Read The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William Makepeace Thackeray Online

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Orphaned in the England of the later Stuarts, Henry Esmonde is raised by his aristocratic, Jacobite relatives the Castlewoods. 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. Thackeray valued Henry Esmonde more thaOrphaned in the England of the later Stuarts, Henry Esmonde is raised by his aristocratic, Jacobite relatives the Castlewoods. 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. Thackeray valued Henry Esmonde more than any of his other novels and it displays many of his own memories and emotions....

Title : The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
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ISBN : 9780192827272
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 528 Pages
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The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. Reviews

  • Marina
    2019-01-20 22:29

    I came to this book having already read and enjoyed both Vanity Fair and The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes & Misfortunes, His Friends & His Greatest Enemy by the same author and was therefore quite confident in my expectations. However, this was quite a different sort of novel, in that it represents an attempt by Thackeray to write a historical novel. We are first introduced to Henry Esmond, when he is but a child, in the final years of the reign of King James II. His own people are active participants in the events that led to King James’s dethronement and exile, and suffer the consequences for their beliefs and actions. But Henry goes on to have a fairly happy adolescence with his new adoptive family until circumstances thrust him into adulthood rather violently and abruptly.From that point foreword the political events and intrigues of the time, even England’s foreign adventures, are brought to the forefront and become entwined with Henry’s personal history. And it is where I, as a reader, begin to have issues with the novel. It is Thackeray’s assumption, that his reader is familiar with this period of England’s history, and therefore provides no background information regarding either the events at home or the military campaigns on the continent. A lot of paper is spent describing the military action in detail, real historical figures make their appearance and then soon disappear, and it wasn’t long before I was left wondering whether I should invest in a good history book since Wikipedia was proving inadequate - for some aspects of the narration, at least. Thackeray didn’t help matters by referring to certain historical personages, who appear in the story, by different monikers at different times. He added further to the confusion with his choice of narrator. He could have chosen a third person omniscient narrator, but no, why make things simple? It’s made apparent quite early that the third person narrator is in fact a much older and wiser version of Henry Esmond, who has no scruples switching from third to first person in order to give us his own opinion and commentary on the events he has just related. Only the older and wiser Esmond holds completely different political views to the young Esmond who is experiencing the events. To be quite honest, I want to trust neither of them. I’d rather read an informed history book on the matter, and form my own opinions.Aside from the broader political events, that I suspect were Thackeray’s main concern in writing the novel, there is also the more narrow personal story, that is not without its issues. I couldn’t see any of the fictional characters, as well rounded. To me they were all caricatures, and some were more successful than others. The most enjoyable one was the vain and silly step mother who worked because she was quite funny. I didn’t mind the one-dimensional beautiful and ambitious cousin who is, in effect, a paler version of Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp. But Henry Esmond? Even Esther Summerson in Bleak House was less of an annoyingly goody-two-shoes character than he was. I’m usually happy to accept ‘good’ characters but at some point even my credulity was stretched to breaking point. There is another pivotal character in the story, and that is Lady Castlewood, who stood in the role of adopted mother to Henry since his twelfth year and to whom I’m completely unable to reconcile myself. She is shown to switch from love to rejection of Henry at two different points in the story, but at no point are we given an explanation that is believable or even acceptable to our modern way of thinking. With regard to the second rejection, a motive is subsequently hinted at, that to me, today can only be regarded as repulsive. Subsequent events in the story though indicate that this might have been less objectionable in Thackeray’s time. On the plus side I enjoyed the sense of time and place evoked especially by those parts of the novel set in England, and was interested in seeing the author’s view of historical figures such as the Pretender or John Donne. I would not recommend this to anyone outside Thackeray completists, or people with a specific interest in that period of English history. At the same time I certainly wouldn’t want to put off anyone who is considering it, because although I was often annoyed, I was never bored.

  • Laura
    2019-01-21 19:42

    Free download available at Project Gutenberg.Opening lines:The actors in the old tragedies, as we read, piped their iambics to a tune, speaking from under a mask, and wearing stilts and a great head-dress. 'Twas thought the dignity of the Tragic Muse required these appurtenances, and that she was not to move except to a measure and cadence. So Queen Medea slew her children to a slow music: and King Agamemnon perished in a dying fall (to use Mr. Dryden's words): the Chorus standing by in a set attitude, and rhythmically and decorously bewailing the fates of those great crowned persons.Page 117:Ah! no man knows his strength or his weakness, till occasion proves them. If there be some thoughts and actions of his life from the memory of which a man shrinks with shame, sure there are some which he may be proud to own and remember; forgiven injuries, conquered temptations (now and then) and difficulties vanquished by endurance.3* Vanity Fair3* Barry Lyndon3* The Mahogany Tree3* The Rose and the King2,5* The History of Henry EsmondTR The Paris Sketch Book of Mr. M. A. Titmarsh and The Irish Sketch BookTR Christmas Books

