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Victorian Literature William Makepeace Thackeray
by
Melissa Raines

Introduction

William Makepeace Thackeray (b. 18 July 1811–d. 23 December 1863) was born in Calcutta, India, the only son of British parents, but he was sent to England for his education at the age of five. In spite of the early death of his father and the separation from his mother, Thackeray’s young life was full of promise; he was the sole heir to his father’s fortune and studied for a period at Cambridge. However, Thackeray never completed his degree, and gambling and successive Indian bank failures resulted in the loss of his fortune while he was still quite young. His marriage to Isabella Shawe in 1836 was a love match, but Isabella’s development of severe mental illness left Thackeray a widower emotionally, struggling to support himself and his daughters. He described his early literary efforts as “writing for his life,” and he gained some popularity through his serialized novels (such as Catherine and The Luck of Barry Lyndon), illustrations, travel writing, and satirical contributions to literary magazines. His first real success came with the 1847 publication of Vanity Fair, the novel for which he is most popularly known. A prolific, if somewhat disorganized, writer, he also published The History of Henry Esmond, The Newcomes, and The History of Pendennis, among other fiction, lectures, and journalism, before his rather sudden death in 1863. In spite of the popularity of his novels and the iconic view of Vanity Fair in particular, he is one of the least studied of the great Victorian novelists. Early critical views of Thackeray the novelist tended to focus on the autobiographical aspects of his writing. More recent criticism has highlighted his complex and subversive presentation of women as well as his troubling conceptions of race. One constant in the area of Thackerayan criticism is a focus on the challenging narrators in his novels and the complicated sense of morality that emerges as a result—a product of Thackeray’s own effort to balance his biting satire with his commitment to social realism.

Thackeray and His Contemporaries

Thackeray’s writing is definitively Victorian in a historical sense, but stylistically it is more ambiguous. His early mastery of satire harkens back to the previous century, but many critics note the development of a more traditionally Victorian strain in his later works. The collected studies here comprise both Victorian views of Thackeray and modern critical assessments of those views. Tillotson and Hawes 1968 is a compilation of invaluable critical responses to Thackeray’s major fiction, and Collins 1983 gives slightly more personal, although often still literary, Victorian perceptions of the author. Ritchie 1898–1899 provides introductions to the collected works of Thackeray and is of value because the biographical details in it come directly from Thackeray’s eldest daughter. Early biographies by fellow novelists and critics, such as Hannay 1970 and Trollope 1879, are also important due to the detailed personal and literary detail they provide; both biographers knew and admired Thackeray. Cline 1943 briefly describes the less harmonious relationship between Thackeray and Benjamin Disraeli, due primarily to Thackeray’s penchant for parody. Mauskopf 1966 gives a modern critical perspective on the connection between Thackeray and Charles Dickens, and Kaye 1995 does the same for Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë.

Early Biographies and Biographical Criticism

In the first half of the 20th century the most popular critical approach to Thackeray’s novels was biographical. Thackeray famously forbade his daughter, Anne Thackeray Ritchie, to release his letters and personal writings, perhaps out of the understandable desire for some of the private details of his life to remain as such. This has contributed to a certain mystique surrounding the novelist. Even before scholar Gordon N. Ray gained access to these prized papers, other post-Victorian researchers were attempting to chronicle Thackeray’s life and analyze his novels based on biographical details. As such, most of the biographies of Thackeray from any period can be a struggle to categorize, as one must determine whether literary analysis takes precedence over historical presentation in what often proves to be an intricate mix. Of the works sampled in this article, Dodds 1941 offers particularly astute readings of the fiction, whereas Stevenson 1947 is more historically based. Greig 1950 is a largely unsympathetic work and claims that Thackeray’s life interfered too much with his art. Tillotson 1954 supports his arguments with dense Victorian secondary reading. The great biographical works of this period are of course those by Ray, who had permission to peruse most of Thackeray’s personal writings. Ray’s two-volume effort (Ray 1955 and Ray 1958) is still seen as the most reliable and comprehensive biographical source on the author, and his more analytical The Buried Life (Ray 1952) makes compelling connections between characters in the novels and real-life personages. For Victorian biographies, see Hannay 1970, Trollope 1879, and Ritchie 1898–1899 in Thackeray and His Contemporaries. See also Melville 1899, cited in Literary Bibliographies; Ennis 1950, cited in Women’s Issues; and Carey 1977, cited in Class Consciousness; and see the entirety of Later Biographies and Biographical Criticism for other examples.

  • Dodds, John W. Thackeray: A Critical Portrait. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.

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    Described by the author as “criticism with some biographical infiltration,” (p. vii) this work stands out for its focus on the shaping characteristics of Thackeray’s early writings and its strong analysis of all the novels.

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  • Greig, J. Y. T. Thackeray: A Reconsideration. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950.

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    Organized thematically rather than chronologically, Greig’s thesis that Thackeray’s personal issues interfered with his ability to be a great novelist is also rather unsympathetic toward Thackeray as a person. Provides an interesting comparison with other biographies of the period, although it claims not to be a biography.

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  • Ray, Gordon N. The Buried Life: A Study of the Relation between Thackeray’s Fiction and His Personal History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952.

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    Originally written as a series of lectures, then developed into a biographical study of Thackeray’s work—unsurprising considering Ray’s unparalleled access to private Thackeray family papers. Fascinating for connections made between people in Thackeray’s life and characters in his novels.

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  • Ray, Gordon N. Thackeray: The Uses of Adversity, 1811–1846. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955.

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    Still generally viewed as the best and most comprehensive of the biographies, Ray’s work is based on his study of Thackeray’s private papers. This first volume chronicles how youthful difficulties helped shape both the man and the writer.

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  • Ray, Gordon N. Thackeray: The Age of Wisdom, 1847–1863. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958.

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    The second volume of Ray’s biography. Examines the years after the publication of Vanity Fair, attempts to give a balanced picture of Thackeray but ultimately is sympathetic.

