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Thackeray's memorials of defeat.

'HE did not invent much, I fancy,' wrote Thackeray in his brief but admiring account of Smollett.(1) The same may be supposed of William Makepeace Thackeray himself, who resembled Smollett both in his minuteness of observation and in his scorn for fiction of an improbably romantic sort. In Pendennis Thackeray describes the descent of Mr. Wagg, the fashionable novelist, upon the country house of his rival, Arthur Pendennis. Mr. Wagg observes the signs of shabby gentility about the place, such as the old gardener who doubles as footman; speculates on the clothes hung out to dry on the gooseberry-bushes; assesses the umbrellas and the ladies' clogs in the hall, and draws conclusions from Mrs. Pendennis's worn gloves: 'Mr. Wagg noted everything that he saw ... Such minutiae attracted Wagg instinctively; he seized them in spite of himself' (Pendennis, ch. 26). So much, at least, Mr. Wagg had in common with Thackeray, a sharpshooter of Victorian social detail. Thackeray trains his sights on Emily Fotheringay's 'pair of ex-white satin shoes' and on Mr. Wenham's 'usual demure look, and stealthy smile with which he commonly surveyed the tips of his neat little shining boots' (Pendennis, chs. 12 & 26). He measures Lady Kew's handshake, which consists of 'the momentary loan of two knuckly old fingers' (The Newcomes, ch. 30). He contemplates the footman on Lady Ann Newcome's travels, who 'beholds Rhine and Neckar, mountain and valley, village and ruin, with a like dismal composure' (Newcomes, ch. 27). He marvels at the knick-knacks with which, within an hour of entering her lodgings in Brighton, Lady Ann heaps the tables: the workboxes, wondrous inkstands, portfolios, perpetual calendars, scissor-cases and miniature gilt easels to hold family-portraits (Newcomes, ch. 9). Thackeray depicts circumstance better than incident, which is why Barry Lyndon, a novel of nearly bare incident, is so much slighter than his later novels. Steadily Thackeray observed, deftly he selected, and most intently of all Thackeray, who once defined novels as 'thinking about oneself', observed Thackeray.(2)

Thackeray's fiction is his spiritual autobiography, although one must beware of the notion cited by Flaubert in his dictionary of hackneyed ideas: 'It is pointless to admire genius: it is just a neurosis'.(3) Whilst writing Pendennis Thackeray fell sick of a fever, so likewise Pendennis goes down with a fever in chapter 52. Pendennis is largely Thackeray himself; as are, in their pride, their sarcasm, their generosity and their exact personal honour, his heroes Clive Newcome, Philip Firmin and, as Thackeray admitted to his mother, Henry Esmond himself (Ray II, p. 181). Whenever Arthur Pendennis meets Philip Firmin in The Adventures of Philip, the Thackeray of 1854 is confronted with the Thackeray of 1834, which is why Pendennis is so patient with his overbearing junior: Thackeray is looking back on himself. Most of Thackeray's heroes attend Charterhouse School, where he was himself educated. Through all his novels he trails his dislike of his Irish mother-in-law, so that scarcely a mother-in-law and scarcely an Irishwoman escape his quips. He was unlucky enough to fall in love with the wife of his friend, William Brookfield. Two years after Thackeray's enforced separation from Jane Brookfield he started The Newcomes, one of the main topics of which is Colonel Newcome's pathetic constancy to another man's wife. Having persuaded himself that Jane Brookfield had been dragged into a marriage of convenience, in which she was badly treated, Thackeray introduces no fewer than five marriages of convenience in The Newcomes. His friend, Anthony Trollope once remarked that Thackeray carried his heart-strings in a crystal case (Ray II, p.420). That crystal case was his fiction. Just as he seldom wrote of a locality which he had not thoroughly explored, so he rarely wrote of an experience which he had not shared. He builds his stories on a vividly felt actuality, and rightly claims, at the beginning of Lovel the Widower, that although there is not a word of truth in his story, it is all true (Lovel, ch. 1).

