel, and considerably shorter too, but one striking similarity, which Palliser himself mentions in his Afterword, is in the endings. They both have a kind of brutal finality. If anybody has read the Sensationist any views would be welcomed.
    How many are still reading this link, one wonders?

  104. James Says:

    I’m still reading the link but I haven’t read The Sensationist. I read The Unburied a couple of weeks ago. That has some similarities to The Quincunx, but it is much more straightforward.

  105. Brian Says:

    No novel published since 1999. Whatever happened to the two that were supposed to be in the pipeline so long ago? I hope there are still people interested enough to read this.

  106. Anne Tillope Says:

    Benedicte Page, (London) Guardian, 13 October 2012, from the Frankfurt Book Fair: Charles Palliser, autor of “The Quincunx” has written his first novel for more than a decade… “Rustication” will tell the story of a Victorian undergraduate sent down from Cambridge and finding his family in crisis following the mysterious death of his father.

  107. Brian Says:

    Thank you, Anne, for the good news. I’ll look forward to reading it when it comes out.

  108. lebellerachael Says:

    Hello? Any body home? I just adored the novel…and like all of us still mystified!..a real masterpiece I think!!….OMG he is writing a new book!!! Wunerful!

    I could never understand why the Digweeds were always so nice to him! Just getting paid off doesn’t explain it!!….a delightful mix of mysteries!

  109. Anne Tillope Says:

    In one of John Sutherland’s books on puzzles in classic fiction, he notes that Dickens has Martin Chuzzlewit leave England in the depths of winter, stay 12 months in the US and return in the height of summer. Also, in “Little Dorrit”, a church scene takes place at an identifiable time and place beneath a stained-glass window that was not installed until many years later. When this was pointed out, DIckens added in a new preface that, effectively, he was not bothered. Presumably Palliser would be aware of this and so in imitating Dickens would be quite happy to have the anomalies of time and geography that have been pointed out in some of the postings above.

  110. Brian Says:

    An interesting post from Anne Tillope, but I’m not convinced that Charles Palliser wasn’t bothered about anomalies in The Quincunx. The novel was very well researched and took him years. I think most of the anomalies are deliberate and are there to warn the reader not to put total faith in the narratives offered.
    I’ve just started my annual re-read and have noticed that John took an interest in heraldry as a youngster. I’m sure the topic has been raised, but has anybody any strong opinions about the heraldic devices at the start of each part? Another thing I’ve started to wonder about, and I’m certain nobody has ever raised in discussions, is the titles given to the books, five to each part. They must have some significance.
    If anybody does read Rustication, let us all know what it’s like! Thanks for reading.

  111. Leon Says:

    Finally. A new novel! Excellent news; cannot wait to read it! And perhaps a new novel will also breathe some new life into this forum.

    In response to Brian (October 13):
    If memory serves, one of the two writing projects-in-progress Palliser discussed in an interview in 2007 (2006?) was another novel set in the Victorian era, bearing the provisional title The Conservatory. Perhaps the announced novel Rustication is the final result of that writing project. Hopefully the other project – a juvenile novel set in a fictional Eastern European country during the rise of Nazism – will see the light of day shortly after Rustication.

    And in response to Anne Tillope (October 16):
    I’m afraid I’m with Brian on “the anomalies of time and geography” some of us have been discussing in the above posts (going back several years by now); they most certainly are deliberate and intentional, and not imitations of Dickensian sloppiness. Which is not to say that Palliser did not make any mistake in his historical research (which is what your example from Little Dorrit amounts to) – I just do not think he made mistakes regarding the chronology and geography of his fictional world. The confusion which exists about the missing Christmasses, for instance, or the confusing and contradictory statements about the lay-out of the Huffam estate (or the murder house at Charing Cross, for that matter) is certainly intentional.

  112. Leon Says:

    Here’s the full blurb (or whatchumacall call it in publisher land):

    “It is the Christmas of 1863. Richard, seventeen, has returned from Cambridge under a cloud to find his mother and elder sister squabbling in a delapidated old mansion on a remote part of the southern English coast. The recent death in mysterious circumstances of his father has plunged the family into poverty and forced them to abandon their friends and move here. As a way of coping with the isolation and his grief, Richard starts to write a journal. Distracted by various temptations, he only gradually discovers that his new neighbours are being terrorised by a series of strange and increasingly frightening events. Almost too late he realises that he himself has been ensnared in a concealed trap.”

    Delapidated old mansion; mysterious death of father; Yuletide setting; journal-writing protagonist with quite likely a shady (recent) past; a s eries of strange and increasingly frightening events (of a supernatural kind, since the Christmas-setting screams ghost story?); a concealed trap: I don’t know about you guys, but this sounds very promising to me.

    338 manuscript pages (so no massive tome like The Quincunx); US publication with Norton set for Spring 2013. Just one option for translation so far. 😦 But that option is by a Dutch publisher, which pleases me. 🙂

  113. Anne Tillope Says:

    A warning on the subject of heraldry (Brian, October 19, 2012, and Simon Morris, Setember 5, 2011, above) – I have an early copy of the UK paperback, but, to be able to read the author’s afterword, I bought another (second hand). It’s noticeable that a lot of detail in the illustrations in the early copy (5th printing) has disappeared in the later one (10th printing). In particular the half-tone (stippled) petals of the Mompesson, Clothier and Palphramond quincunxes just print as white in the later copy. And in the earlier copy it is just possible to see that the central bud of the Clotheir quincunx is a dark half-tone, but it’s solid black in the newer one. Which is a shame, because the difference between the black, white and half-tone shadings is central to Palliser’s organisation of the book.

  114. James Says:

    Very pleased to find this forum. The Quincunx is one of my favourite books. I haven’t read all the posts, but there is an impressive analyticity here!

    A few things occur to me after a recent 3rd (or 4th) reading:

    1. The Quintilian quote suggests strongly to me that Palliser intended multiple possible interpretations of the book, each providing a view of order and symmetry. And Johnnie’s childhood dabbling in the pond in his garden, with shapes in the water disappearing under his scrutiny, seems to warn us that the harder one looks, the more elusive the truth becomes. Taken together, the injunction seems to be: Designs are man-made and can be satisfying only to that degree; Life is chaotic, random and contingent. The tension between the two is mirrored in the philosophical positions of Pentecost and Silverlight, positions which are eloquently reversed in their own personal behaviour towards others…

    2. Surely Barney is the burglar at Melthorpe. The giveaway is his singular threat to Johnnie “I’ll tear your arm off and beat you to death with it” which he repeats much later in Pimlico.

    3. If Uncle Martin is Johnnie’s natural father, as the consensus here holds, then why is Mary so surprised at Jemima’s malevolence towards her? Surely Mary is not such a milksop as to believe that Martin’s new bride, whatever her motives for marriage, would not feel bitterness and jealousy towards her for bearing his child? There is almost overwhelming evidence that Martin is indeed the father, but this aspect puzzles me.


  115. Leon Says:

    With regard to James’s second point: I wholeheartedly agree. And nice work spotting another instance of Palliser’s use of a typically Dickensian device, namely that of providing characters with a recognizable ‘catchphrase’. (Palliser does something similar with Pentecost, Silverlight, and Sancious.) Moreover, having just reread Palliser’s ‘Author’s Afterword’ in the Penguin edition of the novel, I think we can safely lay to rest any suspicion that he may have intended the perpetrator of the burglary in the cottage at Melthorpe to be anybody else than Barney Digweed say his not-yet disfigured(half-)brother George, as (I believe) BAC argued some time ago. palliser gives the game away on page 1211. Rereading the Afterword I am struck by how much of his game he actually gives away.

    One thing he is silent on is the subject of the paternity of Henrietta’s infant child, which tragically does not live to see its second birthday (see p. 1089, Penguin ed.). We can make cases for either David Mompesson as the biological father of the child, or for Henry Bellringer.