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  • Stevenson, Lionel. The Showman of Vanity Fair: The Life of William Makepeace Thackeray. London: Chapman and Hall, 1947.

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    Not as comprehensive as Gordon N. Ray’s two volumes (Ray 1955, Ray 1958) but still a reliable biography of the author.

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  • Tillotson, Geoffrey. Thackeray the Novelist. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1954.

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    One of the many biographies of the 1940s and 1950s but one that has a particularly strong basis in secondary reading of the Victorian period. Tillotson gives more credit to Thackeray’s talent as a novelist than any other biographer of the period but Gordon N. Ray.

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Later Biographies and Biographical Criticism

If Ray 1955 and Ray 1958 (cited in Early Biographies and Biographical Criticism) are still seen as the most comprehensive biographical sources on the novelist, the question that naturally arises is what the biographies of the latter half of the 20th century have to offer, especially as most bring in a limited amount of new material. However, if Gordon N. Ray’s work is broad, then these newer works tend to be more focused and shorter; in this sense, they also tend to be more accessible to the new researcher. Furthermore, they highlight the continuing popularity of biographical critical studies of one of the most autobiographical Victorian novelists. Monsarrat 1980 gives more attention than most previous works to Thackeray’s early career. Ferris 1983 supplements her biographical work with compelling analysis of all of the novels, and Peters 1987 is particularly strong on Vanity Fair. Shillingsburg 2001 provides what is probably the best and most accessible overview of the writer’s life and works. For other biographical studies, see Hannay 1970, Trollope 1879, and Ritchie 1898–1899 (cited in Thackeray and His Contemporaries), Melville 1899, cited in Literary Bibliographies; Ennis 1950, cited in Women’s Issues; Carey 1977, cited in Class Consciousness; and the entirety of Early Biographies and Biographical Criticism.

Critical Bibliographies

Complete bibliographies of Thackerayan criticism are still wanting, although there are volumes that do manage to cover a good range of relevant work on the author. Stevenson 1964 and Colby 1978 are broad surveys of Thackeray scholarship. Although somewhat dated now, they remain extremely useful. Flamm 1967 focuses on criticism of the writer throughout the Victorian period. Olmsted 1977 provides a listing of criticism throughout the first several decades of the 20th century. Like Flamm 1967, Olmsted 1977 looks specifically at British and American criticism. Goldfarb 1989 attempts to complete this coverage of criticism of the author until roughly the late 20th century, making a concerted effort to bring in criticism that is distinctly neither British nor American. However, all of these volumes must be supplemented by Shillingsburg 2000. Colby 2002 provides a brief but detailed look at some of the more recent criticism.

  • Colby, Robert A. “William Makepeace Thackeray.” In Victorian Fiction: A Second Guide to Research. Edited by George H. Ford and Lionel Stevenson, 114–142. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

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    A useful overview of Thackeray scholarship. It is best when used in conjunction with its first edition, Victorian Fiction: A Guide to Research (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964).

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  • Colby, Robert A. “Thackeray Studies, 1993–2001.” Dickens Studies Annual 31 (2002): 365–396.

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    A guide to recent criticism on Thackeray. Issues 8, 13, and 23 (articles by Peter Shillingsburg) of the same journal provide other guides covering different periods.

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  • Flamm, Dudley. Thackeray’s Critics: An Annotated Bibliography of British and American Criticism, 1836–1901. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.

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    A comprehensive listing of Thackeray-based criticism during the writer’s lifetime and throughout the remainder of the Victorian period.

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  • Goldfarb, Sheldon. William Makepeace Thackeray: An Annotated Bibliography, 1976–1987. New York: Garland, 1989.

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    The most recent full volume on Thackeray criticism. Goldfarb expands on both Flamm 1967 and Olmsted 1977, including texts in languages other than English.

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  • Olmsted, John C. Thackeray and His Twentieth-Century Critics: An Annotated Bibliography, 1900–1975. New York: Garland, 1977.

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    Both continues and expands the Flamm 1967 19th-century bibliography, maintaining the focus on British and American criticism. Books and articles are given the most attention, although dissertations are also mentioned.

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  • Shillingsburg, Peter. “William Makepeace Thackeray.” In The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. Vol. 4. 3d ed. Edited by Joanna Shattock, 1406–1413. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    The most comprehensive listing of criticism in English literature. This volume covers literature between 1800 and 1900. The Thackeray entry is also useful as a list of the author’s own works.

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  • Stevenson, Lionel. “William Makepeace Thackeray.” In Victorian Fiction: A Guide to Research. Edited by Lionel Stevenson and Robert Paul Ashley, 154–187. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964.

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    A useful overview of Thackeray scholarship that must be supplemented by Colby 1978.

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Literary Bibliographies

Piecing together a complete listing of Thackeray’s own writings has been difficult, largely due to the author’s frequent use of pseudonyms. Some of his favorites were Michael Angelo Titmarsh, C. J. Yellowplush, and George Savage Fitz-Boodle. Melville 1899 is technically a biography, but it provides the single most comprehensive chronological listing of the author’s works. It must be supplemented, however, as Harden 1996 stands as the most complete listing of periodical contributions, and Shillingsburg 1992 (cited in Writing, Illustrating, and Editing) and Shillingsburg 2000 (cited in Critical Bibliographies) provide much more complete listings of Thackeray’s books. The painstaking detail of Harden 1996 makes it another necessity for a Thackeray scholar, and Van Duzer 1965 is significant not only for its details on first editions but also for its catalogue of Thackeray’s illustrations.

  • Harden, Edgar F. Annotations for the Selected Works of William Makepeace Thackeray: The Complete Novels, the Major Non-Fictional Prose, and Selected Shorter Pieces. New York: Garland, 1990.

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    An index of several of the significant works of Thackeray as well as important contextual details.