Thackeray's life, radically unstable, was punctuated by three severe illnesses and two disastrous attachments: firstly to Isabella Shawe, who went mad in the fifth year of their marriage; secondly to Mrs. Brookfield. In his novels a sense of the wretched changefulness of the world, of which he was so often reminded, persists. Already in Pendennis, written well before he was forty, Thackeray contemplates the ruins of Time:

that which is sluggish obesity to-day was boisterous rosy health a few years back; that calm weariness, benevolent, resigned and disappointed, was ambition, fierce and violent, but a few years since, and has only settled into submissive repose after many a battle and many a defeat (Pendennis, ch. 60).

Thackeray presides over the spreading loss like Harry Foker at his dinner in Richmond, 'seated at the head of his table, amidst melting ices, and cut pine-apples, and bottles full and empty, and cigar-ashes scattered on fruit, and the ruins of a dessert which had no pleasure for him' (Pendennis, ch. 41).

'You ain't got young', remarks the old waiter when Major Dobbin, after his long absence in India, returns to Slaughter's Coffee House, where he stayed with George Osborne in the days before Waterloo, at which Osborne was killed. From Slaughter's Coffee House, Dobbin escorted Osborne on the day of his marriage to Amelia, whom Dobbin would have liked to marry himself. The waiter still has a note in his faded pocket-book of some money which Osborne borrowed from him and did not repay. 'Ten years and a fever don't make a man young,' Dobbin replies (Vanity Fair, ch. 58). A longing for lost youth, particularly when that longing is awakened by familiar scenes, pervades Thackeray's novels.

Such returns operate like the secret window at Castlewood when Henry Esmond touches the lock for the first time in sixteen years: 'The spring had not been touched for years, but yielded at length, and the window sank down' (Henry Esmond, Book III, ch. 7). It descended like Esmond's tears, most likely! Through the secret window and in the devastation of his hopes, Esmond enters Castlewood at the end of the novel. First he rides past the places where his future was shaped. The rooks drowse in the elms by the church in the sleeping village. The rooks at Castlewood, which caw throughout the novel, link Esmond's experiences with those of his American grandson, Harry Warrington, when Harry visits Castlewood half a century later in The Virginians; and connect both novels with Thackeray's boyhood in the rook-haunted town of Addiscombe, near Croydon (Ray II, p.180).

The aged Beatrix Esmond loves Harry Warrington for his resemblance to his grandfather, whom she cannot forgive herself for having rejected. Under the same compulsion of recalled ardour, the old folk in The Newcomes contrive to make the youngsters re-enact, more happily, their own first love. Clive Newcome reminds Mme. de Florac of his father, the Colonel; Ethel Newcome reminds the Colonel of Mme. de Florac. It is appropriate that Clive and Ethel meet in the worn antique setting of the garden at the Hotel de Florac, with its decaying busts of the Caesars: 'Caracalla frowning over his shoulder at Nerva, on to whose clipped hair the roofs of the grey chateau have been dribbling for ever so many long years'. The garden suggests exquisite failure. The fountain with its moss-eaten Triton does not play; its basin is arid. The damp faun with a broken nose pipes hopelessly on an unsounding flute. Like the Colonel and Mme. de Florac, the statues of Cupid and Psyche have been on the point of kissing for 'this half-century at least, though the delicious event has never come off' (Newcomes, ch. 47). There is a similar garden in The Adventures of Philip. Arthur Pendennis--of all Thackeray's characters the saddest for the past--revisits Dr. Firmin's house, familiar to him in his boyhood, when 'the yellow fogs did not damp our spirits':

The garden has run to seed, the walks are mildewed, the statues have broken noses, the gravel is dank with green moss, the roses are withered, and the nightingales have ceased to make love (Adventures of Philip, ch. 2).

