Historical Commentary

"Not always doth the writer know whither the divine Muse leadeth him."

——The Newcomes, Chapter 10

At the end of April 1839, advertisements for the May issue of Fraser's Magazine announced that the issue would contain, among other items, "Catherine: a Story. By Ikey Solomons, Esq., jun."1

The author's name, based on that of a notorious receiver of stolen goods, of course was a pseudonym, one of the many used by William Makepeace Thackeray in the early years of his career. Indeed, it has been suggested that one reason for Thackeray's lack of success and recognition in those years was this concealment of his identity beneath a multiplicity of masks, such as Michael Angelo Titmarsh, Major Goliah Gahagan, Charles Fitzroy Yellowplush, and, for the occasion of Catherine only, Ikey Solomons Jr.2

Whatever the reason, at the time of Catherine, Thackeray had not yet made a name for himself as a writer. In fact, he had been a serious writer for less than two years, having turned to writing as a profession only after failing in attempts to become a lawyer and an artist, and after the loss of his inheritance and the new responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood made it necessary for him to develop a steady income. It is true that in previous years he had written for two short-lived newspapers, the National Standard and the Constitutional, and he was also closely enough associated with Fraser's Magazine to be included in the 1835 drawing of Fraserians published in that journal; but his writings before 1837 were in the realm of journalism, not fiction, and even after 1837 his work included a great deal of art criticism and literary criticism in addition to original literary creations. Indeed, his first major literary creation, the series of sketches published under the name of Charles Fitzroy Yellowplush, began as a review of a rather foolish etiquette book which Thackeray decided to satirize by adopting the persona of a semi-literate Cockney footman. The persona, once created, developed a life of its own and inspired Thackeray to compose a number of fictional stories narrated by the footman, most of which attacked the pretensions and snobbishness of high society and of those who admired its members. Somewhat earlier, Thackeray had produced what was probably his first short story, "The Professor," which satirized the effusions of sentimental romance, and soon after the invention of Yellowplush he created another persona, Major Goliah Gahagan, whose fictional adventures in India mocked the exaggerated heroics of military romances. This was followed by a rather mean-spirited story, Stubbs's Calendar, which combined angry attacks by the narrator Stubbs on the injustices of life with a depiction of Stubbs himself as an unsavoury character worthy of attack.3

In short, at an age when, as John Dodds notes,4 Dickens had produced The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, Bulwer-Lytton had already produced three novels, including Pelham, and Disraeli had written Vivian Grey, the 26-year-old Thackeray was, in 1837, just beginning to write fiction; and by 1839, when he began Catherine, he had produced nothing substantial in the manner of his contemporaries: he was still a writer of sketches and critical articles, not yet a novelist. This was to begin to change with Catherine, which despite its subtitle of "A Story," approaches novel length and contains a connected narrative rather than a series of sketches. It is "a complete novel," George Saintsbury says, with "beginning, middle, and end."5

Kathleen Tillotson, on the other hand, sees Catherine in a more negative light, as a "destructive" work that "has more significance in Thackeray's critical than in his creative writing."6 Certainly, Catherine shares some characteristics with Thackeray's other works, critical and creative, of this time, a "savage" time he later called it, in his "hot youth," which he spent "pelting at that poor old Bulwer & others."7 As John Dodds says, Thackeray began as a "literary bear-cub sharpening his satiric claws against the literary and social inanities of his time."8 As noted above, he had already directed his fire against snobbishness and high society, sentimental romances, and military adventure stories. In Catherine he set himself against one of the more popular genres of the 1830's, the Newgate novel.

The 1830's were a time of social, economic, and political change and dislocation in England. The railways revolutionized transport, something Thackeray in his later works would comment on in his nostalgic remembrances of stagecoaches;9 the Reform Bill shifted power in Parliament; the Chartists began gathering strength among the working classes, causing two riots in 1839; and murder was becoming so common, in the opinion of at least one newspaper, that it was moved to print the following headline: "Murder—England Becoming a Nation of Assassins?"10 Other major developments of the period include the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, the farm labourers' protests of 1830, the introduction of a new Poor Law in 1834, the creation of modern police forces beginning in 1829, the abolition of slavery in the colonies in 1833, the introduction of the first Factory Acts, and across the Channel in France, the fall of the Bourbon monarchy in 1830.11 Thus it may be that the rise of the Newgate novel, with its sympathetic portrayal of criminals in opposition to the established order, was a result of the dislocation of the times, an expression of disorder.

Whatever the cause, the decade of the 1830's opened with two Newgate novels from Bulwer-Lytton, one in 1830 about a fictitious highwayman named Paul Clifford, and the other in 1832 about the real-life eighteenth-century murderer, Eugene Aram, whose story had been widely publicized in The Newgate Calendar and other compilations of crime. In Bulwer's novels, both of his heroes are presented as attractive figures despite their criminal deeds. Paul Clifford is a virtuous youth corrupted by imprisonment for a crime he did not commit, and who, even after becoming leader of a criminal band, is capable of generous deeds: for instance, withdrawing from a romance with an innocent girl who he decides does not deserve the shame of being married to a thief. As for Eugene Aram, Bulwer embroiders on the facts to make Aram a sensitive genius inclined to philosophy and much superior to his victim, the latter being described by Bulwer as a dissolute seducer, though in real life he was a respectable family man and it was Eugene Aram, a deserting husband, whose morals were open to question. 12

Later in the decade Dickens produced Oliver Twist, containing the good-hearted streetwalker, Miss Nancy, and the charmingly roguish Artful Dodger, though also a criminal as repellent as the murderer Bill Sikes. And as well Harrison Ainsworth published Rookwood (1834), in which the highwayman Dick Turpin is portrayed as a fearless, chivalrous, and generous hero, comparable to Nelson and throwing off "rays of glory."13Finally, in January 1839, Ainsworth returned to the field with the first episode of a novel based on the life of Jack Sheppard, the petty thief famous for his escapes from Newgate prison.

Though Bulwer's crime novels had been criticized for promoting sympathy with criminals, and though Jack Sheppard would come under fire later,14 the first episodes of Ainsworth's new romance won widespread praise. The Morning Post found the story "spirited and attractive" in January, and as late as July referred to its "powerful vigour"; Bell's Life praised it in February for its "fearful adventure and eloquent description"; the Morning Chronicle spoke in March of its "increasing vigour and interest"; the Mirror of Literature praised the first episode and quoted almost three pages from it; and the Court Journal, in an extended review of the first installment, praised Ainsworth for showing that "a housebreaker may have a heart; and that out of the reckless daring of a highwayman there is some hope to be got, and much humanity."15

Presumably exasperated by the popularity of yet another Newgate novel, Thackeray, in May 1839, published the first episode of Catherine, "a satirical story," as he later described it, ". . . founded upon the history of the murderess Catherine Hayes . . . [and] intended to ridicule a taste then prevalent for making novel heroes of Newgate malefactors."16The idea, he said in a letter to his mother just after the last installment of Catherine appeared, was "to make readers so horribly horrified as to cause them to give up or rather throw up the book and all of it's kind" (Letters 1: 433). And if we are to believe the narrator of Catherine, the aim was also to convince the Newgate novelists themselves to see the error of their ways, to realize that criminals are criminals and not virtuous heroes. Thus Ikey Solomons calls on them at the end of Chapter One to

. . . let your rogues in novels act like rogues, and your honest men like honest men; don't let us have any juggling and thimblerigging with virtue and vice, so that, at the end of three volumes, the bewildered reader shall not know which is which; don't let us find ourselves kindling at the generous qualities of thieves, and sympathising with the rascalities of noble hearts.