  • Chris Gager
    2019-02-05 19:48

    The cover image is not for the one I have, but I couldn't find it. This is a Bantam Classic from 1961. I read the very nice introduction last night.Read the preface last night. It's a letter from Henry's daughter which brings up some intriguing plot points sure to be covered later. The letter is written either during or right after the Am. Rev., while the plot focuses on action 50 or so years earlier.FINALLY back to reading this after weeks of digression. Here we go ...So, I've "switched to this edition" and now Goodreads says I'm reading this for the second time - STUPID! Anyway, I'm enjoying the read but it's slow going for two reasons. 1 - Thackeray is writing in the style of the late 1600's, not in the style of his own time(mid-1800's). In other words, Shakespeare's career occurred only a hundred years before and Jane Austen was still 1oo years into the future. Still, it is getting a bit easier. 2 - The convoluted family history is a challenge to absorb, especially when most of the male ancestors get referred to as "my Lord." But ... I'm soldiering onward through the very eventful life of young Harry(Henry). It's fun to see his relationships develop with people whose future fate we are somewhat aware of from the genealogy chart. This hard bound edition from 1950 doesn't have one but the paperback I started with does.- It's a bit distracting to be reading about relationship(s) knowing a bit about what's going to develop in the future. I have two editions of this book, and one of them shows a family tree that gives stuff away AND it has an introduction that gives even MORE away. That's the paperback version. The one I'm reading is hardbound and contains neither genealogy nor intro.And onward into the very eventful young life of Henry(Harry) Esmond. Right now he's languishing in prison for a year for being a second in a duel. The aristos who participated get of scot=free, but the commoners get prison time. How typical! This particular type of dueling allowed for up to three participants on each side. Curious ...- One of the smaller b&w illustrations in the book is a takeoff-copy on a familiar Dutch theme. Vermeer in particular.- the somewhat sanctimonious blah-blah factor in this book is pretty high as the memoir teller isn't shy about telling us pretty much ALL of his thoughts. It still manages to be most bearable and interesting, however. I guess one of WMT's points is to illustrate the garrulity of Henry. A big secret has been revealed to Henry, but so far he hasn't shared, though I think I already know what it is. What WAS on that burned=-up confession anyhow?- Another quibble - lots of Latin phrases are used. Probably OK considering the readership of the 19th century, but I'm pretty much ignorant in that regard. I can't look 'em up at home either - no computer. Oh well ...A new beginning for Harry commences when he gets out of jail. The big secret has been laid out, though not necessarily confirmed as yet. No matter to Harry. He ups and joins the Army and is off to Spain for whatever. The big world awaits and he is happy again.Rounding toward the home stretch now as the final section will be set in Virginia. Although I doubt that my final rating will be a 3*, I have continued to encounter a bit of a headwind coming from a few ongoing challenges. One is the language, which I've spoken of already. Rather archaic ... Then there's all the political, military and cultural stuff. No doubt that Thackeray's contemporary readers(150 years ago now) had a much easier time of it considering that they were living much closer to the history and culture that WT writes of. A further "problem" seems to the author's insistence to go into endless raptures of praise when talking about the two Castlewood babes, mother and daughter. Sheesh Henry, give it a rest, will ya? We get it - you love BOTH of them! From the family tree that I've seen some of the "outcome drama" is a bit spoiled for me, but I still want to learn how things all came about in that area.Well, I was wrong, and Henry hasn't made it to the colonies yet. More big dramatic doings in England to be got through first. By now Henry has pretty much retired from the Army, or at least he's trying to retire. Wars keep breaking out along with the pretty much continuous political conflict between Whigs and Tories. The whole reading experience has picked up by the author's bringing Beatrix to the fore. She has a couple of great/nasty-funny speeches in which she delineates Henry's character defects as a prospective lover. She'll get hers. Jonathan Swift makes an unpleasant appearance as well. Obviously, WMT was NOT an admirer of the man. Of the writer - yes, for the most part.- The emergence of Beatrix from the background brings thoughts of Becky Sharp.- A bit of diamond drama reminds of Trollope.Finished up with this one by staying up a bit later than normal last night. I remain conflicted about the rating as this seems to be a perfect 3.5* book. Lots of interesting and fun stuff, but also some "issues," which I've mentioned already. Certainly, it's no "Vanity Fair," but then, what is? I learned a lot about The Augustan Age, The Pretender, The War of the Spanish Succession, the Duke of Marlborough( a member of the Churchill family) etc. The weak spots? The central figure was not especially interesting. Parson Harry ... a lot of sanctimony there and repetition thereof. Beatrix comes on strong at the end and one gets the impression that WMT liked her the best, even though she was kind of a "bad" girl. Anyway, tonight I'll go back to my paperback edition and re-read the introduction and probably the preface(in my hardbound) That'll wrap things up. I think that this is the first part of a trio of books so I may go back and read more in time.- The estates in Virginia(employing both slave labor and indentured servants) mentioned in the beginning and the end connect to "A Place Called Freedom" by Ken Follett.- Meanwhile, no 3* for Thackeray = 3.75* = rounded up to 4*.

