Dickens gave teachers a bad press and his creation of the embittered schoolmaster in "Our Mutual Friend" is no exception
Not Dickens again! Isn't it about time we had a positive image, some romantic figure who doesn't go around thrashing urchins Headstone's your man. Takes a great pride in his profession and in training pupil-teacher Charley Hexam so the youngster can take his first step up the social ladder.
Not so that he can thrash him from behind then?
No. Bradley Headstone belongs to Dickens's last completed novel when staffroom sadists like Creakle, Sharp and Wackworth had been left far behind. He steps off the page as a smart and conscientious schoolmaster in black coat and grey pantaloons who "had acquired mechanically a great store of knowledge, could sing at sight mechanically and even play the church organ mechanically". Bradley's catchphrases are "Trust me I'm a teacher" and, to Charley Hexam, "One day you will be one of us!" No ulterior motives?
He is madly in love with Charley's sister, Lizzie.
She isn't under age is she? Does he really love her?
Absolutely and to prove it he tries to murder his rival, Eugene Wrayburn, the barrister who Lizzie really cares for.
A teacher who tries to murder?
He doesn't succeed. Wrayburn is rescued from the Thames by Lizzie and nursed back to health. She then marries Eugene, much to Charley's disgust as he has always seen Headstone as "the very ornament of his sphere".
So does Headstone apologise for the assault and send them a wedding present?
Not exactly. He tries to frame a lock-keeper, Rogue Riderhood, for the assault.
Not so decent That's what Riderhood thinks, so he starts blackmailing Bradley, goes into his class and tells the schoolmaster: "I'll be paid for it till I've drained ye dry!" Does he try to get young Charley to help?
Yes, but Charley spurns him, saying: "Every effort I make towards perfect respectability is impeded by somebody else butI will not be dragged down by you, Mr Headstone!" Bradley has to hand over his savings, a mere two guineas, telling Riderhood: "Mine is but a poor calling. You can't get blood out of a stone."
Does Riderhood keep trying?
Yes he does, so Bradley seizes hold of him and drowns them both in Plashweir Lock.
And this is supposed to reflect well on the profession?
Well Dickens does say he dresses very smartly...
I still say we need more positive images of teachers