Doctor Quartz's Last Play, or, Nick Carter's Perilous Plight
Dr. Quartz’s Last Play, Published March 16, 1912 by Street and Smith, appeared as part of the New Nick Carter Weekly series.
Many writers for Street and Smith wrote anonymously as did the writer of Dr. Quartz’s Last Play. Some of the authors that contributed to issues within this series are A. L. Armagnac, Frederick Russell Burton, O. P. Caylor, Weldon J. Cobb, William Wallace cook, Fredrick W. Davis, Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey, and E. C. Derby. It is important to note that the majority of issues within the New Nick Carter Weekly were written by Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey (Cox 193).
Nick Carter – A resourceful, prominent, and witty detective. He is the main character of the story.
Chick – A witty charismatic assistant of Nick Carter who spearheads the search for his missing chief.
Patsy – One of the three assistants who aids in the search for Nick Carter.
Ten-Ichi – The son of a Navy sailor and the third assistant searching for Nick Carter.
Price – A prison guard from Dannemora who initially assists Nick Carter with his investigation.
Dr. Quartz – An intelligent yet evil doctor who conducts experiments and research on human test subjects on his private island in the Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Crystal – The assistant and accomplice of Dr. Quartz. He is later revealed to have disguised himself as an old counterfeiter living in the hills to assist with the capture of Nick Carter.
Zanoni – The female accomplice of Dr. Quartz and Dr. Crystal.
Silas Tarbell – A retired Navy Lieutenant who agrees to captain the Vampire yacht in the search for Nick Carter.
Burke Crawford – A local man who aids Chick in the sale of the Vampire yacht.
Sir Algernon Travers – The alternate personality that Nick Carter unknowingly assumes while under the intoxication of Dr. Quartz’s drug.
Lady Mary – The alternate personality that Zanoni assumes while under the intoxication of Dr. Quartz’s drug. She assumes the alias and role of Sir Algernon Travers’ wife but eventually falls into an intoxication of love for her ‘husband’.
Dr. Morton – The alias that Dr. Quartz assumes in order to remain inconspicuous while transporting Sir Algernon Travers.
Dr. Sinclair – The alias that Dr. Crystal assumes in order to remain inconspicuous while transporting Sir Algernon Travers.
The setting of this dime novel takes place throughout the United States but primarily focuses on New York City, the Pacific Ocean, and Dr. Quartz’s uncharted island. The initial search for Nick Carter begins in New York City by his three assistants: Chick, Patsy, and Ten-Ichi. The subsequent search leads them to the ‘Golden Gate City’, i.e. San Francisco, where they charter a yacht to travel across the Pacific Ocean to Dr. Quartz’s uncharted island.
The dime novel opens with the capture of Nick Carter by Dr. Quartz, Dr. Crystal, and Zanoni. This capture is accompanied with an explanation of their plan to take Nick Cater to an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean where Dr. Quartz will perform a vivisection on him, ultimately causing his death. The plot progresses with the traveling of Nick Carter and his captors to the west coast of the United States and their eventual travels across the Pacific Ocean. Concurrently, the plot continues with the search for Nick Carter by his three assistants: Patsy, Chick, and Ten-Ichi. The story revisits scenes and adds details throughout the search of these three assistants as they try to analyze clues and scenes left behind from Nick Carter and his captors. In order for Dr. Quartz to transport his captive across the U.S. with little disturbances he administers a drug that clouds Nick Carter’s reasoning and sense of self-identity. The climax of the story unfolds when a drugged Zanoni, who believes she is Lady Mary the wife of Sir Algernon Travers (Nick Carter), fatally stabs Dr. Sinclair in defense of her newfound love. Nick Carter’s assistants ultimately come to his rescue the following day and find Dr. Quartz dead in the next room from the same dagger that killed Dr. Sinclair, presumably Zanoni’s. Nick Carter sets out to explore the island in order to find his missing ‘lover’. Once Nick Carter ultimately locates Zanoni she explains her desire for him to continue on without her and throws herself into a crevice of rocks in an apparent suicide. The story ends with the sea-burial of Dr. Quartz’s body by Nick Carter and his assistants.
Unlike other series this particular issue focuses on the themes of revenge and love. Dr. Quartz is a returning nemesis of Nick Carter who is seeking revenge after his escape from prison. Another theme revolves around the issue of love and the betrayal of Zanoni in an effort to save her newfound love and passion. I think the underlying theme of betrayal is intentionally ironic because it is revealed to Nick Carter, after Dr. Sinclair’s death, by Dr. Quartz that he had drugged Zanoni as well, without her knowledge. This is a significant underlying theme because Dr. Quartz had betrayed Zanoni for his own personal interests and ultimately this is what caused his death through her betrayal of him as a result of these delusions from this drug she was given.
Dr. Quartz’s Last Play embodies the typical theme of the mad scientist genre within contemporaneous literature. Dr. Quartz conducts unethical and gruesome experiments on his secluded island in the vision of a ‘greater good’ (i.e. medical research) but is disillusioned with his lust for revenge against Nick Carter. This disillusion and vision of a greater good is a common theme within the ‘mad scientist’ genre (Toumey). The mad scientist has been a recurring literary theme since its evolution from alchemy in the medieval ages. During this era alchemy was portrayed in a negative connotation often surrounded by misconceptions of witchcraft and atheism (Schummer). This development of the mad scientist evolved from the growing disconnect between the humanities and sciences. Scientists were often seen as nihilists or atheists breaking the fundamentals of culture and society due to their obsession with science (Schummer). This disillusion has resulted in the mad scientist becoming a recurring literary theme that can be seen across multiple literary genres with several defining characteristics, as outlined in Dr. Quartz’s Last Play.
Cox, Randolph J. Dime Novel Companion: A Source Book. Westport: Greenwood, 2000.
Schummer, Joachim. "Historical Roots of the "Mad Scientist": Chemists in Nineteenth-Century
Literature." AMBIX 53.2 (2006): 99-127. Print.
Toumey, Christopher P. "The Moral Character of Mad Scientists: A Cultural Critique of
Science." Science, Technology, & Human Values 17.4 (1992): 411-37. Print.