Israel Zangwill: Jinny the Carrier

Oliver Herford's caricature of Zangwill

Zangwill's last novel Jinny the Carrier was published in 1919 and is based on his unpublished 3-act play produced in Boston in 1905. It was written after a long period during which he was deeply involved in the Zionist movement and wrote mostly drama and non-fiction.

In the Epistle Dedicatory Zangwill says that he has written a "bland" novel, "one to be read when in bed with a sore throat" (vii).1 Such a novel must "begin with 'once upon a time' and end with 'they all lived happy ever after,' so that my task is simply to fill in the lacuna between these two points..." (vii-viii).

The novel does begins "Once upon a time ... Jinny the Carrier, of Blackwater Hall, Little Bradmarsh, went the round with her tilt-cart..." (1) and ends "[Jinny] could see no reason -- once her grandfather's wedding-bells had rung -- why they should not all live -- wherever they all lived -- happy ever after" (575). But Zangwill is being disingenuous; it's much richer than a simple, bland novel. It's realistic rather than romantic and beneath the placid surface there are numerous conflicts about gender roles, religious beliefs, economic inequality, generational attitudes, and, of course, romantic relationships. It's also quite funny, especially when Zangwill parodies some of the elements of romances and fairy tales.

The book is set in and around Bradmarsh and Chipstone, rural villages in Essex, England at the time of Great Exhibition in London (1851). It's a "beautiful country ... with its many lovable customs and simple, kindly people," and change comes slowly to the area whose inhabitants rarely interact with the larger world.

The central conflict involves Jinny Boldero and Will Flynt and their love-hate relationship. Jinny, an orphan, was raised by her grandfather Daniel Quarles who is a carrier: he takes orders for goods from people in the area, obtains them and then delivers them in his horse-drawn cart. Jinny grew up riding with her grandfather and as he aged she assumed more and more of the work. Now he remains at home and she is "Jinny, the carrier." However, her grandfather still expects her to do all "the multiform labour of house and land, of cooking and bread-baking and goat-milking and scrubbing and washing" (71).

Because she gradually took over the business, everyone accepts Jinny as the local carrier even though it is traditionally a man's job -- everyone except Will Flynt who has been in Canada seeking his fortune. When he returns he is shocked to see her riding the cart alone: "A respectable girl like that -- why, what was the world coming to? Sent gadding about the country like a trollop, perched up horsily behind a carter's whip -- this was what little Jinny had been allowed to grow up into!" (129). Although his attitude is not unusual for the time, he completely lacks tact and his statements are rash and hurtful.

They first come into conflict when Will tells Jinny that women are unfit for and should not attempt to do men's work. Jinny does not see herself as a feminist (or "Bloomerite") but as a simple "busy toiler" providing for herself and her grandfather.2 Although she does not try to prove that she is as good as a man, she does believe that she is as good a carrier as her grandfather was and she is very offended by Will's words and attitude. Will and Jinny were friends when they were younger, but now, despite the fact that they are attracted to each other, there is ill-will between them.

Jinny is attractive, hard-working, dutiful and modest. She receives and rejects marriage proposals from Farmer Gale, a wealthy landowner, and Elijah Skindle, veterinarian and knacker. She believes that being a carrier isn't unmaidenly, but acknowledges that it would be unwifely because a wife's place is in the home.

Although she is respectful of customs, religious beliefs and elders, she is not unreflective. She argues with Farmer Gale about the low wages he pays to his laborers. She feels that people over the age of ninety should receive pensions from the parish, because it's unreasonable to expect them to continue to earn their livings.

Jinny's foil is Polly Flippance, who with her father, Tony, runs a traveling marionette show. She, like Jinny, does most of the work -- setting up and tearing down as well as operating puppets during the show. Both grandfather and father would be unable to carry on their businesses without them. Unlike Jinny, Polly is from a theatrical family and is a free thinker who smokes and drinks.3

Will is handsome and hard-working but also old-fashioned and prudish. He's offended when Jinny refers to the need to keep ferrets apart (so they won't breed) and uses the word "bosom." Will is upset to see a woman, Polly Flippance, giving orders to men. Although Will has traveled to Canada and London, he is less sophisticated than Jinny. He speaks and acts rashly and is easily flummoxed by Jinny who is cleverer.4

Jinny and Will's second disagreement is about the horn Jinny uses to announce her arrival at clients' homes. Will claims he could learn to play it in an hour and she promises to get him one to prove him wrong. For more on this humorous episode see Humor in Dictionaries.

