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A History of English Prose Fiction by Tuckerman

Pen next tried her on Kotzebue


"What an accomplished little devil it is!" thought he. "What a splendid actress and manager! She had almost got a second supply out of me the other day with her coaxing ways. She beats all the women I have ever seen in the course of all my well-spent life! They are babies compared to her. I am a green-horn myself and a fool in her hands--an old fool. She is unsurpassable in lies." His lordship's admiration for Becky rose immeasurably at this proof of her cleverness. Getting the money was nothing--but getting double the sum she wanted and paying nobody--it was a magnificent stroke.

In his delineation of character, in the perfect naturalness with which all his personages act out their respective parts, no novelist is more realistic than Thackeray. But realism has a broader application. A novelist who takes every-day life for his subject has not only to give the stamp of nature to all his scenes and individuals, but he must so write, that at the end of his book the reader will have the impression that real life, with its due apportionment of good and evil, of happiness and grief, has been placed before him. Some readers will receive that impression from Thackeray's novels; but they will be those who think that the evil and the unhappiness predominate. So thought the author himself. But the world in general think differently, and agree to look upon Thackeray as a satirist.

As such,

he ranks in English literature second only to Swift. To the great Dean, man was a lump of deformity and disease. He saw in humanity little besides its vice, and painted his species in colors under which few men have been willing to recognize a portrait. Thackeray's genial disposition naturally made him far less bitter than Swift. He neither saw nor portrayed the monstrous vice which excited the hatred of the satirist of the eighteenth century. To Thackeray, men were weak rather than bad, selfish rather than vicious. George Osborne braves the consequences of marrying poor Amelia Sedley, and yet prefers his own pleasure to that of his wife. Rawdon Crawley is ignorant, rude, and unprincipled, but yet is loving and faithful to Rebecca. Weakness, pettiness, self-deception were the main objects of Thackeray's satire. Where are the absurdities of youthful woman-worship held up to such derision as in Pendennis' love for Miss Costigan!

Pen tried to engage her in conversation about poetry and about her profession. He asked her what she thought about Ophelia's madness, and whether she was in love with Hamlet or not? "In love with such a little ojus creature as that stunted manager of a Bingley?" She bristled with indignation at the thought. Pen explained that it was not of her he spoke, but of Ophelia of the play. "Oh, indeed, if no offense was meant none was taken: but as for Bingley, indeed, she did not value him--not that glass of punch." Pen next tried her on Kotzebue. "Kotzebue? who was he?" "The author of the play in which she had been performing so admirably." "She did not know that, the man's name at the beginning of the book was Thompson," she said. Pen laughed at her adorable simplicity.... "How beautiful she is," thought Pen, cantering homewards. "How simple and how tender! How charming it is to see a woman of her genius busying herself with the humble affairs of domestic life, cooking dishes to make her old father comfortable, and brewing him drink! How rude it was of me to begin to talk of professional matters, and how well she turned the conversation! ... Pendennis, Pendennis,--how she spoke the word! Emily! Emily! how good, how noble, how beautiful, how perfect she is!"[207]


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