Thackeray is stumbling after a memory; sometimes after a memory, such as the heyday of the Hotel de Florac, which predates him. Partly because of his life-long habit of self-mockery, which led him to publish his early writings under such clowning pen-names as Ikey Solomons, George Fitz-Boodle, The Fat Contributor, Michael Angelo Titmarsh and James Yellowplush (later Jeames de la Pluche), but more because it served to dramatise his sense of the depredations of time, Thackeray often pretends to be a weary old gentleman. In A Shabby Genteel Story, the novel he left unfinished in 1834 at the age of twenty-nine, he claims to be over fifty. When he took it up again twenty years later, to continue it in The Adventures of Philip, he still had not reached the age of the imaginary narrator. For Thackeray, events are softened by time and distance. Charter-house School (where his nose was broken, like the marble faun's) goes under the scoffing name of Slaughterhouse in his early works, but in The Newcomes it becomes Greyfriars, Colonel Newcome's last refuge. Thackeray was wretched and ill-used there as a boy, yet he attended the Foundation Day ceremony a fortnight before his death (Ray II, p.414).

The Newcomes opens with Pendennis's lament for the time 'when the sun used to shine brighter'. That was in the days of his youth: 'As I recall them, the roses bloom again' (Pendennis, ch. 1). The sentiment is that of Beranger's song. Le Grenier, which Thackeray feelingly translated: In the brave days when I was twenty-one (Imitations of Beranger, no. 2). Pendennis's meditation is followed by a pluperfect of regret. Pendennis, reviewing a past which he mourns, introduces an older character, Colonel Newcome, who misses an antecedent past. The Colonel visits a music-hall he had known before his long absence in India, and deplores its deterioration. What they both miss, of course, is the zest of being young. In the same pluperfect of regret Harry Foker's guest, Lord Colchicum, envies Foker whilst Foker, in fact, is lamenting his wasted life over the melting ices and cut pine-apples at Richmond: '"I wish I was of his age", said the venerable Colchicum with a sigh, as he inclined his purple face towards a large goblet of claret' (Pendennis, ch. 41). Lord Colchicum hopes to rediscover his youth at the bottom of a glass, but he has forgotten, as he eyes Foker over the dessert, that youth too has its regrets. Foker has arrived in dejection at the easily reached limits of a life of pleasure. Whilst Colchicum is serene with his little dancer from the circus, Foker is sighing over his false Blanche Amory.

Misplaced attachments, themselves inducing change and instability, are common in Thackeray's novels. In Henry Esmond he chooses the Jacobite cause, rife in instances of wasted devotion. Looking back on the risks he took for the House of Stuart, Esmond comments on 'the treasures of loyalty they dissipated': If ever men had fidelity, 'twas they; if ever men squandered opportunity, 'twas they; and of all the enemies they had, they were the most fatal (Esmond, Book II, ch. 3). To the worthless Stuarts are added the worthless Castlewoods. Both dynasties misuse what has accrued to them through the romantic fidelity of Esmond, described by Beatrix Esmond in her old age as the only man of the family; an acknowledgement which comes too late, since by that time Esmond is dead (Virginians, ch. 2). Upon Beatrix he turned the whole spate of his ardour for the Castlewoods and because of her, most of all, he learned what he calls 'the silent teachings of adversity' (Esmond, Book 2, ch. 4).

She too is the dupe of her affections and hopes. The aged Beatrix of The Virginians goes over, in her dreams and her delirium, the happenings recounted at the end of Henry Esmond. Shunning Esmond, to her later regret, she was childish enough to believe the Stuart prince's promises of marriage (Virginians, ch. 85). 'I will see the prince,' she exclaims in her sleep fifty years later, 'I have a right to see him' (Virginians, ch. 35). Equally simple in her worldliness is Leonore de Blois, who marries the elderly Comte de Florac in order to please her father, while retaining a reticent love, unspoken for forty years, for Colonel Newcome. 'There are some laws so cruel that nature revolts against them and breaks them', Mme. de Florac finally tells Ethel Newcome, 'or we die in keeping them. I have been fifty years dying' (Newcomes, ch. 47). As Mme. de Florac writes to the Colonel himself, 'One supports the combats of life, but they are long, and one comes from them very wounded' (Newcomes, ch. 53). When she sees the Colonel's son Clive, who resembles his father, it is as if she has retraced her footsteps: 'Hope almost wakes up again out of the grave' (Newcomes, ch. 45).