The ideal approach to crime, Thackeray wrote in a review in 1840, was that taken by Henry Fielding: "Vice is never to be mistaken for virtue in Fielding's honest downright books; it goes by its name, and invariably gets its punishment." Thus Fielding's works were much more moral than Jack Sheppard, which presented an "absurd and unreal" picture of a character who in actuality was a "scoundrel."17

In an attempt to fulfill the Fieldingesque ideal and to show Newgate criminals at their vicious worst, Thackeray chose, from the many true stories of criminals to be found in The Newgate Calendar and other compilations, the account of Catherine Hayes, who in 1726 persuaded Thomas Billings and Thomas Wood to murder her husband, John. After the murder, at her suggestion, Wood cut off the dead man's head to make it harder to identify the victim. Wood and Billings threw the head into the Thames, and later disposed of the victim's torso and his limbs, which they had also cut off. Despite these measures, the head was soon discovered and eventually identified, the three conspirators were arrested, Wood and Billings confessed, and Catherine, who protested her innocence, was put on trial and found guilty. Wood died in prison of a fever, Billings was hanged in chains at Tyburn, and Catherine Hayes, having been found guilty of murdering her husband, which in 1726 was considered "petty treason," was burnt at the stake. Some of the newspapers of the day, seeking to make a sensational crime even more sensational, speculated on the relationship between Catherine Hayes and Thomas Billings. Some said he was her illegitimate son, some said he was her lover, and some said he was both her son and her lover. One account also reported the claim that Billings was actually the son of both Catherine and John Hayes, born before their marriage, and commented that if this was so, then he had murdered his father and slept with his mother.18

Thackeray may first have become familiar with the Hayes case through Bell's Life, a London newspaper specializing in sport and crime, which in January 1837 summarized the story of the Hayes murder in a front-page article as part of its coverage of an 1836 murder which was similar in some ways to the Hayes case. In the later murder, as in the Hayes case, the victim (Hannah Brown) was dismembered by her murderer (James Greenacre). Thackeray refers to Greenacre in his 1841 work, The Second Funeral of Napoleon (Works 4: 674), and his familiarity with Bell's Life is indicated by his frequent references to it in his works.19 Thackeray also consulted the Daily Post and the Daily Journal, two eighteenth-century newspapers which he quotes in the final chapter of his novel; and he apparently used the copies of these newspapers available at the British Museum, for according to his daughter, when an editor from Smith, Elder consulted the copies there in preparing Catherine for its appearance in the 1869 edition of Thackeray's works, he found that the extracts quoted from the Daily Post were marked up in pencil.20

Primarily, though, and especially for his final chapter, in which he presents the details of the murder and executions, Thackeray relied on an eighteenth-century source other than the contemporary newspapers, though it is not entirely certain what this source was. Thackeray has his narrator, at the end of Chapter One and elsewhere, say he has drawn the story of Catherine Hayes from The Newgate Calendar. The Newgate Calendar is a title generally reserved for the compilation of criminal cases put together by Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, and appearing in several editions in the early nineteenth century. The Catherine Hayes story is certainly found in it, but Knapp and Baldwin's seems not to have been the compilation Thackeray consulted; at least, it was not the only one he used. There were several rival compilations available to Thackeray: the Select Trials of Murder, Robbery, Rape. . . (1734-35); The Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals (1735); The Bloody Register (1764), a copy of which was in Thackeray's possession at the time of his death;21 The Tyburn Chronicle (1768); The Old Bailey Chronicle (1788); and The Annals of Newgate (1776), by John Villette, then the Ordinary (or chaplain) of Newgate prison. All these collections contain the Catherine Hayes case, sometimes in almost identical versions: The Bloody Register version copies the one in Select Trials, and the versions in The Tyburn Chronicle, The Old Bailey Chronicle, and the Annals differ only in minor ways. What is most interesting, however, is that parts of Thackeray's final chapter are themselves a copy of the Tyburn-Old Bailey-Villette account of the murder. Beginning with the passage, "Having encouraged Mr. Hayes in drinking the wine . . ." and continuing until the report of Catherine's inquiry whether the executioner had "hanged her dear child" the text of the novel is at times a verbatim transcript and at other times a condensation of the Tyburn-Old Bailey-Villette account, not of the Newgate Calendar version.

Since Thackeray has the narrator Solomons say that he is relying on the account of the Ordinary of Newgate, this may mean Thackeray consulted Villette. If so, however, it is strange that he never refers to him by name or to the title of his collection, The Annals of Newgate, and it may be that rather than referring to Villette, who was the ordinary at the end of the century, Thackeray was referring to the ordinary at the time of the murder, either Thomas Purney, who officially held the post until 1727, the year after the murder, or James Guthrie, who took over the actual duties in 1725. It was customary for the ordinary to interview condemned prisoners and prepare accounts of their crimes based on their confessions. These were published either as broadsheets or as full-scale pamphlets at or even before the executions, and it is these contemporary accounts that Villette and other compilers at the end of the century relied on. Between 1720 and 1744, the publisher of the accounts was John Applebee, and there is a record of a pamphlet on the Hayes murder, published by Applebee in 1726.22 This, then, may have been the ordinary's account that Thackeray followed, but unfortunately the only recorded copy of it, in the British Library, was destroyed during World War II. There is a second pamphlet from 1726 which has survived,23 but there are no verbal similarities between it and Thackeray's account, though the story, of course, is essentially the same.

Of course, whatever account or accounts Thackeray was relying on, he could not expect them to supply all the material he needed to create a full-length novel: some original invention would be required. However, what is surprising is the extent to which Thackeray not only expanded on the original accounts, but altered them, and altered them in a manner quite inconsistent with his ostensible purpose. If his purpose was to show the true viciousness of criminals and to teach readers not to sympathize with them, it is odd that, in the manner of the despised Bulwer-Lytton, he prettifies Catherine and disparages her victim. In Villette's version of the crime, Catherine is characterized as a "very turbulent, vexatious woman," always fomenting disputes (see Appendix 1), and it is her idea to murder her husband; in fact, she has to struggle to convince Wood and Billings to do it for her. In Thackeray's version, however, Catherine is much more appealing.

Not that Thackeray makes Catherine virtuous or blames society for her crimes, as Bulwer might have done. It is true that he has her act lovingly to her son in the closing chapters, but earlier Thackeray gives her no qualms about abandoning her son for six or seven years. As well he is far from depicting her in her youth as a good child corrupted by circumstances in the manner of Paul Clifford; on the contrary, he has one of the few good characters in the novel, the parson, Dr. Dobbs, pronounce the young Catherine to be "the idlest, dirtiest, and most passionate little minx" he has ever seen (Chapter 1). As Beth Kalikoff says, in Catherine characters "are not made wicked by their society; they display society's wickedness."24 And though Kalikoff is prepared to make an exception for Catherine herself, even Catherine's wickedness is not really excused in the novel. Thackeray does not seek to explain away her wickedness; instead, he makes her wickedness charming or amusing, as when her first murder attempt—the poisoning of the Count, an episode invented by Thackeray—is presented as a farcical comedy.25 In addition, Thackeray reduces Catherine's murderousness and eliminates her role as a trouble-maker. It is Wood who, in Thackeray's version, is constantly fomenting disputes in the Hayes household, and he is the one who leads the way in the murder, while Catherine tries to pull back (Chapter the Last). But even Wood, though he plays a villainous role at the end as a reverend doctor, is quite charming in his earlier incarnations as a corporal and a captain. His roguish adventures seem amusing, as when he and Count von Galgenstein lure the villagers into enlisting in the army (Chapter 1) or when he practises deceit to enter high society (Chapter 5) or when he and Macshane trick the owners of a house containing a hidden treasure into allowing them inside so they can spirit the treasure away (Chapter 7).