    Pop quiz: whom do you prefer, and for what reason?

  116. Simon Morris Says:

    “Rustication” sounds very promising. The Christmas setting, and an Oxbridgian lured away from the university into a concealed trap, remind me of “The Unburied” – I wonder whether “Rustication” will have as many Quincunxian echoes.

    One reason for Mary’s surprise at Jemima’s malevolence may be that Palliser wants to hint at another reason for that malevolence, beyond Martin’s infidelity. If Jemima joined John’s household with the intention of marrying him, and producing a son, Jack, who might inherit, then John’s preference for Mary to continue the line (encouraged by Escreet, who sees John’s female heir as a way to re-insert himself, via Martin, into that line) would be another reason for Jemima to dislike Mary.

    Are we convinced that Henrietta’s child does not survive? If there’s any way for it to inherit, it may be that she, or David, want to conceal its existence from Johnnie. And a child would provide a reason for Henrietta’s joining David, who might not otherwise find her an ideal companion.

  117. Leon Says:

    @Simon Morris: “Are we convinced that Henrietta’s child does not survive?”

    Well, as far as I am aware there is no textual evidence stating that it did survive. But then again, we have only Johnnie’s word for the fact that the baby died, and his information is hearsay only. (Remember that Mary in her journal reported the death of Mr Pentecost – also based on hearsay evidence – and he lived on to become one of Johnny’s co-authors of the text we’re discussing.)

    And given the fact that there is at least one other supposedly dead infant in the novel whom we (or I, at least) suspect to have lived on – Lydia Mompesson’s child with John Umphraville – another case would be just one more case of history repeating itself in the fictional world of The Quincunx.

    However, in the case of Lydia Mompesson’s supposedly deceased child Palliser is careful to include doubts about its fate in the text. We know the Lydia Mompesson has clung to the belief that the child survived, whilst Isabella Mompesson is of the opinion it is dead: “I don’t know quite what you imagine your parents did, but the truth is that it died. You were told so at the time and it was the truth.” (879, US pocket ed.) (Note that this can only have been hearsay evidence only; Isabella was in all likelihood not present there and then in c.1770 or shortly thereafter when the child died or was taken from its mother.) In the case of Henrietta’s child Palliser includes no such ambiguity in the text.

    You wrote: “And a child would provide a reason for Henrietta’s joining David, who might not otherwise find her an ideal companion.”

    Surely David would find Henrietta a less than ideal companion even if she does join him in Calais with her hidden child? Remember that the child is born out of wedlock, regardless of whom its father is – David Mompesson or Henry Bellringer. It will be difficult to pass off the two-year old child as a legitimate Mompesson heir.

  118. James Says:

    Not sure if this has been posted here yet but it contains some interesting commentary

    Click to access v15%20n1%202-14.pdf

  119. Linda Says:

    Hi, everyone

    I’m a newbie so please be gentle with me! I’ve just finished reading The Quincunx, which took over my life for a week, to the exclusion of everything else. I’m delighted to have found this excellent site as I, too, have been struggling to find clues as to whodunnit and to tie up all the loose ends. I was amazed to see just how long this site (and the one before) has been running!

    I’ve had a quick read through many of the comments on here but there are some things that I noticed in the book which I haven’t yet found being mentioned by anyone else, although I may have missed them, of course. Anyway, here are my thoughts, for what they are worth:-

    1) “Paternoster” means “our father” and “Delamater” may mean “of the mother”. Does anyone else think Palliser’s choice of these names for these characters might be significant?

    2) Just a thought but it struck me that the forenames of Mary and Martin (or Mary & Marty) begin with the same three letters, as do the names of Henrietta and Henry Bellringer.

    3) Although I can’t now find the relevant page again, I have a feeling that a red coat was mentioned somewhere else in the book, not in relation to Peter Clothier. Does anyone else remember this? (If not, I must be imagining it, or confusing the Red Coat with the Red Room at Barney’s place.)

    4) I have the 1990 Penguin paperback version of the book, which contains the Author’s Afterword. Someone mentioned on here that important clues may be found in the illustrations, so I wondered if those on the cover are of any consequence. For those of you who don’t have this particular copy of the book, I’ll try to describe the cover but please bear with me as it may take a while.

    The cover is in colour and the front illustration features:-

    (a) part of what appears to be a silver arch, which is at the left hand side of the cover. (The base resembles that of a candle stick but the top widens out too much.)

    (b) two handwritten documents, presumably the Codicil and/or Will, or maybe pages from Mary’s notebook, some words (or parts of words) of which stand out, viz “Nich…”, “wife”, “Mon…”

    (c) a very large key (with a trefoil handle),

    (d) at the right-hand side, part of the face and right arm and hand of a man, on whose little finger is a ring, In front of the man is half of the quincunx rose but the centre bud looks like the points of a compass. This rose is within a circular frame at the top of which is a 5- or even 6-petalled rose. (I need a stronger magnifying glass!)

    (e) a crest/device/badge/what-you-will which is interesting in its complexity and which is the most prominent part of the cover illustration. At the centre of the crest is the ubiquitous four-leafed rose but, again, the “bud” at the centre is actually an off-centre 16-point compass with a straight line running right through it. This line starts on the right hand lower side of the top left petal and runs to the upper left side of the bottom right petal.

    At the top of the crest is an egg-timer. (Is this an indication that time was running out for someone?)

    At the bottom of the crest is the front (visible) part of a circular band which is marked out in Roman numerals. The “III” is just visible, followed by “IIII”, then “V”, “VI”, “VII” and the “V” of the “VIII”, and it’s my feeling that these numbers may run from I to XII. (“Quincunx” means “a fifth part of twelve” and there are some interesting comments about its other meanings on astrological sites, should anyone care to investigate further.)

    In between the IIII and V is what looks like a small palm tree (5 branches) below a circular object which could be a sun (or moon). Between the V and VI is a keyhole, which is slightly nearer the VI than the V. Between the VI and VII is another small circular blob (placed lower than the figures) which could be anything.

    At the very bottom of the crest is a narrow band which appears to have some sort of indicator/pointer on it. This pointer is positioned between the “palm tree” and the “V”.

    Any useful thoughts, anyone?

  120. Brian Says:

    There have been some very interesting postings in the last few days. I’ve compared two paperback Penguin editions to look at the front covers in detail, and there is certainly some scope for conjecture as to the meaning of the objects depicted. Especially puzzling is the fact that though the design seems to have remain unchanged, the earlier one is credited to Nick Harris and the later to Volker Strater.
    Something struck me in reading the end of chapter 34, when John and Mary make their escape from the Isbisters’ house in Bethnal Green. John tells Mary it is about four o’clock and it is still dark. As they make their way from the house it brightens. But this is supposed to be happening in the days before British Summer Time (Daylight Saving Time in the USA). At four o’clock in June it would have been broad daylight already, as sunrise would have been about 3.45am. Though they leave so early in the morning it is about noon when they come to Temple Bar, perhaps four or five miles away. Admittedly they are making very slow progress, stopping to rest and eat on the way, but to take about eight hours is ridiculously slow progress.
    In response to Anne Tillope, I must concur totally about the deficiency of the later edition. A very good point.
    In response to Leon, I go for Henry Bellringer as the father. It must have been a while ago, but I think I argued the case for the Blue Boar at Hertford being the scene of two seductions connected with the Huffam estate.
    Once again, thanks to everybody for reading the posts.

  121. Linda Says:

    Brian, this gets curiouser and curiouser. In my copy of the book (Penguin 1990) the illustrations are credited to Jenny Phillips!

  122. Brian Says:

    Sorry, perhaps I should have made it clear that my observation on the different attributions referred specifically to the cover design of which you gave such a full description. The American hardback edition I possess shows only five ornate keyholes and a large brass key. Yes, I do have three copies in all! I make a point of re-reading the book every year at this time.