Thackeray's characters sometimes relish their sentimental defeats too much. Emerging from his distemper in prison, Esmond becomes 'perhaps secretly vain of the sacrifice he had made' in renouncing his title as the true Lord Castlewood (Esmond, Book III, ch. 3). He writes a comedy called The Faithful Fool about his entanglement with Beatrix. When it is printed, merely nine copies are sold. Only John Dennis, the least respected critic of his age, praises it (Esmond, Book III, ch. 3). Esmond heads one chapter of his memoirs, 'An old story about a fool and a woman' (Esmond, Book II, ch. 10). His faithfulness and his foolishness tend so greatly towards outright dotage, in such episodes as that in which he gives Beatrix his ancestral diamonds for her marriage to his rival, that he nearly loses the reader's respect (Esmond, Book III, ch. 4). Even taking into account Rachel Esmond's jealousy, her impatience with Esmond's maudlin behaviour towards her daughter seems justified, especially when Esmond craves permission to kiss Beatrix's stockinged feet (Esmond, Book III, ch. 2).

The defeats, at least by preventing the disillusion which attends accomplished desires, allow dreams to continue. As Dobbin's wife, Amelia renews in Dobbin the misgivings she herself felt at the time of her marriage to George Osborne. She is described as being, after that marriage, the winner who has gained the prize and remains doubtful and unsatisfied (Vanity Fair, ch. 26). Her lot is 'already to be looking sadly and vaguely back; always to be pining for something which, when obtained, brought doubt and sadness rather than pleasure'. She is alarmed by the 'vast and dingy' state bedroom she shares with Osborne at the Cavendish Hotel, and misses her little white bed at Fulham, where she used to weep all night long because she despaired of marrying him. It is not that Amelia is fickle: she is beginning to find Osborne out. She, and later Dobbin, are cast down by their successes. They are like the winners at the casino in Rougetnoirbourg in Thackeray's The Kickleburys on the Rhine: 'the winners have the most anxious faces'. Until Mr. Titmarsh loses his winnings he is 'feverish, excited and uneasy'.

Already in A Shabby Genteel Story Thackeray announces his theme of the pathos of human aspiration, in words which could have been written of Amelia and of Dobbin:

When the battle is over, behold your conquest! Betty Bundy is a vulgar country wench, and cette belle marquise is old, rouged, and has false hair (Shabby Genteel Story, ch. 2).

The rouged marquises, such as Mme. d'Ivry in The Newcomes, were to persist in the later novels; as were the bumpkinly wenches, from Fanny Bolton in Pendennis to Elizabeth Prior in Lovel the Widower. One of the most heartrending changes in Pendennis is the way that Fanny Bolton's inherent coarseness breaks through her cockney charm once she marries Sam Huxter. It turns out that a mistake was made about Cinderella, and the Fairy Queen proves bogus. 'Is memory as strong as expectancy, fruition as hunger, gratitude as desire?' Thackeray demands (Esmond, Book II, ch. 7). 'How stale everything grows!' exclaims Mr. Titmarsh in The Kickleburys on the Rhine. When we have gained what we want, we no longer want it:

If we were to live in a garden of Eden now, and the gate were open, we should go out, and tramp forward, and push on...anything to keep moving, anything to get a change, anything but quiet.