  • Peter
    2019-02-06 03:33

    I found The History of Henry Esmond to be a very challenging and difficult read. Ultimately, it became a frustrating read, and ended with (apologies to T.S. Eliot) a profound whimper and no bang at all.Perhaps it is because Thackeray's characters lack the presence of Dickens's creations, perhaps it is because Thackeray was unable, in my eyes, to create the intricate and incisive social commentary found in a Trollope novel. Perhaps it was that while one could sense the evolution, and even the fate of the characters as one does with Thomas Hardy, there was only a whimper of climax with Thackeray. In The History of Henry Esmond I found little to intrigue me, less to interest me, and nothing else to say.

  • Margaret
    2019-02-12 22:37

    The History of Henry Esmond was widely considered the best historical novel of its day and often considered the best of Thackeray's novels as well; Trollope, who wrote a biography of his friend Thackeray, calls it his masterpiece. It's set just after the Glorious Revolution, during the reigns of William and Mary and then Queen Anne, and follows the life of Henry Esmond, gentleman and officer of the Duke of Marlborough's army, through his military career and his tangled family life.The novel begins with a preface by Esmond's daughter, before switching over to the third-person narration of Esmond himself, which itself contains footnotes by his daughter. (Word of warning!: if you have the Penguin edition edited by John Sutherland, do not read the end notes to the preface until you've finished the book - they spoiled a couple of important plot points for me. Sutherland did mention that the preface probably should be read after the book, but not until the last note, by which time I was already thoroughly spoiled.) Esmond's voice is kept up beautifully, without breaking into the voice of the omniscient, ironic narrator more familiar to readers of Vanity Fair; my only confusion here was that occasionally Esmond would slip into speaking in the first person rather than the third for a few sentences. However, since I always thought of it as being Esmond slipping rather than Thackeray, I suppose that simply emphasizes how well the voice is sustained.Thackeray interweaves the story of Esmond and his family very cleverly with the history of the time, through Esmond's campaigns with the Duke of Marlborough and the family's intriguing for the Jacobites. The appearances of historical figures are nicely done also, never overwhelming, though Thackeray's negative portrayal of Marlborough did make me feel that in fairness I should also read Churchill's more positive biography of the duke. As Sutherland nicely puts it in his introduction, "Esmond, the fictional character, is kept on the edge of historical events...just as historical characters are kept on the fringe of the novel's crises." It's a difficult balance beam to walk, and Thackeray rarely missteps.I can't say that I enjoyed Henry Esmond as much as Vanity Fair; although I liked Esmond himself, I found several of the minor characters (specifically Rachel Esmond and her daughter Beatrix) less engaging. As an example of Thackeray's craft as a novelist, though, it's very impressive.

  • Carol Storm
    2019-02-10 03:54

    This is a rich, complex, but ultimately unsatisfying novel about a young man of principle making his way in the corrupt and luxurious world of the 1700's English aristocracy. Henry Esmond narrates the story of his own life, and the thing that sinks the novel is that he's always just a little too aware of his own virtue. He shows how venal, corrupt, and selfish all the other characters are, while refusing to admit he's secretly very impressed with his own demure Victorian primness. He's really Thackeray, the moralist with a guilty conscience, pretending to be shocked by the salacious 18th century, but all the time pandering to his own prurient desires. The other characters in this novel all exist merely as foils for Esmond's virtues. His cousin Beatrice, as witty and seductive as Becky Sharp, is never given a fair break. Thackeray's man Esmond, while pretending to sing her praisies, actually hits her with every cliche known to man. Because she's clever, she must be evil. Because she's beautiful, she must be vain, and because she's vain she must be cruel. Because she has ambitions, she must be selfish. Never once does Esmond say anything good about her -- but supposedly he's heart broken when she rejects him time and again. It's more like, he hates her guts and revels in snitching her out behind her back. Esmond is supposed to be like loyal and loving Gatsby, and Trixie is his unattainable Daisy. But he writes about her like he's Nick Carraway sneering at Myrtle Wilson. It's not pretty. Meanwhile, Esmond is debating whether to remain loyal to his family's heritage, and support the claim of exiled prince James Stuart to the English throne, or choose the winning side and support King George I. It would be a good dilemna, but Thackeray cops out by presenting the doomed and royal Stuart prince (who in real life was brave, generous, religious, and fair-minded) as some sort of creepy sexual pervert. Again, the Victorian Thackeray thinks he's being heroic by finding dirtiness in everyone and everything. This book would have been so much better if it had been written by Sir Walter Scott fifty years before. Then Trixie would have been a real damsel, Esmond would have been a noble knight, and James Stuart would have been doomed but noble and good. Thackeray subverts the romance of Sir Walter Scott's historical fictions, but only in the meanest, most cynical way. HENRY ESMOND has less in common with IVANHOE and more in common with LESS THAN ZERO.

