Northern Illinois University Press

Thackeray and Women

Micael M. Clarke

"Admirably perceptive ... refreshing in the astuteness of its readings."—George Eliot–G. H. Lewes Studies

"Clarke's unique study offers the first in-depth analysis of Thackeray's treatment of birth, madness, and motherhood among Victorian women."—Choice

"More than any of her predecessors, Clarke illuminates the complexity of Thackeray's views toward women, reflecting his life experience as well as influences from his literary and cultural environment."—Robert A. Colby, Queens College, City University of New York

Thackeray's writings, from the early satires and parodies through the mature historical and realistic fictions, critique the position of women in Western culture. As women writers such as Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot recognized, Thackeray arrived at a remarkably liberal understanding of "the Woman Question." His life experences—including his wife's madness, his love for Jane Brookfield, his friendship with Caroline Norton, and the necessity of rearing and educating his two daughters—gave Thackeray a perspective on women's lives and issues that was rare in Victorian men of letters.

In this first study to address women in Thackeray's fiction, Clarke draws on the writer's biography as well as his novels, tales, and nonfictional writings to place him in the context of the women's movement. Approaching her analysis from a feminist-sociological perspective, Clarke connects Thackeray's novels to historical developments in nineteenth-century feminism and identifies an evolution in Thackeray's fictional treatment of women. Contrary to traditional representations of the writer as conventional and even hostile to "the Cause," the portrait of Thackeray that emerges is of a man both of his age and far ahead of it.

Clarke explores the relationship of Thackeray's depiction of women to the prevalent discourse on gender that energized nineteenth-century literature. She synthesizes recent Thackeray studies and examines writers and works Thackeray knew—writers including Judith Drake and Sidney Owenson and works including An Essay in Defense of the Female Sex and Woman and Her Master. The life and works of Caroline Norton serve as a particularly important influence and thread throughout Thackeray's writing.

(1995) 249 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-197-1
cloth $33.00

Table of Contents

1 The Formative Years
2 Early Works: A Foundation in Parody
3 Vanity Fair: Backgrounds
4 Vanity Fair: Dynamics of the Text
5 Henry Esmond and Eighteenth-Century Feminism
6 The Emergence of the Thackerayan Heroine
7 Childbirth, Madness, and Motherhood: Echoes of Ancient Matriarchy

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-197-1
cloth $33.00