Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(9) Currents and Countercurrents in the Period of Critical Realism.

(W. M. Thackeray, A. Trollope, and L. Carroll).


T h e  V i c t o r i a n  P e r i o d  (1830 - 1901)

[See "Background for Topics 6-11..."]

W i l l i a m  M a k e p e a c e  T h a c k e r a y  ( 1 8 1 1 – 6 3 )

L i f e :

- a lifelong friendship with Thomas Babbington Macaulay (1800 – 59, [= advocate of a gradual political evolution, his History of England = the history of En. as ‘the history of progress’, reassured the liberal Victorian En., and by extension, Scot. and Ir.]):

(a) admired each other’s books

(b) T. consid. continuing M.’s History of England (1848 – 61) x but: did not fulfil the intention

W o r k :

S h o r t  F o r m s :

= an essayist, a lecturer, and an intensely amusing comic journalist writing under various pseudonyms, incl. ‘Charles James Yellowplush, a footman’ & oth.

Punch’s Prize Novelists:

= a series of parodies of leading writers of the day, incl. Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 81, a statesman, PM, and novelist) & oth.

< publ. in the Punch (1841 – 1992, 1996 – 2002, a weekly magazine of humour and satire)

- incl. also satire against the modern ‘Newgate School’ of criminal lit.

Book of Snobs: “By One of Themselves” (1847):

= orig. as The Snob Papers = a series of articles for the Punch

- satirises the upper- / middle-class society

x but: acknowledges the familiar addiction to the vices it observes, even in the narrator himself

The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century (1851):

= a series of lectures

< shares both Macaulayan Whiggism and his lit. tastes

F i c t i o n :

Catherine (1839 – 40):

= a short anti-heroic tale

The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844; revised as The Memories of Barry Lyndon, 1852):

= a more ambitious novel

- the narrator and protagonist = an Ir. adventurer

- obliged to join the army x but: deserts and estbl. himself as a professional gambler in the courts and spas of Eur.

- his upward mobility marked by the uneasy shifts in his own name: the final form derives from his unhappy marriage to a wealthy aristocratic widow

- a congenital liar: his narrative = an exercise in unreliability

- occasionally commented on by an ed. => adds an extra layer to the fictional games

Vanity Fair: “Novel without a Hero” (1847 – 48):

- presents things ‘more melancholy than mirthful’, and as dark as funny

- the narrator = the ‘Manager of the Performance’ of the Preface, the showman manipulating the puppets, and the preacher drawing lessons from their behaviour

- sets himself up as a ‘Satirical-Moralist’ = does not only amuse x but: teaches

- denies heroism to its characters, and undercuts both military / civil greatness

- questions all pretensions to vice and virtue: contrasts the unscrupulous ambitions of Becky Sharp x the asinine complacency of Amelia Sedley x the ‘honesty’ of William Dobbin

- concl.: William wins his beloved Amelia x but: the narrator squashes him and asks rhetorically and knowingly: ‘Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?’

=> the masterpiece of his narrative disconcertion

The History of Pendennis (1848 – 50):

= subtitled ‘his fortunes and misfortunes, his friends and his greatest enemy’

- conc.: the development of the eponymous character and protagonist, Arthur P., a young gentleman

- torn btw domestic virtue x the pleasures of the world, a maternal brunette x a seductive blond

- his greatest enemy = himself and his sexual awaking, laziness, indulgence, debt, and immaturity

- concl.: succeeds both in love and the literary life

[see also: The Adventures of Philip (1861 – 62)]

The History of Henry Esmond (1852):

- set in the reign of Queen Anne (1665 – 1714, reign 1702 – 14)

(a) pays tribute to the fiction of the 18th c.

