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Monday, February 28, 2011

The Changing Portrait of Mr. Fisker in TWWLN

The Black Brunswicker (1860), John Millais
Hamilton K. Fisker is an American businessman who headed the railway venture in San Francisco and who uses Paul Montague to set a meeting with Melmotte to encourage the latter to become an investor in the company. Ultimately, Fisker's goal is to make money by any means necessary.

The object of Fisker, Montague, and Montague was not to make a railway to Vera Cruz, but to float a company. Paul thought that Mr Fisker seemed to be indifferent whether the railway should ever be constructed or not. It was clearly his idea that fortunes were to be made out of the concern before a spadeful of earth had been moved (Ch. 9).

The building of the railway is not as important to Fisker as the prospect of becoming rich.  Such being the case, Fisker appears to be an American version of Melmotte, the two being placed on an equal plane when they are the only ones to get toasts at a farewell dinner for Fisker (Ch. 10).  Similar to Melmotte, no one trusts Fisker.  Paul is repeatedly described as not trusting Fisker, whom he calls a "wretched American" (Ch. 9).  Lord Nidderdale compares him to the "Heathen Chinee," a Chinese immigrant in a Bret Harte poem who cheats at euchre, when Fisker wins a card game at the Beargarden (Ch. 10).  Roger Carbury, whose judgment the reader learns to trust, "did not believe in Fisker" having learned of him through Paul (Ch. 14).  The strongest condemnation of Fisker comes from the narrator:

Fisker was, perhaps, not a man worthy of much thought.  He had never read a book.  He had never written a line worth reading.  He had never said a prayer.  He cared nothing for humanity.  He had sprung out of some Californian gully, was perhaps ignorant of his own father and mother, and had tumbled up in the world on the strength of his own audacity (Ch. 35).

The American schemer is not portrayed in a positive light.

Nevertheless, Fisker disappears from the narrative after meeting Melmotte and does not appear again until after Melmotte's death 82 chapters later.  He has avoided the stain of Melmotte's sin and arrives back in England in order to settle the late man's affairs.  Though Fisker feels "the work of robbing mankind in gross by magnificently false representations, was not only the duty, but also the delight and the ambition of his life" (Ch. 92), he suddenly becomes honest in his dealings with Marie Melmotte.  He secures her money and offers to take her to America to start life anew.  Marie suspects he is helping her because of her money but agrees to go to America and even agrees to marry Fisker.  Her decision, however, seems to be well-considered, as she has inquired and found that in America, her money can remain her own, a fact Fisker confirms (Ch. 98).  Fisker no longer appears to be the money-hungry exploiter from earlier in the novel but has become a devoted and honest businessman who expresses disgust at Melmotte's crimes (Ch. 92).

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