  • Leonard Pierce
    2019-01-28 19:54

    You know what? This book isn't all that great. Sorry, William Makepeace Thackeray.

  • Timothy Taylor
    2019-02-03 01:28

    Published a decade before War & Peace, I can imagine that this historical novel could have been a model for Tolstoy's epic (maybe someone knows?). It's not quite as long but, although the battle scenes, focussed around Marlborough's campaigns and the War of the Spanish Succession, are fewer and less well realized, it has the massive advantage over W & P of believable, complex and unforgettable female characters. Structurally, there are flaws and problems: the mixture of real history and invented characters is frequently confusing and there are numerous slips and inconsistencies which make an annotated critical edition absolutely necessary. But the history is really a conventional vehicle for a discussion of social and emotional themes such as the effect of secrecy within families and the damage caused by aggressive macho competition (alcohol, gambling, duelling). The most breathtaking passages deal with the emotional development of children and young people, and how their expectations, emergent self-images, and quests for different kinds of love and acceptance are often brutally altered by thoughtlessness, accident, misapprehension, abreactions to half-grasped situations and so on. Read as a historical novel, the book is fairly impressive, but it is much more importantly a vehicle for meditations on human intergenerational behaviour that bear the stamp of real genius.

  • Charlotte K
    2019-02-07 20:40

    Henry Esmond is a shitty, bitter dude and his ideas about women suck. This book took me 2 months to read and it was mostly a waste of time. Maybe you'll like this book if you really love Jacobite history and repetitive character building and subplots, but it's not for me. I loved Pendennis, but I'm over Thackeray after Henry Esmond for the following reasons: -Women are treated like absolute crap, in ways that are excessive even for this book's time. (& If Beatrix is such a bad person, why does Henry want her for THE ENTIRE BOOK? Beatrix clearly isn't the one with issues here. At least she was always honest about what she was up to. Give her a freaking break.)-The romantic ending of this book is creepy and predictable, and yet somehow Thackeray failed to build up to it enough to make it believable. -The narrator is bearable for the first half of the book but becomes pompous and self righteous by the end. -There's a lot of war and it's boring. -omg Henry either give up your title and stop whining or take it and use it. You can't have it both ways. -HE KEEPS CHASING THE SAME GIRL FOR THE WHOLE BOOK AND DOES NOT DEVELOP AS A CHARACTER IN ANY WAY.

  • Thom Swennes
    2019-01-24 21:41

    This narrative relates the life of the aristocratic-born Henry Esmond. As the 17th Century closes and the 18th dawns, Harry Esmond attends college, goes to jail and serves in the army. William Thackeray describes the demise of James II, reign of William and Mary and Queen Anne. Although he mentions a multitude of historical battles and incidents, pains are taken not to load (or bless) the reader with too much information. Much time and effort are spent in describing the escapades of the Duke of Marlborough. Love springs up in many places and takes many forms. Henry Esmond had the misfortune to fall deeply in love with the wrong woman. William Thackeray doesn’t create the unforgettable characters that flowed from the pen of Dickens but he does manage to write an historical work of fiction that holds the readers interest. This book probably won’t appeal to the masses but certainly to a chosen few.

  • Sherwood Smith
    2019-02-07 22:38

    my modern sense can't help but be squicked by the hero marrying his mother figure, no matter how much Victorian purity and submissiveness she'd attained, but if one sets that aside, it's interesting—especially when Esmond is away from the women. I always find historical novels written by people who are historical from my vantage quite fascinating; Thackeray gets deeply into custom of the late 1600s and early 1700s, making careless reference to habits that are remote to our time, unless one has read a great deal, and his predictions of who would remain in collective memory are quite interesting as well, underscoring his Victorian views. (The 'good' women are firmly Victorian, the bad very much like women of the time, which is perpetrated by modern writers often enough.) In short, the use of history is more interesting than the story, which does get tedious.

  • Donna Jo Atwood
    2019-01-26 23:52

    Told as a memior of Henry, the bastard son of the Third Viscount Castlewood. He is brought up by the family (mostly by the Fourth Viscount), lives with them, etc. The family have been King's Men since the time of Charles I when the title started, so when the Glorious Revolution comes and William and Mary step in and later the Georges begin there is a strain.Told in true Victorian style prose, the sentences curl around and twine themselves so badly in places that I had to reread several times to make sure I had the story straight. Also, a knowledge of Latin and French is not amiss.The story often jumps back in time without warning and ages and events do not always jibe (although given my own memory, that may be all to true to life.) Still it is an interesting book.This isn't really the edition I read--I used the Literary Guild 1950 edition with 425 pages.