All these adventures of Wood (or Brock), Macshane, and Galgenstein are inventions of Thackeray, and what he has done by introducing them and by making the changes in Catherine's role is to create not a cautionary tale, as he promised, warning against the evils of rogues, nor a Bulweresque tale of compassion and justification, excusing and finding virtues in rogues, but a picaresque tale celebrating (within limits) the roguishness of rogues.

Further to this end, Thackeray set about blackening the character of John Hayes, in effect making the criminals look better by making their victim look worse. From the eighteenth-century sources, John Hayes emerges as a respectable, honest husband, perhaps somewhat stingy, but generous enough to invite Thomas Wood to stay at his house when the latter needed a place to stay. According to the surviving 1726 pamphlet, he was even heroic: rescuing Catherine on their wedding day when she fell off a bridge and nearly drowned. On the other hand, if we believe the rather untrustworthy claims of Catherine Hayes, as reported in the sources, her husband was a brute who beat her, broke her ribs, starved her, and killed two of their newborn children. Thackeray's version is different from both of these portrayals. For him Hayes is not an honest, much less a heroic, man; but nor is he a brutal villain. Rather, as Ensign Macshane says, he is a "snivelling sneak" (Chapter 7), or as the narrator says, a "sordid wretch" (Chapter 11). The Hayes of the novel is a pitiless money-lender who grinds the faces of the poor and who probably deals in stolen goods (Chapters 8, 11)—a curious transfer of the activities of the real Ikey Solomons to the respectable John Hayes. He is also "pale, rickety, and feeble," and lacking in spirit, "a poor weak creature," and "so notoriously timid, selfish, and stingy" that, in the early part of the novel, Catherine repeatedly rejects his advances (Chapter 1). This is nothing like the Hayes of history, whose marriage proposal to Catherine was in fact "readily accepted" (see Villette's account in Appendix 1). 

Curiously, then, though Thackeray set out to write an attack on the glorification of criminals, what he produced is largely a celebration of them. It would be wrong, though, to say that under the guise of an anti-Newgate satire, Thackeray himself produced a Newgate novel. Thackeray holds to his position of not confusing virtue and vice; he does not, in Bulwer's fashion, attribute virtues to his criminals, except to find their vices themselves virtuous. The clue to his position can be found in an article he wrote in 1843, entitled "Thieves' Literature of France." In this article, Thackeray begins by repeating his old view that vice and virtue must be distinguished, that virtues must not be attributed to ruffians, and even that readers must be taught to hate such ruffians: "The only good to be got out of the contemplation of crime is abhorrence," he says (Oxford Thackeray 5: 471). But he then goes on to praise the criminals in Eugène Sue's Les Mystères de Paris, saying they are appealing because they are dreadful and they would be less so if they were "spotless":

. . . it is their crimes which make us admire them; . . . it is their crimes we admire.

(Oxford Thackeray 5: 472).

So much for hating criminals. What is revealed here is an ambivalence in Thackeray. On the one hand, he was moved to attack the fashionable inanities of literature and life, such as the view that criminals were virtuous, a view that he would have found especially abhorrent in his "savage" youth, when he was dedicated to fighting the evil he saw in the world, including the evil represented by criminals. On the other hand, criminals are outsiders, and Thackeray—the shabby genteel Anglo-Indian on the fringes of high society—was repeatedly drawn to outsiders: as one can see in his fictional depictions of Becky Sharp and, to a lesser extent, Barry Lyndon.

Thackeray's youthful attraction to criminals is even noted by Thackeray himself, in his semi-autobiographical novel, Pendennis, in which the Thackeray-like hero, Arthur Pendennis, is said, in his youth, to have wanted "to hob and nob with celebrated pickpockets, or drink a pot of ale with a company of burglars and cracksmen."26 The similarity of this passage to the one in Catherine in which the narrator imagines that the highwayman Dick Turpin might have "hob-and-nobbed with Mrs. Catherine" (see Chapter 8) is suggestive: although the narrator is being ironic, our knowledge of Thackeray's later reference to Pendennis's desire to hob and nob with criminals suggests that the passage in Catherine should be taken as yet another indication of Thackeray's attraction to the criminal life. And in fact, the attraction did not end with Thackeray's youth. In The Newcomes, for instance, Thackeray has Pendennis, in his role as narrator, suggest that outlaws are less sinful than the respectable: Pendennis expresses a preference for the Prodigal "amongst bad company" over "brother Straightlace" and for Hagar, slinking away with Ishmael, over "bitter old virtuous Sarah." And he adds:

I am not here to scourge sinners; I am true to my party; it is the other side this humble pen attacks; let us keep to the virtuous and respectable . . . 27

Also at this time, in his own person, in his lecture on Richard Steele, Thackeray did not shrink from expressing an interest in criminals. Speaking of how in the early eighteenth century it was common for stagecoaches to be stopped by "a gentleman on a grey mare, with a black vizard on his face, . . . [and carrying] a long pistol," Thackeray comments:

I would have liked to travel in those days . . . and have seen my friend with the grey mare and the black vizard.28

Given this attitude, it is not really surprising that in Catherine it is the respectable John Hayes and the Reverend Dr. Wood in his more respectable later days who become targets of the author's criticism, while the more obvious ruffians often seem to be presented for our admiration.

Besides helping to create Catherine's picaresque celebration of rogues, the blackening of the character of John Hayes, along with the invention of Count Maximilian von Galgenstein, goes to establish a motive for Hayes's murder, a motive of Thackeray's devising, filling a notable gap in the sources, for it is not very clear from the eighteenth-century accounts why Catherine Hayes wanted to murder her husband. In those accounts, Catherine makes some unconvincing claims about being beaten and starved by her husband; she also accuses him, implausibly, of murdering two newborn children; and she condemns him for being an atheist. None of this is especially compelling, and Thackeray repairs the situation by providing Catherine with a snivelling husband and a noble lover. The motive thus becomes Catherine's desire to escape from her husband and, by marrying the Count, to enter into high society. Here are two characteristic Thackerayan motifs: the desire to rise in society, seen elsewhere in the careers of Becky Sharp and Barry Lyndon, and the burden of an unhappy marriage, creating the desire to be rid of the unwelcome spouse, seen in Clive Newcome's "Othello-like" thoughts about his unsuitable, intellectually inferior wife, Rosey (The Newcomes, Chapter 63, Works 8: 661-63), and in Philip Firmin's declaration that if he had married an unsuitable wife he might have "turned Othello, and have been hanged for smothering her" (The Adventures of Philip, Chapter 40, Works 11: 600). Interestingly, there is an Othello allusion in Catherine, in which the courtship of John and Catherine is implicitly compared to that of Othello and Desdemona. Equally interesting is the suggestion in Vanity Fair that Othello may have had grounds for his jealousy, and thus presumably for murdering his wife: the narrator hints (Chapter 59) that there actually was something improper between Cassio and Desdemona. The implication is that spouse murder can be justified, an attitude that lurks beneath the surface of Catherine.