Thackeray does not flatter himself that a sense of the world's vanity is in any way useful. On the contrary, he concludes that it is itself vain: 'the scorn and weariness which cries vanitas vanitatum is but the lassitude of the sick appetite palled with pleasure' (Pendennis, ch. 60).

Thackeray's leading characters, commonly wistful in their defeats and disappointed with their successes, consequently live a great deal inwardly and in emotional isolation. They admire people who are heartier than themselves, although these are often rogues, and delight in the company of such joyous extraverts as Harry Foker, who paints his tutor's door vermilion (nothing less will satisfy Foker) or Dick Blewett, the sort of lusty worldling whom Thackeray probably envied, as he stands at his door in a pea-green dressing-gown and roars out a hunting chorus whilst smoking his after-breakfast cigar (Pendennis, ch. 19 and The Yellowplush Correspondence, ch. 2). George Warrington, burlier than Pendennis, serves to correct Pendennis's capricious sensibility and to laugh him out of his conceit; although Warrington too has his hidden regrets.

Thomas Carlyle, who knew Thackeray well, was not altogether wrong when he discerned under Thackeray's urbanity a man of grim, silent, stern nature (Ray II. p.42). Certainly, like his own Major Pendennis, Thackeray is at his most urbane when he intends to be fiercest. Yet he is a joker, a comic illustrator and a hilarious mocker and parodist. He tells the world of the doings of Lady Slowbore, Lady Grizzel Macbeth and Princess Amelia von Humbourg-Schlippenschloppen zu Kartoffelstadt. In Vanity Fair he introduces an aristocracy named after cheeses, since they all arrive after dinner: the Dowager Duchess of Stilton and the duc de la Gruyere among others. Grotesques from his early jeux d'esprit invade his substantial novels: the Bareacres, the Kickleburys, the Hon. A. Deuceace and Major Ponto. Pitt Crawley's grandfather is connected by marriage with the Earl of Haggistoun, father of Lady MacScrew in The Book of Snobs. Lady Blanche Thistlewood, daughter of Lord Bareacres in The Yellowplush Correspondence, marries the Marquis of Steyne's son and flirts with George Osborne in Vanity Fair. Thackeray acquaints his readers with the Arabian explorer, Bedwin Sands, the epic poet Poseidon Hicks and the Rev. Felix Rabbits, father of fourteen daughters. In The Rose and the Ring, that 'fireside pantomime' which epitomises most of the themes of his novels, he relates how Prince Giglio bent the nose of King Valoroso XXIV of Paflagonia. But in his lectures on the English humourists he tells the story of the actor who went to complain to his physician of constant dejection. 'Go to see Harlequin', was the doctor's advice. 'I am Harlequin', replied the actor. Whilst writing Pendennis Thackeray described himself as 'the most melancholy author who ever cracked a joke with a sad heart' (Ray II. p. 113). Thackeray's admirer, Trollope, perceived that Thackeray's continual playfulness concealed a melancholy that was equally continual: 'I fancy he was far from happy', Trollope adds.(4)

'How lonely we are in the world,' Thackeray complains in Pendennis, 'how selfish and secret, everyone!' Each individual inhibits a distinct Universe shaped by personal sensibility: 'you and I are but a pair of infinite isolations, with some fellow-islands a little more or less near to us' (Pendennis, ch. 16). As he contemplates the lit windows of a large hotel in The Newcomes, Thackeray returns to Bunyan's image of Vanity Fair:

So every light in every booth yonder has a scheme of its own: every star shines by itself; and each individual heart of ours goes on brightening with its own hopes, burning with its own desires, and quivering with its own pain (Newcomes, ch. 29).

Within the hotel, and about to make loveless marriages, are Ethel Newcome and Lady Clara Pulleyn. Watching the windows, suffering and heedless of each other's suffering, are the rejected suitors, Clive Newcome and Jack Belsize. Each is solitary in his hopes, his desires and his pain. So, at Castlewood, Henry Esmond and his family live together in outward communion and inner separation: 'gloomy, and dissatisfied and lonely', as Esmond puts it: 'We were all so, even when together and united, as it seemed, following our separate schemes, each as we sate round the table' (Esmond, Book III, ch. 3).

