Christopher Drawlight

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Christopher Drawlight was one of two companions to Gilbert Norrell (the other being Henry Lascelles) at the beginning of the Revival of English Magic. He was later murdered by Lascelles.

Early life and career

Nothing whatever is known about his early life or origins. By the year 1807 Drawlight was a man of fashion, but little money, who haunted circles much above his natural station in life (his residence, we are told, was over a shoemaker's shop in Little Ryder-street)[5]. Good-looking and of a small but elegant figure [4] he had a great deal of the toady and tufthunter about him. Thus it was he who - when Mr Norrell first appeared in London, dignified by all the mystery of his magic done in York - stalked him as cunningly as the highlander might stalk a deer, until he successfully forced an acquaintance. Yet Drawlight had no scholarly interest in magic, much less any concern about raising the esteem in which society held it - no views at all upon its Revival. As John Childermass said at the time with his customary shrewdness, Drawlight wished only "To be the first gentleman in London to make the acquaintance of a magician. That is all.[5]"

Although later the superior qualities of mind and character of Henry Lascelles raised him to the position of chief confidant and adviser to Mr Norrell, for the first part of his career in London Drawlight was indispensable, taking him about and introducing him to the world. (Indeed it is hard to see how, without Drawlight, Mr Norrell would ever have made Lascelles' acquaintance at all.) Throughout, Drawlight was moved by nothing more than a desire to be associated with a notable public figure: nor was he slow in discovering ways he might turn this association into gain. Those who can grant access to a powerful man are always sure of society's regard.


Eventually Drawlight overreached himself by a scheme intended to turn that regard into hard cash. He pretended to be the confidential agent of Norrell and Jonathan Strange, one who could arrange either private commissions (as when he falsely told Maria Bullworth that the magicians would enact magical revenge against her enemies): or, passing himself off in correspondence as Strange himself, offering tuition in the magic arts ( to Miss Gray and Mr Tantony). When he was exposed as a fraud Drawlight was quickly ruined. It was not the revelation of his wrongdoings nor the threat of legal punishment that effected this, but simple debt. His whole way of life was founded on borrowing and oft-deferred promises to pay. Shorn of his powerful friends and besieged by anxious creditors, he was arrested and flung into debtor's prison[37].

There he might have stayed had Henry Lascelles not recalled him to mind when he and Norrell needed an emissary to send to Venice to spy on the doings of Jonathan Strange[58]. Though Drawlight attempted to do this without approaching Strange direct, preferring to learn of him through the gossip of others, he was eventually drawn by Strange's magic into a meeting face to face. There, in the awful surroundings of the Eternal Darkness, Strange charged him with three messages to take back to England. One was to John Childermass, informing him of how Mr Norrell had abused Lady Pole, and giving him the finger taken from her by the gentleman with the thistle-down hair: one was to the magicians of England, advising them that John Uskglass's magic was re-awakening: and one was to Gilbert Norrell, warning of Strange's vengeful return[59]. These messages Drawlight attempted faithfully to deliver on his return to England, but he was intercepted by his erstwhile friend Lascelles. Not choosing to allow Mr. Norrell to know the truth of matters, Lascelles drove Drawlight into a nearby wood and cold-bloodedly murdered him there with a pistol. His body almost instantly sunk into dissolution[62].


Reflecting upon the career of Christopher Drawlight, the reader may be less surprized by his downfall than by his earlier rise. For, though he was one of his most intimate acquaintance from the time of his arrival in London, as Mr. Norrell justly observed, "No-one ever did think well of Christopher Drawlight"[37]. Indeed from the very beginning of their association Childermass disparaged him to his master as a shallow, fashionable idler[5] (whilst strongly recommending that he make use of him): and even the wife of Jonathan Strange, a lady noted for her amiable temper, once referred to him as an "odious little man"[27]. In sum, "Even his dearest friends would have admitted that he possessed not a single good quality.[5]"

Yet while it seems that all society was candid in its assessment of this wretched man's character, though he was known to be a person of no family, or wealth, or principle, he became and continued for many years one of the leaders of the ton. His secret lay in his usefulness. First he made it his business to know everyone else's, and then to spread it among all his wide acquaintance - and a gossip has a certain usefulness, has he not? Next, he had good judgment in the sort of matters which chiefly occupy that portion of society that otherwise has no occupation; I mean the absorbing subjects of Dress and Fashion. Those with little confidence in the justness of their own taste could depute their choice to Drawlight and know the fashionable portion of society would approve the result[5]. He had moreover a vast knowledge of the world - or that bad part of the world which comprises gambling houses, and worse - and perfectly understood how to put it to use for his own profit. He might on occasion even put it to the use of those who would themselves on no terms ever be seen near such unsavoury places, as he did in the affair of Lady Duncombe's daughter and the Captain of Dragoons[4]. To these qualities he added an extraordinary fluency in the arts of flattery and soothing, one which made him agreeable company to women - and men - much his superiors in intelligence[5]. As to manliness and courage, though perhaps no-one could ever call him a brave man[62], in his own element he had a certain boldness. True, this boldness might at times manifest itself as mere brazen impudence - it had been considered well nigh impossible to put Drawlight out of countenance until the fateful night in Mrs Bullworth's parlour[36] - but it had its effects. It was he who first took charge in the affair of raising Miss Wintertowne from the dead. When Mr. Norrell dithered, Lascelles declined giving any advice and Childermass was absent, it was Drawlight who determined the momentous course of events by simply ordering the carriage and insisting Mr. Norrell should go[7]. Thus we end with a conundrum: the man who, of all others, cared least about the Revival of English Magic, was indispensable not merely to its revival under Norrell but its liberation under Strange.


Shops in Ryder-street