7 of Fire - Bradley Headstone

Characters:

Lizzie Hexam; Bradley Headstone;

Eugene Wrayburn.

Book:

Our Mutual Friend

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      Bradley Headstone has worked long and hard to get where he is. Born into poverty, he has pulled himself up by the bootstraps, using education to do so. A self-made man, he holds a decent place in society as a schoolmaster. In fact, everything about Bradley is decent – his “black coat and waistcoat, and decent white shirt, and decent formal black tie, and decent pantaloons of pepper and salt, with his decent silver watch in his pocket and its decent hair guard around his neck.” Decent, that is, until his descent into a rage so overwhelming it consumes him like a wild fire. According to Dickens, there was always something “fiery (though smouldering)” about Bradley, some heap of rags which would - when the hereditary hauteur of Eugene Wrayburn hit them – instantly ignite.

 

 From a man who ardently championed the education of the lower classes, Bradley Headstone is a contradictory character for Dickens. Then again, he was contrived at the end of the author's life when this ardent belief had for him lost almost all its steam. In a novel hell-bent on deflating society's self-esteem - its facades of progress and mealy-mouthed posturing - education is shown as just another false veneer; yet one more way for society to manipulate and crush the human spirit. Like the useless readings of the venal Silas Wegg, so-called civilization is a crutch which leaves one in the end – like the paralyzed Eugene Wrayburn – without a leg to stand on.

 

 Dickens paints Bradley as “a naturally slow or inattentive intellect that had toiled hard to get what it had won, and that had to hold it now that it was gotten.” What “holding” he does is precisely what precipitates his inability to get a grip. While Bradley has groomed himself to walk and talk like a man, he is sorely unable to tame and control the animal within. He has done everything right by society's lights, laboured seriously at the Protestant work ethic without protest, yet he is snubbed out in an instant by a supercilious mouthpiece of that society, an insouciant member of the bar.

 

 The primary lesson to take away from Bradley Headstone is how a headlong striving after a goal can traduce and vitiate with its own vehemence that very goal. In the end, his desideratum Lizzie Hexam marries Eugene Wrayburn – something impossible if Headstone hadn't crippled him. The wisdom and respectability he toiled to achieve is blackened and laid bare by recklessness and dishonour. The man he trounces and tosses in the river lives and thrives while he himself is drowned.

 

 As Eugene Wrayburn's double, Bradley Headstone gets the wrong end of the stick. When he comes unglued, it is less to do with the woman he holds a torch for than the man who fires his hatred. Like Wrayburn, Dickens - himself, as a young man, a proctor - was prohibited by society from being with the woman he loved, Ellen Ternan. Like Headstone, Dickens attempted to wear down the defences of the woman he loved with his ardour. This ardour would also kill society's Dickens, as represented by Wrayburn – a reality the public-loving author simply couldn't countenance. Instead, hoping to cauterize the wound, he reached a compromise: by sacrificing his passion in Headstone he cripples himself in Wrayburn. In this way, the 7 of Fire may prove the force of one's agency, but the result may be utterly other than intended and the cost of the game may far outweigh the worth of the candle.

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Shorthand : such potential - all-consuming - raw animal magnetism - powerful competition - matter over mind - dogged determination - hard-headed - hot under the collar - infuriatingly unfair - short fuse - fuel to a fire - nails on a chalkboard - the calling of a bluff - bait and switch - a fall guy.