Besides helping create a motive for the murder, the invention of the Count allows Thackeray to develop another of his favourite topics, the evils of high society. Although Thackeray liked to create fantasies about outsiders rising into the upper reaches of society—in addition to the already mentioned examples of Becky Sharp and Barry Lyndon, there is the brief success of Corporal Brock in Chapter Five of Catherine itself—he at the same time liked to depict the members of high society as being unworthy of the status they had attained. In Vanity Fair, there is the denunciation, at the end of Chapter Nine, of Sir Pitt Crawley's high position in society, and in the later portions of Catherine there is the mockery of the Count in his senile middle age. There is also, during Brock's adventure in high society, an opportunity to mock the nature of gentlemen, who, according to the narrator, are distinguished mainly by their skill at gambling, drinking, fighting, spending money, and womanizing (Chapter 5).

Another major alteration in the Catherine Hayes story arises from Thackeray's introduction into it of a series of father-son antagonisms. In the actual murder case, Tom Billings may have been technically guilty of killing his stepfather (or if some accounts are believed, his natural father), but he was not raised in the Hayes household as a son or stepson to his victim; nor is there any record of his having had serious differences with him. The sources are unclear about when exactly Tom moved in with the Hayeses, but it was not as a seven-year-old child, as in Thackeray's version; on the contrary, Tom had already completed his apprenticeship to a tailor and was probably in his late teens. Thackeray changed the nature of the situation entirely by having Tom arrive as a young boy, so that his relationship to John Hayes in the novel is that of a true stepson, and a stepson whose relationship to his stepfather is marked primarily by hostility. This is not the only father-son hostility in the novel, though, for Tom Billings has several other fathers to fight with. There is, for instance, his foster father, the blacksmith Billings, whose role in the novel seems solely to beat his foster child and then send him away; admittedly, Tom, who is disobedient and disrespectful, seems almost to deserve this treatment.

Another of these relationships is between Tom and his natural father, Count von Galgenstein, who before Tom was born tried to palm him off on either Thomas Bullock or Corporal Brock (Chapter 2), and who after Tom's birth makes sure that the infant, who has been annoying him with his squalling, is sent out to nurse (Chapter 2). Later the narrator describes this situation by saying Tom was put out to nurse at the time of his mother's elopement with the Count (Chapter 7), a statement that is not strictly true, but which suggests Oedipal competition between the Count and Tom by associating the Count's success in winning Catherine with Tom's exile from his mother's breast. Later in the novel there will be more of this competition or interference, with Tom always seeming to get in the way when the Count tries to be alone with Catherine (see Chapters 10 and 12). Interestingly, John Hayes also complains that Tom is always in the way (Chapter 11). Even more interesting, however, is the reaction of the Count when he first meets his son after not having seen him for almost nineteen years. Tom arrives carrying some breeches for the Count, identifying himself at first simply as the tailor's apprentice. Only after a suspense-filled dialogue does Tom reveal his true identity, at which point he expects to be joyfully embraced by his newly discovered father. The Count's reaction is quite different, however. As Tom steps towards him expectantly, the Count retreats fearfully and says, "Keep back, sirrah!—keep back! Suppose I am your father, do you want to murder me?" (Chapter 9).29

Finally, one might note Thackeray's invention of an Irish priest called Father O'Flaherty and his transformation of the murderer Wood from a young labourer of 28 into the elderly Rev. Dr. Wood, that is, into yet another father (in the religious sense). One might also note that Dr. Wood is referred to at one point as Tom's godfather, a reference that occurs, significantly, in the midst of an angry interchange between the two (see Chapter 8). And one might even note the plans afoot in the Hayes household to enable Tom to supplant the tailor Beinkleider as master of the latter's business: as Tom's employer, Beinkleider stands in a somewhat paternal relationship to the youth, and thus this episode, which is of Thackeray's invention, can be regarded as yet another example of antagonism between a young man and a father figure.

There is one instance, however, in which Thackeray, rather than inventing a father, removes one from a scene in which his sources had included one; this occurs in the kidnapping episode in Chapter Six. Here, as the narrator himself says to begin with, the eighteenth-century sources report that John Hayes's father rescued him from the kidnappers. The narrator comments that "by this truth must we stick," but in fact he does not stick by it, for as the scene develops it is John Hayes's mother who comes to his rescue. However, this apparent exception to Thackeray's emphasis on fathers merely serves to illustrate the point that in this novel fathers and sons are shown to be at odds with each other. Having John Hayes's father rescue him would not show this at all; having his mother be the rescuer, on the other hand, is more in line with the Oedipal triangle that Thackeray sets up in this work, and in other works. In his later fiction, for instance, Barry Lyndon, Arthur Pendennis, and Henry Esmond all have very close relationships with their mothers, or foster mothers; Esmond even ends up marrying his. This Oedipal situation has been much commented on by critics,30 but what distinguishes Catherine from the later works is that, in presenting the Oedipal triangle in this novel, Thackeray's emphasis, despite the motherly rescue of John Hayes, is not on mother-son love but on father-son hostility. In a way, this is odd, given that some of Thackeray's sources speculated openly about incest between Tom Billings and his mother, but perhaps the very directness of these accounts put Thackeray off. More likely, given that Catherine is the product of Thackeray's early, angry days, the sentimental notion of love between mothers and sons probably did not stir him as much at this time as the notion of father-son antagonism.31 Thus he ignored all the suggestions of mother-son incest in his sources, and instead developed the virtually non-existent father-son relationships in the story.

One other major alteration Thackeray made to the story was his invention of a criminal narrator to tell it. Ikey Solomons Jr. is presumably meant to be the son of Ikey Solomons, an actual criminal of Thackeray's day, who was notorious as a receiver of stolen goods; he was transported to Australia in 1831.32 Thackeray may have written about the real Ikey Solomons as early as 1837 (Simons 268), and would no doubt have seen the article on him in Bell's Life in October 1838. As one critic has noted, to use a criminal as the story's narrator would, in a facetious way, lend credibility to the claim that Catherine was presenting thieves and murderers as they really were.33 However, an examination of the first episode of Catherine suggests that the idea of using Solomons as the narrator only came to Thackeray after he had composed the bulk of that installment. Other than the byline (which could have been added at the last moment) and the printed signature at the end of the installment, there is no reference to Solomons in all of the first episode. At the very beginning of the second episode, Thackeray plays with the name of his narrator, and he refers to his identity again later in the story in a discussion of whether criminals are made or born (Chapter 7) and elsewhere (Chapters 2, 6, 10, and Another Last Chapter); but in the opening episode there is nothing of this sort and it thus is possible that Ikey Solomons Jr. was invented as late as April 15, the date accompanying the signature at the end of the first episode, after the rest of the episode was already written.34

If it is true that "Ikey Solomons" was a late addition to Catherine, it may be that what finally inspired Thackeray to use the name was a daring crime he could have read about in March and April of 1839. This was the "Gold-Dust Robbery," in which a man using forged documents illegally took possession of 4640 worth of gold dust, which the Morning Post on March 27 worried might already be in the hands of "Jew receivers." A Mr. Henry Solomons was questioned by the police, according to a report in the Post on April 8, and on April 17 he was reported arrested on a charge of receiving the property.35 Though the arrest did not occur until after the date at the end of Thackeray's first installment, the very mention of the name Solomons in a criminal connection, especially in connection with stolen goods, may have combined with Thackeray's memories of Ikey Solomons to suggest a suitably "low" name for the narrator.36 The name may also have appealed to Thackeray subconsciously because the criminal hero of one of the books he was attacking, Bulwer's Paul Clifford, uses "Solomons" as one of his aliases (see 191, Chapter 16, in the 1874 edition).