The third dispute occurs when Tony Flippance commissions Jinny to purchase a horse for him. Will believes that it's not proper for women to attend horse auctions. He outbids her and buys the only two suitable horses.

The fourth and major conflict begins when Will tries to sell the horses to Flippance and learns that he no longer needs them. Will decides to keep them, buy a used coach and go into the carrier business in competition with Jinny. Up to this point they have been friendly enemies but now Will threatens her livelihood. With two horses and a larger coach he is able to carry more goods and people and travel more quickly. He drives a neighboring carrier out of business and reduces Jinny's income to the point where she finds it difficult to put food on the table.

The turning point in the novel occurs when the Spring floods destroy Will's horses and coach. Jinny saves him and his family from their flooded home. During the rescue they acknowledge their love for the other. We might expect that Jinny and Will would marry, but Will is humiliated at having been rescued and ashamed of his attempt to drive her out of business. Without telling her he decides to emigrate to Australia, make his fortune and marry Jinny when he returns, if she will have him.

After several more amusing incidents they decide that together they will emigrate or remain in England. But it will not be a "happily ever after" future. It's clear that Will and Jinny will be at odds for the rest of their lives.

As depicted the pace of life is slow in rural Essex and people are mostly contented. But their lives are not without conflict.

Religion is both a source of comfort and a subject of contention among the inhabitants. They belong to a number of Protestant sects and they frequently squabble over Biblical interpretation and doctrinal issues. Jinny is a member of the Peculiars, who believe in faith-healing. Will's mother is a Christadelphian. Miss Gentry and Annie Skindle are Anglican and Bundock, the mailman, is the resident skeptic. Young Will ran away from home, in part because of harsh treatment by Joshua Mauhood, an Elder of the Peculiars (and a rat catcher). He no longer has any strong religious beliefs. Some, such as Jinny's grandfather, a Wesleyean, delight in the misfortune of others and scour the Bible for justification of their disapproval. Others, such as Will's father, who is a Peculiar, find solace in good fellowship and simple faith.

Another major source of conflict is generational. Jinny and her grandfather get along only because Jinny is forgiving of the old man's irascible and dominating personality, because she accepts her life of drudgery and because she is able to work around Daniel when necessary. Will's mother wants him to remain at home but nags him about religion; his father would prefer that Will move out so he can enjoy a quite retirement. Polly and Tony Flippance are frequently at odds and it is only due to her good sense and hard work that they manage to survive. Elijah Skindle forces his mother to be his housekeeper and puts her into the workhouse when he marries.

The two men Jinny loves, her grandfather and Will, make her life more not less difficult. They are alike in many ways: both are narrow-minded, stubborn, impulsive and chauvinistic.

Her grandfather, who has little love for anyone, is unable to recognize Jinny's value as a business partner and housekeeper. Will won't acknowledge that he loves Jinny and refuses to admit that her work as a carrier is admirable (she supports her grandfather). Daniel claims to still run the business and criticizes pretty much everything she does. Will belittles her and tries to run her out of business to prove that women are unfit for men's work. Daniel has long felt that his older brother Sidrack should have inherited the property and business which went to him, the youngest son, because of a quirk in the law. His will leaves everything to Sidrack, now in his 90s, instead of to one of his children or to Jinny who will be left without a home or income when Daniel dies. After the flood Will acknowledges his love for Jinny, but intends to sneak off to Australia to make his fortune without even telling her.

Daniel is in his dotage and Will is like an overgrown boy. Neither is able to hide his emotions; both speak without thinking, act impulsively and brood.

Comedies frequently end with one or more marriages or engagements and there are seven in this novel. One is clearly unsuccessful. Mother Gander, owner of the Black Sheep pub, marries a younger man, Charley Mott, the potboy, who likes "ratting, coursing and dicing" (435). Eventually, she sends the bellman around town to inform all that she will no longer be responsible for his debts (although all of her property became his when they married). Charlie is drowned in the flood.

Farmer Gale and Elijah Skindle offer Jinny a life of ease through marriage, but she is not in love with them and neither will make satisfactory provisions for her grandfather. Both men marry other women. Tony Flippance and his daughter, Polly, also marry.

At the end of the novel there are two impending marriages. Ninety-year-old Daniel is going to marry Annie Skindle, who is nearly as old, after rescuing her from the poorhouse where her son placed her after his own marriage. Daniel owns his home and has the money Lilliwhyte gave to Jinny (see below). The idea of two old people, long in love, finally coming together is romantic, but whether Annie will be able to put up with Daniel is anybody's guess.