  123. Linda Says:

    Thanks, Brian. I’ve just started reading the book again even though I finished it only recently (and a copy of The Unburied arrived in the post this morning).

    It was when I picked up The Quincunx again today that I saw that the cover illustrations on my edition were indeed credited to Volker Strater. It’s because his name appears on the back cover that I didn’t at first spot it. (Jenny Phillips is mentioned on the inside pages.)

    I’ve not read very far into the book as yet but this time I’m making notes! I’ve already noted that at the start of the story Bissett has grey hair, which would indicate that she’s at least 45-50-ish when Johnnie is a young child, and the man at the gate was “not tall” and he had curly reddish hair. (So, could this be George and not Barney Digweed?)

    I also noticed yesterday, when dipping into the book, that Tom Mompesson was described (on p.169) as “a carrot-haired youth”. All these redheads are making my head spin! I wish I could sort them all out. Maybe I will this time, fingers crossed.

  124. Simon Morris Says:

    Linda: Multiple redheads could well be significant, and the pair you mention would fit with one theory about Barney’s origin. Multiple sets of blue eyes have much significance in ‘The Quincunx’, and a simpler version of the same significance in ‘The Unburied’. I think there’s a similar parallel between a red coat in the two novels, and I’d certainly be interested by a second reference to one in ‘The Quincunx’.

  125. Brian Says:

    In reply to Linda, the man who came to the gate in Melthorpe was certainly Barney. Mary recognises his accent as being from London, whereas when John is living with the Digweeds George mentions that he does not speak like a London man, being from John’s former district by birth. Also, Barney later recounts his own version of his conversation with Mary and Mrs Bissett, voicing some indignation too. Also George states to John, when Joey and he are helping him to escape from the asylum, that he has never stolen anything in his life.

  126. Linda Says:

    Simon: Thanks, and yes I have noticed lots of comments about the blue eyes as well as the redheads – and the bulbous noses, domed foreheads, over-large heads, etc.

    As for the red coat I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been dipping into the book again in an effort to find the second reference but without success. I’m now wondering if it was the mention of Jack’s broad-skirted GREEN coat (Penguin edition p.595) that instantly made me think of Peter’s two coats on the night of the wedding/murder.

    Eureka! In Ch.112 (p.1101), which describes the night of the ball held by Lady Mompesson and Sir David:-

    “And there is a rather burly young gentleman in regimentals. Why, it is Tom Mompesson! Yet surely he has been sacked from his regiment? However that maybe, he is looking rather fine in his scarlet coat with gold froggings, his canary-yellow waistcoat, and his shiny Hessians. Who is that smartly dressed gentleman with him? His bottle-green coat, though handsome, seems not quite to fit him. Why, it is Mr Vamplew! What is the tutor doing at the ball? …”

    So, not only two red coats but also three green coats, although I fear that Tom Mompesson’s and Mr Vamplew’s coats on the night of the ball are very unlikely to be great-coats and, in any case, Tom was wearing “regimentals”.

    I think I might take a break and read “The Unburied” now, while I can still see straight!

  127. Leon Says:

    Linda wrote: “the man at the gate was “not tall” and he had curly reddish hair. (So, could this be George and not Barney Digweed?)”

    No, it could not. That is to say, there is no textual evidence to support this particular ‘paranoid overinterpretation’ of the text (amusing as it may be in itself). And there is ample textual evidence to refute it.

    •To my knowledge, we never get to know the color of George Digweed’s hair. If Palliser had intended George’s hair to be red like that of his (half?)brother, he would have explicitly stated it – especially if he had intended it to be an important point in the plot (which it would have been, had he intended Johnnie to confuse George for Barney.)

    •The red color of Barney’s hair by contrast plays an important part in Palliser’s careful preparation in Chapter 58 (when Johnnie meets Barney in his lair) for the recognition scene in Chapter 67, when Johnnie identifies Barney as the burglar he saw all those years ago. It is through the description of Barney’s appearance that we readers suspect Barney and the burglar to be one and the same well before Johnnie makes the connection.

    •The text gives us no reason to doubt Johnnie’s identification (and ours) of Barney as the burglar. Surely if Palliser had intended his readers to suspect that George rather than Barney had been the Melthorpe burglar, he would have given us some clear hints and clues.

    •And, finally, there’s the ‘Author’s Afterword’ of 1992, in which Palliser explicitly states that Barney, not George, is the Melthorpe burglar. See p. 1211.

    I’m all for amusing overinterpretations of the text which seek hidden connecting alleyways between the multitude of characters and the labyrinthine plot of the novel (such as my own identification of Lizzie as Eliza Umphraville somewhere in the above), but the ‘George Digweed, Melthorpe burglar’-thesis is just an interpretative cul-de-sac. (At least until I read a convincing version of it, one which refutes the counterarguments given above. 🙂 )

    But please do keep us posted about the notes you’re taking on your second read-through of the novel, Linda! It’s good to see this forum come alive once again, and I am tempted to have yet another a go at the novel myself in anticipation of the iminent publication of ‘Rustication’.

  128. Brian Says:

    I’m re-reading The Quincunx at present, and three disparate questions have occurred to me. Apologies in advance if they repeat points made previously.
    Firstly, a small discrepancy. When John is on his long walk south having escaped from the Quiggs, he mentions (ch 47, p321 American hardback) the harvest moon. But the calendar is well into October, so the moon must be the hunter’s moon, as the harvest moon in the one nearest the autumn equinox.
    Secondly, Stephen Maliphant at the Quiggs. He says he knows nothing of Mr Steplight (Sancious) and has only two relatives. So who was it who took him to the place to be disposed of? Surely if it had been Jemima or Henry Bellringer he would have stated.
    Thirdly, the length of John’s journey south. When Mary gives the Digweeds the fare for the stage-coach to London on Christmas Day she says it will take them home early the next day as opposed to in three or four days’ time. As Melthorpe is approximately 160 miles from London, that implies that if the Digweeds were to walk all day, perhaps hitching the occasional ride, the journey might take them four days. But John takes much longer than that. Even though he is anxious to inform his mother of the danger arising from Mr Sancious’ deception, he doesn’t arrive at the outskirts of London till the morning of 11th November. Admittedly he had to walk from York to Melthorpe, but York is about 210 miles from London, so the distance would be about 50 miles. John says that it was on the eighth or ninth day after his escape that he reached the lane off the turnpike leading to Melthorpe. So what kept him?
    A point I’ve already raised is the glaring discrepancy between the length of the different coach journeys described. John and Mary’s journey to London goes on and on, but the Digweeds’ would have lasted well under a day. And with the good macadamised turnpikes that would actually have been the case. Thanks to everybody for reading, and please keep the thread going. I’ve spoken to a good reliable informant on the subject of Rustication, and he told me there is no trace of it on the booksellers’ database yet.

  129. Anne Tillope Says:

    John and Mary flee north from Melthorpe to Grantham, which is less than 120 miles from London. This disagrees with the milestone reading “London CLIX”. If John’s not lying about everything, it’s more likely he mis-remembered the mileage than the town they fled to. Maybe it was “London CIX” and Melthorpe is only 109 miles from London.

  130. Leon Says:

    As always you raise some very interesting points, Brian.

    If we agree that these and other temporal disrepancies are intentional (and not mistakes on Palliser’s part), what would you say is their significance? More evidence of Johnnie’s unreliability as the narrator of his own life-story, looking back on his experiences from at least a number of years after the last recorded event in his account (Henrietta’s alleged journey to Calais)? That is to say, do you think the discrepancies you note are instances of Palliser signalling to us that Johnnie’s memory of what befell him is far from trustworthy? (Remember that Palliser very pointedly has Johnnie begin his account with an “image for the undertaking” he is about to embark upon – that is, the undertaking of recalling and writing down his own past – which metaphorically presents his memory as a “clear runlet” which, when poked with a stick produces a “dark cloud that obscure[s] everything.” That is to say: the harder Johnnie tries to remember what happened to him, the more muddled his account gets.)