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  • Harden, Edgar F. A Checklist of Contributions by William Makepeace Thackeray to Newspapers, Periodicals, Books, and Serial Part Issues, 1828–1864. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria, 1996.

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    An impressive bibliography of Thackeray’s writing as well as the most comprehensive listing of Thackeray’s journalism.

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  • Melville, Lewis. The Life of William Makepeace Thackeray. 2 vols. New York: Herbert S. Stone, 1899.

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    An early biography that is primarily of interest because it contains a nearly complete bibliography of Thackeray’s work, but it still needs further references; namely, George Watson, ed., The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969–1977), and Walter E. Houghton, ed., The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966–1989).

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  • Van Duzer, Henry Sayre. A Thackeray Library: First Editions and First Publications, Portraits, Water Colors, Etchings, Drawings, and Manuscripts. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1965.

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    Originally published in 1919. A dated but still relevant compilation of Thackeray’s published and unpublished writing and illustrations.

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Major Works and Editions

For decades the most complete and reliable edition of Thackeray’s many works of fiction, travel writing, and journalism was Saintsbury 1908. The first editions of the novels, published in 1898 and 1899, while still popular for their biographical introductions by the author’s daughter, Anne Thackeray Ritchie, are less reliable textually (Ritchie 1898–1899, cited in Thackeray and His Contemporaries). Efforts have been made to provide cheaper authoritative editions, but the project is not yet complete. Garland Press undertook this task under the editorship of Peter Shillingsburg. The project was then passed over to the University of Michigan Press in the 1990s, maintaining the same editorship. This ten-volume collection, the Thackeray Edition Project (New York: Garland, 1989–2010) is the product of years of careful manuscript research on the part of Edgar F. Harden along with Shillingsburg and John Sutherland, and most of the major novels have been published, along with some of the other works. Thackeray 2010 (The Adventures of Philip) was one of the final publications in the collection. Thackeray 1999a (Catherine) was actually the author’s first novel. Thackeray 1994 (Vanity Fair) is his most well-known work, although Thackeray 1996 (The Newcomes) was the most popular in the writer’s lifetime. Thackeray 1989 (The History of Henry Esmond), Thackeray 1991 (The History of Pendennis), and Thackeray 1999b (The Luck of Barry Lyndon) are also generally included in lists of Thackeray’s major fiction, and all retain critical and popular interest. Other Thackeray edition volumes are listed in Letters, Lectures, and Miscellaneous Writing. Reliable editions of some of the works can also be found in the Oxford World’s Classics.

  • Saintsbury, George, ed. The Oxford Thackeray. 17 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1908.

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    Generally considered the definitive edition of Thackeray’s major novels.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The History of Henry Esmond. Edited by Edgar F. Harden. New York: Garland, 1989.

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    Originally published in 1852. A work of historical fiction and the most critically acclaimed of Thackeray’s works in his lifetime.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The History of Pendennis. Edited by Peter Shillingsburg. New York: Garland, 1991.

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    Originally published in three volumes, 1848–1850. A bildungsroman (a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character), Pendennis is often thought to be the most autobiographical effort of this particularly autobiographical novelist. The character of Pendennis would recur in Thackeray’s later fiction.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. Edited by Peter Shillingsburg. New York: Norton, 1994.

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    Originally published in serial form, 1847–1848. Thackeray’s most iconic work as well as the one that made him famous. The fascinating parallel development of Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley against the backdrop of corrupt Regency society makes this the most popular of Thackeray’s work in the present day.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Newcomes. Edited by Peter Shillingsburg. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

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    Originally published in 1854. The most popular of Thackeray’s novels in the Victorian era, it is considered by some critics to be his masterpiece.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. Catherine. Edited by Sheldon F. Goldfarb. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999a.

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    Thackeray’s first published novel, it appeared in Fraser’s Magazine in serial form, 1839–1840, the only published form during his lifetime. It was meant to be a satire of the then-popular Newgate novel (a particularly melodramatic subgenre of crime fiction that drew its details from real-life criminal cases), but most critics argue that it developed into something more complex.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Luck of Barry Lyndon. Edited by Edgar F. Harden. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999b.

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    First published in Fraser’s Magazine in 1844, this novel has come under critical interest recently due to the title character’s Irish identity and his status as an unreliable narrator.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Adventures of Philip. Edited by Judith Law Fisher. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2010.

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    Thackeray’s final completed novel, published in 1862. First published serially in Cornhill Magazine and narrated by the recurring character Pendennis.

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Letters, Lectures, and Miscellaneous Writing

Thackeray was immersed in journalism, which is where he first picked up his taste for satire, throughout his early career. Even after his success as a novelist, he continued to write lectures and essays, illustrate his own works, and edit literary magazines. Critics have long argued that Thackeray’s nonfiction efforts are just as vital to understanding him as a writer as the novels are, and an eclectic mix of primary texts and critical responses are included in this section. Harden 1985 gives a comprehensive overview of Thackeray’s nonfiction writing with frequent references to the manuscripts, whereas Pearson 2000 puts Thackeray’s journalistic writing process within a wider social context. A few examples of Thackeray’s other writings are also included here, namely, The Snobs of England and Punch’s Prize Novelists (Thackeray 2005), Flore e Zéphyr (Thackeray 1991), and The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century (Thackeray 2007), which complete the volumes of the Thackeray edition of the works by Garland and the University of Michigan Press (see Major Works and Editions). One of Thackeray’s travel writing efforts, The Irish Sketch Book (Thackeray 1843), is also of particular interest due to current critical interest in Victorian English presentations of Irish identity. Ray 1945–1946 and Harden 1994 together provide readers with a better view of Thackeray the man through their editions of his letters and private writings.

  • Harden, Edgar F. Thackeray’s English Humorists and Four Georges. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985.

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    An important examination of Thackeray’s nonfiction prose that focuses on the author’s biting social commentary and interest in history. As with most of Harden’s work on Thackeray, close attention is given to the manuscripts.

