Sunday, 21 January 2018

THE HISTORY OF PENDENNIS by William Makepeace Thackeray

This book is a mix of cheerful meandering and remarkable bleakness.  It is, apparently, more or less a telling of the author’s own life, and despite it being a story of mostly success and getting the girl, it made me feel rather sorry for him.  It’s remarkable how much of the book is about disillusionment, about loss, things not being what you thought they were, and success being mostly a matter of luck.  Here’s the last paragraph:
If the best men do not draw the great prizes in life, we know it has been so settled by the Ordainer of the lottery. We own, and see daily, how the false and worthless live and prosper, while the good are called away, and the dear and young perish untimely, — we perceive in every man's life the maimed happiness, the frequent falling, the bootless endeavour, the struggle of Right and Wrong, in which the strong often succumb and the swift fail: we see flowers of good blooming in foul places, as, in the most lofty and splendid fortunes, flaws of vice and meanness, and stains of evil; and, knowing how mean the best of us is, let us give a hand of charity to Arthur Pendennis, with all his faults and shortcomings, who does not claim to be a hero, but only a man and a brother.
I hope that’s not how I would ever end my memoirs. 

It’s been a while since I’ve adventured a really large Victorian, and it was cosy to be back in their verbose but orderly world.   I was having the full Alan Bennett experience
The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours
But it kept being disrupted when Thackeray insisted on letting me know he was not holding my hand.  He would occasionally make it clear he was writing to a male reader. Apparently ‘we’ must find ways to deal with women, and ‘we’ don’t know what women think, and so forth and so on.  I guess Thackeray’s been dead two hundred years, so it makes no odds now, but I’m sorry he didn’t think I was among the ‘we’.
I also had to laugh at how heavily he emphasized the lesson learnt by young Pendennis, which was – don’t be overconfident – after he made some bad choices at univesity.  He made it sound like that was a general lesson it would do us all good to absorb.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not typically a female problem.

This was apparently written right after VANITY FAIR, and it is not a book that comes within a country mile of that one; but I enjoyed it.  Not quite managing to match up to your own masterpiece is a problem we all should be so lucky as to have.  

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