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From the beginning of chapter 10 of The Just Men of Cordova (1917) by Edgar Wallace:

There was living at Somers Town at that time a little man named Jakobs.

He was a man of some character, albeit an unfortunate person with “something behind him.” The something behind him, however, had come short of a lagging. “Carpets” (three months’ hard labour) almost innumerable had fallen to his share, but a lagging had never come his way.

I met some obscure points in this second passage:-

  1. Firstly I didn't get the meaning of "man of some character" as every one has a character already! Then I found by searching that "character" may mean "good reputation", but how can someone, who had received many sentences of hard labour, be a man of good reputation?!!

  2. Does "something behind him" mean "he has a bad history"?

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A man of character is someone who has a strong character, i.e. someone who has positive personality traits such as honesty, dependability, perseverance, loyalty, etc. Calling someone a man of some character suggests that the person has those traits, but only to a degree.

That the man has something behind him means that there is something unfortunate in his past. This seems to be an ironic use of the expression to have something behind you, because it is more often used for positive things, such as having an education behind you.

A lagging is an archaic slang term for being sentenced to transportation, i.e. being sent to a penal colony. A carpet (rhyming slang for carpet-bagdrag) means three months of hard labour, a sentence typically given for theft (the slang word for which was a drag).

If carpets almost innumerable had fallen to his share that would mean that the man had been convicted of theft, and done three months of hard labour, many times.

The repetition of the fact that a lagging had never come his way emphasizes that the man was a petty criminal, repeatedly caught for theft, but not for more serious crimes.

The whole fragment appears to be written in an ironic, typically British understated way, and as such it is not easy to decipher whether the man is actually being shown in a positive light, or whether the positive tone in which he is described as being of some character and not having been sentenced to a lagging is in fact meant to humorously emphasize that he is a vulgar career criminal.

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  • That's very helpful. Thank you so much. – Ahmed Samir Oct 27 at 10:12

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