I’m currently reading THE NEWCOMES by Thackeray in preparation for the seminar I’m going to teach this summer. I’ve found that reading and writing Regency-set historicals is a great help when it comes to reading Thackeray: THE NEWCOMES start in the 1820s and there are four-in-hand races, gentlemen’s clubs with bay windows, boxing, and other such lovely things. Indeed, I felt at home straight away! *g*
Thackeray’s writing, his subtle wit and irony, are simply delicious. Let me give you an example:
Julia says, that she had but that moment read in the Brighton papers the arrival of the Earl of Kew and the Honourable J. Belsize at the Albion.
“I am sure they are here for some mischief,” cries the old lady [i.e. Lady Kew, Kew’s grandmother], delighted. “Whenever George and John Belsize are together, I know there is some wickedness planning. What do you know, Doctor? I see by your face you know something. Do tell it me, that I may write it to his odious psalm-singing mother.”
Doctor H.’s face does indeed wear a knowing look. He simpers and says, “I did see Lord Kew driving this morning, first with the Honourable Mr. Belsize, and afterwards”–here he glances towards Lady Julia, as if to say, “Before an unmarried lady, I do not like to tell your ladyship with whom I saw Lord Kew driving, after he had left the Honourable Mr. Belsize, who went to play a match with Captain Huxtable at tennis.”
“Are you afraid to speak before Julia?” cries the elder lady. “Why, bless my soul, she is forty years old, and has heard everything that can beheard. Tell me about Kew this instant, Doctor H.”
The Doctor blandly acknowledges that Lord Kew had been driving Madame Pozzoprofondo [= “deep well”], the famous contralto of the Italian Opera, in his phaeton, for two hours, in the face of all Brighton.
“Yes, Doctor,” interposes Lady Julia, blushing; “but Signor Pozzoprofondo was in the carriage too–a-a-sitting behind with the groom. He was indeed, mamma.”
“Julia, vous n’etes qu’une panache,” says Lady Kew, shrugging her shoulders, and looking at her daughter from under her bushy black eyebrows. Her ladyship, a sister of the late lamented Marquis of Steyne, possessed no small share of the wit and intelligence, and a considerable resemblance to the features, of that distinguished nobleman.
Lady Kew bids her daughter take a pen and write:–“Monsieur le Mauvais Sujet,–Gentlemen who wish to take the sea air in private, or to avoid their relations, had best go to other places than Brighton, where their names are printed in the newspapers. If you are not drowned in a pozzo–“
“Mamma!” interposes the secretary.
“–in a pozzo-profondo, you will please come to dine with two old women, at half-past seven. You may bring Mr. Belsize, and must tell us a hundred stories.–Yours,
etc., L. Kew.”
Julia wrote all the letter as her mother dictated it, save only one sentence, and the note was sealed and despatched to my Lord Kew, who came to dinner with Jack Belsize. Jack Belsize liked to dine with Lady Kew. He said, “she was an old dear, and the wickedest old woman in all England;” and he liked to dine with Lady Julia, who was “a poor suffering dear, and the best woman in all England.” Jack Belsize liked every one, and every one liked him.
And as I’ve enjoyed the TV adaptation of CRANFORD so much and as everybody keeps telling me how lovely NORTH & SOUTH is (I’ve only watched the first episode so far — but my, John Thornton is delicious indeed. And that voice! Yum!), I’ve decided to teach a seminar on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels next winter. 🙂