  • Audrey
    2019-01-29 23:48

    It's not bad, but I have no trouble understanding why this novel is no longer in print. It loses a lot of its interest if you don't have any frame of reference for obscure literary figures of the 18th century or knowledge of 18th century British history. It turns out there was a whole war I'd never even heard of. I felt throughout more or less the way I would imagine Thackeray himself would feel if he watched Forrest Gump: You can tell the things that are going on are supposed to have some sort of significance to the reader, but they don't have any significance to you. And, without that knowledge, the novel just isn't nearly as interesting. The historical references get in the way of the storytelling.

  • Lauren
    2019-02-07 00:46

    After passing over finishing this book to read three other books, I think it may be time to give up the fight. The writing style was annoying. And Thackeray needed a better editor. He keeps repeating the same thing over and over. So far, it is just boring. I do still hope to finish it some day, but not now.

  • Rachel
    2019-02-15 21:38

    There were good bits in this - the picture of a marriage going bad was done very well, I thought. But there was also a lot that was dull - particularly Esmond's experience in the War of the Spanish Succession, about which I knew nothing and now have no desire to know any more. All in all I think it went on too long.

  • LOL_BOOKS
    2019-02-13 00:47

    JUST FINISHED HENRY ESMOND, WHICH IS ONE OF THE DULLEST BOOKS IN THE WORLD.IT'S ABOUT A VERY GOOD MAN WHO HAS THE HOTS FOR HIS FOSTER MOTHER AND HER SHALLOW DAUGHTER. HE FIGHTS IN A WAR AND COMMENTS ON POLITICS. IT'S VERY SLOW.

  • Diane
    2019-01-24 03:40

    I liked Books 1 & 2. Unexpected humor had been snuck in here and there. Alas, I was forced for my sanity's sake to skip over parts of Book 3. This was no Vanity Fair.

  • Henry Sturcke
    2019-01-19 19:49

    It’s fascinating to read an historical novel that is itself historic: Thackeray’s novel was written as long ago now as the events he treats were in his past. All the requisites of good historical fiction are there—a mixture of real and fictional characters, an approximation of an antiquated style (reminiscent of Fielding), an evocation of England as it was at the beginning of the 18th century, an era of political intrigue involving the complicated throne succession. And there is a well-constructed plot that ingeniously joins this strand with the personal story of the narrator (the Henry of the title) in a masterful conclusion. Until then, the personal tale had been the primary strand, an education of the sentiments. For Henry is torn between devotion to Rachel, wife of his cousin and benefactor, and hopeless love for Rachel’s daughter Beatrix, a stunningly beautiful, heartless femme fatale.Henry bears a bar sinister on his coat of arms; along with an over-serious-nature, these are his only disabilities. Otherwise, he is a paragon of virtue, especially compared to his “legitimate” relations. This critique of the folly of inherited nobility is skilfully mirrored in pairing the Pretender, James, with his half-brother, a royal bastard who towers over him in ability.On the surface, then, this seems a rather straightforward example of the golden era of the British novel. Perhaps it is something more, for I am nagged with the suspicion that Thackeray may also be using the technique of unreliable narrator. One clue is a scene in which Henry is reconciled with Rachel after one of his schemes to help had a catastrophic result. While Henry is apologizing to her, Rachel begs forgiveness for a greater, unnamed guilt. Then Henry works out his frustration over Beatrix and her ways by having his friend Dick Steele print a fake edition of his Spectator containing two satirical letters and placing this lampoon next to Beatrix’s place at breakfast. It was a convention of the day for authors to hide their identity with names drawn from the classical era, including mythology, but the one Thackeray chooses resonates too strongly in this family constellation to have been drawn out of a hat, thus providing a second clue for my suspicion.I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. I’ll only withhold the fifth star because I know that not all readers would enjoy as long or as old-fashioned a book as I did.

  • David Miller
    2019-02-14 02:31

    Thackeray was one of Dickens' rivals... the comparison isn't really fair, since Charles Dickens (being sui generis) has no rivals. Every Dickensian sentence is a shining jewel of the craft. "Henry Esmond", a fine book in every way, nevertheless does have some rough edges.The action takes place during the reign of Queen Anne, the last English monarch; her successor was the German, George I, ancestor of the current Windsors. The transition from the Stuarts to the Hanoverians provides the historical backdrop. Our characters play their parts in the larger drama, but the story is really a love story... according to the footnotes many readers are surprised by the ending. These readers can't possibly have been paying attention to the actual characters though; the ending makes perfect sense, and is perfectly satisfying.Thackeray, obviously a Protestant writer, writes this book in a unique way; it is not without sympathy to the Catholic cause; and while the novel formally ends with a marriage, as all great Protestant novels do, the preface carries their stories forward until their deaths... as all great Catholic novels do.I give this book 5 stars because it leaves me with that unique emotion caused by finishing great human stories; sadness that the book is over, grief at the human condition, joy at the love that brings us meaning, awe and fear at the sweep of history.