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  • Harden, Edgar F., ed. The Letters and Private Papers of William Makepeace Thackeray. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1994.

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    A painstakingly edited addition with some corrections to Gordon N. Ray’s effort. Harden’s volumes have resulted in the publication of more than fourteen hundred new letters.

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  • Pearson, Richard. W. M. Thackeray and the Mediated Text: Writing for the Periodicals in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000.

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    A comprehensive study of Thackeray’s journalistic career and the ways it influenced his development as a novelist.

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  • Ray, Gordon N., ed. The Letters and Private Papers of William Makepeace Thackeray. 4 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945–1946.

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    Ray was the first person to obtain access to Thackeray’s private writings, with the permission of the novelist’s grandchildren. Although incomplete, the collection provides wonderful insight into Thackeray’s life and character and became the basis for Ray’s biographical volumes.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Irish Sketch Book. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.

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    An example of Thackeray’s travel writing that is increasingly studied due to its presentation of Irish nationality and identity.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. Flore e Zéphyr; The Yellowplush Correspondence; The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan. Edited by Peter Shillingsburg. New York: Garland, 1991.

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    An authoritative collection of several of Thackeray’s works, including the satirical The Yellowplush Papers, one of his first publications.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Snobs of England and Punch’s Prize Novelists. Edited by Edgar F. Harden. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

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    A carefully edited collection of two of Thackeray’s most popular satirical works, including the one that brought the word “snob” into popular use in English.

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  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century and Charity and Humour. Edited by Edgar F. Harden. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.

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    The last volume of the Garland and University of Michigan Press publications of Thackeray’s writings. Includes works from Thackeray’s different series of lectures.

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General Criticism

As previously mentioned, the popular critical tendency with Thackeray is to base analysis of his works firmly in connections to his own life, which often makes it difficult to draw the line between biography and literary criticism. These broad works do make some reference to Thackeray the man but are firmly grounded in the development of Thackeray the writer and an analysis of the novels. Tillotson 1954 does not focus exclusively on Thackeray, but the discussion of the broader topic of the development of the novel form in the 1840s provides vital historical context and a close analysis of several novels of the period, including Vanity Fair. Hardy 1972 examines the importance of such themes as social injustice in four of Thackeray’s novels, and Colby 1979 is widely praised for its comprehensiveness and contextual detail. Harden 1998 and Harden 2000 demonstrate vast, in-depth knowledge of the novelist while looking at the literary development of Thackeray over the course of his career. Welsh 1968 and Bloom 1987 present readers with a variety of interesting critical responses to the author in their respective essay collections, covering many of the works as well as many of the major recurring themes in Thackeray criticism. William Makepeace Thackeray on the Victorian Web is more broadly focused than these other works but includes various sections on Thackeray by theme that would be useful particularly to scholars new to the author.

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. William Makepeace Thackeray. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

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    A representative mix of Thackeray criticism of the 1970s and 1980s. A variety of themes are examined. Along with the expected coverage of the major novels, essays on Lovel the Widower and The Adventures of Philip are also included.

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  • Colby, Robert A. Thackeray’s Canvass of Humanity: An Author and His Public. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979.

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    A broadly ambitious and successfully comprehensive text. Few critics have managed to examine so many of Thackeray’s works and so much of the social and historical context of their production.

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  • Harden, Edgar F. Thackeray the Writer: From Journalism to Vanity Fair. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1998.

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    As with all of Harden’s work on the author, a beautifully detailed chronicle of Thackeray’s early years as a writer.

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  • Harden, Edgar F. Thackeray the Writer: From Pendennis to Denis Duval. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000.

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    An in-depth study of the development of Thackeray’s later works, with a particular focus on narratorial involvement and form.

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  • Hardy, Barbara. The Exposure of Luxury: Radical Themes in Thackeray. London: Owen, 1972.

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    An insightful commentary on four of Thackeray’s major novels—Vanity Fair, The History of Pendennis, The History of Henry Esmond, and The Newcomes—that focuses on content rather than style. Hardy examines Thackeray’s concerns with social injustice and moral uncertainty and attempts to explain his work in direct comparison to other Victorian novelists.

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  • Tillotson, Kathleen. Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954.

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    A work that places Thackeray firmly within the broader context of this important literary decade. A later chapter is dedicated entirely to Vanity Fair.

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  • Welsh, Alexander, ed. Thackeray: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968.

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    A valuable collection of essays touching on a variety of subjects, from the form of Thackeray’s narrative to his use of neoclassical themes and imagery. Covers several of the works and includes critics such as Gordon N. Ray and G. K. Chesterson.

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  • William Makepeace Thackeray. In Victorian Web.

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    Dedicated to providing more general background information as well as links to relevant criticism, the Victorian Web’s Thackeray is a useful and convenient starting point for new Thackeray scholars.

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Language and Narrative Form

Thackeray’s narrative—or more specifically his narrators—have long been of central interest to critics. However, even with a number of works on the subject, Thackeray’s narrators and narrative style remain frustratingly and fascinatingly ambiguous, primarily because both he and his narrators refuse to tell the reader what to think. The critical studies listed here handle this issue of the balance of narrator and reader responsibility to varying degrees. Carlisle 1981 looks at the reader-narrator relationship that is established by a few different mid-19th-century novelists, placing Thackeray’s narrative style within a wider literary context. Lester 1954 examines how Thackeray uses time in his narrative, and Baker 1962, after making the distinction between writer and narratorial identity, explains how this very distinction complicates Thackeray’s moral stance. McMaster 1971 investigates this point more broadly, demonstrating how moral ambiguity helps engage the reader in several Thackeray novels. Fisher 2002 argues that skepticism, not moral uncertainty, is the structuring force of Thackeray’s narrative. Ferris 1977 studies one of Thackeray’s later works, Lovel the Widower, to show how narrative consciousness changes over the course of the author’s career. Phillipps 1978 takes the most definitively language-based approach to Thackeray’s narrative, looking at such things as the significance of patterns in the grammar and use of dialect.