  131. Anne Tillope Says:

    @me November 12, 2012
    … Sorry, not Grantham, Gainsborough. Which is about 150 miles from London. I was getting confused with the *real* Hougham, which Google Maps tells us is near Grantham.

  132. Brian Kenny Says:

    Leon’s view on the discrepancies is one with which I’d concur. And may I offer the following additions? At the beginning of ch 57 John makes his way from Mitre Court to the Old Mint to find Pulvertaft. The Old Mint lay in the vicinity of Red Cross Street, which on the map of the metropolis of London c1800 provided in the American hardback edition, can just be discerned as parallel to the Borough. But John’s narrative describes ‘a long and exhausting walk’ taking the day because it was getting dark when he reached his destination. The walk there from Mitre Court could have taken no more than an hour and a half, even allowing for asking for directions.
    Near the start of ch 63 Mary recounts her arrival in London with John. “And to find ourselves in Piccadilly at the Golden-cross so near Papa’s old house.” The inn was certainly very near the house, but Charing Cross is some distance from Piccadilly, as the map makes clear. Oddly enough, Lushing Lizzie, whose identity was ingeniously revealed by a contributor some time ago, makes a reference to ‘Dilly.
    The third point is one where I stand open to correction. In her account of what happened after Peter was accused of the murder of John Huffam Snr, (ch 64, p433 American hardback edition), Mary states that Martin asked her if she could give testimony on Peter’s behalf. Now Martin Fortisquince was a solicitor, but would it have been legally possible for a wife to give evidence in a criminal case where the husband was accused?
    Thanks to those who read this, and please keep the contributions flowing. I do not believe there is a full solution to all the mysteries, but people’s views are interesting.

  133. Leon Says:

    If anyone wants a closer look at the sections of the ‘Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster the Borough of Southwark and Parts adjoining Shewing every House’ by Richard Horwood and reproduced in every edition of The Quincunx, go to:

    It’s a pretty wonderful toy! (It is the first edition of the map from 1795 rather than the later one from 1813 which Johnnie uses in the novel, and it shows – Bethnal Green is still without a Parliament Street for the house of Mr and Mrs Isbister to stand in, for instance.)

  134. Brian Says:

    Many thanks to Leon for pointing out the useful link for the map. I was lucky enough to find a modern copy of the 1813 map in a library on Saturday, and a wonderful thing it is too. The walk from Mitre Court to Blue Ball Court took me 48 minutes (Ely Court to Mint Street now, of course), and that was at a very leisurely pace too. Perhaps Parliament Street survives today under the name of Witan Street?

  135. Leon Says:

    Just two minor points which struck me upon my latest engagement with the text:

    • On the matter of the Peter Clothier’s coat switch on the night of the murder: Linda (4 November 2012) has tracked down a number of green and red coats in the novel, but she has missed one (and I believe this one has not been mentioned so far on this forum): the “faded green coat of old-fashioned cut with an embroidered waistcoat yellowed with age” that Jeoffrey Escreet is wearing when Johnnie comes to see him in the house at Charing Cross (Chapter 86; US pocket ed. 741). The fact that Escreet’s green coat is explicitly described as “faded” implies it has been in his possession for quite some time – and those of us who would like to read a significant clue to the solution of the mystery surrounding John Huffam Sr.’s violent death into this, may want to argue that he could very well have had it in his possession in 1811 and was actually wearing it on the night of May 5 of that year.

    • Chapter 1 is narrated by Mr Silverlight and tells of a meeting between Mr Sancious and Mr Barbellion which supposedly took place in the autumn of an undisclosed year. That year, however, may be inferred from the following evidence. Silverlight has Mr Barbellion state that “Not two weeks past your client [Mary] sent a copy of it [the codicil] to us [the Mompesson family] demanding money and giving your name [Sancious] for correspondence” (5). From Mary’s pocket book we learn that she sent a copy of the codicil to Sir Perceval Mompesson “in order to support my claim on the Annuaty” “when you [Johnnie] were about two years old” (576). Johnnie being born on 7 February 1812, this would make the year in which Chapter 1 is set either 1813 or 1814, the former one being more likely (for in the autumn of 1813 Johnnie is nearing the age of two, whereas in the autumn of 1814 he is going on three and therefore well past “about two years old”) though it does not make much difference for the point I am about to raise. That point is this. In Chapter 1 Silverlight describes Mr Sancious as “a small, pale-faced gentleman of about forty years of age with a large head” (4). When in Chapter 43 Johnnie narrates his first encounter with Sancious in his disguise as Mr Steplight, however, the pale-faced, large-headed solicitor is described as “aged between forty and forty-five” (376). Given the fact that this encounter takes place in 1825 (by my reckoning based on the dating in Mary’s pocket book at least, but there is some uncertainty over the exact year in Johnnie’s story) we must conclude that Mr Sancious has not aged very much in what by any account must be well over a decade! The reason for this discrepancy is obvious. Palliser has Silverlight (who has himself never set eyes upon Mr Sancious) describe the 1813-Sancious as he will be in 1825 in order that we, the readers, will recognize him as Sancious the moment he walks in Johnnie’s part of the story as Mr Steplight.

  136. Anne Tillope Says:

    Another minor oddity. In chapter 36, an afternoon in late November is described where Miss Quillam says Mary is writing furiously in her pocket-book. But when we see the Journal in Chapter 65, there are no entries for that time and neighbouring dates have only jotted numbers.

  137. Brian Says:

    Two things have set me wondering in my recent reading.
    When John and Mr Nolloth discuss the gift that Martin Fortisquince was to bring to John Huffam Snr on Mary’s wedding day, Mr Nolloth asks (ch 78, p505 American hardback edition) “Have you any idea what it was, or, rather, what your grandfather expected it to be?” Could we entertain the possibility that what was brought was not the 1770 will? Mr Nolloth goes on to say, “What your grandfather expected to receive that night was a document of the utmost importance.” We are told that John Huffam Snr lost interest in laying the 1768 codicil before the court in anticipation of obtaining the 1770 will which would make the codicil superfluous, but we cannot be sure that it ever came into his possession. Admittedly, I’m not sure how to follow up this line of conjecture, but it has only just struck me.
    When George and Joey Digweed rescue John from Dr Alabaster’s asylum (ch 83, p525 American hardback edition), George says that the watch might grow suspicious if they saw that particular horse and cart, alluding to Mr Isbister’s nocturnal occupation. But it has been stated previously that Mr Isbister had had to give it up after his encounter with Pulvertaft’s associates quite some time previously. Wouldn’t George Digweed have known that?

  138. Anne Tillope Says:

    Brian was turning his thoughts to the Book titles, back on October 19th. The least explicable, to me, is the title “Fathers”, used for Part 1, Book 3. The only fathers mentioned are Martin Fortisquince and Silas Clothier, but the former is mentioned only fleetingly and the fatherhood of the latter seems irrelevant. Any ideas?

