“An Honourable Emulation of the Author of The Newcomes”: James and Thackeray

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster


But for a few recent works, the modern assessment of Thackeray could be summed up in Thackeray’s own rueful anecdote of the St Louis hotel waiter whom he heard exclaim to his comrade: “‘Do you know who that is?’ ‘No,’ was the answer. ‘That,’ said the first ‘is the celebrated Thacker!’ ‘What’s he done?’ ‘D—d if I know!’ ”1 What everybody does know, because it is repeated so often, is James’s query about The Newcomes, along with The Three Musketeers and War and Peace: “but what do such large loose baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary, artistically mean?”2 Less current is James’s wonderful recollection in Notes of a Son and Brother of the great Victorian serial novels in general and The Newcomes in particular:

“These various, let alone numerous, deeper-toned strokes of the great Victorian clock were so many steps in the march of our age…. I witnessed, for that matter, with all my senses, young as I was, the never-to-be-equalled degree of difference made, for what may really be called the world-consciousness happily exposed to it, by the prolonged ‘coming out’ of The Newcomes, yellow number by number, and could take the general civilised participation in the process for a sort of basking in the light of distinction.’3


Marriage Market Fairy Tale Young Lady Special Familiarity Classic Edition 
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  1. 1.
    Gordon N. Ray, Thackeray: The Age of Wisdom, 1847–1863 (New York, 1958) pp. 262–3.Google Scholar
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    Preface to The Tragic Muse, in Henry James, The Art of the Novel (New York, 1934) p. 84.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Henry James, Notes of a Son and Brother (London, 1914) p. 21.Google Scholar
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    Henry James, “Anthony Trollope”, Partial Portraits (London, 1888) p. 118.Google Scholar
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    Henry James, The Sacred Fount (New York, 1953) p. 214.Google Scholar
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    Edmund Wilson, “Dickens: The Two Scrooges”, The Wound and the Bow (New York, 1947) pp. 1–3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Juliet and Rowland McMaster 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster

There are no affiliations available

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