Thackeray's London is populous with isolations; people who communicate in no important respect. His characters wander 'alone, in the great wilderness of London' (Philip, ch. 3). Thackeray equates the solitude of Baker Street with that of Arabia Deserta (Vanity Fair, ch. 61). At the close of a gloomily superb meditation in Pendennis, Thackeray speaks of the winner and the loser as being akin in their loneliness. He pictures the triumphant captain bringing his ship into harbour whilst the wrecked sailor perishes, lashed to a spar out at sea:

The sinking man and the successful one are thinking each about home, very likely, and remembering the time when they were children; alone on the hopeless spar, drowning out of sight; alone in the midst of the crowd applauding you (Pendennis, ch. 60).

All around him in his solitude Thackeray observed the effects of mortality and change; tritely, no doubt. Thackeray's reflections are seldom new. They go back to his much-loved Horace and beyond. The novelty lies in the eloquence with which they are expressed by this prose-poet of regret, and the polymathic copiousness with which they are illustrated.

The decay of beauty and the personal ruins of women are instances of mortal change which Thackeray often cites. Mrs. Carrickfergus, as she recollects her past, puts 'a large hand upon a place on her left side, where once had been a waist' (Shabby Genteel Story, ch. 7). Rheumaticky old Beatrix Esmond in The Virginians, twisting wittily and miserably on her stick, is a distressing commentary on the nubile Beatrix in Henry Esmond; whose 'motion, whether rapid or slow, was always perfect grace -- agile as a nymph, lofty as a queen' (Esmond, Bk. II, ch. 7). Although the Dowager Viscountess Castlewood had little beauty at any time, her efforts to preserve that beauty make her positively hideous. Faithfully she wears red, the heraldic colour of her family, on her cheeks to the last: 'As the sky grows redder and redder towards sunset, so, in the decline of her years, the cheeks of my Lady Dowager blushed more deeply' (Esmond, Book II, ch. 3). Already in her middle age her face is 'daubed with white and red up to the eyes, to which the paint gave an unearthly glare' (Esmond, Book I, ch. 2). Equally absurd and sad are the efforts of Thackeray's old bucks, such as Major Pendennis and General Tufto, to preserve their youthful charms. One may contemplate them, says Thackeray, 'with as much profit as the most elderly Belgravian Venus or inveterate Mayfair Jezebel' (Pendennis, ch. 36).

In spite of Thackeray's contempt for symbolism, which he calls 'the same simile fourteen times, but at intervals of two or three pages or so', the small-pox at Castlewood, which takes off the gloss of the past, remains a powerful symbol in Henry Esmond. Upon Rachel, Lady Castlewood, it has the effect of age: 'the delicacy of her rosy colour and complexion was gone: her eyes had lost their brilliancy'. It leaves Esmond's first love, Nancy Sievewright, dead and forgotten, 'whose red cheeks but a month ago he had been so eager to see' (Esmond, Book I, ch. 9). The small-pox also marks the end of Esmond's age of innocence and the beginning of his puberty: he catches it as the result of his first romance. From the small-pox Lady Castlewood herself dates her infatuation with Esmond. After her husband has been killed in a duel, she visits Esmond in jail to expiate at his expense the remorse she feels for having fallen in love with him, although the overt reason for her reproaches is that he seconded her husband. She discloses that she wishes Esmond had died of the small-pox, yet she tells him so 'with a glance that was at once so fond and so sad' (Esmond, Book II, ch. 1). He and the family he worships are reciprocally fatal. Debilitated by fever, confinement and the wounds received in the duel, he faints away. At the end of the novel Thackeray reveals that whilst Esmond is unconscious Lady Castlewood takes one of his cufflinks and ever after wears it in her bosom.