(b) provides the 19th c. insight into the historical process

(c) => intermixes the private x the public

- the 1st person narrator and protagonist: a moody, melancholic, self-doubting, and fitfully romantic aristocrat = allows for the expression of confused motives

- concl.: a passive withdrawal <=> Macaulayan Whiggish confidence

[see also: The Virginians (1857 – 59)]

The Newcomes (1853 – 55):

= his most obviously ‘Victorian’ novel

- conc.: an extended genteel family

- the upright Colonel Newcome, an Ind. Army officer = the only to remain the ‘most respectable’ of the subtitle and to maintain the virtues of true ‘gentlemanliness’

The Virginians (1857 – 59):

= a sequel to The History of Henry Esmond

- conc.: the genteel Esmond family in their Virginian retreat

- on the dilemmas posed by political divisions within a family in the period of the Am. Rev.

The Adventures of Philip (1861 – 62):

< loosely interconnected with The History of Pendennis, as if a part of an expanding loose family chronicle

- purports to be narrated by Arthur Pendennis


A n t h o n y  T r o l l o p e  ( 1 8 1 5 – 8 2 )

L i f e :

< the most determined and consistent admirer of W. M. Thackeray

< hater of a noisily committed lit.: dismissed C. Dickens as ‘Mr Popular Sentiment’

- fascinated by party politics as observer of human tribalism, ambition, and delight in power

- unsuccessfully tried to enter Parliament

- described himself as a Conservative-Liberal <=> aspired to neutrality also as a writer

W o r k :

= the most informed and observant political novelist in E

- conc.: the politics of parliamentary and ecclesiastical manoeuvres and scandals, country-house shuffles and reshuffles, and personalities in conflict and in mutual complement

- author of nearly 50 novels, and of travel-books, biographies, essays, and critical works

La Vendée (1850):

= his earliest work, an unsuccessful experiment with historical fiction

< his experience of and affection for the modern Ir.

Autobiography (1875 – 76):

- often misleading

- puts an exaggerated stress on his supposedly miserable childhood due to bad schooling and parental neglect

- his father: a barrister and unsuccessful farmer = a model failure to him

- his mother Frances T. (1780 – 1863): a professional writer supporting the family [author of the best-seller Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832) and a subsequent stream of novels and travel-books, incl. the socially conscious Manchester novel The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy (1840)]:

(a) offended by her lit. career > caricatured her as a genteel scribbler in The Way We Live Now (1874 – 75)

(b) x but: impressed by her efficiency > inspired his own self-discipline and an addiction to routine

The Prime Minister (1875 – 76):

- the protagonist = a thin-skinned x but: upright man with no greater ambition than only to introd. a decimal currency

(a) => power both elusive and hollow

(b) => heroes and ideals constantly to be challenged

< W. M. Thackeray

> himself a great political novelist because he distrusts both politics and politicians

T h e  ‘ B a r c h e s t e r ’  S e r i e s :

= a sequence of novels set in a fictional E cathedral town and its surrounding countryside

The Warden (1855):

- conc.: a local scandal broadens into a national issue, and an upright man becomes a victim of circumstances beyond his control

Barchester Towers (1857):

= one of his most successful comic observations of the political process at work = a series of petty ploys and manoeuvres, and a clash of personalities

- conc.: a threat to the complacent security by the advent of a new Bishop and his Evangelical wife

The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867):

= a conscious concl.

- suggests the effects of ageing, death, and an ill-founded suspicion on an establ. community

Doctor Thorne (1858), Framley Parsonage (1861), and The Small House at Allington (1862 – 46):

- conc.: less clerical politics x more secular match-making and failures in love

T h e  ‘ P a l l i s e r ’  S e r i e s :

= a sequence of novels conc. with the family connections of the Duke of Omnium

- of a more metropolitan consciousness and cosmopolitan culture

Can Your Forgive Her? (1864 – 65), and The Eustace Diamonds (1871 – 73):

- political interests only peripheral

- parliamentary conc. relieved by ‘love and intrigue, social incidents, with perhaps a dash of sport, for the sake of my readers’ (A. Trollope)