  • Richard Marshall
    2019-01-22 00:47

    This is a Victorian historical novel typical of its genre. Dense prose and overwrought expressions of love and loyalty make it a challenging read for the modern reader. It is a book that needs to be read in the context of the fact it was written 150 years ago and much of its sentiment belongs to another age. However that said reading it was worth the effort but it is not Vanity Fair.

  • Nicholas Bobbitt
    2019-02-01 01:26

    Thackeray and the satirists of his age amuse me greatly. This isn't the best example of that satire, as it is a historical fiction, but his style still shines through.

  • Dina Strange
    2019-02-10 20:48

    Not sure why, but reminded me of "War and Peace". Excellent novel.

  • Nathan
    2019-01-25 23:50

    It’s been quite a while since I read Vanity Fair, Thackeray’s best-known novel, but I was aware that Thackeray devotees generally hold Henry Esmond in higher esteem. It is a classically-structured novel, one which follows a central character through an extended portion of his or her life, illustrating a moment in history or society by refracting it through the prism of that character.Oddly, though, much of Henry Esmond’s life seems to transpire in the spaces left among the others around him. An orphan of sorts, tenuously attached to a wealthy family but completely dependent upon their benevolence, he spends his childhood as a glorified servant, and receives his education – both academic and political – from a local priest who also happens to be one of the most low-key international spies I’ve ever encountered.Henry’s political education is as formative as his academics, since he lives in England during the latter extent of the English Restoration, when one’s religious affiliation (Protestant or Catholic) was in essence a declaration of allegiance to one side or another, and when noble families jockeyed nervously to curry favor but keep their options open in case power shifted. He is a thoughtful, somewhat morose boy, who finds his purpose in an odd but devotional relationship to his mistress, Lady Castlewood, particularly after her husband dies.Younger than Lady Castlewood but older than her daughter Beatrix and son Frank, Henry spends his youth with only vague ideas about his prospects. He initially steers toward the clergy, but sets his aspirations higher when his “cousin” Beatrix spurns his advances. Distinguishing himself in a number of campaigns (which allows Thackeray to weave in a good bit of the armed conflicts between the English and French at the turn of the eighteenth century), Henry returns as a Colonel, only to find Beatrix consorting with dukes and better. It takes him quite a while to shake off his interest in Beatrix, particularly since his experiment in political intrigue is pretty much a failure on all levels.A few aspects of this story preoccupied me throughout. First, the story is framed as a memoir, with many chapters titled in the first person (“I Am Left at Castlewood An Orphan”). Yet the vast majority of the text is told in the third person, except when it shifts inexplicably to first person for a sentence or two here and there. I can’t help but feel that this text would not make it past any editor alive today in this form, since there is no reason or symbolic value to these shifts. Today it gives me a vaguely postmodern impression – as though Henry is capable of viewing himself both objectively and subjectively, and that’s not altogether unpleasant, even if it is rather weird.Another truly bizarre aspect of the story is the fact that Henry spends more than a decade in love with Beatrix, but at the very end, marries her mother, Lady Castlewood. Yes, he has had an almost chivalric devotion to Lady Castlewood for even longer than he has pined for Beatrix. Yes, at the end Beatrix has estranged herself almost completely from both her mother and Henry, and those two are set to depart England for their estate in Virginia. But all that doesn’t change the fact that a man who has been in love with a girl winds up marrying that girl’s mother. Possibly the least modern element in this entire novel.Another notable aspect of the novel is the inclusion of three influential Restoration writers as characters: Addison, Steele, and Swift. It is safe to say that Thackeray clearly prefers Addision and Steele to Swift, if his portrayals of them are any indication. Thackeray (or at least, his proxy, Henry Esmond) esteems Addison’s poetry more highly than the modern consensus. (These days, Addison and Steele are best known for the stimulating daily paper The Spectator.)It’s hard for me to guess how this novel read when it was published in the middle of the nineteenth century. At that time it was already historical fiction, being over a hundred years after the events it describes. But I don’t know whether readers at that time were sufficiently knowledgeable of the details of the English Restoration that would either make Henry Esmond suspenseful or not, since the climax hinges on who claims the English throne after Queen Anne dies. Not knowing this, I found the final phase of the novel to be quite engrossing, and I wonder how my experience might have been different had I known this bit of history more thoroughly.But Thackeray is a master storyteller; in lesser hands, Henry Esmond would be a benign barnacle on the craft of a more dramatic, more interesting wealthy family. Several of those folks try their best to wrest the story away from Henry, but our focus and our sympathies remain with the quietly capable man who will never be fully comfortable among them. That makes the critical secret he carries through most of his life understandable; otherwise it would be nothing more than a stillborn version of The Prince and the Pauper.

