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The Virginians

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Virginians
The Virginians Thackeray.jpg
First edition title page
AuthorWilliam Makepeace Thackeray
IllustratorWilliam Makepeace Thackeray
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherBradbury and Evans
Publication date
Media typePrint (Unbound)
Pages758 pp
Preceded byThe Newcomes 
Followed byLovel the Widower 

The Virginians: A Tale of the Last Century (185759) is a historical novel by William Makepeace Thackeray which forms a sequel to his Henry Esmond and is also loosely linked to Pendennis.

Plot summary

The novel tells the story of Henry Esmond's twin grandsons, Virginia-born George and Henry Warrington. Henry's romantic entanglement with an older woman lead to his volunteering in the British army and fighting under the command of General Wolfe at the 1759 capture of Quebec. On the outbreak of the American War of Independence he takes the revolutionary side. George, who also becomes a British officer, eventually resigns his commission rather than continuing in arms against his brother.

Critical reception

Critical reception of the book was on the whole favourable, and the novel has continued to be considered one of the standard works of 19th century fiction, though many critics have held that the novel's plotting was not of the tightest.[1] Anthony Trollope's opinion was typical:

There is not a page of it vacant or dull. But he who takes it up to read as a whole, will find that it is the work of a desultory writer, to whom it is not infrequently difficult to remember the incidents of his own narrative.[2]

Later critics have been less kind. An apocryphal story claims that Thackeray once confessed to Douglas William Jerrold that The Virginians was "the worst novel he ever wrote," while Jerrold replied, "No. It's the worst novel anyone ever wrote." In fact, Jerrold died before the first volume of The Virginians was published. J. A. Sutherland agreed to a degree, calling it Thackeray's worst major novel.[3] John Halperin called it "the worst book ever produced by a great novelist."[4] Jack P. Rawlins wrote that "The Virginians is a bad book — dissatisfying in the reading, acknowledged as dull and dried-up by Thackeray."[5]

Publication history

The Virginians was issued by Thackeray's publishers, Bradbury and Evans, in 24 monthly parts, the first one appearing on November 1, 1857. It was illustrated by the author himself. The print-run of 20,000 for the first number proved to be too optimistic, and was progressively reduced to 13,000 for the last seven. Thackeray was originally to have been paid £300 per number, but the disappointing sales resulted in this being reduced to £250.[6]

The Virginians was first published in book form in 1858-59 by Bradbury and Evans in two volumes, and almost simultaneously by the Leipzig firm of Bernhard Tauchnitz in four. Notable later reprints include its appearance as volume 15 of The Oxford Thackeray in 1908 with an introduction by George Saintsbury, and the 1911 Everyman's Library edition in two volumes.


  1. ^ Tillotson, Geoffrey; Hawes, Donald, eds. (1968). Thackeray: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 292, 303.
  2. ^ Anthony Trollope (1901). Thackeray. New York: Harper. p. 135.
  3. ^ Sutherland, J. A. (13 January 2014). Thackeray at Work. A&C Black. ISBN 9781472506832 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Halperin, John (12 September 1988). Studies in Fiction and History from Austen to Le Carre. Springer. ISBN 9781349193325 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Rawlins, Jack P. (27 November 2018). Thackeray's Novels: A Fiction That Is True. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520304215 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Peter L. Shillingsburg Pegasus in Harness: Victorian Publishing and W.M. Thackeray (University Press of Virginia, 1992) pp. 76–7.

External links

Full-text online editions

This page was last edited on 15 April 2022, at 07:45
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