|Once again Doyle gives us a story that leaves us cheering for the underdog. Unlike Bones, we are at first somewhat repelled by our hero, but as with most underdog tales, by the end we rather like the uncouth fellow. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Doyle presents us with the story of the new arrival in a banking firm located in Birchespool, which is his fictionalized name for Portsmouth. The first hints of humour appear in the first sentence with the name of the banking firm for which the characters work, that is "Ducat, Gulden and Ducat" which is a clear synonym for "Money, money and more money". A slight joke which sets the tone for the story.
"Gentlemanly Joe" is the sobriquet appointed by his fellow clerks to one Joseph Smith, the son of a well to do racing tout. Joe has all the manners of a cockney spiv with social-climbing delusions of grandeur. Joe is made fun of by his aristocratic co- workers without ever being aware of their cruelty. The story is fairly basic, Joe is the butt of a number of jokes, a love interest appears, Joe is rebuffed, a crisis occurs, Joe saves the day and is loved by all. In the end he has grown into his nickname.
The real appeal to this story is the wonderful language that Doyle uses. His descriptions of Joe and his dialogue are simply absorbing:
"...sat at his feet and marvelled at the war of independence which he was carrying on against the Queen's English - a guerilla warfare consisting in attacks upon aspirates, and the cutting off of straggling g's..."
"...our dignity was hurt by the appearance of a loudly-dressed scorbutic-looking youth, with horse-shoe pin, and a necktie suggestive of spectrum analysis..."
Joe' s remarks when informed of the nickname:
"Whatever'll father say! Oh, law, to think of it! 'Getlemanly Joe' - eh? You're right, though; you're right, and not ashamed to own up neither. I said when I was comin' up, 'Father', says I, 'I'll teach them a trick or two,' and I have, hain't I? Of course we're all gents here, for clerks is mostly reckoned such, but it do make a difference when a man has been brought in contac' with the real thing. You can call me Gentlemanly Joe, an' pleasure, but not as meaning to imply that there is any in this room noy such, though, maybe, not one of you has seen a belted hurl give your father one in the short ribs and holler out, 'You're a deep old scoundrel, Smith, and one as knows how many beans make five!' "
Once again, a wisp of a story, but charmingly told.
Reviewed by Charles Prepolec
|Gentlemanly Joe (1883)
Originally published in 'All the Year Round' 31 March 1883