The Pygmalion Motif in The Newcomes

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster


With an indirect kind of narcissism, the mind falling in love with its own creation, Pygmalion produces a statue, the figment of his imagination, worships it, and seeks to bring it to life. This kind of activity, including the worship of statues, is a recurrent pattern in Thackeray’s The Newcomes. Thackeray is peculiarly interested in the role fictions play in the lives of his characters. Some, like Pygmalion, fall in love with visions they have summoned forth from their own imaginations and try to bring these ideal patterns to life by imposing them on the raw material of other people’s lives. Others fashion their own lives according to stylised patterns. Ethel Newcome, for example, at one stage describes herself and other young ladies fashioned for the marriage market as works of art like paintings in a gallery, and the personality she presents to others is made up of various highly artificial projections. Clive New-come, as a painter, perceives Ethel primarily in terms of statuary and paintings, falling in love with his own imagination of her. The world Thackeray describes is one of perpetual tension between the ordering imagination and the resisting raw material of life.


Marriage Market Fairy Tale Young Lady Walk Away Artificial Projection 
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  1. 6.
    Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (London, 1965) p. 101.Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying”, in Richard Ellmann (ed.),The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, (New York, 1968) p. 388.Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. Anthony Bower, ( New York, 1956 ) p. 262.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Juliet and Rowland McMaster 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster

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