  139. Brian Says:

    There are three things that have been puzzling me for years now. I’ve not mentioned them before because I don’t think they have any bearing on unravelling the mysteries of the novel, but perhaps somebody could enlighten me.
    In Ch 93, p899 UK paperback edition, George Digweed discovers that the buds of the entablature are not made of marble but of metal. He says, “The buds of them flowers ain’t stone. They ain’t so cold. Try It.” But when John does try, he finds that the marble becomes warmer when he puts his lips to it, while the bud of the quatre-foil remains cold. So he verifies Mr Digweed’s discovery, but the other way around.
    On the next page, p900 UK paperback edition, George Digweed starts to draw out the iron bolts to try to open the slab. ‘In a minute we had withdrawn all of the five bolts along the top line of the quatre-foils.’ Later they had to withdraw the remaining twenty. But how would there be five bolts? There must be two quatre-foils on top and each of them would have two bolts uppermost, so that would make four bolts.
    In Ch 94, p916 UK paperback edition, Bob is telling John about the conditions of work and ends by saying, “And if you don’t take proper care of ’em (his working clothes), you’ll feel the weight of my hand.” The next paragraph is what puzzles me. ‘ I noticed with mingled feelings that these threats were couched in the future, rather than the conditional, tense’. But in English, open conditional clauses do employ the future tense normally. What Bob says is perfectly natural grammatically.
    I apologise for a posting which will do nothing to answer any questions, but if anybody can shed any light here, I shall be grateful. (Open condition).

  140. Anne Tillope Says:

    Further to the discussion about the cover images (most recently by Brian, November 3):
    The cover of the first edition is taken from Benjamin Haydon’s 1829 painting “Punch or May Day” (which is on the website). Internet images show that it has been retained, in a clearer version, on some of the covers of the translated versions. It’s an appropriate choice, partly in its illustration of Pentecost and Silverlight’s “Punch and Joan” show, and partly in that Haydon has followed the same plan as Palliser – create a single work that crams in as many aspects of Georgian society as possible. It’s also by an artist that Dickens is reported to have described as a “very bad painter” despite his “manly pursuit of a wrong idea”.

    The designs on the British paperback and American hardback seem to have been chosen to suggest more clearly that there is a mystery to be solved. I suspect that looking for clues in these images will be fruitless – even if Palliser had influence over the original cover, I doubt he’d have had much influence over the later versions. And in any case, the later British and American covers differ from each other and from the translated editions. Palliser writes that he was careful to help the translators retain his linguistic subtleties, so I doubt he’d be careless about a clue in a cover image if he had any control over it. The internal illustrations and maps could still be quite informative, however.

  141. Brian Says:

    Anne is quite right not to read too much into the designs of the book covers, and also correct to attach importance to the internal maps and illustrations. Unfortunately, much of my examination of them has resulted only in finding discrepancies of various kinds. I’d like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in 2013. Incidentally, things happen at Christmas in the novel! Thanks for reading.

  142. Simon Morris Says:

    I raised an eyebrow on seeing the name “Vulliamy” while re-reading “The Magus” recently. It arguably has some themes in common with “The Quincunx” – but of course there’s no provable connection.

  143. Brian Says:

    I notice there exists a Quilliam Foundation, ‘combatting extremism’, and recently I was delighted to see the surname Beaglehole in print. This could be a new field of enquiry for Quincunx readers, waiting for Rustication to appear.

  144. Leon Says:

    And speaking of Rustication: the novel is now announced by W.W. Norton for November 2013.

  145. Brian Says:

    Thanks for the update on that. If it has a Christmas theme, the late autumn would be appropriate.

  146. Leon Says:

    Exactly! And we now have the cover design for the American hardback (autumnal rather than Christmassy, but who cares?) as well as its blurb:

    Our hero apparently is a seventeen year-old opium addict tormented by disturbing sexual fantasies – sure sounds good to me!

  147. Brian Says:

    At 336 pages, the novel would not appear to be very long, maybe comparable in length to The Unburied. At last there is a definite publication date. Happy Easter to anybody reading!

  148. Simon Morris Says:

    de Quincey also took opium at university, and left it early (Oxford, in his case). His father died when he was young, and his sister seems to have been important to him. But we shall see.

    Another minor note on names: This week’s Times Literary Supplement reviews a book about lunacy and asylums in Victorian England. There existed an “Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society”, which tried to free people wrongly imprisoned in asylums. One of its members was a Richard Paternoster, who (grimly appropriately, as the reviewer observes) had been locked up by his father.

  149. Leon Says:

    I recently came across this digital reproduction of a map of London which may be of interest to readers of The Quincunx.

    It’s Greenwood’s map of London published in 1827. Greenwood’s map is nowhere near as spectacularly detailed as Horwood’s map of 1792-9 (or its 1813 edition which Johnnie uses), but it does have the advantage of being roughly contemporaneous with the fictional events portrayed in the novel, instead of being more than a decade old.

    Greenwood’s effort is not quite the marvel that is Horwood’s map, but still: enjoy!

  150. AGB Says:

    Good Lord! Just found this – well done for the revival! I’m due for the Nth re-read of Quincunx, so the many puzzles will continue.

    Gary Brown (AGB)

  151. AGB Says:

    On my umpteenth re-read of the book (and enjoying it as much as usual), one thing does not just puzzle me, but somewhat annoys me too. Mary’s pocketbook and copy of the sealed letter from John Sr about the codicil. How on earth does she – and Johnny – keep possession of it. There are several opportunities for it to be stolen (or lost), and each time she keeps it; even to the point of it being found under her naked body when she has been robbed even of her final ragged clothes. I’m sure it’s a joke of a sort on Palliser’s part – an author *is* all powerful! – but it has bugged me this time round…. The book must be worth something (people are robbed for a farthing or two elsewhere) and the sealed letter must attract at least some interest (amongst theives who know crooked lawyers always on the look out to buy information).


  152. Leon Says:

    Apparently advance review copies of Rustication are in circulation in digital form as we speak. Here’s a report from one of the lucky early readers:

  153. Brian Says:

    Thank you very much for the update on Rustication. If that is a typical page, it must be short indeed. The Sensationist was not long either. I look forward to seeing it in a few months, because there does not seem to be much more to be said about The Quincunx.

  154. Leon Says:

    Well, the hardback print publication clocks in at 337 pages, according to the publisher’s information. Why the e-book version has only 217 pages which judging by the screen shot provided in the link above can hardly be called cramped with text, is beyond me.

    I can still think of many things to say about The Quincunx (whether or not they are of any interest I leave for you to decide). There is, for instance, this tiny matter concerning the glorious map made by Richard Horwood in 1792-9 which plays a role in the plot of The Quincunx and sections of which are reproduced in its paratext. As some of my previous posts have indicated, I recently became (semi-professionally) interested in eigtheenth- and nineteenth-century maps of London, Horwood’s among them. From the knowledge of this particular map that I gathered in the process I can tell you that Johnnie’s statement that the “vast and fascinatingly detailed map” was published “in twenty-two enormous sheets just the year after [he] was born” (39, US pocket edition) – 1813, that is – is widely off the mark. Horwood’s map was originally published in no less than thirty-two (roughly speaking square) sheets (8 columns, 4 rows) between 1792-9; the 1813 edition which Palliser provides Johnnie with and from which the sections included in the novel are reproduced was even larger with forty (roughly speaking square) sheets (10 columns, 4 rows). It seems highly unlike that this is an authorial mistake, since at the time of the composition of the novel the 1813 edition of the map was easily available in a volume titled The A to Z of Regency London. (If anyone is interested, it can still be purchased second hand:; it contains a very useful index.)
    And so we may list this remark of the novel’s narrating-I as yet another indication that his memories of his childhood-self are not to be relied upon uncritically.

  155. Rob Patterson Says:

    Great discussions here. Can someone point me to some background on the “Gas War(s)”, as your are calling it/them? I’ve tried some simple Googling without success. I take it that this was a real event.

  156. Brian Says:

    My surmise would be that George Digweed is referring to the period when there was intense commercial rivalry in the supply of gas for lighting in London, a localised dispute.

  157. Ole Whitey Says:

    At the ripe age of seventy-five, I have just finished The Quincunx for the first time. I am interested in maps of London and Wikipedia’s entry on Richard Horwood told me that it was referred to in this book. I ordered it at once and it arrived ten days ago. I used to be able to read a book in less time than this.

