Simanaitis Says

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WRITER BASES HIS FICTIONAL DETECTIVE ON REAL PERSON PART 1

GEE. IS THIS GOING TO BE another recounting of Arthur Conan Doyle, medical-school mentor Joseph Bell, and Sherlock Holmes? Or Edgar Allan Poe and whoever gave him the idea for Auguste Dupin. Or Wilkie Collins and The Moonstone, also establishing ground rules for the modern detective novel. 

No, actually I’m thinking of Charles Dickens, yet another sleuthing specialist already appearing here at SimanaitisSays in “The Drood Caper.” 

Charles John Huffam Dickens, 1812-1870, English writer and social critic. Image c. 1867-1868.

This time around it’s fictional Inspector Bucket of the Metropolitan Police, a major personage in Dickens’ Bleak House. Bucket is based on real police officer Charles Frederick Field, with whom Dickens would pal around in seedy districts of London. 

I first learned of the fictional Bucket and real Field in Stephen Browning’s On the Trail of Sherlock Holmes. Browning writes of Charles Dickens, who “would end his famous night walks in Covent Garden, sometimes accompanied by Charles Frederick Field, a detective and later private investigator on whom he is said to have based Inspector Bucket in Bleak House.

“In 1851,” Browning continues, “Dickens wrote an article On Duty with Inspector Field for Household Words [a journal Dickens published, edited, and contributed to] which detailed their wanderings among the poorest underclass of the city at night. It is vintage Dickens.”

Image from The Victorian Web

The tidbits that follow here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow come from Browning’s book, other reference material, and my usual Internet sleuthing. 

Vintage Sleuthing: “How goes the night?” Dickens writes of accompanying his pal Field, “Saint Giles’s clock is striking nine. The weather is dull and wet, and the long lines of street lamps are blurred, as if we saw them through tears. A damp wind blows and rakes the pieman’s fire out, when he opens the door of his little furnace, carrying away an eddy of sparks….”

My trusty Mayhew’s London describes the pieman: “The itinerant trade of pies is of the most ancient of the street callings of London. The meat pies are made of beef or mutton; the fish pies of eels; the fruit of apples, currants, gooseberries, plums, damsons, cherries, raspberries, or rhubarb, according to the season—and occasionally of mince-meat.” 

“The Coster Boy and Girl Tossing the Pieman.” A street-game image from Mayhew’s London. 

“… and let us look!” Dickens continues, “Ten, twenty, thirty—who can count them! Men, women, children, for the most part naked, heaped upon the floor like maggots in a cheese!” 

“All the while,” Dickens says, “Mr. Field holds sway and is respected, even though ‘he has collared half the people here, and motioned their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, male and female friends, inexorably to New South Wales.’ ” 

Sour racket indeed, being shipped off to Australia.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we learn more about the real Field and Inspector Bucket, his fictional counterpart created by pal Dickens. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022 

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