Realism and Satire

Although some critics have identified a general trend over the course of Thackeray’s career in that he seems to move away from satire and closer to more typical mid-Victorian style with each novel, others argue that the progression is far from straightforward and that there is an inherent textual conflict present because of Thackeray’s choice to mix the genres of satire and realism. Cabot 1974 uses Thackeray’s first novel as an example of this conflict in its purest form. Wheatley 1969 and Rawlins 1974 argue the same at greater length while covering a variety of the novels; however, Wheatley 1969 uses the conflict to identify a paradoxical unity in Thackeray’s work, whereas Rawlins 1974 presents readers with a rather darker view of Thackeray’s struggle with his art. Douglas 1975 looks to the past, focusing on Thackeray’s views of realism in historical fiction. Loofbourow 1964 identifies the 18th-century stylistic roots of Thackeray’s prose and then challenges critical assertions that Thackeray becomes “Victorian” by arguing that he demonstrates modernist trends. Ferris 1983 and Miller 1968 classify Thackeray’s works as distinctively realist, although Ferris 1983 argues that Thackeray actively subverts the genre.

  • Cabot, Frederick C. “The Two Voices in Thackeray’s Catherine.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 28.4 (1974): 404–416.

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    An examination of the conflict between psychological realism and social satire in what could be viewed as Thackeray’s first novel. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Douglas, Dennis. “Thackeray and the Uses of History.” Yearbook of English Studies 5 (1975): 164–177.

    DOI: 10.2307/3507183Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the significance of history in Thackeray’s fiction and nonfiction prose as well as consideration of Thackeray’s critique of historical fiction and drama of the period for failing to achieve realism. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Ferris, Ina. “Realism and the Discord of Ending: The Example of Thackeray.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 38.3 (1983): 289–303.

    DOI: 10.1525/ncl.1983.38.3.99p0378pSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article that looks at the tension created by endings in realist fiction as well as Thackeray’s attempts to subvert it. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Loofbourow, John. Thackeray and the Form of Fiction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.

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    A work that looks closely at Thackeray’s language in an attempt to demonstrate how the novelist’s prose style forms a bridge between 18th-century conventions and modernist innovations.

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  • Miller, J. Hillis. The Form of Victorian Fiction: Thackeray, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Meredith, and Hardy. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968.

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    A broad discussion of several authors that links the development of realism to the loss of religious certainty in the 19th century. Looks at Thackeray in context and in reference to other major authors of the period.

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  • Rawlins, Jack P. Thackeray’s Novels: A Fiction That Is True. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

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    A darker chronicle of the development of Thackeray’s novels that demonstrates the novelist’s own frustration with his transition to realism.

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  • Wheatley, James H. Patterns in Thackeray’s Fiction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969.

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    A fascinating attempt to identify unifying patterns in what is often seen to be Thackeray’s “chaotic” collection of work. Wheatley deals heavily with the novelist’s movement between satire and realism and provides excellent analysis of several of the novels.

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Writing, Illustrating, and Editing

Much has been said about Thackeray’s supposedly disorganized writing style. Of course, much of his apparent lack of organization could have been due to the sheer volume of work he was attempting to produce, especially early in his career, when frequent production was necessary to support his family. The essays in the Garland and University of Michigan Press publications of Thackeray’s works provide some of the best and most detailed information on Thackeray’s writing of specific works (see Major Works and Editions). However, there are also broader works that study Thackeray’s writing process. Sutherland 1974 argues that the nature of Thackeray’s literary production is actually responsible for his unique style. Some critics who have studied Thackeray with reference to his surviving manuscripts have even attempted to prove that, contrary to popular conceptions, a great deal of careful planning went into Thackeray’s writing and revision process. Shillingsburg 1992 is the most comprehensive study of Thackeray’s writing habits, but Edgar F. Harden’s earlier and more focused effort (Harden 1979) on Thackeray’s serial fiction is also compelling. Harden’s attention to Thackeray’s care with illustrations also taps into a field of growing interest with critics. Harvey 1970 looks more broadly at Victorian illustration with a chapter on Thackeray, and Palmeri 2004 focuses exclusively on Thackeray and another Victorian illustrator in a discussion of graphical satire. Fisher 2000 examines Thackeray’s dual role as a writer and editor in relation to his time with Cornhill Magazine. The Special Issue: Essays in English and American Language and Literature of Costerus is dedicated to Thackeray studies; the entire issue is of interest as there are several articles on Thackeray’s writing and illustrations. For further discussion of the writing and publishing process, see also Pearson 2000, cited in Letters, Lectures, and Miscellaneous Writing. For specific references to the writing process of Vanity Fair, see Harden 1967, cited in Vanity Fair.

  • Colby, Robert A. “Into the Blue Water: The First Year of Cornhill Magazine under Thackeray.” Victorian Periodicals Review 32.3 (1999): 209–222.

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    Examines Thackeray’s attitudes toward editorial censorship in his determination to exclude potentially contentious material from Cornhill Magazine, including that of established writers, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Anthony Trollope. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Fisher, Judith Law. “Thackeray as Editor and Author: The Adventures of Philip and the Inauguration of the Cornhill Magazine.” Victorian Periodicals Review 33.1 (2000): 2–21.

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    A study of Thackeray’s early contributions to Cornhill Magazine that examines his responsibilities as both writer and editor. Fisher also examines the founder George Smith’s reasons for choosing Thackeray as the first editor. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Harden, Edgar F. The Emergence of Thackeray’s Serial Fiction. London: Prior, 1979.

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    Maps out Thackeray’s writing and revision process, with careful attention to the surviving manuscripts. Also discusses Thackeray’s painstaking efforts with his illustrations.

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  • Harvey, John R. Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970.