Whatever gave Thackeray the idea, however, bestowing the name Ikey Solomons on the narrator seems to have been an afterthought, and except for the few references mentioned above, the fact that the narrator is supposed to be a criminal has little importance in the novel. In fact, it is easy to forget, through most of the narration, that the narrator is a criminal, an uneducated person quite different from the author. When he created the footman Yellowplush, Thackeray created a lower-class narrator whose Cockney characteristics are almost always on display; but "Ikey Solomons" usually sounds very much like the educated, urbane William Makepeace Thackeray, like the "ironist-realist-humorist of Vanity Fair," to use John Dodds's description of Thackeray,37 or like Arthur Pendennis narrating The Newcomes. Consider, for instance, the impressively sweeping opening of Catherine:

At that famous period of history, when the seventeenth century . . . had sunk into its grave, giving place to the lusty eighteenth; when Mr. Isaac Newton was a tutor of Trinity, and Mr. Joseph Addison commissioner of appeals; when the presiding genius that watched over the destinies of the French nation had played out all the best cards in his hand, and his adversaries began to pour in their trumps; when there were two kings in Spain employed perpetually in running away from one another; when there was a queen in England, with such rogues for ministers as have never been seen, no, not in our own day; and a general, of whom it may be severely argued, whether he was the meanest miser or the greatest hero in the world; when Mrs. Masham had not yet put Madame Marlborough's nose out of joint; when people had their ears cut off for writing very meek political pamphlets; and very large full-bottomed wigs were just beginning to be worn with powder . . .

Compare this effusion by "Ikey Solomons" with what the urbane writer Pendennis produces in the second paragraph of the second chapter of The Newcomes (Works 8: 13):

When pigtails still grew on the backs of the British gentry, and their wives wore cushions on their heads, over which they tied their own hair, and disguised it with powder and pomatum: when Ministers went in their stars and orders to the House of Commons, and the orators of the Opposition attacked nightly the noble lord in the blue riband: when Mr. Washington was heading the American rebels with a courage, it must be confessed, worthy of a better cause~. . .

The tone and structure are virtually identical. Thus it seems wrong to view the narrator of Catherine as an unreliable character at a distance from the author, as John Kleis argues; rather, as Edgar Harden says, he tends to be Thackeray's mouthpiece.38 And he is a very impressive mouthpiece. Along with the picaresque adventures of the first half of the novel and the anticipations of Becky Sharp in the character of Catherine—seen most notably in her bamboozling of the innocent Dr. Dobbs in Chapter Four—the creation of the witty, irreverent narrator of Catherine is one of Thackeray's great successes in the novel.

These successes, it is true, have little to do with Thackeray's original purpose. In fact, the successful portrayal of charmingly sympathetic rogues (the early Brock and Galgenstein, Ensign Macshane, and Catherine herself) completely subverts Thackeray's purpose, which may account for his unhappiness with what he had done and explain why he kept Catherine out of his Miscellanies in the 1850s.

The four-volume Miscellanies, published by Bradbury and Evans (1855-57), contain most of Thackeray's early writings, and at one point it was intended to include Catherine in them. A letter survives from Thackeray to the publishers, in which, writing from his lecture tour in the United States, Thackeray says he is too busy to send "corrected proofs of B. Lyndon, Shabby Genteel & Catherine." Publication of these works, he says, "must be delayed until my return, or till quieter times."39 Barry Lyndon and "A Shabby Genteel Story" did eventually appear in the Miscellanies, but Catherine did not. Nor was it ever reissued in Thackeray's lifetime, the first reprinting of it having to wait until six years after the author's death and the publication by Smith, Elder of the first collected edition of his works, where it could be found hidden away in the twenty-second volume.

It has been the fate of Catherine ever since to be hidden away in editions of Thackeray's collected works and to be ignored or dismissed by the critics. Even Leslie Stephen, who referred to Catherine as an "early specimen of the master's hand," also found the work "comparatively narrow" and said its demonstration of the evils of glorifying highwaymen was far more elaborate than was necessary.40 Other commentators have similarly dismissed Catherine as sordid or brutal; or alternatively they have criticized it for failing to live up to its promise of revealing the brutality of crime and for tending instead to glorify it in the manner of the works it set out to criticize.41 These contradictory attacks both derive from views expressed by Thackeray, who himself criticized his first novel in seemingly contradictory terms. In February 1840, he wrote his mother that Catherine presented "a disgusting subject & no mistake." A month later, however, he wrote her that the problem with the novel was that, owing to his developing a "sneaking kindness" for his heroine, it "was not made disgusting enough" (Letters 1: 421, 433).

Actually, the discrepancy between these two statements may be more apparent than real. Thackeray seems to have developed a distaste for the subject he was presenting, that is, for the brutal murder and the general lowness of his characters. But he also seems to have felt that he had not fulfilled his original plan of revealing the extent of the brutality involved; he seems to have realized that he did not actually produce an anti-Newgate satire but a work in which ruffians were presented almost affectionately. In other words, though his subject was "disgusting," he did not present it in a disgusting enough manner.

As already suggested, the failure to fulfill the anti-Newgate plan may explain why Thackeray kept the novel out of his Miscellanies.The assumption here is that the decision not to republish was Thackeray's. There is no direct evidence on this point, and it is of course possible the decision was his publisher's, but Thackeray was the one responsible for keeping three stories out of the reprint of Fitz-Boodle's Confessions in his Miscellanies and also for keeping one story out of the reprint of Men's Wives in the same collection: (Letters Supplement 2: 804-05; see also Ray, Adversity 460, note 3). Thackeray was also behind the deletion of seven chapters from The Book of Snobs: see John Sutherland's edition (20, 225).

On the other hand, Edgar Harden ("Thackeray's Miscellanies" 506) suggests that the decision to exclude some other pieces from the Miscellanies may have been not Thackeray's but his publisher's. Still, since Thackeray felt compelled to reassure Bradbury and Evans in the letter quoted above that he would eventually prepare Catherine for the press, it seems unlikely that in this case it was the publisher that was against publication. If it was Thackeray's decision, it may have been the failure to carry out his anti-Newgate intentions that convinced him not to republish. Or it may have been the disgusting nature of the subject: he may especially have been unhappy with the gruesome details of the final chapter, which indeed Smith, Elder omitted in its posthumous editions. There are other possible explanations, however.

Consider the narrator's statement in the final episode that "newspaper critiques" of the preceding installments had tended to "abuse the tale of Catherine as one of the dullest, most vulgar and immoral works extant." It is tempting to see this statement as an accurate report of the contemporary critical reception of Catherine,42 and to deduce from it that the negative reception made Thackeray feel the story was not worthy of preservation. However, the problem with this theory is that Solomons' report on the newspapers does not seem accurate. A survey of the contemporary response to Catherine reveals some mild criticism, but nothing as damning as what Solomons reports.43 Reviewing the second installment, the Observer said that though Catherine was "not without humour," the author "often fails in his efforts to say something clever" (June 2, 1839: 3). After the final episode appeared, the same paper commented: "Catherine' is intended as a piece of irony on the Jack Sheppard class of literature, but is not likely to cut deep" (February 2, 1840: 3). The Sun, on November 1, 1839, commented that though containing "some clever points," Catherine was "wanting in general interest." Thackeray may also have been upset by the Observer's comment on the May 1839 issue of Fraser's, in which the first number of Catherine appeared. Fraser's, said the Observer, is "rather heavy" this month, with "not a single humorous paper in the number" (May 5: 3).

