Friday 11 November 2011

Richard Doubledick

*In honor of Remembrance Day/Veterans' Day

            Seriously. I did not make this guy up. Although he is a fictional character (and thank God, with a name like that), you have the great Charles Dickens to thank, not I.
            Richard Doubledick is a character in the Dickens’ story The Seven Poor Travellers. From what I can tell (having only read selections within a large volume), The Seven Poor Travellers is a tale with a frame story, rather like The Canterbury Tales or Boccaccio’s Decameron. To that end, Richard Doubledick is a character within a character’s story (although the teller of the tale claims Doubledick is a relative of his).
            The tale of Richard Doubledick is relatively short, detailing how a down-and-out young man joined the British Army and fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Richard first joined because he had made some bad choices and disappointed his betrothed, who resolved not to marry him. Heartbroken, Richard joined the army, but was a drunken lout. He was headed for a bad, alcohol-besotted end, when a superior officer, Captain Taunton, took an interest in him. With the Captain’s friendship, Richard became a reformed man and a brave and noble soldier, who acquitted himself gloriously in a number of battles between 1799 and 1812. Both Richard and Taunton rose through the ranks, but in 1812, Major Taunton was killed by a Frenchman. Taunton requested Richard to carry a lock of his hair home to his mother in England, which Richard was finally able to do two years later, when he was in England on invalid leave. As the dearest friend of her departed only son, Richard and Widow Taunton became mother and son (Richard’s mother being long dead).
            In 1815, at the Battle of Waterloo, Richard was gravely wounded, and (at death’s door), he was taken to Brussels. As luck (and narrative necessity) would have it, Richard recovered, only to discover that his long-lost betrothed had come to Brussels to tend him. In addition, she had married Richard when he was half-delirious (which Richard was strangely cool with), thereby completing Doubledick’s joy. Eventually Richard, Widow Taunton, and Mrs. Doubledick return to England. Due to her health, Widow Taunton went to southern France to spend the winter, where she became good friends with a local family. When Richard goes to fetch her home, he meets the French family, only to discover that the husband/father/man-of-the-house is the very same man who killed Major Taunton in battle! As neither the Frenchman nor Widow Taunton know this, though, Richard keeps it to himself and forgives the Frenchman, knowing it is what his dead friend would want. After all, the man had killed Major Taunton in war, not out of personal enmity. And the Frenchman is so kind that Richard cannot hold his military actions against him. Richard and the Frenchman then go on to cultivate a beautiful friendship, which extends even into the next generation; the two men’s sons are great friends and fight together in battle in an unspecified war.
            So here we have a lovely tale of a broken man redeeming himself through the kind offices of a good friend, the support of women, and service to his country. Richard Doubledick progresses from a broken man to a brave, selfless soldier to a man who has a loving mother, loving wife, and wonderful friends. Thanks to the homosocial love and guidance of the slightly-older Major Taunton, Richard has fulfilled his potential and become a good man. It is a mildly heartwarming, if utterly-predictable, story.
            One final note concerns Richard’s last name. According to the opening paragraphs of the story, Richard, who was known as Dick (although he is never called this in the story) decided to trade in his old surname for one of his own invention. And his name of choice was Doubledick! That is odd on so many levels. Of all the last names in all the world... he had to pick that one. Dickens must have been smoking something.

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