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    One of the first critical works to focus on the significance of the graphic arts to Victorian fiction. Only chapter 4 deals exclusively with Thackeray, but the broader context is still of interest.

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  • Palmeri, Frank. “Cruikshank, Thackeray, and the Victorian Eclipse of Satire.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 44.4 (2004): 753–777.

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    Palmeri examines the evolution and near disappearance of satire in the Victorian period, with a particular focus on Thackeray’s illustrations, his contributions to Punch, and Vanity Fair as the last great satirical work of the period. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Shillingsburg, Peter. Pegasus in Harness: Victorian Publishing and W. M. Thackeray. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1992.

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    Based on some of Shillingsburg’s collaborative efforts with Edgar F. Harden in examining the surviving manuscripts, this work attempts to debunk many central “myths” about Thackeray’s habits when writing, editing, and publishing his fiction.

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  • Shillingsburg. Peter L., ed. "Special Issue: Thackeray." Costerus, n.s., 2 (1974).

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    This special Thackeray issue includes several compelling articles on Thackeray’s writing and illustrations.

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  • Sutherland, John. Thackeray at Work. London: Athlone, 1974.

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    Based on painstaking manuscript research, this fascinating study argues that the casual immediacy of Thackeray’s writing schedule is directly responsible for his unique prose style.

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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair is the novel that made Thackeray successful and is the most popular one in our modern consciousness. First published in serial form and fully illustrated by Thackeray himself, the Novel without a Hero, as the subtitle describes, is about social corruption and the inherent flaws in human nature. The intriguing antiheroine, Becky Sharp, is paralleled in all her self-centered, money-grasping glory by the dully typical Victorian lady, Amelia Sedley, and yet both women retain the reader’s interest and sympathy due to the complexity of Thackeray’s portrayal of the characters through his ethically challenging narrator. Critical articles on the novel abound—most of them somehow relating to the issue of its moral uncertainty. Dooley 1971 examines the centrality of the Vanity Fair image, whereas Lougy 1975 argues that the imagery and satire within the novel is an even darker judgment on human nature than it appears at first. The other critics mentioned a focus on particular themes, also related to morality: performance in Dibattista 1980, death in Redwine 1977, and consumption in both Miller 1990 and Lindner 2002. Houston 1966, which speculates on the limits of Amelia’s “goodness,” highlights how uncertain the narrator’s presentation of these characters really is. Harden 1967 looks closely at Thackeray’s process of writing the novel. For other exclusively Vanity Fair–focused articles, see Paris 2010 and Jadwin 1992, cited in Women’s Issues, and Cole 2006 and Litvak 1996, cited in Masculinity and Sexuality.

  • Dibattista, Maria. “The Triumph of Clytemnestra: The Charades in Vanity Fair.” PMLA 95.5 (1980): 827–837.

    DOI: 10.2307/461760Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the moral significance of the combination of performance and classical themes in the novel Vanity Fair. Particular attention is given to the treatment of women. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Dooley, D. J. “Thackeray’s Use of Vanity Fair.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 11.4 (1971): 701–713.

    DOI: 10.2307/449832Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An in-depth comparative examination of the roots of Thackeray’s use of the Vanity Fair theme and its contribution to the challenging sense of the morality in his novels. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Harden, Edgar F. “The Discipline and Significance of Form in Vanity Fair.” PMLA 82.7 (1967): 530–541.

    DOI: 10.2307/461162Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Harden argues against popular perceptions of the disorganization of Thackeray’s work, using parallels in Vanity Fair as a prime example and positing that Thackeray’s struggle to meet deadlines had more to do with concern for structure than with poor time management. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Houston, Neal B. “A Brief Inquiry into the Morality of Amelia in Vanity Fair.” Victorian Newsletter 30 (1966): 23–24.

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    A short article that takes typical conceptions of Thackerayan moral uncertainty to the extreme of speculating that Amelia was unfaithful to George and that her son is actually Dobbin’s.

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  • Lindner, Christoph. “Thackeray’s Gourmand: Carnivals of Consumption in Vanity Fair.” Modern Philology 99.4 (2002): 546–581.

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    Focusing on the character of Jos Sedley, Lindner examines Thackeray’s metaphorical expression of his own concerns regarding overconsumption and commodification not just in wider society but also in regard to his own novels. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Lougy, Robert E. “Vision and Satire: The Warped Looking Glass in Vanity Fair.” PMLA 90.2 (1975): 256–269.

    DOI: 10.2307/461609Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Taking Thackeray’s moral view a step further, Lougy demonstrates how social satire in Vanity Fair becomes a darker statement on human nature itself. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Miller, Andrew. “Vanity Fair through Plate Glass.” PMLA 105.5 (1990): 1042–1054.

    DOI: 10.2307/462733Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Miller’s article examines ways the narrative becomes a structural representation of the commodification of character desires. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Redwine, Bruce. “The Uses of Memento Mori in Vanity Fair.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 17.4 (1977): 657–672.

    DOI: 10.2307/450314Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An in-depth consideration of the centrality of the theme of death in Vanity Fair and its moral purpose in the novel. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Other Novel-Specific Studies

Although Vanity Fair has a special identity among Thackeray’s novels, several of his other works also remain popular. The History of Pendennis, The Newcomes, and The History of Henry Esmond in particular have received a great deal of critical attention. Indeed, in Thackeray’s lifetime Henry Esmond was the most critically acclaimed, whereas The Newcomes was the most widely popular. The articles and the book featured in this section all deal exclusively with one of Thackeray’s other great novels. Baldridge 1990 studies moral choice and responsibility, and Bledsoe 1976 looks at the theme of maternal love in Pendennis. Family relationships are also a central focus in criticism of Henry Esmond. Harden 1973 looks at how family can shape the individual, whereas Manning 1979 examines the novel’s incest motif. Fletcher 1998 takes a different approach with Henry Esmond and discusses the visual nature of this unillustrated novel. McMaster 1968 highlights the central unity of The Newcomes, whereas McMaster 1991 dedicates an entire book to exploring the importance of literary allusions in the novel. For novel-specific studies other than Vanity Fair, see Ferris 1977 on Lovel the Widower, cited in Language and Narrative Form, Cabot 1974 on Catherine, cited in Realism and Satire, and Knezevic 2003 on The Newcomes, cited in Class Consciousness.