But Catherine did win praise at times. The Morning Post in November 1839 wrote: "The amusing story of 'Catherine' is continued with unabated spirit . . ." (November 2: 3-4). And the following February the Post was even more laudatory, saying that of the "several capital miscellaneous articles" in Fraser's that month, "'Catherine: A Story' is the best . . ." (February 4: 6). Even the Observer had praise for Thackeray's work in November, saying that Catherine that month was "a continuation of a very interesting and well-told tale" (November 3: 3).

It is true that Thackeray's novel was not the success that Jack Sheppard was, or Oliver Twist had been. The praise was not as strong or as detailed as it was for Dickens's work and for the early episodes of Ainsworth's; and no one rushed to put Thackeray's tale on the stage as happened with both other works.44 Still, when Thackeray wrote to his mother in January 1840 that Catherine was "not generally liked," he seems to have been judging the response too negatively, and in fact a month later he would comment that "Carlyle says Catherine is wonderful, and many more laud it highly," though he added that he himself was not pleased with the subject and wished he had taken "a pleasanter one" (Letters 1: 412, 421). It does not seem fair, therefore, to blame the contemporary response to Catherine for its subsequent neglect, but it may be that Thackeray's interpretation of that response led him (and others) to slight the work later. He may have believed what he had Solomons say about the newspapers, even if it was not true.

Perhaps a stronger reason for the exclusion of Catherine from the Miscellanies and its subsequent neglect has to do with the numerous personal attacks contained in it. In suppressing the seven chapters from The Book of Snobs, Thackeray explained that the reason was that he found them stupid, snobbish, and also "personal" (Sutherland's edition, 20); the "personal" parts of the offending chapters seem to have been the unflattering references to Disraeli, Peel, Lord George Bentinck, Mrs. Gore, Mrs. Trollope, and Macaulay. Thackeray also developed concerns about the "personal" material he had included in The Yellowplush Papers, notably the two attacks on Bulwer-Lytton (in "Mr. Yellowplush's Ajew" and "Epistles to the Literati"). After the American publisher, Appleton, reprinted the offending articles (without permission), Thackeray made the following plaintive comment about the revival of some of his first works, or "children," as he referred to them:

Why were some of the little brats brought out of their obscurity? I own to a feeling of anything but pleasure in reviewing some of these misshapen juvenile creatures. . .~. There are two performances especially (among the critical and biographical works of the erudite Mr. Yellow-Plush) which I am very sorry to see reproduced, and I ask pardon of the author of the "Caxtons" for a lampoon, which I know he himself has forgiven, and which I wish I could recal.45

Thackeray was even more upset when the two attacks on Bulwer appeared against his wishes in the second volume of his Miscellanies in 1855. At least one review of this volume condemned the republication of the attacks,46 and this may have made Thackeray doubly wary of reprinting a work which contained extended criticisms of Ainsworth and Dickens and, especially, additional personal attacks on Bulwer-Lytton.47

The attacks on Bulwer were part of a long vendetta waged not only by Thackeray, but by the editor of Fraser's Magazine, William Maginn, over the course of many years. Fraser's published negative reviews of Paul Clifford and Eugene Aram, and in 1832 ran a spoof of Eugene Aram entitled Elizabeth Brownrigge, a work occasionally attributed to Thackeray. Fraser's also attacked Bulwer's non-Newgate novels Devereux, in 1830, and Ernest Maltravers, in 1838: the latter review was by Thackeray, who also wrote an unflattering critique of the book for the Times, made uncomplimentary remarks about Bulwer in his letters and diaries, produced the two attacks in the Yellowplush series, and several years later satirized Bulwer again in "George de Barnwell," one of the parodies in his Novels by Eminent Hands (or Punch's Prize Novelists). Bulwer later commented angrily that Fraser's, "under the auspices of Dr. Maginn and Mr. Thackeray, long continued to assail me . . . with a kind of ribald impertinence," and he at one point even considered challenging Thackeray to a duel.48

Indeed, though it was probably the appearance of Jack Sheppard that inspired Thackeray to compose Catherine, the main focus of its attack was on Bulwer. In fact, if we are to believe a letter Thackeray wrote to his mother at the beginning of December 1839, when all but the last two installments of Catherine had appeared, Thackeray had not even read Ainsworth's romance at that point (Letters 1: 395)—which would explain the absence of detailed comments on it in Catherine until the last two episodes. For that matter, there is little detailed comment on Oliver Twist until those last episodes. What there is, however, is a series of attacks on Bulwer's writings and personality, including specific references to Paul Clifford, Eugene Aram, Ernest Maltravers, and Devereux. Bulwer is mocked for having his two criminal heroes quote Plato, for portraying the seducer Maltravers as a virtuous philosopher, and for associating his hero Devereux with famous personages such as Bolingbroke. Thackeray also makes fun of Bulwer's recently acquired baronetcy, accuses him of using high-flown language in an ignorant way, and mocks his supposed inability to write poetry.

But Bulwer is present in Catherine as more than the target of attacks; for though Thackeray at times goes out of his way to criticize the older writer, at other times he seems to be echoing him. Consider the verbal similarities of the following two passages:

. . . we question whether Shakespeare himself could have fancied an earthly shape more meet to embody the vision of a Miranda or a Viola.

(Paul Clifford 215, Chapter 18)

We very much doubt if Milton himself could make a description of an execution half so horrible . . .

(Catherine Another Last Chapter)

And consider the thematic similarity of the following two passages:

Nothing on earth is so melancholy a prospect as a pawnbroker's drawer! Those little, quaint, valueless ornaments,—those true-lovers'-knots, those oval lockets, those battered rings, girdled by initials, or some brief inscription of regard or of grief,—what tales of past affections, hopes, and sorrows do they not tell!

(Paul Clifford 220, Chapter 19)

O cruel, cruel pangs of love unrequited! . . . there, in the drawer of your dressing-table . . . lies the dead flower that Lady Amelia Wilhelmina wore in her bosom on the night of a certain ball—the corpse of a glorious hope that seemed once as if it would live for ever . . . there, in your writing desk . . . is the dirty scrap of paper . . . begging "you would . . . think of her who"—married a public-house three weeks afterwards, and cares for you no more . . .

(Catherine Chapter 1)49

Consider as well Corporal Brock. Though based in part on Sergeant Kite of Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, he also resembles the old Corporal in Eugene Aram, who goes on an expedition as the servant of young Walter Lester, much as the elderly Brock serves the young Count von Galgenstein on their recruiting expedition. Brock owes his rank and perhaps his age to Bulwer's creation,50 and an early scene involving Thackeray's corporal is remarkably similar to one midway through Bulwer's novel, in which Bulwer's corporal sets ostlers at an inn to work "leading his own horse and his master's to and fro' the yard."51 Compare the scene in Catherine where the Corporal and the Count order the horseboy of the Bugle Inn to lead their "Roman-nosed" horses (the horses in Eugene Aram are also Roman-nosed) "up and down in the village-green before the inn door" and the horses end up "marching thus to and fro for the wonderment of the village" (Chapter 1). It is noteworthy in connection with the two corporals that though Thackeray's view of Eugene Aram, as recorded in his 1832 diary, was generally unfavourable, he did find the character of Bulwer's corporal interesting. The novel, he wrote, contains "no new character (except perhaps the Corporal)" (Letters 1: 198).

