The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Doctor Quartz Mysteries (1891-1927)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The twenty-six Dr. Quartz Mysteries were written by Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey and began with “3,000 Miles by Freight; or, The Mystery of a Piano Box” (The Nick Carter Library 13, Oct. 31 1891). Van Rensselaer Dey (1861-1922) was a lawyer who found his true calling in writing for the dime novels. He wrote well over four hundred of them for both Beadle & Adams and Street & Smith and was responsible for nearly all the stories in the Golden Age of The Nick Carter Mysteries.
Doctor Jack Quartz is a vivisectionist. Unfortunately, his chosen area of expertise and experimentation is on living humans, preferably beautiful women. Doctor Quartz very much wants to dissect Nick Carter, as he is the finest physical specimen Quartz has ever encountered, but Quartz’s first and greatest love in experimental subjects is beautiful women. In one 1895 story Quartz sums up his obsession: “She was beautiful. I like beautiful girls. I like to cut them up. It is my passion.”1 Quartz is suave, has a magnetic personality, and is skilled at hypnotism, all of which help lure victims to him. Quartz is also insane and enjoys committing more outré forms of murder besides vivisection. Quartz genteelly revels in the deaths he causes. In his first appearance Quartz has a train boxcar as his sitting room, and surrounding the central table is a ring of embalmed corpses playing bridge. In another story his dining room is wallpapered with butterflies, pinned there while still alive, and human eyeballs. Quartz has at his disposal a variety of exotic tricks which he uses for murders and to help himself; in one story he escapes from Dannemora state prison by means of the “East Indian rope trick.” And just as Nick Carter has a school in which he trains detectives, so does Doctor Quartz have a crime school. In his school Quartz teaches willing students–street urchins, for the most part–how to commit murder using obscure methods such as untraceable poisons and deadly gases. Doctor Quartz likes to use beautiful women as his assistants in crime.
Carter has the greatest respect for Quartz, describing him in the following terms:
“Intellectually, he is the most remarkable man I have ever known. His intelligence is quite the most profound of any person I have ever known. In education, he is thoroughly versed in every branch of science. I believe that he speaks, fluently, every language that is worth speaking at all–many more of them that I do, myself, and I have mastered twelve. Physically, he is a stronger man than Sandow, or I. His manners are perfect. He is at home amid any surroundings, in any costume, under all circumstances. He has always seemed to know everything, and to be ready to make use of anything whenever the occasion should arrive. He is handsome of feature, and has the most wonderful eyes that ever looked out of a human head.
“He used to be dark, always smooth shaven, and one would think him fat until it was discovered that the fat is all muscle. He is as quick as a cat. He never loses his temper. He is almost without facial expression, save for two things: he smiles in a manner that is peculiar to himself–and one may grow to understand the many different moods interpreted by that smile: and his eyes can shoot a distinct meaning into you without a spoken word being uttered.
“If Doctor Quartz had lived on this earth a thousand years, and had taken post-graduate courses, and had secured diplomas in every branch of learning that is studied in the universities today he would not be more superbly equipped in professional and scientific knowledge than I, personally, know him to be. That, Chick, is Doctor Quartz. And now, when you add to all that–or rather, subtract from it–the fact that he is totally without two qualities possessed by other humans, you will understand better what the man is.”
“What are those qualities?”
“Morality and conscience. The man recognizes no moral responsibility, and he has no conscience at all. Compassion, in any form, is a meaningless term to him. Consideration for another, or for the sufferings of others, he does not know. The only law he recognizes at all is the law of power, of might, of attainment, of succeeding in whatever he undertakes to do. He worships beauty, as beauty alone, but destroys it with the same lack of compunction that he would manifest in plucking a blade of grass from the ground. He loves women, but only just so far as they can serve him, and that done, he destroys them just as he would do with that same blade of grass I have mentioned.”2
Doctor Quartz preceded Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty (see: “The Adventure of the Final Problem”) by over two years and is the first major recurring villain in popular crime fiction. Quartz is also one of the first insane surgeons in popular crime fiction, preceding André Couvreur’s Doctor Caresco (see: The Necessary Evil) by eight years. Although the Nick Carter stories starring Doctor Quartz were reprinted in Britain and France, Carter was nowhere near as influential on British writers as Moriarty was, or on French writers as Caresco or Moriarty were. Most American mystery writers modeled their arch-criminal characters on Moriarty. But the figure of Doctor Quartz influenced dime novel fiction and eventually pulp fiction and was copied as the hero’s nemesis much more than Professor Moriarty.
Doctor Quartz is, like Guy Boothby’s Doctor Nikola (see: A Bid for Fortune), a precursor and anticipation of twentieth century popular culture villains. Like Nikola, Quartz is both an evolutionary upgrade from the villains of the Gothics, especially the Hero-Villain, and a continuation of the trend started by Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White in modernizing the villain character. Doctor Quartz is a modern man, with modern methods and attitudes, unlike the Gothic villains in their distant past and their medieval quests for power, money, and heroines’ virginities. Moreover, Quartz is, if not the focus of the narrative in each story he appears in, then a co-star, the equal and opposite of Nick Carter, his nemesis. It is in this role that Quartz is most significant. Quartz is capable as Carter, as formidable—and he keeps coming back. Quartz was the first villain of equal stature and quality to a hero who returned repeatedly to plague that hero. Moriarty appeared in only one story; Quartz laps him by two dozen. Quartz is the archetype of the recurring arch-villain, a figure who has become a constant in modern popular culture, from comic books to television shows to movies.
The Doctor Quartz stories are the best of the Nick Carter corpus; the Quartz stories have an energy and exhilarating quality to them, as if Dey felt the need to give Carter an enemy worthy of his best efforts, and saw that, in the figure of Doctor Quartz, he could indulge in every over-the-top, dime novel/pulp-style exuberance imaginable. The Doctor Quartz stories were popular, and the owners of the Nick Carter stories appreciated what he brought to the series, so they brought him back after he had been hanged, and shot, and burned, and blown up.
Print: J. Randolph Cox, Dashing Diamond Dick and Other Classic Dime Novels. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.
1 Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey, “The Fate of Dr. Quartz, or Nick Carter and the Dissecting Room Murder,” The Nick Carter Library 15 (Nov. 1895): 3.
2 Frederic van Rensselaer Dey, “Doctor Quartz Again; or, Nick Carter's Shrewdest Opponent,” New Nick Carter Weekly 692 (Mar. 20, 1909): 4.