Jinny and Will have agreed to join their lives, but not whether they will remain in England or emigrate to Australia. They are poor, in love and still bickering. Given Will's perverse nature and Jinny's strong will, the wedding may not take place for a long time if at all.

There are many parodies and inversions in the novel. Instead of a wicked stepmother, Jinny has a wicked grandfather. When her parents died, Daniel took her in, but he treated her like a slavey. He sometimes reminds her that her father was no good and that it cost him a lot to pay off his debts. Daniel is vindictive, miserly and self-centered. He has no idea that his very existence depends upon his long-suffering granddaughter.

Instead of a handsome prince returning from adventures abroad, there is a country boy who returns from his sojourn in Canada and his visit to London having gained only ninety pounds and learned nothing.

There is a pot of gold but not at the end of the rainbow. Uncle Lilliwhyte, who lives in extreme poverty working odd jobs and selling game, herbs and mushrooms, has saved his pennies over the years and converted them to gold coins which he keeps in a buried teapot. This buried treasure will prevent the authorities from ever sending him to the poorhouse where his father died. When he is dying, he gives the money to Jinny but it only indirectly benefits her.

Her grandfather appropriates it and with this new wealth he is in a position to marry Annie Skindle, who resides in the poorhouse and whom he has loved for years. Ironically, it's the 90-year-old grandfather not the young granddaughter who pines for love and rushes off to marry. This solves a problem for Jinny -- what to do about her grandfather when she marries -- but it raises another -- where will she live since Annie will want to be mistress of her own home?

There is a secret room hidden beneath the hearthstone (which may have been a smuggler's storeroom). Jinny is unaware that this is where Daniel hides what little wealth he has accumulated.

There are swashbuckling adventures -- well, not quite but Jinny's father, Roger Boldero, was a smuggler. Instead of a damsel in distress being rescued we have a damsel to the rescue. Jinny sails up to the Flynt's flooded farmhouse and rescues Will and his father and mother. She does so sitting on her cart which is riding on a barge that normally plies the nearby river. The image is quite funny.

Romances often include the swearing and fulfilling or circumventing of oaths. Daniel's daughter, Emma, fell in love with Roger Boldero, but Daniel forbid the marriage because Roger smoked tobacco (not because he was a smuggler). They married anyway and Daniel swore that he would never cross their threshold. During an argument Will says he will never be seen in Daniel's house again unless they carry him in and Daniel says that Will will never cross his threshold again except on his hands and knees. All three oaths are skirted by humorous means.

The great flood does not destroy wickedness, although one man is drowned and Farmer Gale loses thousands of pounds in crops and stock. Nothing really changes; life goes on as before. During the flood Jinny and Will acknowledge their love for each other, but they do not live happily ever after. They will marry eventually, but their economic future is very uncertain and marital harmony seems unlikely.

See also

Israel Zangwill and Zangwill's Zones


1All citations are from Jinny the Carrier (London: William Heinemann, 1919).

2There is little about politics and the struggle for women's rights in this book in which the "proper" role of a woman is a central theme. Some women had been given the vote in 1918, the year before the book was published. Zangwill's wife, Edith, was an advocate for women's suffrage. Her mother, Matilda Chaplin, was a suffragist who also campaigned to allow women to qualify as physicians. Edith was a member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies as was her stepmother, Hertha Ayrton. Both became active members of the more militant Women Social and Political Union. Edith helped form the Jewish League for Woman Suffrage and she became a leading member of the United Suffragists. Israel Zangwill also supported militant tactics in the fight for the enfranchisement of women.

3Like Dickens Zangwill produced many memorable characters, but, unlike Dickens, Zangwill was good at creating realistic, young, female characters.

4Will is the weakest element in the novel. Zangwill fails to make him sufficiently appealing to justify Jinny's attraction to him. He was raised in a religious family and community but is not religious himself -- not because he has thought through religious questions, but simply because it offers him nothing in exchange for the trouble of attending services, reading the bible and praying. On a Sunday he and Tony Flippance drink brandy and smoke cigars which both of his parents would disapprove of. He lies frequently -- to Jinny, and to both of his parents. Most importantly, Will tries to destroy Jinny's business by becoming a carrier himself with little thought; he has no "business plan." Will taunts Jinny by playing tunes on his horn when he passes her cart. Finally, he proposes to another woman without enthusiasm and is turned down.