    I looked for and found this site because of the many questions that come to the reader. What great and sharp group you are! Fantastic discussions here and I plan to keep up with it.

    Regards, Ole Whitey

  158. Ole Whitey Says:

    Although this is off topic, some years after our story takes place, the only person known to have gotten a look at Jack the Ripper was the police constable in Mitre Court, where Mary had died.

  159. Ole Whitey Says:

    There is mention above of the painter Benjamin Haydon, whose painting “Punch or May Day” is used as a cover illustration.

    The circumstances of Haydon’s death might be of interest to our readers. In 1826 Haydon was showing his painting “The Banishment of Aristides” at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. At the same time Barnum was showing his famous American midget “General Tom Thumb.” In one week, as Haydon noted, he had 133.5 visitors while Barnum’s attraction had 12,000. Shortly thereafter Haydon committed suicide by first shooting himself, then slitting his throat, apparently due to his despair over the above failure.

    Re: Pentecost and Silverlight’s Punch and Joan show, am I the only one to wonder what they did with their stage and puppets when they joined Johnnie? Punch workers of the time generally carried or wheeled their equipment around with them to their various locations and took it home with them at night. As a rule the operator worked all the puppets himself, an additional person only being used to collect money donated by spectators and in assist in the moving of the show properties around.

  160. Brian Says:

    I am glad Ole Whitey enjoys the discussion on here which has ranged over a great number of aspects of the book. The maps are something I find very interesting, mainly because they provide solid evidence of the inaccuracies contained in John’s account. Sorry to correct him on one point though – the Ripper murder was in Mitre SQUARE, not Mitre COURT. Both locations still exist today, the latter as Ely Court, and a creepy spot it is too, but nowhere near the East End of London. Something struck me recently which may have some significance. Mrs Fortisquince lives in Golden Square, another location that still exists. It is also the home of Ralph Nickleby, the uncle of Nicholas Nickleby, and at the end of that novel it is revealed that he sent his son, known as Smike, to Dotheboys Hall, in Yorkshire to be rid of him. Mrs Fortisquince also sent a close relation to a school in Yorkshire to be rid of him. A strong Dickensian echo?

  161. Ole Whitey Says:

    Brian: I didn’t say a Ripper murder took place in Mitre Court, I said the man who had seen the murderer was a constable in Mitre Court. I refer you to:

    which says, “This man was said to resemble the murderer by the one person who got a glimpse of him – the police-constable in Mitre Court…”

    Also see

    which says in regard to the site of Catherine Eddowes’ murder at Mitre Square, “…The square became known as Duke’s Place by 1676 and was also the site of St. James’ church. South of this was the Mitre Tavern and Mitre Court (later Mitre Street)…” placing what was then called Mitre Court in the area.

  162. Brian Says:

    Thanks for the posting, but the Mitre Court near Aldgate just happens to share the name with the Mitre Court off Hatton Garden. It is still there but now called Ely Court. And it is there that Mary Clothier died. A grim passageway it is too, but it has a pub dating back to the 1540s. On a completely different topic, I came across a book written by an American professor called Rose on literacy in the British working classes up to 1945, and there is a very interesting passage where he quotes 18th and 19th century readers as revealing that they were unable to distinguish truth from fiction in what they read. So they tell how they took Robinson Crusoe and The Pilgrim’s Progress etc as the literal truth. Now John relates his early reading based on such works, (The Arabian Nights might be added), and one might take this as a strong hint, bearing in mind that the ‘narrative’ was composed shortly after 1840 or so, that not everything in his account is to be taken entirely on trust. Has anybody any thoughts on this?

  163. Rob Patterson Says:

    Brian – Great catch; I think the Quiggs’ Yorkshire “school” clearly echoes the Squeers’ school in Nicholas Nickleby, and the Golden Square parallel makes it even plainer.

  164. Cinque Ports Says:

    Hi all, new poster here, with yet another paternity hypothesis to add to the mix.

    Re: “Our dad” and the Digweeds: sometime upthread there was discussion of why George Digweed emphasised that he and Barney had the same father. Here is my take on that sentence.

    George is talking to Johnnie. He begins a sentence “our dad” and then for some reason has to stop and clarify “his [Barney’s] and mine”. English is one of many languages that doesn’t distinguish between inclusive and exclusive 1st pers pl: “we = you and I (and others)” versus “we = I and others”. Some other languages do, but English permits ambiguity. This idea leads me to suggest that George realises that he has just given away that Johnnie is his younger brother, that they share a biological father, so has to cover quickly. This explains why he helps Johnnie escape, why the Digweed family cares for Johnnie at great expense, and why he (George) risks transportation (and causes his own death ultimately) by assisting in the unsuccessful robbery.

    What do you think of this reading?

  165. Brian Says:

    The hypothesis that George Digweed and John Huffam are brothers seems without basis to me. Is Martin Fortisquince the father of George Digweed?
    I was not able to look through all the previous postings and so I do not know if I am the first to point it out, but there is a real place called Hougham in Lincolnshire, lying 5 miles NW of Grantham and about 8 miles SE of Newark. It does lie very close to the road linking York and London, but about 120 miles from London, and not as stated by John. It does have an early Norman church with a memorial to a Crusader and also a manor house dating to 1620. My apologies to all if somebody has already mentioned this.

  166. AGB Says:

    We’ve talked a great deal about John’s birthdate, and the ambiguities of the parish register entry of which he obtains a copy. In some reading for another project, I was today amazed to discover that parish register entries could not be used as evidence of birth in inheritance-related court cases. The thinking was that, unlike a register entry for a baptism, marriage or burial, the vicar had not been a witness to what he was registering, but was merely relying on the statements of those informing him of the birth (the supposed parents…). This seems certainly to be the case after the start of Sir George Rose’s Act in Jan 1813, and may well have been the case for the older-style entries that Johnnie saw and had copied. This, if correct (more research needed!) throws somewhat of a spanner into the whole plot-works, does it not?

    { see: }


  167. Rob Patterson Says:

    Quincunx readers may enjoy these photographs of 19th century London.

  168. Simon Morris Says:

    Here’s a transcript of a recent interview with Palliser, about “Rustication”.

  169. Brian Says:

    Enormous thanks to Simon Morris for that informative read. Charles Palliser tells us plenty about the novel. And it was interesting that he is working on other novels simultaneously.

  170. Brian Says:

    The posting from Simon Morris indicates that Charles Palliser has not lost his predilection for writing about the Christmas period, evident in The Unburied and The Quincunx.

  171. Marlowe Says:

    — If the “disturbing theory” of CP’s 2nd ed. Afterword points to incest, and supposing that JH Sr. is one of those involved, who might be the other part{y|ies}?

    — Was there 1 representative each of every main family present at the night of JH Sr.’s murder?

  172. Brian Says:

    A quick reply to Marlowe. The “disturbing theory” mentioned in the Afterword is surmise only. I’ve read the book five or six times now and the notion of incest never occurred to me from the reading of the text. But obviously the book allows so many constructions on the events narrated. As to Marlowe’s second question, was there a Mompesson present?

  173. Terry Says:

    I remember reading this thread on snarkout years ago; glad to see it rescued and revived! Some impressive analyses and intriguing observations here, and I hope you’re not done with The Quincunx just yet. I have a feeling that there is indeed a solution to be found within the book, or rather one comprehensive case/pattern/sequence of events in which most of the various narratives’ incongruities, as well as the general ‘wobbles’ in space and time as first mentioned by Brian and Leon, will somehow make sense. Re. Marlowe’s first question: I take it you are referring to John Senior’s mysterious mother..?

