Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Reading The Virginians Assignment: The Virginians

The Virginians by William Makepeace Thackeray is the first book I've finished on my list of fifty classics.

The Virginians is the sequel to Henry Esmond, an earlier Thackeray novel, although I did not know that before I started reading.  It's set in the 1700's and is about the Warrington brothers, twins from Virginia, although much of the story takes place in England.

This novel is interesting because it's Thackeray's attempt to write a novel about the 18th century, in the style of the 18th century.  The first half of the novel is a comic, rollicking adventure, like a less sexy Tom Jones.  Nineteen year old Henry Warrington arrives in England to visit his aristocratic Esmond relatives there and quickly falls victim to their cunning and is tricked into proposing marriage to his cousin Maria, a forty-three year old drinking, gambling, spinster with a past who somehow convinces the naive Henry that she is twenty-seven.  The novel is populated with real historic characters including George Washington and Samuel Johnson. A narrator makes sly observations about the contrast in moral standards between the 18th century and the Victorian age.

So pass the first two thirds of the novel, after which, inexplicably, the voice changes to the first person and we get the rest of the story from "The Warrington MS" a journal by George Warrington, the other twin written as an old man looking back on the past.  I'm not sure what Thackeray was trying to do here.  Did he purposely distance the reader from the story and change the style to a more Victorian one to futher illustrate the contrast between the two eras?  This is the man who wrote Vanity Fair, so I'm sure he knew what he was doing, but this last section of the novel is not as much fun as the first part. 

Despite my disappointment with the last third of the novel, I recommend it.  It didn't quite make me laugh out loud, but it is funny in parts.  This isn't Thackeray's masterpiece, but it contains examples of his masterful writing.  It's also charmingly illustrated.


  1. I actually have an old copy of this book on my shelf--spoils from my grandmother. Now I may read it!

  2. I read this long ago and somehow it left no impression. I did not even remember reading it until I read your post. Funny how that can happen.

  3. I think I read this in school, but i can remember nothing of the characters or plot.