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The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.


The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.


Thackeray valued The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. more than any of his other novels. When "Esmond" appeared in 1852, critics of the time acclaimed it as the best historical novel ever written.

It established him as Charles Dickens's closest rival in popularity.

Set in the reign of Queen Anne, the story follows the troubled progress of a gentleman and an officer in Marlborough's army, as he painfully wrestles with an emotional allegiance to the old Tory-Catholic England until he comes to terms with the Whiggish-Protestant future.

The story, narrated by Esmond, begins in 1691 when Henry is 12. Orphaned in the England of the later Stuarts, Henry is raised by his aristocratic, Jacobite relatives Lord and Lady Castlewood.

Raised to believe himself a nobleman's love child, he eventually discovers he is a true and legitimate heir.

As a young man he falls in love with both Lady Castlewood and Beatrix, her beautiful, headstrong daughter, and is inspired to join the ultimately unsuccessful campaign to reinstate James Stuart to the throne.

Beatrix comes to dominate the book.

She is seen first as a child but gradually develops great beauty combined with a devastating power that proves fatal to the men she loves.

One of Thackeray’s great creations, she is a heroine of a new type: emotionally complex and compelling but not particularly virtuous.

Esmond, sensitive and brave, falls in love with her but is ultimately disillusioned. (This change also entails a very uncomfortable switch in his affections, to Lady Castlewood who, in his maturity, he comes to marry. )

WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY (1811-1863) was an 19th century English novelist famous for his brilliant satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a sardonic portrait of English society, and Barry Lyndon, a novel about a rascal’s rise and fall. Today he is esteemed by many as second only to Charles Dickens in his mastery of the modern novel.


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