  • Greg Deane
    2019-02-18 00:35

    William Thackeray’s History of Henry Esmond, Esquire is set during the time of the reigns of William of Orange and his successor Queen Anne, where Catholics and Protestants intrigued against each other, roughly conforming to Tory and Whig Parties respectively, with the Tories plotting for a restoration of the Stuart dynasty. Thackeray’s original audience was likely to be more familiar with the events and divisions he describes than even an educated contemporary audience. So the work can be a valuable, if challenging, learning experience. Much of the story revolves around the relations of Henry Esmond with his relatives, the Castelwoods. It can lost on the reader that Henry narrates his own story as he normally refers to himself in the third person. Ironically, he is treated as the supposed illegitimate son of the third Viscount Castlewood, who had died at the battle of the Boyne. Hence his generosity appears all the greater towards his uncle, the fourth viscount, and his young wife Rachel, who take him into their home. He forms strong bonds with his cousins, Frank, the heir, and Beatrix. Though the family appears close and affectionate at the outset, the Castlewoods become increasingly estranged because of the Viscount’s dissolute way of life and gambling debts. Their estrangement is exacerbated after Lady Castlewood catches small‐pox, which makes her prey to the scoundrel, Lord Mohun takes who blackens her name when he attempts to seduce her: a standard device employed by Thackeray’s villains. Viscount Castlewood is killed in the subsequent duel, giving rise to a deathbed confession when he reveals to Henry that the legitimate and the rightful heir, a confession he keeps to himself. After being unjustly imprisoned and losing the good regard of Lady Castlewood, he achieves some distinction rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the war of the Spanish Succession. It seems Thackeray uses this war to vindicate his own ancestor, Lieutenant General Webb whom he feels was not duly acknowledged by a jealous Marlborough for his military contribution. Or it may be that Thackeray is simply name dropping. Having proved himself a hero, Henry is reconciled to Lady Castlewood, who is secretly in love with him, despite an age gap that must have been considerable. Henry is more drawn to her daughter, Beatrix. But she, unaware he is the real heir to Castlewood, sweetly and cruelly rejects him as a man who has no fortune or position in society. Beatrix sets her cap at a number of rich nobles but adversity strikes each one. Her difficulties continue because both she and her brother Frank, now the fifth viscount, are ardent Jacobites. Out of loyalty to his family, who despise him for his bastardry, Esmond joins them in a failed plot to restore James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender, to the throne on the death of Queen Anne. But the Pretender proves to be no more than a lecherous fop, encouraged by the overreaching Beatrix. Disappointed and disillusioned, Henry settles for the dowager Viscountess, Rachel and escapes to America where he sets up a distaff branch of the family who become The Virginians in Thackeray’s sequel. The work is long and contrived, going from one disappointment to another. Perhaps it is too like real life to be an enthralling read. But it is worth reading for its social and historical insights, and a peppering of wry humour.

  • Inese Okonova
    2019-02-04 21:30

    Šī bija nejauša un mazliet ērmīga izvēle. Nejauša, jo es šo grāmatu garāmejot izķeksēju no plaukta, ciemojoties pie vecākiem, kur tā, droši vien pateicoties neizteiksmīgajam izskatam (un starp citu - ļoti švakajai poligrāfiskajai kvalitātei pat pēc pieticīgajiem padomju laika standartiem), bija no mani izvairījusies bērnībā, kad lasīju visus "lielos" 19.gs. romānus pēc kārtas.Ērmīga šī izvēle ir tāpēc, ka šis ir pirmais Tekerija darbs, ko lasu, un tas nepavisam nav populārākais šī autora darbs, lai gan joprojām ir otrais un pēdējais pēc Liekulības tirgus, kas tulkots latviski. "Liekulības tirgu" mani līdz šim izlasīt kavējusi lieliskā ekranizācija BBC miniseriālā, kas mazliet nozagusi motivāciju pieveikt kārtējo tūkstošlappušu foliantu.Bet atpakaļ pie Henrija Esmonda: Sarakstīts 19.gs. vidū, romāns vēsta par senāku posmu Anglijas vēsturē - Stjuartu restaurāciju, Slaveno revolūciju un cīņu starp torijiem un vigiem 18.gs. sākumā. Tātad jau sarakstīšanas brīdī šis bija vēsturiskais romāns, tāpēc, lai pilnībā izbaudītu detaļas un personāliju aprakstus, diezgan labi jāpārzina vēsture. Jāatzīst, kam man brīžiem bija pagrūti izsekot notikumiem un karalisko personu, īpaši jau visu kronim pietuvināto hercogu radniecībai.Tas, kas pārsteidz un pārsteidz pozitīvi, ir ļoti mūsdienīga un, jāsaka, visai ironiska autora attieksme pret dažādām parādībām. Liela daļa stāsta ir par karu par Spānijas mantojumu, bet Tekerijs absolūti neglorificē britu karaspēku vai viņu pārspēku pār frančiem. Galvenais varonis, lai gan uztaisa armijā labu karjeru, ar riebumu izturas pret uzvarējušā karaspēka brutalitāti ieņemtajās teritorijās. Tāpat arī visa romāna gaitā dzimtenē gaidītais Stjuartu mantinieks izrādās diezgan liels nejēga, bet arī Hanoveru dinastijas pārstāvis nav nekāds spožais tēls. Vārdu sakot, nākas piekrist padomju pēcvārda autoram, ka darbs ir ļoti reālistisks. Maz spožuma, daudz asprātīgas satīras, visai lēns lasīšanas temps, interesantas vēsturiskās detaļas. Žanra un stila cienītājiem.