Phineas Finn (1867 – 69) and Phineas Redux (1873 – 74):

- conc.: the political career of an Ir. MP, outsider to the Br. Establishment

- the protagonist = the object of F flirtation and the victim of M jealousy and suspicion

Also wrote: The Way We Live Now (1874 – 75):

- fits in no ‘series’

- takes a broad critical view of society and its corruption = a nation caught up in deceit, decadence, and financial speculation

=> his most disconcerting work and the most distinctive tribute to the Thackerayan precedent


L e w i s  C a r r o l l  ( 1 8 3 2 – 9 8 )

L i f e :

= b. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, adopted the pen name Lewis Carroll

- his pen name plays on his real name: ‘Lewis’ = the anglicised form of Ludovicus, Lat. for Lutwidge, and ‘Carroll’ = the anglicised form of Carolus, Lat. for Charles

- searched for a vocation amid the negative ‘Babel of voices’ of the mid-Victorian En., and accepted the dull stability of life as a mathematics don at Christ Church, Oxford, and a deacon in the Church of En.

- also one of the very best Victorian photographers, esp. famous for his pictures of F child nudes (now suspected of paedophilia) x but: also a well-known gentlemen-photographer, author of pictures of people, animals, landscapes, works of art, etc.

W o r k :

- displays a facility at word play, logic, and fantasy

x but: all embedded deeply in the modern human culture

P r o f e s s i o n a l  W r i t i n g s :

A Syllabus of Plain Algebraical Geometry (1860)

Condensation of Determinants (1866)

Euclid and his Modern Rivals (1879)

C h i l d r e n  F i c t i o n :

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1862 +):

= the provisional title of the story he began telling to the children of Dean Henry Liddell (1811 – 98), incl. Alice Pleasance L. (1852 – 1934), in a rowing boat travelling on the Thames for a picnic outing

- a series of fantastic adventures of the child protagonist Alice after she fell through a rabbit-hole x but: the author denied his ‘little heroine’ was based on any real child

- Alice L. asked him to write the story down for her and 2 y. later she was presented with the manuscript

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865):

= the revised and renamed manuscript of the former

- managed to transcend the dry reserve demanded by his clerical and educational position: the recapture of childhood seemed to offer him release from his sense of himself as a to some degree unfulfilled man

- an intelligent and whimsical children’s book: takes a new view of children as distinct from adults x rather than as adults-in-waiting, and re-consid. the adult assumptions through the children’s eyes

- finds a pleasure in exploring nonsense = an alternative way of viewing things (like looking-glasses)

- finds a joy in disjunction, distortion, and displacement = the mirror images of unity, shapeliness, and stability

- seemingly untroubled by the scientific and relig. controversies of his time: allows for a space to remain in the gloomy grown-up world where the playful and the joyfully absurd can triumph x but: a wistful sadness

- the protagonist = a child insistent on the rightness of the values of middle-class society and of the elementary education

- experiences the landscapes overturning ordinary perception x but: survives the nightmares because she is only partly aware of their being nightmares, her earnest assurance and self-confidence give her a mental clarity to counter the games confronting her

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872):

= a sequel of the former

- in a darker mood

x but: => A. always wakes from her dreams / crosses back through the looking glass into what child readers are led to assume is an emotionally, physically, and intellectually secure world

P o e t r y :

- plays rhythmically with the paradoxes and whimsically with the philos. propositions that fascinated him in his professional life

- evident in his parodies of Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748, the 1st prolific and pop. E hymn writer = the ‘Father of English Hymnody’), R. Southey, and W. Wordsworth

> “Jabberwocky”, a nonsense poem jesting at OE verse

> “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, a poem stretching the sense

The Hunting of the Snark (1876):

= a fantastic comic ‘nonsense’ poem stretching the logic

- conc.: the adventures of a bizarre crew of variously inadequate beings, and one beaver, setting off to find the eponymous creature


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Jelínková, Ema. Semináře: Britská literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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