There are other similarities between Thackeray's novel and the writings of Bulwer. For instance, Brock's entry into high society by means of imposture and deceit (Chapter 5) seems to owe something to the adventures of Augustus Tomlinson in Paul Clifford, who pretends to high rank, attends fashionable parties uninvited, and seems on the brink of great success when he is suddenly unmasked and revealed to be an impostor, just as Brock is unmasked and has to abandon his career as a gentleman.52 In addition, the two adviser-clerics at the end of Catherine (Rev. Dr. Wood advising Catherine and Father O'Flaherty advising the Count) seem to owe something to the meddlesome priest in Devereux, Father Montreuil, who like O'Flaherty is an abbé and like Wood foments discord in a family.53 Also, the idea of having Catherine leave her respectable husband for the Count may have been inspired by the episode in Paul Clifford in which the wife of the lawyer Brandon (alias Welford) leaves him for an aristocrat (353-63, Chapter 33). As in Catherine, the motive for the desertion is social ambition and the desire to be free of a burdensome spouse; but in Bulwer's novel it is the husband who is ambitious and who feels burdened, and the wife's elopement, somewhat implausibly, is something he has encouraged in order to get rid of her.

But perhaps the most significant similarity is in the two authors' attitude towards wealth and rank. Like Thackeray, Bulwer mocks the upper classes, noting that many proud aristocrats are descended from people as low as goldsmiths; he also satirizes those who befriend a family only when it comes into money (Paul Clifford 158-59, 141; Chapters 14, 13). As well Bulwer mocks those who use quotations prepared by someone else without themselves having read the sources (Paul Clifford 88-89, Chapter 9), just as Thackeray in Catherine mocks those who quote Greek authors by referring to the index (Chapter 10).

Of course, there are also differences between the two authors. Bulwer is prone to bombast, pretentious philosophizing, and "poetic" language; Thackeray is not, except in mockery. And as already noted, the two writers' views on criminals were not quite the same: Bulwer sought to find virtues in them and to excuse their crimes; Thackeray celebrated his criminals because of their crimes and emphasized that as ruffians they had no virtues. But it may be the very combination of similarity and difference that inflamed Thackeray against his predecessor. He may have seen in Bulwer a writer similar to himself but one who had obvious weaknesses which Thackeray did not want to be associated with. Curiously, Bulwer himself analyzed such a situation in Ernest Maltravers, where the poet-hero is upset by the mediocrity of a fellow poet. "His pride was a little dejected," Bulwer's narrator writes. "He was like a beauty who has seen a caricature of herself."54

What may also be at work here is what Harold Bloom called the anxiety of influence. Thackeray is following Bulwer in some ways and quite possibly felt anxious and defensive over his indebtedness; he thus may have sought to distinguish himself from the latter to prove his own originality. There may even be in this a form of father-son antagonism, for as M. H. Abrams formulates the issue of anxiety and influence, the relation of a later writer to an earlier is akin to the Oedipal relation of son to father.55 Certainly Thackeray felt himself in competition with Bulwer, writing such comments in his diary as: "Eugene Aram . . . is in fact humbug, when my novel is written it will be something better I trust" and "Bulwer has a high reputation for talent & yet I always find myself competing with him" (Letters 1: 198).

In any case, whatever the reason, Thackeray attacks Bulwer strongly in the first five episodes of Catherine, and in the 1850's, when he felt friendlier to Bulwer, and embarrassed about the reprinting of the Yellowplush attacks on him, he may have decided that Catherine was too much of a criticism of his old adversary to be republished. He may also have been embarrassed by the attacks in the novel on Ainsworth and on Oliver Twist. Certainly his views on Dickens's novel seem to have changed by the 1850's, for in The Newcomes (1853-55) it is referred to quite favourably (Works 8: 396, Chapter 38). The Newcomes also contains a flattering reference to Bulwer's "delightful story" about Pompeii and seems to mock Thackeray's earlier anti-Bulwer campaign by having the young and somewhat foolish Clive Newcome propose to burlesque what Bulwer had written (Works 8: 416, Chapter 39).

In short, there may have been many reasons for Thackeray to suppress Catherine: its "disgusting" subject-matter, its tendency to celebrate criminals, its personal attacks, and Thackeray's feeling that it was not well regarded. Whatever the cause, though, Thackeray's negative judgement on his first novel was unfortunate, especially to the extent that it influenced later commentators, for despite its flaws Catherine is one of Thackeray's most interesting works, a good example of the author at his satirical best.

It is true that Thackeray does not do what he set out to do in Catherine. He does not produce a novel in the manner of Jonathan Wild, relentlessly revealing the criminality of criminals. If he had, however, this would have been a far less interesting novel, just as Jonathan Wild, despite Thackeray's praise of it at the end of Catherine, is one of Fielding's less interesting efforts. As Thackeray's old nemesis, Bulwer-Lytton, put it in his Dedicatory Epistle to Devereux, "the Book that wanders the most from the idea which originated it, may often be better than that which is rigidly limited to the unfolding and dénouement of a single conception" (vi).

Indeed, Thackeray himself was quite willing to go along with this Bulwerian sentiment when discussing Fielding's Joseph Andrews, praising the latter novel in terms that could easily be applied to Catherine. In Joseph Andrews, Thackeray says,

Fielding proposes to write a book in ridicule of the author, whom he disliked and utterly scorned and laughed at [Samuel Richardson, for Pamela]; but . . . he begins to like the characters which he invents, can't help making them manly and pleasant as well as ridiculous, and before he has done with them all, loves them heartily every one.56

One is reminded of Thackeray's "sneaking kindness" for Catherine, which he felt had ruined his novel, but which, one might argue, made it far superior to his original conception of it.

Catherine is one of those novels that wanders from its originating idea and creates something other than what it purports to create. If it is judged according to its aims, therefore, it will come off badly. If, however, it is judged in relation to its achievement, perhaps it will finally receive the praise it deserves.


1 See the Morning Post, April 30, 1839: 1; John Bull, April 28, 1839: 203.Back

2 Dodds, Critical Portrait 18.Back

3 For Thackeray's early career as outlined here, see Ray, Adversity 147-49, 160-63, 167-72, 184-201, 226-30, 236-37, 238-40. See also Thrall 29-30, 58-62.Back

4 Dodds, Critical Portrait 18.Back

5 Saintsbury 53.Back

6 Tillotson 75. Back

7 Letter to James Hannay, June 29, 1849, Letters 2: 553-54. Back

8 Dodds, "Thackeray as a Satirist" 163. Back

9 See, e.g., Vanity Fair 63-64, Chapter 7. See also, from the 1860's, Thackeray's "De Juventute," in The Roundabout Papers (Works 12: 232): "We who have lived before railways were made, belong to another world. . . . It was only yesterday; but what a gulf between now and then! . . . your railroad starts the new era . . ." Back

10Bell's Life, March 24, 1839: 1. See also the same paper for April 16, 1837 (2):"It must strike every one with horror to observe how many murders have recently been committed, and murders of an atrocious kind. Have we all of a sudden become a bloodthirsty people . . . ?" For more on the frequency of murders in this period, see Altick, who notes that there was a "cluster of sensational [murder] cases" between 1823 and 1837 (17). Back