  • Bob
    2019-01-21 00:44

    Improbable political chicanery overlaid on Thackeray's normal common sense, with entertaining portraits of Augustan authors. Describing Richard Steele: "His talk was not witty so much as charming. He never said a word that could anger anybody, and only became the more benevolent the more tipsy he grew." (p. 226) He is, as in Vanity Fair, always sympathetic to the common soldier and shocked by the brutality of war: "The wretched towns of the defenseless provinces, whose young men had been drafted away into the French armies, which year after year the insatiable war devoured, were left at our mercy, and our orders were to show them none. We found places garrisoned by invalids, and children and women; poor as they were and as the costs of this miserable war had made them, our commissionwas to rob these almost starving wretches -- to ear the food out of their granaries, nd strip them of their rags." (p. 257)

  • Kezia
    2019-02-15 19:54

    Clever, clever WMT, setting his story against such an important period in history, and giving us a narrator like Henry Esmond. Being female, I was more sucked in by the lives and loves of Henry than I was by the battle scenes, although the battle provides much necessary context. Several exquisite characters - and some unflattering cameo appearances by real people including Jonathan Swift - populate the novel, perhaps none more memorable than the imperious Beatrix. Besides Trix, Thackeray's women are sympathetically drawn, even his dowager patroness, comical as she may be, is shown to have inner struggles and the strength to endure them. His men are a bit less rounded, generally busying themselves with drink and cards and skirt-chasing, unless they're religious men, in which case they're dour. Unlike other reviewers I found the ending quite satisfying. Harumph.

  • Surreysmum
    2019-02-18 02:42

    [These notes were made in 1983:]. I found this a rather difficult novel to get through, partly because I was compelled to do so, of course, but I am not a great lover (admirer, yes - lover, no) of Thackeray's style. And Henry Esmond, hero/narrator, is a curious creature, far more sentimental in his actions than in his narrative, and finally unknowable, I think. The flashback technique - a lot of important information at the beginning, where it is useless - was very interesting, and, of course, Thackeray plays endless games with the unreliability of the narrator. I cannot say I didn't enjoy it, because I did enjoy the mental exercise the novel afforded. But I can say without reservation that it left me quite unmoved.

  • Jessica
    2019-02-10 02:47

    It took me six months to read Henry Esmond. A friend of mine claims that Thackeray has three genres--social, biographical, and historical. This is one of the historical novels, and it gets so overwhelmed in the history that the plot vanishes. For example, it was fun that Richard Steele and Joseph Addison are characters. It was not fun to read a (very) extended chapter of Spectator pastiche, attributed to Henry Esmond. It was fun that Henry Esmond served under the Duke of Marlborough. It was not fun to read 300 pages of military plotting. From what I can tell, Thackeray included every piece of his research in the novel. I can forgive Henry Esmond almost anything, though, for being the prettiest nineteenth-century novel that I've ever seen in a first edition.

  • DoctorM
    2019-02-16 02:27

    Oddly, it was Richard Brookhiser who recommended this. I heard him one long-ago Sunday on BookNotes--- an interview where he recommended "Henry Esmond" as a great political novel. I'll agree with that--- this is a wonderful story about the end of a political age. We watch Henry try to negotiate the change between Stuart England--- the age of William and Mary and Queen Anne ---and the new world of the Hanoverians, between a world of patrimony and blood loyalties and one where money alone has begun to define politics. A lovely book about a young man dealing with ambition, love, war,and the upending of his world.