“The Queer Client” by Charles Dickens – and some other thoughts on revenge…

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My 43rd story of my annual “Deal Me In” short story project was the eight of spades, representing “The Queer Client” by Charles Dickens. I own this story in my anthology “Great Short Stories of the World” which I purchased at Half Price Books specifically to provide fodder for my project. 🙂

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It’s a rather straightforward tale of revenge, and was originally published within Dickens’ serialized The Pickwick Papers as “The Old Man’s Tale About the Queer Client.” The queer client is a newly rich man, Heyling, who suffered greatly from poverty when younger, losing his wife and son who literally die from poverty and hunger while he is in debtor’s prison, a victim of a ruthless, unforgiving old man. Providentially, Heyling unexpectedly comes into some money and begins to plot his revenge.

He surveils the old man and, during a day at the beach, in a chilling scene, Heyling reveals his identity and refuses to come to the aid of the old man’s drowning son.

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As if that weren’t revenge enough, later, he orchestrates the financial ruin of the old man who, rather than face the music (legally) for his bankruptcy, flees and goes into hiding. Heyling hires an attorney (thus becoming the titular “queer client”) to track the old man down so that he may exact additional vengeance.

I’ve read other, better works centering on the theme of revenge ( <ahem> “The Mysterious Mansion“) but this one got me thinking about incidents of revenge in literature and art. I was even reminded of the great lyric from Phil Collins’s 1980 release “In the Air Tonight.”

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“Well, if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I’ve seen your face before my friend
But I don’t know if you know who I am…”

Then, coincidentally, someone posted this link on social media where Mandy Patinkin muses about his favorite line in The Princess Bride (not the one you might think, but one that deals with the revenge theme)

Then there’s the all-time #1 villain in the Star Trek franchise, Khan, whose lust for revenge powers “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan” (guess the title kind of gives that away too). He also speaks the memorable line about a “Klingon Proverb” that “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold,” adding that, “It is very cold… in space.”

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But what about revenge in literature? What are some of the best examples? There are many classics, but what are your favorites? (This would be a good topic for “The Broke and The Bookish’s” weekly Top Ten Tuesday meme if the haven’t explored it already.) Let’s see who can come up with the best literary tale of revenge…

(below: MY favorite scene from The Princess Bride is different)

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11 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    October 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Jay,
    The first story that pops into my head is Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”. What about Jack London’s “Moon Face”? Does that count? And speaking of count, I haven’t read The Count of Monte Cristo, yet, but I have occasionally heard that there is a revenge theme there. Right now, I’m planning on opening my 2014 reading with Dumas’ novel. That’s right now, things can always change.
    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

      Hi Dale,
      The Count of Monte Cristo was one I thought of also. Of course, The Cask of Amontillado is the standard. Moby Dick is perhaps more about obsession, but still revenge, yes? I remember RobertLouis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae was a decent revenge novel too.
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Brian Joseph said,

    October 30, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Great post Jay!

    I am currently immersed in Dickens’s Bleak House so I am well into the Dickens mode. I have not read this but it sounds good and obviously contains some common Dickens themes.

    As a dedicated lifelong Star Trek fan I appreciate the Wrath of Kahn reference. I do think that Khan illustrates a negative aspect to the revenge theme. That is, it often lends itself to overly simplistic characters and themes. While like most fans, I think that The Wrath of Khan to be an extraordinarily good part of the Star Trek cannon. I would argue that the incredibly complex and nuanced Khan character created in original television series was essentially ruined and overly simplified into the hateful and vengeful Khan of the film. With all that, the Khan of the movie was well written, a more complex and well acted then most vengeance filled villains. I just like his earlier version a lot better.

    I think that this stereotypical vengeance filled persona, that is not really all that interesting, is all too common these days.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 31, 2013 at 7:25 am

      Thanks, Brian!
      You’re preaching to the choir regarding tv series Khan > Movie Khan. The tv Khan was a brilliant mix of intelligence and brutality. (The “dinner scene” where he is “tricked” into saying “WE” offered the world order is classic. When Kirk replies, “We?!”, instead of getting flustered, Khan just says “Excellent…” admiring Kirk’s tactics. There’s also the great line, “I should have realized that suffocating together on the bridge would create heroic camaraderie amongst you…” The list goes on)

      Khan in the movie, though, is indeed more one-dimensional, but in his defense has almost gone insane “He’s quite mad…” Says Terrell at one point.

      One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Captain Terrell blurts out, “I’ve never even met admiral Kirk…” and Khan’s response is priceless, “ADmiral Kirk?! Admiral Kirk…” as though he resents thatKirk has been promoted, and the fire of his revenge obsession is stoked with another log…

      All great stuff. Interesting too that Moby-Dick is part of Khan’s “marooned planet library” and quoted/referenced a couple times in Khan’s dialog.
      -Jay

      Like

  3. Alex said,

    October 30, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Oh, I love me some good revenge story: in literature and real-life. I enjoyed Scaramouche and more recently, Gone Girl.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 31, 2013 at 7:30 am

      Hi Alex,
      Me too! 🙂 I haven’t read either of those, and looking at the goodreads summaries now, although I had heard of them, had some misunderstanding about their storyline. I’d like to get to “Gone Girl” someday but don’t know when…
      -Jay

      Like

  4. JaneGS said,

    October 31, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I always thought that Rebecca in the novel of the same name by Daphne duMaurier exacted an innovative form of revenge on her husband Maxim, insofar as goading him into killing her and then having to live with the guilt of that.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      November 3, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Haha! That’s a great one, Jane! One could probably say that Rebecca’s spirit was vengefully operating via the sinister Mrs. Danvers as well.
      -Jay

      Like

  5. C.Allen said,

    November 6, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing that link to the Mandy Patinkin clip. “Turn on darkness into light.” Lovely.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      November 8, 2013 at 8:23 am

      You’re welcome, and thanks for the visit. I enjoyed that clip also. What a great film, too. 🙂

      Like


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