Cut from the Classics: Affable Johnson -The Toast

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Cut From the Classics brings your favorite novels to life as never before. Each week we present a profile of a character who originally appeared in the first draft of a major work of fiction, but was subsequently cut from the final draft. This insight into each author’s process brings a fuller, richer sense of their body of work. Previously: Sarah Pebbletush

Book: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Publication Date: Ran as a serial from December 1860 – August 1861. Published as three-volume novel in 1861.

Character: Affable L. Johnson

Great Expectations follows the life of the orphan Philip Pirrip, known throughout the novel as Pip. After a chance encounter with a gruff convict, Pip’s life as an orphaned blacksmith’s apprentice is re-routed to that of a highborn gentleman, by an at-first inexplicable influx of funds. His sense of happiness, however, is undermined by the mysterious origins of his prosperity, and his hopeless love for Estella, a woman used by the capricious and deranged Miss Havisham to wreak vengeance on all men–Pip included.

In the first draft of this novel, Pip’s early days were not quite so lonesome, given his friendship with one Affable “Laura”  Johnson.[1. Ned Nollington, Dressing Gowns and Dressing-Downs: Dickens and Emasculation in the 19th Century, 1974 Nevada University Press.] As early as the first chapter we are introduced to Affable as the naughty boy next door, whose frequent attempts to lead Pip astray are only stymied by the frequent and severe ear-boxings he receives from Pip’s abusive sister. This repeated  bludgeoning causes permanent brain damage, and Dickens’ descriptions of Affable’s ailment are generally considered to be the first literary use of tinnitus for comedic effect.[2. Dr. Jay Luceit Danube, Dr. Margo Helsinki Cunningham-Bruno, ‘Say What? An Aural History of Western Literature.’ Keller Media Services, 1989.]

 While our protagonist leads a life full of intrigue and heartache, Affable, his boyhood acquaintance, lives the quiet life of a blacksmith’s apprentice in earnest. One can detect in Affable a brief but palpable sense of yearning which explains his bond with Pip. In the unpublished first draft, Dickens devotes an entire chapter to Affable’s brief foray into the raising of pullets.[3. “It was then did I notice the giant dog approaching. Affable’s behind waggled in the air in a panto mimic of the creature’s tail, though he of this he remained unaware. “‘I knowed I left it somewheres,” he bellowed, searching in vain for the truculent deviled egg he had purloined from Gerald Finnicker’s General Victuals and Supply Company. As the dog’s jaws parted and neared the tender flesh of his behind, I shouted “Affy, mind the canine!” But my poor deaf friend heard nothing, and so was his bottom bitten by this fearsome beast to the vast amusement of all the town who had gathered there.” Charles Dickens, ‘Great Expectations, First Draft.’] Sure he will be able to amass a fortune while still a youth, Affable begins feeding the pullets a revolutionary grain-free diet, comprised entirely of dehydrated beef. After returning from a weeklong small-ale bender, Affable is horrified to find that the pullets have turned on each other, leaving only one fearsome and fat chicken almost incapable of movement. “Oh me,” the text notes Affable as saying, “to eat one chicken dinner made up of near a dozen.”[4. Colonel William Chuken, “The Perfidies of the Meat, The Wickedness of the Grain: Eat Only Fruit,” 1891, unpublished manuscript courtesy of author’s estate.]

When Pip decides to go to the cemetery the fateful night he meets the convict, later revealed to be his benefactor, Abel Magwitch, he invites Affable along. Rather than leave the particularly tasty dish of sparrow marrow he is feasting on, Affable begs off, claiming fear of the spirits of the great beyond.[5. Chef Billy Buboo, “Apples and Pears: Traditional Cockney Cuisine For The Home,” 2005, Food Channel Media Services.] His laziness, obsession with food and a passion for cliches are the markers that marked Affable as Pip’s foil. “A stitch in time, my friend,” he’d sagely intone to Pip, apropos, it seemed, of absolutely nothing. “The early bird!” he would crow upon spotting a particularly handsome woman (in this case, one with “most of her frontmost teeth, and skin only partwise molting.”)