  174. Marlowe Says:

    Brian, thank you for the prompt reply. I’ve been reading your contributions to this thread with much pleasure. Regarding the incest hypothesis: I never considered it either, until I saw it suggested in reviews. Also, why would the mention of incest _disturb_ CP so? He must have been aware of this possible interpretation well in advance of publishing. It’s not as if the novel isn’t brimming with moral ambiguity already. Unless, of course, the incestuous element takes a more complicated aspect, which is why I included the plural option in my question.

    Terry, it seems to me that there are several possibilities apart from JH Sr.’s mother. It would all be rather messy, but that’s not saying much in the light of the overall narrative…

    Now, if it wasn’t the suggestion of incest that CP found disturbing, what else could it be? Or perhaps it’s better to ask what it was that could disturb the author of this particular novel? And would it it be equally disturbing to readers, or to the author only?

  175. AGB Says:

    Marlowe’s Qs:

    A) I’ve concluded that John Huffam Snr’s incest with his daughter Mary (which I think is what’s alluded to in the Afterword) is impossible. But perhaps not quite impossible enough……..

    B) A Mompesson present at John Snr’s murder – well Barney Digweed, probably!


  176. Kim Says:

    I have just finished this book today, and I’m so glad I found such an extensive forum on it! I have been reading this thread for hours. I know I will have to reread this book to pick up on things I did not see the first time, but I feel I won’t have enough energy to do so for long while.

    Although I also picked up on the fact that Martin must be Johnnie’s real father, I decided to ignore it for a while because I didn’t want it to be true. The main reason is because I felt the events of Johnnie and Peter meeting, barely speaking to one another after all this time, and then Peter’s sudden death (somewhat inadvertently caused by Johnnie) to be much more depressing and powerful had it been true that Peter was his real father. After years of wanting to know his father, Johnnie barely exchanges a few sentences with him, and BAM! he’s dead, by Johnnie’s own help. This was to me the saddest part of the novel (right after his mother’s death, where she also dies suddenly after being reunited with Johnnie), but now that I know it is most likely Martin who is Johnnie’s father, I am conflicted with these feelings of sorrow for Peter’s death. Did anyone else have similar feelings on this? It might just be me, but I’m curious to see if anyone else thought this. Maybe just have a soft spot for Peter because he seemed to me so genuine, and had such a horrible fate.

    One burning question I can’t get over is who did Barney murder? Most people on here seem to think John Sr.’s killer was not Barney, but most likely Escreet (which I think, as well). So who could Barney have killed? It must have been someone/regarding something important, because otherwise Palliser would not have made such a big deal out of it, especially at the very end of the novel. And why should Barney smile slyly about it and say nothing to Johnnie about it? I don’t understand what he would have to lose by telling him, other than the joy of making Johnnie suffer for never knowing. The only murder important enough to be kept a secret seems to be the murder of John Sr., but the novel so plainly seems to say that this was done by Escreet, although he denies it so maybe it’s not true? But then there’s the scene right after where Escreet kills Sancious and Johnnie and the reader both are led to believe that this must be an exact replication of that night…Any ideas on this? I just can’t seem to figure out who else Barney would have killed and why it would have been so important to the story.

  177. Marlowe Says:

    AGB, re. A), I’d be interested to hear the reasoning behind that conclusion. Glad to see you back too, btw.

    As for B), I wonder whether Barney’s presence should be seen simply as another case of the 6th element upsetting the pattern, or as something with a more specific meaning; e.g. a Mompesson throwing a spanner in the works (again?).

  178. Simon Morris Says:


    It’s good to have a new voice on the forum!

    I’m one of those who think Escreet didn’t kill John, for reasons discussed extensively, as you observed, above. But to your point that “Johnnie and the reader both are led to believe that [Escreet killing Sancious] must be an exact replication of that night”: Johnnie does make this claim (“by his action Escreet had surely confessed to the murder in a manner more impossible to retract than any words”). But this is entirely disingenuous: Johnnie knows perfectly well that he induced Escreet to re-enact his killing of John Umphraville (“Watch out behind you!”), not of John Escreet. His ability to manipulate remembrance and recurrence marks the apex, or nadir, of his mastery of his world.

    My belief, as I argued above, is that John was killed by an agent of Clothier, with whom Escreet conspired to arrange the events of the marriage night, and that Clothier’s agent, wearing a red coat, and carrying the will, was then killed by an agent of Escreet and/or the Mompessons, with whom Escreet further conspired, against both Clothier and John. My guess is that the killer of John is mentioned nowhere, or only in passing, in The Quincunx. My guess is that Barney was the killer of John’s killer. As For Barney’s smile: Palliser makes John ask, not who Barney killed, but where he killed him. Perhaps Barney killed Clothier’s agent exactly where Johnnie stands as he asks that question?

    That wouldn’t explain why Barney directs a smile at Jemima, as well as Johnnie. It’s also possible that Barney killed John, and that Clothier believed Barney and Escreet were acting for him, without realising they would turn the will over to the Mompessons. Maybe Jemima saw Barney leave the plate room, and perhaps that’s how she came to choose Barney to act as her agent at the very start of the book. I think there’s a clearer story to be told here, but I don’t know what it is.

  179. Kim Says:


    Thank you for the reply! You’re quite right about Johnnie inducing the reenactment of John Umphraville’s killing, rather than that of Johnnie’s grandfather. Now that I think more about it, I do remember thinking that the way Escreet acted when being accused of killing Johnnie’s grandfather was a bit strange, and it did leave me questioning whether he actually did it by his own hand or not. I like your theory about all the agents, though. It seems fitting to such a complicated story! But then again it also seems likely that Barney is the killer. There are so many good arguments on here that I hardly know which one is right! I feel like I’ll have to read the book again and see if it ever mentions Barney or anyone else wearing a red coat. And good call on the Barney scene; I had to go back and read that part because I had forgotten that Johnnie did in fact say “where” rather than “who.”

    I also have a question about the last family tree chart at the very end of the novel, and forgive me if someone has already brought this up (I read through this post for hours, but didn’t get nearly all the way through!). One of the other reasons I thought for so long that Peter was Johnnie’s real father (despite the evidence) was that it seemed clear to me by the chart that Mary and Peter were listed as husband and wife, with Johnnie as their child below them. So, I didn’t see how he could not be the father, unless Palliser was deliberately deceiving us in this chart. But I literally just now realized, looking more closely at the chart right in front of me now, that Peter’s name is the only one to not be placed directly below his/her spouse’s name, so technically there is no “direct” line linking Johnnie to Peter. Do you think this was done intentionally, to give us a little hint that Peter is in fact not Johnnie’s real father?

  180. AGB Says:

    @ Marlowe

    I just don’t think that incest between Mary and John Snr fits the timeline (between conception and birth) or the plot (there’s not the slightest hint of impropriety in the father daughter relationship). But as I say, it’s not utterly, utterly beyond possibility…

    @ Kim and Simon

    I feel that Barney’s final behaviour towards Johnnie is a “OK, I’ll not stab you because you really do know something to my advantage (Jack’s story); but – ho, ho, my lad – you haven’t really figured out what happened on the night of your mother’s wedding, for all your cleverness…”. Of course, we are not quite told what Barney (and Jemima?) do know, and Johnnie doesn’t….


  181. Leon Says:

    Interesting news concerning Rustication! If the family name (Burgoyne) and place name (Thurchester) in this advance review are anything to go by, Rustication would appear to be set in the same fictional universe – indeed, in the same cathedral town – as The Unburied.

  182. Brian Says:

    And to add to Leon’s last posting, the time is Christmas too. For what it is worth, I have never believed that Escreet was the killer of John Huffam Snr, and have tended to favour Barney for that role. Escreet does deny it, after all, and Barney boasts of an unspecified killing. No doubt when Rustication comes out we shall have more postings about uncertainties and ambiguities.

