Literary Allusion in The Newcomes

  • R. D. McMaster


The opening pages of the book draw attention to its intense referentiality. It starts in the manner of Aesop: ‘Crow, who had flown away with a cheese from a dairy window...’ (p. 1). But this fable is a compound of characters and motifs from seven of Aesop’s fables (the ones pictured in the novel’s monthly cover design) and allusions to Perrault’s Red Riding Hood (in French and English, and with the familiar dialogue, ‘What Large Eyes you have got!’ transferred to a lamb and wolf), La Fontaine’s Fables, Molière’s Tartuffe, Plato’s division of bipeds into feathered and featherless, Solomon as judge, and finally Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. As he had done in the first chapter of Vanity Fair, where Jones, reading the novel in his club, declares it ‘excessively foolish, trivial, twaddling, and ultra-sentimental’ (p. 8), so here Thackeray subverts the whole fictive enterprise of this thousand page novel by having ‘the critic’ exclaim ‘What a farrago of old fables is this!’, detect plagiarism in the narrative, and condemn not only the borrowing of conventional constructions but the low tone of the borrowings: ‘scarce one of these characters he represents but is a villain’ (p. 4). Implicitly the world of emblem and high moral generality is at war with the low mimetic.


Marriage Market Fairy Tale White Horse Nursery Rhyme Latin Grammar 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Jack P. Rawlins, Thackeray’s Novels: A Fiction that is True (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See, for example, Ziva Ben-Porat, ‘The Poetics of Literary Allusion’, PTL: A Journal for Descriptive Poetics and Theory of Literature, I (1976), no. 9. p. 117.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Thomas Carlyle, ‘Characteristics’, in Scottish and Other Miscellanies, Everyman edition (London: Dent, 1915) pp. 187.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Kenneth Ballhatchet, Race, Sex and Class under the Raj: Imperial Attitudes and Policies and their Critics, 1793–1905 (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1980) pp.109–10.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Gordon N. Ray, Thackeray: The Uses of Adversity (New York. McGraw-Hill, 1955) p. 98.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    James Hannay, A Brief Memoir of the Late Mr. Thackeray (London: Simpkin, Marshal and Co., 1864). ‘Quantum distet ab Inacho’ is from Horace, Odes, III, 19, 1 on impatience with pedantic accounts of past history when the poet is inclined to present dissipation. And ‘dignus vindice NODUS’ is from Horace’s Arts Poetica, line 191, where Horace says of drama, ‘Don’t have a god intervene unless there is a knot or crisis (nodus) worthy of such an unraveller’ — loosely then, a noose worthy of the person involved.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Gordon N. Ray, Thackeray: The Age of Wisdom (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958) pp. 92–4.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    See John Pemble, The Mediterranean Passion (London: Oxford University Press, 1987) pp. 62–5.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Elizabeth Nitchie, ‘Horace and Thackeray’, Classical Journal, XIII (March 1918) pp. 393–119.Google Scholar
  10. 24.
    Richard Jenkyns, The Victorians and Ancient Greece (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; and Oxford: Blackwell, 1980).Google Scholar
  11. 27.
    G. K. Chesterton, Introduction to The Book of Snobs (London: Blackie, 1911) p. ix. Juliet McMaster discusses Thackeray’s stance as moralist narrator sensitively in Thackeray: The Major Novels (Toronto University Press, 1971), see especially pp. 12–22.Google Scholar
  12. 28.
    John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Worlds Classics (London: Oxford University Press, 1903; repr. 1949) p. 87.Google Scholar
  13. 30.
    Juliet McMaster, Thackeray: The Major Novels (University of Toronto Press, 1971) p. 20. See also Jack P. Rawlins, Thackeray’s Novels: A Fiction that is True (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974) pp. 12 ff.Google Scholar
  14. 31.
    K. C. Phillipps, The Language of Thackeray (London: André Deutsch, 1978) p. 27.Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    Robert A. Colby, Thackeray’s Canvass of Humanity: An Author and his Public (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979) p. 365.Google Scholar
  16. 38.
    Michael Riffaterre, ‘L’Intertexte Inconnu’, Littérature, 41 (Feb. 1981) p. 4.Google Scholar
  17. 39.
    Peter Dembowski says, for example, ‘l’intertextualité s’addresse, non pas à la découverte de l’origine de ces pré-texts ou précontextes, mais plutôt à leur rôle dans le texte’. ‘Intertextualité et Critique des Textes’, Littérature, 41 (Feb. 1981) p. 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 40.
    Robert A. Colby, Thackeray’s Canvass of Humanity (Columbus: Ohio State University Press. 1979) p. 51.Google Scholar
  19. 43.
    Judith Wilt, ‘Steamboat Surfacing: Scott and the English Novelists’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 4 (1981) pp. 459–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 49.
    See S. M. Ellis, The Solitary Horseman: The Life and Adventures of G.P.R. James (Kensington: Cayme Press, 1927) p. 258, and Juliet McMaster, ‘Novels by Eminent Hands: Sincerest Flattery from the author of Vanity Fair’, Dickens Studies Annual, 18 (1989).Google Scholar
  21. 51.
    Robert Colby, Thackeray’s Canvass of Humanity: An Author and his Public (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988) p. 88.Google Scholar
  22. 52.
    Robert Colby, Thackeray’s Canvass of Humanity (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979); John Carey, Thackeray: Prodigal Genius (London: Faber and Faber, 1977); and Joe K. Law, ‘Thackeray and the Uses of Opera’, Review of English Studies, 39 (Nov. 1988), pp. 502–12.Google Scholar
  23. 61.
    W. P. Frith, RA, My Autobiography and Reminiscences, 2 vols (London: Bentley, 1887) pp.106–8.Google Scholar
  24. 63.
    See Geoffrey Bush and Nicholas Temperley, English Romantic Songs 1800–1860, Musica Britannica, vol. 43 (1979) p. xviii.Google Scholar
  25. 64.
    Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 3 vols. (London: 1851) III, p. 15.Google Scholar
  26. 66.
    Gordon N. Ray, Thackeray: The Uses of Adversity (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955) p. 89.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© R.D. McMaster 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. D. McMaster
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AlbertaCanada

Personalised recommendations