Unlike Pip, Affable stumbles across no benefactor to reward him for his good deeds. He did, however, once win a barrel of pickled snouts at a local talent show after demonstrating an ability to control the pitch and timbre of his flatulence. His frequently-mentioned intestinal woes[6. “I cannot bathe today, for in truth, already has a water serpent wound its way into my middle, where it feasts on the sour ale and potatoes from yesternight and causes me no little amount of pain, m’boy.” So saying this, he grimaced and did pass trumpet-like wind of the most melancholic sort. Chapter 4, Page 324, Charles Dickens, “Great Expectations, Unpublished First Draft.”] became a silver lining of sorts. So beautiful were the sounds created as a byproduct of his distress that he could often pick up odd jobs as the musical entertainment at weddings, funerals, and Anglican ordination ceremonies.

 Affable does, in fact, go on to become a ‘smithy, unlike his friend. Occasionally Pip comes to visit him, taking in Affable’s squalid but happy dwelling and consider writing a thesis on the impacts of coming from a two-parent home.[7. Molly Threel, A Bit on the Nose: Dickens and Pedantry. 2001, OUP.] He mentions this to Affable, whose parents met while shelling oysters. Affable nods and says only, “There’s more ways to kill a cat than drowning it in cream.”

Pip doesn’t quite understand what Affable means, but it shakes him to his very core.

Affable’s mother, Laura, a staunch if misguided feminist and the source of his second name, works as a barmaid to support his father, a hapless inventor called Iggy. Known as the “Duckest Brain In London,” Iggy had once invented a device that allowed someone to use an outhouse and eat pasta at the same time. He died in a tragic but rare instance of sulfuric gas poisoning during the trials for the prototype. The privy where his death occurred was in turn rented out to a false mystic who went by the name of “The Great and All-Knowing Ricardo,” but was in fact an East End local known as “Littlest of all the Jims.”

Affable eventually meets and marries Saxenby, a fishmonger’s daughter. At the wedding, Pip becomes quite depressed over Estelle after drinking the better part of a bowl of brandy punch and pours his heart out to the new couple saying “I love her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.” Affable sees Pip safely home for the evening.

Saxenby does not take kindly to Pip’s histrionics, saying “He do go on a bit, don’t he?” When several local women begin turning up dead, Saxenby intimates that she wouldn’t be totally surprised were Pip involved somehow. Affable no longer feels comfortable inviting Pip to their home. Some scholars have taken this passing reference to murdered women as evidence of Dickens’ being responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders.[8. Peter Duvet, “Dickens the Ripper?!”, 2009.]

From here on, the paths of the two men diverge sharply. Affable claims that their estrangement does not overly bother him. That said, upon receipt of one of Pip’s rare letters Affable takes rather hard to the sherry before composing his own response, in which he tells Pip that he is, “you know, fine.”

In later years, taking a page from his father’s book, Affable tries to invent a new sort of horseshoe featured a spinning side rim feature for the well-to-do client. It is ultimately unsuccessful and difficult to market, having caused a number of stampedes in early testing. Not one to held back by such trifles, Affable tries again. This attempt earns him eternal infamy when sparks from the rims cause a fire that destroys eighteen stables, killing most of the horses therein. He is rechristened  “Laura the Butcher of Essex,”[9. Sarah Fulloham, NAY I SAY: Famous Horse Murders, 2011, self-published.] an event which caused his seven children to change their names, and in one case, their gender.

Cut from the novel by his editor, Affable’s story remained with Dickens throughout his life. His last great, unpublished manuscript featured Affable as the main character. Having moved permanently to France to escape his past,  he finds employment as a cook in a prestigious restaurant. Its working title was Affable Jones and the Tripe Dilemma.

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