Tony’s Notes From The Bony Novels (Part 4)

Posted on Tue 11/23/2010 by


The anomaly of Bony’s age.

As an author of what turned into a popular series of novels, Arthur Upfield had a problem that was always going to be difficult to overcome. While his novels were popular, then the mindset is for him to continue writing them. There’s no point in his wanting to write the last book in the series, with Bony retiring or however it might be that an author would go about ending a character. While still popular, then the novels just keep coming.

Also, because there were so many, in this case, 29 of them, it then also becomes doubly difficult. If he seeks to finish off the character, and his novels are still popular, then he has a problem with further novels, after finishing off the character. True, he can keep writing them, and all he need do is to insert that particular new investigation into a period of time between the other novels. However, with 29 of them, and some referring to previous novels, and also with the added knowledge of those later novels, the author has to be extremely careful in doing this not to allude to those later novels.

See the conundrum here?

Now, Upfield’s character, Bony, did have a long career in print, but what needs to be seriously considered here is the mindset of the readers themselves. Not many readers would go out of their way to collect all 29 novels and then to try and work out the time line as I have done with my reading, so Upfield can be fairly confident that readers will take on two or three of the novels and not really bother to go looking for more, or for that fact, bother about the age of the character. So, the need for Upfield to explain this would never really arise, and to have his character referring to an age thing in each of the novels is something not of interest in the context of the investigation, the core reason of the novel.

Upfield passed away while still prolifically producing Bony novels, so the need to finish off that series never eventuated, leaving the character ‘up in the air’, so to speak. Upfield is not the first author to have passsed away while his character is still popular and ostensibly, still only in the middle of his career, and that being the case, had Upfield lived longer, there probably would have been many more Bony novels, as the popularity of his character, Bony, was at its peak in the period after the Second World War and up to the time he passed away in 1964

So then, as an exercise, let’s dissect Bony for this ‘age’ thing.

The first of the novels was ‘The Barrakee Mystery’, published in 1929. It was however written earlier than that, and being a first novel, then the time to actually write it would have been longer than it took him for later novels. To that end this first novel was set in the mid 1920’s.

The last novel was published after his passing, ‘The Lake Frome Monster’, and was set, ostensibly, around the time of his passing, making that the mid 60’s.

This gives his character a potential working career of 40 years, which sounds about right considering how long people spent in a career.

However, there’s actually more to it than that.

Very seldom if at all is this age of Bony thing ever mentioned in any of the books. It is never said categorically, but there are clues in the text of some novels that can be extrapolated out, but, really, because it is never an issue, there’s no need to mention his age at all.

Very early on in that series, in fact, almost from the first novel, Upfield has Bony mentioning that his eldest son is at University. That being the case, then if he married at an early age and had that first son straight away, then for him to be at University, Bony would need to be in his early to mid 40’s, and now that 40 year career extends to Bony being almost 80 or even older in that last novel. Upfield has Bony mentioning his son at University in quite a few of those earlier novels, so, either his son spent an inordinate amount of time getting his degree, or Upfield took some author’s license on that front.

This minor anomaly is highlighted again in the second of the published novels, ‘The Sands of Windee’. In this novel, there are specific mentions of a time setting. Early on in the novel, it is mentioned that it is now six years since the end of The Great War, making the time setting now at 1924. This is further set in stone a little later when Bony receives a letter from Colonel Spendor telling him to return to duty in Brisbane. That letter is actually dated by Spendor as 1924. Then, Bony is discussing some of his private life with the daughter of the Station owner, Marion Stanton, and here, Bony mentions that his son is taking his University entrance exams. From this, you might possibly deduce that could mean that Bony is now in his 40’s, even if he married Marie at a relatively young age and started a family quite soon after that.

In the later books, the mention of his son at University is no longer mentioned, instead an allusion is made to his working on a Mission, in other words, having graduated finally, and putting that Degree to work. In a novel close to the end of the series Upfield makes his only mention of Bony perhaps getting a little older, in the form of a letter to his beloved wife Marie, but that is more in passing than anything.

