Q’s educational activities and observations were based on his profound interest in the life of the child. At the time Hocken and Hunken was written he had been a member of the Cornwall Education Committee for a decade. He refused to see the mind of the child as a tabula rasa upon which adults had the right to impose their theories and beliefs— literary, scientific or religious. The exam-factory nature of the modern educational system would not have impressed him. He saw each child as motivated by an instinct to learn and explore, a process supported by the rational structure and order of the universe and its essential goodness. (The idea of a ‘chance’ universe leads to very different conclusions). From adults it required not imposition but opportunity and guidance.
In the moral realm he thought similarly. As with many early Church Fathers, he saw human nature as part of a God-given order, and therefore good, and not the creation of a demi-god or of nefarious chance. Q was a Christian not a secular humanist.
Q was not always impressed by what he observed in academic life, neither when he went to Oxford in 1882 nor when he was appointed to Cambridge at the time Hocken and Hunken was being published. Just as in education he deplored the Mr Gradgrinds whom Dickens pilloried in Hard Times, so in academic life he deplored the influence of Hegelianism, Marxism, Freudianism and popular Darwinsism. Such influences are absent from Q’s town of Troy where life is too vital to be conditioned by theory.
Fancy Tabb is one of Q’s most intriguing creations. The reader has to assess her character from her speech and actions. She is free from introspection and the tendency to interior monologue. Q includes a series of curious observations regarding her, such as twitching movements when excited. These are easy to overlook. It is difficult to believe Fancy to be pure imagination, being almost certainly made up of at least one local Fowey character.
Fancy appears to have everything against her, yet she is neither vindictive nor vengeful. She is the antithesis of Dr Beauregard from Poison Island who was reared through the charity of others and came to see himself as intellectually superior to them, resulting in the desire for revenge. At the conclusion of Hocken and Hunken Fancy is in a position to take revenge but acts benevolently. Maybe Fancy Tabb is different because, unlike Beauregard, she has not rejected a religious view of life.
Q does not reveal her age. Although she is small Mrs Bosenna observes: ‘You’ve grown such a lot lately.’ (p. 29). As she works full-time for John Rogers she must be past school age, which was about 12. Rogers would not have wished to draw the attention of the magistrate to himself, as did Farmer Bosenna, by employing the under-aged. Presumably she learned to read and write at Troy Board School before leaving by arrangement of her father to work for Rogers. So although she was a ‘small short-skirted handmaiden’ (p. 18) who wears a ‘hat and small cloak’ (p. 216), she must have been in her early teens and reasonably robust. If nothing else Rogers fed her, so malnutrition was not an issue, as it certainly was for some in the 1890s.
Fancy Tabb is introduced to the reader in Chapter III ‘Tabb’s Child’ where John Rogers summons her with a handbell. She immediately speaks with authority regarding his smoking and drinking, with Rogers referring to her as a ‘tyrant’; yet with her departure he terms her a ‘nonesuch’, the daughter of a ‘brace of fools’, who had been obtained for a bad debt (pp. 1920). When she leaves the chandlery in the company of Caius Hocken, the captain recognises her father, who is keeping the store, as Elijah Tabb, former master of the Uncle and Aunt.
Fancy conducts Hocken to the prospective leasehold property where they encounter the owner, Mrs Bosenna, who had derived from a level of society only a little superior to that of Fancy and who Fancy can therefore see through. Apart from her figuring in a dream in the following chapter, Fancy disappears from the novel until Chapter VII, where she introduces the captain to Mrs Bowldler and Palmerston Burt, the prospective servants. These Fancy appears to have chosen, in the case of Palmerston for more than one reason, as the reader discovers later.
At the commencement of Chapter VIII the reader learns how Fancy has to attend John Rogers for all but two hours a day. The reader also learns of Mrs Bowldler’s sister Martha, and of Palmerston’s father having been lost aboard the Tartar Girl, a boat owned by John Rogers. Fancy is used to fill in details of importance later in the novel.
In Chapter XV, Fancy returns to 2 Harbour Cottage to become aware of the growing conflict between the captains. However, her reason for returning is to propose marriage to Palmerston Burt, something he hears with consternation.
In Chapter XVII we return to the normal course of affairs with Fancy attending John Rogers as Philp’s order for coal is bagged in his presence. Along comes Tobias Hunken, just in time to see Philp deceived by Rogers. Fancy looks silently on. She is less silent in Chapter XX when she reads to John Rogers an account of the ploughing contest between Hocken and Hunken which had been written by Shake Benny from information provided by William Philp. Rogers shows Hunken the account in the Troy Herald and Fancy takes the captain to Philp’s residence, waiting outside to hear the altercation, although farce is the only result.
Fancy comes centre stage in Chapter XX, ‘Fancy Brings News’. This is on the evening of the Passage Regatta, an event she appears not to have attended owing to her duties at the chandlery. The ‘News’ is revelatory, determining the rest of the novel in four directions of varying importance.
Firstly, the reader observes the developing relationship between Fancy and Palmerston, probably the least important item. Secondly, Fancy reveals how Rogers had involved her father in a speculation which went wrong, but had subsequently minimally provided for them. Thirdly, Fancy reveals how Rogers ran the Saltypool uninsured. Fourthly, that Captain Hunken’s securities had disappeared from Rogers’ safe. All this follows from the earlier news of the foundering of the Saltypool. Financial catastrophe appears to beckon for Hunken as it has for Elijah Tabb, and all through Rogers. This results in Fancy pointing a finger at Hocken for influencing Hunken in trusting the chandler.
In the following chapter the force of Fancy’s argument imposes itself upon Hocken, leading him to renounce Mrs Bosenna. In the final chapter, Fancy stands morally superior to all other characters, with the exception of Peter Benny. She supports Rogers even though he is totally incapacitated, has been unscrupulous and is helpless before her. Q rarely imposes religious ideas in his novels, but this points directly to the ‘Sermon on the Mount’.