  183. Leon Says:

    Yes, Brian, like The Unburied, Rustication is set during Christmas time (though two different Christmas times, separated by nearly two decades). But we already knew that from earlier descriptions of Rustication. What was new – to me at least – in that advance review in Publishers Weekly (see link in my previous post) was that we learned (or at least I did) that the new novel is set in and around Thurchester, the setting of The Unburied – as this publisher’s blurb now confirms:

    Let’s hope the publication of Rustication marks the start of a series of ‘Thurchester novels’ (rather like Anthony Trollope’s series of six novels set in and around his fictional cathedral town of Barchester in the fictional county of Barsetshire), each instalment set at a different time in the town’s history!

  184. Brian Says:

    I understand the publication date is 4 November, which is next Monday 4/11/13 (European format). Reviews I’ve read are not entirely enthusiastic, but The Quincunx had its detractors.

  185. Brian Says:

    UK price is £12.99 according to Waterstones, not cheap for such a short work.

  186. AGB Says:

    Oh – I got it on Kindle a few days ago, but won;t get a chance to start it until next week.


  187. Simon Morris Says:

    I’ll wait to approve any Rustication posts until we’ve all had a chance to read it. I suggest a delay of a month from the publication date of 4th November, but I’ll entertain dissent.

  188. AGB Says:

    Just a quick alert, and giving nothing away. The Kindle version of “Rustication” unfortunately has a very weird font rendering of some hand-written letters that are a plot element, making them virtually illegible on the machine (and they are not meant to be hard to read!). One way or another, I know that Palliser himself is horrified by this, and has got Amazon to agree to re-set the electronic version. But when they will actually do this is presently unknown.


  189. BAC Says:

    That’s a real shame about Rustication on the Kindle, AGB. I just finished it and I’m glad I overpaid for the hardcover. The handwritten letters are absolutely essential to the novel. Rustication turned out a bit differently than I had expected, but I liked it quite a bit. That’s all I’ll say for now.

    I was intrigued by Cinque Ports’ post from the end of July. I liked his/her reading of George Digweed’s “Our Dad” sentence that I pointed out here a few years ago. I’m not ready to say that Martin Fortisquince is George’s father, but I have often thought that the Digweeds had less than altruistic reasons for their rescue of Johnny. I believe that it has typically been suggested that they were being paid to take care of Johnnie by Jemima. I’ve wondered if the Digweeds were not such distant relations of Johnnie and if there were some way that they stood to gain under John Huffam’s will. I still can’t shake the feeling that George’s disfigurement is meant to conceal a more familiar face.

  190. Brian Says:

    I gather that in Rustication dialogue is printed in italics without quotation marks. In The Sensationist, a work some contributors might not have read, all dialogues start on new lines with no quotation marks. Any ideas on these quirks?

  191. Brian Says:

    In reply to BAC’s post, one argument against Martin Fortisquince’s being the father of George Digweed is that both George and Barney say their father was a heavy drinker, and there is no attribution of that weakness to Martin Fortisquince anywhere. It should be borne in mind also that George Digweed’s disfigurement is not confined to his face alone.

  192. Leon Says:

    @ Brian:
    Well, at least the “quirks” in the setting of the texts of ‘The Sensationist’ and ‘Rustication’ are relatively straightforward and used consistently throughout the text: they are simply different ways of typographically distinguishing between narrator discourse on the one hand and reported direct speech on the other – different from the usual inverted comma’s or quotation marks, I mean.

    I would say the use of italics in certain parts of ‘Betrayals’ is much more complicated and puzzling than that in either ‘The Sensationist’ or ‘Rustication’. I, for one, have never been able to fully grasp the significance of Palliser’s use of italics in Chapter Two (‘The Wrong Tracks’) of that novel. Are we intended to read the italicised portions of the embedded narratives of Mrs Armytage and the Major, and the non-italicised portions of the Parson’s story (which is set mostly in italics) as comments upon or annotations to the discourse of these story tellers by another narrator? And what about the alternate use of italics and ‘plain’ typeface in the frame narrative of that chapter? It would seem to be significant to the plot of (that section of) the novel (as a whole) somehow, but I have never been able to get my mind around it.

    I thought ‘Rustication’ a brilliant, one-sitting read (from the early afternoon to the dead of night last Sunday) – reminiscent of ‘The Sensationist’ in its complete and utter bleakness. I look forward to hearing your views on it in the near future. And, continuing the theme of typographical oddities, one of the aspects I am particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on are the Greek symbols (the capital delta and the capital sigma) which pop up throughout the text – and which are left unexplained by ‘CP’, the fictional editor of the text. I can think of only one plausible explanation (and a fairly obvious one, considering the respective contexts in which the symbols appear), but I do not see why Palliser chose to have Richard use these two Greek letters specifically to denote what I think he is denoting…

  193. Leon Says:

    And here is the first ‘official’ review that I have come across – and a very meagre and slight effort it is:

    Surely the novel deserves more thoughtful and better written critique than this one?

    Notice, by the way, that the Guardian curiously enough sees fit to review it under the heading of ‘Crime Fiction’ (along with, say, Ian Rankin’s latest instalment in his Rebus series of police thrillers) rather than ‘Fiction’ proper (which in the Guardian’s classificatory scheme signifies ‘serious’, ‘literary’ fiction as opposed to ‘popular’, ‘genre fiction’). Makes you wonder if the Guardian would have reviewed, say, ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ under the same heading of ‘Crime Fiction’ as ‘The A.B.C. Murders’ – to take two novels published within months of each other – simply because both deal with crime…

  194. Leon Says:

    Fortunately, here is a BBC Radio review that does the novel more justice than the review linked in the above post:

    From 20:30 to 28:15 mins.

  195. Simon Morris Says:

    I think Palliser is an admirer of Joyce, in whose “Ulysses” speech is marked by a long dash at the start of a paragraph. I think this notation is distinctive, if not unique, and perhaps it inspired Palliser to mark speech in slightly unusual ways?

    The switching between italics and non-italics in “The Wrong Tracks” is also a little reminiscent of “Ulysses” (as is the differing natures of all the chapters in “Betrayals”). In “Ulysses”, thoughts of different types and different characters abut each other without warning. But I think the short emphasised sections in “The Wrong Tracks” are often themselves betrayals, either of the narrator by the narrator (as when Mrs Armytage’s lyricism suggests that she is “Mona”, or when the Parson mentions “unnatural practices”), or of the narrator by someone else (as when the Major (?) points out how short the anthropologist was).

  196. AGB Says:

    I’m now the proud owner of a signed copy of Rustication, sent to me by Charles (as I must now call him…) Palliser fro my (very moderate) help in sorting out the font issues on digital versions of the book. I did try and gently nudge him into a Quincunx discussion (and he does look in on websites such as these from time to time) but he tells me he is “oddly uninterested” in books he has already written.


  197. Briankmm Says:

    A few brief comments on recent postings. I too was a bit puzzled by the changes of typeface in Betrayals, but unfortunately I do not possess a copy to be able to follow Leon’s argument closely. James Joyce’s use of the dash to mark direct speech was no innovation in as much as it is the normal use in Italian, a language which he spoke naturally, and also in French and Spanish. As to categorisation of works, my local library had The Unburied in the Supernatural category, presumably on account of the dust-jacket? At present I’m reading The Quincunx yet again, and then hope to go on to The Unburied, so Rustication is a treat in store. Congratulations to AGB on receiving his signed copy of Rustication. Could he satisfy my curiosity and tell me if the signature is easily legible?

  198. Brian Says:

    Sorry! Name on last posting is Brian. Apologies for bad typing.

  199. AGB Says:

    No – it is totally illegible; invisible even…..

    I spoke to soon – my wife told me that my signed book had arrived. But when I actually got back to New York I found that the copy had come straight from Norton here in the US, not from Charles in the UK. So it’s unsigned. I’ll put that right one day!