Clues from some of those earlier novels give an idea of Bony’s background, so in a way, we can work backwards from that first novel set in the mid 1920’s.

He directly mentions his Chief of Police back in Brisbane, the erstwhile Colonel Spendor, and the fact that he is, or at one stage was, a Colonel could be traced to The Great War of 1914-18. This would sound about right, because middle and senior ranking Officers from that conflict would have gone back to the jobs they had prior to the War, and those higher ranking officers would have become senior people in their jobs, in this case, the Police Service.

In that first novel, it is made common knowledge that Bony himself has a University Degree, and in this case it is alluded to being a Masters Degree, a Secondary Degree. Had Bony done this straight from School then it stands to reason he would have to be in his mid 20’s before joining the Service. Then he had to achieve the rank of Detective Inspector, because, especially in those days they would have had to rise through the ranks. Upfield cleverly explains this as having Bony so good at what he does, he demands that the only way he would remain in the Police Service is if he was given the high rank of Inspector.

This would tentatively place Bony in his early to mid 30’s at the time of those early novels, and would make him older than 70 in the last novel, again well beyond retiring age.

Here, I am actually attempting to make Bony as young as is possible so that the question of his age in that last novel can be effectively explained.

However, the son at University is always there, meaning Bony would be in his early to mid 40’s virtually throughout the series.

There is a direct mention of some of his earlier career in the second novel, ‘The Sands Of Windee’, when right at the end, Bony is talking with Father Ryan, about the dilemma he is in regarding the conclusions to the investigation just completed, and how he couches his findings in his final report. During this talk, he mentions that he has been a member of the Queensland Police Force for sixteen years. This being the case, and this novel set in 1924, that would have Bony joining the Police Service in 1908. Further from that, we know that the case that gave Bony notoriety was the recovery of the kidnapped daughter of the Governor, we must assume that this was his original case. If that is the case, then we can assume that Bony was no young teenager when he was on his first case. If he already had his degree, this would have taken at least four years after graduating from high school, which would make him in his early twenties when he joined the force straight from University, even with only one Degree. If this was 1908 when he joined the Service, that places him as being born in the 1880’s, at the latest. This being the case, numerous inferences can also be drawn from this. This places him in the approximate age group of Upfield himself.

Bony has no war service. This might be explained because he was of part aboriginal descent, and Australia was reluctant to take indigenous men into the Armed Forces during the First World War.

If we then assume that all this is correct, then a lot of things might reasonably fall into place. However, the fact that his eldest son is at University still throws up the anomaly, because Charles seems to spend an inordinately long time in University, and this could also be explained away, as the author’s attempt to extend the life of his character, by consistently mentioning the fact, and in this way, if we know that you only need spend four years to get a degree, then the age of the primary character can seem to stay relatively static, if you can see the meaning from this.

If that then places Bony as being born in the early to mid 1880’s, then Bony could be placed as being in his mid 80’s at the time of that last novel.

That age factor was alluded to in Upfield’s second last novel, ‘Madmans Bend’, when Bony wrote a tender letter to his wife Marie, and mentioned the fact that they were both aging now, and he also mentioned the age of one of his sons, the youngest, Little Ed, as he was fondly called as being close to some of the characters in that novel, their ages being in the mid to late 20’s, which is still anomalous when he mentions his three children in that first novel set in the mid 1920’s, a full 40 years prior to the setting of this second last novel.

This age thing is not important in the context of Upfield’s novels when viewed as a whole, and I have only mentioned it to add some further perspective to the character. The novels were so well crafted that the reader would not even have an inkling into the age of the character, except that the perception might be that he is in his mid 40’s.

We can only guess as to what Upfield might have done with his character, had he lived a much longer life, and kept producing his Bony novels. We, the readers, are the poorer for Upfield’s early passing.