Mme. de Florac would certainly have tried to revive Esmond instead of idolising his cufflink. In spite of the glamour of their wedding and migration to Virginia, one wonders if the union of Henry and Rachel Esmond is happier than that of William and Amelia Dobbin. Always remembering Beatrix, Esmond is no more than 'not unhappy' in America:

A something had occurred in his life which cast a tinge of melancholy over his existence. He was not unhappy...but there had been some bankruptcy of his heart, from which his spirit never recovered. He submitted to life, rather than enjoying it (Virginians, ch. 3).

Like Dobbin and Pendennis, Esmond emerges from disease as a weightier man. Thus, through the workings of a combined transience, past events are distanced from the hero by alterations of circumstance, and he too is distanced from past events by his new seriousness.

Pendennis does not at once rescind the worldly schemes he has plotted with his uncle, the Major. He undergoes a series of transformations (as a fashionable novelist, as the suitor of an heiress, as a prospective Member of Parliament) which take him further and further away from his past at home in Clavering, until at last, having learned to deserve that past, he returns to it in the person of his wife Laura, who is also his foster-sister. The emotional recovery of his past does not, in fact, make him more cheerful. As the narrator of The Newcomes and The Adventures of Philip, Pendennis becomes steadily more melancholy; possibly because the scenes of his youth are being obliterated to finance the recapture of the life of the sentiments associated with it. As an instrument of change the Industrial Revolution works alongside his inner revolution. Already when he comes to London to study Law, to find that the roses no longer bloom in the smoky air of the Temple Gardens, the trout stream at Clavering has been polluted by a factory on its banks. He is able to escape from his life in London by selling his land to the new railway, thus spoiling the little town altogether: 'the once quiet and familiar fields...were flaming with the kilns and forges of the artificers employed on the new railroad works' (Pendennis, chs. 15, 50 and 76).

Nothing, Thackeray asserts in Vanity Fair, should be written indelibly: Those quacks and misanthropes who advertise indelible Japan ink should be made to perish along with their wicked discoveries. The best ink of Vanity Fair would be one that faded utterly in a couple of days (Vanity Fair, ch. 19).

He suggests that human ties, however enthusiastic for a while, seldom last. Ardour burns itself out. On to the novelties in the next booth! He gives an example in The Newcomes: Tom is jilted and for a while in a frenzy, but in no time recovers his appetite and rushes off to the races at Newmarket. His female counterpart likewise experiences first the paroxysm and then the recovery. Before long she is taking an interest in Mme. Crinoline's latest importations from Paris, wonders whether pink or blue will suit her best, and compliments herself on outwaltzing her friend Lucy. From this Thackeray concludes that 'what are called broken hearts are very rare articles indeed' (Newcomes, ch. 32). As if ashamed, he admits that his own heart has never broken: 'it has suffered, and, it must be admitted, survived' (Vanity Fair, ch. 18). Well, it is true that Thackeray survived, although not for many years, the two great emotional losses of his life--that of his wife and that of Jane Brookfield--but he never ceased to bewail them in what he afterwards wrote. Dobbin finds no diversion from his love for Amelia. Esmond's passion for Beatrix haunts his old age. With an irony characteristic of Thackeray, his meditation on the adaptability of the human heart introduces not so many good dinners and so much waltzing, but the marriage of Barnes Newcome, which ends in flight, adultery, separation and divorce.


1. The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, ch. 5. The texts of Thackeray cited are those of the first editions in book form.

2. Gordon Ray. Thackeray, Oxford, 1955-8, vol. II (Age of Wisdom), p.265.

3. Gustave Flaubert. Oeuvres, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, Paris, 1952, vol. II p.1,011.

4. Anthony Trollope. Thackeray, London, 1887, p.40.
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Title Annotation:author William Makepeace Thackeray
Author:Bruce, Donald
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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