Women’s Issues

Vanity Fair stands on its own as a compelling argument for the idea that Thackeray did not take the typical approach of mid-Victorian male writers when portraying women. His female characters are unusually complex and powerfully sympathetic, and many critics have argued that through them Thackeray subtly hints that perhaps he was more forward thinking than many in his day when it came to women’s issues. In spite of this, there have been few book-length studies dedicated exclusively to Thackeray and women; Clarke 1995 is one of the only examples. Barickman, et al. 1982 looks at Thackeray in comparison with other novelists of the period and agrees with the assessment that his writings are subversive when it comes to women’s issues. Although Ennis 1950 is actually a volume of biographical criticism, its sensitive portrayal of Thackeray’s relationships with women in his life is used as a basis for the complex development of his female characters. Paris 2010 includes a section on the characterization of Becky and Amelia in Vanity Fair. Fisher 1985 demonstrates how women are used symbolically in the novels, Jadwin 1992 argues that Thackeray’s novels show a recognition of the need for female duplicity in a patriarchal society, and Rogers 1972 explains how sympathy in the novels even extends to women who do not live by cultural norms.

  • Barickman, Richard, Susan MacDonald, and Myra Stark. Corrupt Relations: Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Collins, and the Victorian Sexual System. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

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    A volume that compares how four male Victorian authors handled gender issues differently, arguing that novelists such as Thackeray present their readers with a more subtly subversive critique of the treatment of women.

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  • Clarke, Micael. Thackeray and Women. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1995.

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    One of the first books dedicated entirely to Thackeray’s presentation of women in his novels, drawing partly on biographical experience.

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  • Ennis, Lambert. Thackeray: The Sentimental Cynic. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1950.

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    A book of biographical criticism, this particular work is significant for its intense examination of Thackeray’s relationship with the women in his life and how they affected his writing.

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  • Fisher, Judith Law. “Siren and Artist: Contradiction in Thackeray’s Aesthetic Ideal.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 39.4 (1985): 392–419.

    DOI: 10.1525/ncl.1985.39.4.99p0451hSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fisher demonstrates how Thackeray personifies the central male choice between pleasure and duty in his novels through female characters, bringing in parallels with classical themes and art. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Jadwin, Lisa. “The Seductiveness of Female Duplicity in Vanity Fair.” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 32.4 (1992): 663–687.

    DOI: 10.2307/450965Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Jadwin discusses the significance of “female double-discourse” in the novel, showing how women at both extremes of virtuousness are compelled to make use of the discourse differently. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Paris, Bernard J. “The Psychic Structure in Vanity Fair.” In A Psychological Approach to Fiction: Studies in Thackeray, Stendhal, George Eliot, Dostoevsky, and Conrad. By Bernard J. Paris, 71–132. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2010.

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    This chapter on Thackeray provides interesting insights into the psychological characterization of Becky and Amelia.

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  • Rogers, Katharine M. “The Pressure of Convention on Thackeray’s Women.” Modern Language Review 67.2 (1972): 257–263.

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    Rogers discusses Thackeray’s sympathy for his unconventional women as well as his judgment of his more conventional ones and chronicles the fading of his more radical stance over the course of his fiction. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Class Consciousness

Class consciousness, on the part of both Thackeray and his characters, is a central theme throughout the novels. More recently, considerations of Thackeray’s views on and presentations of class have become intertwined with concepts of masculinity, race, and nationality. (See Cole 2006, Litvak 1996, and McCuskey 1999, cited in Masculinity and Sexuality; see also Prawer 1992 and Thomas 1993 in Race and Nationality.) However, there is still a clear critical interest in Thackeray and class consciousness in a more general sense. Ray 1955 argues for the evenhanded nature of Thackeray’s portrayal of the class system in his early career, whereas Baker 1962 documents the shift in Thackeray’s political and social opinions over time. This view is shared in Carey 1977, a biography of the writer. Fisher 1982 links Thackeray’s views on the visual arts to class. Brantlinger 1998 examines class tension in the stories that were being written at the time as well as the further class tension created by increased literacy in the period, looking at the works of several writers, including Thackeray. Knezevic 2003 argues for the persistent significance of class and capitalist belief systems in Victorian fiction and dedicates a chapter to Thackeray’s The Newcomes.

  • Baker, Joseph E. “Thackeray’s Recantation.” PMLA 77.5 (1962): 586–594.

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    Examines Thackeray’s changing attitudes toward class and politics over the course of his career, linking it to class-based arguments that emerge in the Carey 1977 biography. Also dedicates a small section to the author’s presentation of race. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Brantlinger, Patrick. The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth Century British Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

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    A fascinating examination of the troubled class-based perceptions of both the novel itself as a literary form and the improving literacy rates in the 19th century. Thackeray is discussed along with many other writers of the period.

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  • Carey, John. Thackeray: Prodigal Genius. London: Faber, 1977.

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    A biographical volume that attacks the critical tendency to focus on the later novels. Carey’s work is revolutionary for being the first to assert that Thackeray’s earlier literary achievements are actually the greater ones. He is particularly concerned with Thackeray’s conceptions and presentations of class.

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  • Fisher, Judith Law. “The Aesthetic of the Mediocre: Thackeray and the Visual Arts.” Victorian Studies 26.1 (1982): 65–82.

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    A study of Thackeray’s views of the visual arts that gives particular attention to the links between taste and class through its discussion of middle-class patronage. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Knezevic, Borislav. “The Middle Class and the Novel in W. M. Thackeray’s The Newcomes.” In Figures of Finance Capitalism: Writing, Class, and Capital in the Age of Dickens. By Borislav Knezevic, 91–118. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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    This broad work on the significance of class and capitalism to Victorian fiction dedicates a chapter to Thackeray’s The Newcomes, focusing on the novel and the middle classes.