11 For the historical background, see Beales 25, 84-87, 101, 108-109, 116-18, 133-36, 138-40, 146-48; Wood 80-91, 98-104, 127-28; McCord 41, 42, 128; Halevy 3: 332-33. For contemporary reports on the Chartist riots, see John Bull, July 21, 1839: 342; Nov. 17: 543; the Observer, July 7: 1; July 21: 1; the Morning Chronicle, July 16: 7; July 17: 3; Nov. 6: 3; The Times, Nov. 8: 5. Back

12 See Paul Clifford 80, 259-65; Chapters 8, 23; Hollingsworth 86-87. Back

13 Ainsworth, Rookwood 163-64, 166; Book 3, Chapter 5. Back

14 See Hollingsworth (81, 93) for the criticisms of Bulwer; and see also his account of the attacks on Jack Sheppard, which began in the fall of 1839, especially after the stage versions of the novel appeared and won great popular support (142-45). Back

15Morning Post, Jan. 14, 1839: 3; July 6: 6; Bell's Life, Feb. 10: 1; Morning Chronicle, March 6: 5; Mirror of Literature, Jan. 5: 13-16; Court Journal, Jan. 5: 16-17. See also the Observer, Jan. 6: 3, for a favourable comment, and the Examiner, April 21: 244, which quotes without comment an extract from the novel. Back

16 Letter to the Morning Chronicle, April 12, 1850 (Melville 2: 263; Oxford Thackeray 10: 590). Back

17 Review of Fielding's works, The Times, Sept. 2, 1840 (Oxford Thackeray 3: 390). Back

18 Accounts of the Hayes murder are reproduced in Appendix 1. For the Oedipal speculations, see the reports in the Daily Post (May 10) and the London Journal (May 14). Back

19 For the Bell's Life account of the Hayes murder, see Appendix 1. For references to Bell's Life in Thackeray's works, see Pendennis (Works 2: 171, 219, 625; Chapters 18, 23, 62); The Book of Snobs 41 (Chapter 10); and Vanity Fair 38, 486 (Chapters 5, 54). Back

20 Lady Ritchie, Introduction to Vol. 24 of the Centenary Biographical Edition, xviin. Back

21 See Stonehouse 138. Back

22 See Linebaugh 247-49, 259; Sheehan 238, 346 note 89. The pamphlet is advertised in the Daily Post, April 28, 1726: 2, where the title is given as The Life of Mrs. Margaret Hays. Back

23A Narrative of the Barbarous and unheard of Murder of Mr. John Hayes . . .~, published by Thomas Warner. Back

2 Kalikoff 50. Back

25 This point about the comic nature of the poisoning is made by Kalikoff (43-44) and by Cabot (412). Back

26Pendennis (Works 2: 291; Chapter 30). Back

27The Newcomes (Works 8: 288, 294; Chapter 28). Back

28The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century (Works 7: 490). Back

29 The oddity of this response has been pointed out by Nicholas Salerno (164). Salerno, however, goes rather too far in seeing the whole novel as a working out of Oedipal antagonisms. Back

30 See, for example, the articles by Jeffers and Manning. Back

31 For another example of such antagonism from this period, see the hostile relationship between Algernon Deuceace and his father, the Earl of Crabs, in The Yellowplush Papers. Back

32 Horsman 77. Back

33 For more on Solomons, see Tobias. Back

34 On the date of composition, see the Textual Commentary. Back


35Morning Post, March 27, 1839: 4; April 8: 4; April 17: 7. Back

36 Interestingly, in his 1843 story "Dorothea" (in The Fitz-Boodle Papers), Thackeray refers both to the gold dust robbery and to the real Ikey Solomons in the same sentence (Oxford Thackeray 4: 282), suggesting that he not only knew about the robbery but that it was associated in his mind with Solomons, thus supporting the notion that it was reports of the robbery that triggered his invention of Ikey Solomons Jr. Back

37 Dodds, Critical Portrait 32. Back

38 Kleis 50-53; Harden, "William Makepeace Thackeray" 269. Back

39Letters Supplement 1: 723 (letter of Dec. 18, 1855). Back

40 Stephen 338, 337. Back

41 The first group of critics includes Anthony Trollope (72) and Miriam Thrall (78). For the second view, see Hollingsworth (153) and Monsarrat (95). For a more positive view from just after Thackeray's death, see George Augustus Sala's comment in 1864 that Catherine was one of Thackeray's best works, though also one of his "least known" (cit. Wilson 2: 31). Of course it could hardly help being unknown in 1864 since at that date it could be found only in old copies of Fraser's.Back

42 The assumption here is that the decision not to republish was Thackeray's. There is no direct evidence on this point, and it is of course possible the decision was his publisher's, but Thackeray was the one responsible for keeping three stories out of the reprint of Fitz-Boodle's Confessions in his Miscellanies and also for keeping one story out of the reprint of Men's Wives in the same collection: see Letters Supplement 2: 804-05; see also Ray, Adversity 460, note 3. Thackeray was also behind the deletion of seven chapters from The Book of Snobs: see John Sutherland's edition (20, 225). Back

43 This is how Lewis Melville reads it in his 1899 biography (1: 123), and this attitude is lent credence by the editors of Thackeray: The Critical Heritage, who reprint the narrator's comments as if they were an accurate report of contemporary opinion (Tillotson and Hawes 21). Back

44 For the full survey of the contemporary newspaper response to Catherine, see the Appendix. Back

45 In the fall of 1839, Jack Sheppard was appearing in at least eight different dramatic versions at rival theatres in London, not to mention productions at Brighton and Sheffield and a pantomime version at Drury Lane at Christmas-time. There were also several stage versions of Oliver Twist, though the exact number is difficult to determine. See S. M. Ellis, "Jack Sheppard" 92-102; Hollingsworth 125-26. Back

46 Preface to Mr. Brown's Letter to a Young Man about Town (x). See also Wilson (1: 59-66), where the Preface is reprinted; the quoted passage is at 60-61. Back

47 "Thackeray's Miscellanies," The Leader (Jan. 5, 1856: 19). Back

48 For a discussion of Thackeray's unhappiness over the Yellowplush reprints, see Harden, "Thackeray's Miscellanies" 499-501, 504-505. Back

49 Trodd 59-64 and passim; Hollingsworth 80-81, 93, 95-97, 149-50, 200; Thrall 62-64, 67. And see Thackeray's Letters 1: 98, 198, 228. Back

50 Responding to the criticisms of Thackeray and others, Bulwer-Lytton greatly revised Paul Clifford in later years, but the two passages quoted above from the 1874 edition can be found as is in the first edition of the novel (London, 1830) at 2: 184 and 2: 197 (Chapters 6 and 7 of Volume 2), so that the similarity between the novels indicates that Thackeray was echoing Bulwer and not vice versa. Back

51 The age does not come from the historical record, where the character to whom Brock corresponds (Thomas Wood) is only 28. It may, however, come from Sergeant Kite, who in Farquhar's play has seen twenty campaigns and thus is not young: The Recruiting Officer 64 (I.i). Back

52Eugene Aram (1832 ed.) 1: 274; Book 2, Chapter 5. Back

53Paul Clifford (1874 ed.) 84-87, Chapter 9. Back

54Devereux 20-22, 24-25; Book 1, Chapters 2, 3. Back

55Ernest Maltravers 122; Book 3, Chapter 2. Back

56 "Hogarth, Smollett, and Fielding," The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century (Works 7: 580). Back

Published @ COVE

March 2022