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  • Ray, Gordon N. “Thackeray’s ‘Book of Snobs.’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 10.1 (1955): 22–33.

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    Addresses political dissatisfaction with this particular work from both sides of the political spectrum, arguing that its apparent inconsistency is actually a sign of Thackeray’s criticism of the class system itself. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Masculinity and Sexuality

Although the development of male central characters is a primary issue in many Thackeray novels, only in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have critics actively begun to apply masculinity theory to his works. There are few critical works on the subject, but those that have appeared so far argue convincingly for the need for further investigation. Masculinity proves to be a center of anxiety in the novels, and it is repeatedly associated with class as well as homoerotic desire. Sedgwick 1985 is a seminal text not only in regard to Thackeray’s work but also in regard to English literature more widely; the book contains a chapter dedicated to an analysis of The History of Henry Esmond. Litvak 1996 looks specifically to Vanity Fair to demonstrate Thackeray’s hidden anxieties about class and male sexuality. McCuskey 1999 examines the significance of repeated presentation of homoeroticism through servant characters. Cole 2006 turns more exclusively to masculine vanity and class, arguing that the novels provide evidence that goes against the concept of the supposed middle-class rejection of the aristocracy in the Victorian period.

  • Cole, Sarah Rose. “The Aristocrat in the Mirror: Male Vanity and Bourgeois Desire in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 61.2 (2006): 137–170.

    DOI: 10.1525/ncl.2006.61.2.137Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Cole examines Thackeray’s critical view of the links between class and masculinity in Vanity Fair, showing that recent historical models of a Victorian bourgeoisie that rejected aristocratic values are far from accurate. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Litvak, Joseph. “Kiss Me, Stupid: Sophistication, Sexuality, and Vanity Fair.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 29.2 (1996): 223–242.

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    An exploration of the ties between class and masculinity in Vanity Fair. Litvak argues that Thackeray’s criticism of a particular kind and class of male character in his works expresses an anxiety about ambiguous male sexuality. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • McCuskey, Brian. “Fetishizing the Flunkey: Thackeray and the Uses of Deviance.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 32.3 (1999): 384–400.

    DOI: 10.2307/1346153Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    While maintaining the consistent ties between class and sexuality, McCuskey proposes a different kind of reading of Thackeray from that of other queer theorists, arguing that Thackeray’s conspicuous presentation of homoeroticism was consciously done to link all kinds of desire to capitalist consumption. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Adam Bede and Henry Esmond: Homosocial Desire and the Historicity of the Female.” In Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. By Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 134–160. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

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    A broad historical study of homosocial relationships in literature, with a chapter dedicated specifically to Henry Esmond.

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Race and Nationality

Thackeray’s concern with race is undeniable. However, until the 20th and early 21st centuries most critics have chosen to avoid dealing with the apparent prejudice that infiltrates his work. It is not difficult to see why; little can be said to defend some of the openly racist stances in many of the novels. Still, it is only in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that longer works on the subject began to appear. Thackeray’s Indian roots and his Irish wife give the biographical scope to the subject of race in the novelist’s life—facts highlighted in Davies 1961 and Fegan 2004, respectively. Hampson 2004 and MacCarthy 1951 examine obvious prejudices in Thackeray’s travel writing. MacCarthy 1951 even argues that Thackeray’s view was part of a wider English perception at the time that created a culture that could overlook Irish suffering during the Great Famine. The two landmark works on Thackeray and race, however, are undoubtedly Prawer 1992 and Thomas 1993. These book-length studies have a wider scope than that seen in previous works. Both address the issue of Thackeray’s racism unflinchingly and invite further criticism in the area. See also Baker 1962, cited in Class Consciousness.

  • Davies, Phillips George. “The Miscegenation Theme in the Works of Thackeray.” Modern Language Notes 76.4 (1961): 326–331.

    DOI: 10.2307/3040512Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Davies highlights repeated examples of unflattering portrayals of racial others in Thackeray’s work, making links between this and the writer’s own anxiety and guilt regarding his treatment of his mixed-race half sister. The article itself uses sometimes disturbingly dated verbiage. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Fegan, Melissa. “‘Isn’t It Your Own Country?’ The Stranger in Nineteenth-Century Irish Literature.” Yearbook of English Studies 34 (2004): 31–45.

    DOI: 10.2307/3509482Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article addresses Thackeray’s own biographical preconceptions about Ireland while placing them within the wider context of the literature of the era. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hampson, Robert. “From Cornhill to Cairo: Thackeray as Travel-Writer.” Yearbook of English Studies 34 (2004): 214–229.

    DOI: 10.2307/3509495Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of narrative style and presentations of “otherness” in Thackeray’s two longer examples of travel writing. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • MacCarthy, B. G. “Thackeray in Ireland.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 40.157 (1951): 55–68.

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    An examination of Thackeray’s presentation of Irish culture and identity in his Irish Sketch Book, demonstrating the presence of the writer’s personal bias as well as deep-seated prejudices of the period. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Prawer, Siegbert S. Israel at Vanity Fair: Jews and Judaism in the Writings of W. M. Thackeray. New York: Brill, 1992.

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    The first serious look at what seems to be Thackeray’s overtly anti-Semitic tendencies. Prawer does not hesitate to discuss Thackeray’s often-hostile representations of “otherness” at length but does attempt to defend Thackeray from accusations of racism to an extent.

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  • Thomas, Deborah A. Thackeray and Slavery. Athens, GA: Ohio University Press, 1993.

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    An examination of Thackeray’s handling of slavery in his novels. Thomas makes a distinction between literal and more figurative representations of racial tension in the novels.

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LAST MODIFIED: 04/24/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199799558-0078

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