Appendix 3: The Afterlife of Catherine Hayes

Despite her death at the end of Catherine, Catherine Hayes lived on, in a marginal way, in Thackeray's later works, even provoking a minor controversy by her appearance in the serialized version of Pendennis in 1850. Earlier she had made a brief, obscure appearance at the end of Vanity Fair, when the narrator recorded Becky Sharp's three lawyers as being Messrs. Burke, Thurtell, and Hayes, Burke and Thurtell being the names of two other notorious murderers.

Then, in April 1850, in the fifteenth number of Pendennis, Thackeray began Chapter 45 of the novel with one of his characteristic digressions on the nature of love. In a manner reminiscent of the narrator's talk in Chapter 2 of Catherine about how people fall in love even with "vile, shrewish, squinting, hunchbacked, and hideous" persons, Thackeray had the narrator of Pendennis comment that people need not be angels to be worshipped:

Let us admire the diversity of the tastes of mankind [the narrator continues]; and the oldest, the ugliest, the stupidest and most pompous, the silliest and most vapid, the greatest criminal, tyrant, booby, Bluebeard, Catherine Hayes, George Barnwell, amongst us, we need never despair. I have read of the passion of a transported pickpocket for a female convict ... that was as magnificent as the loves of Cleopatra and Antony, or Lancelot and Guinevere

(The History of Pendennis, in The Oxford Thackeray 12:1003)

This passage, strangely, provoked a greater controversy than the original story of Catherine ever did. It happened that by 1850 there had appeared on the scene a new Catherine Hayes, a young Irish singer of that name who was, coincidentally, appearing in London when the unfortunate reference to her namesake appeared in the serialized version of Pendennis. The result was an uproar in which the Irish press angrily attacked Thackeray for besmirching the name of Ireland's popular young singer. In the Freeman's Journal, according to Thackeray's own account, the author of Pendennis was accused of insulting the whole Irish nation and was condemned as being "guilty of unmanly grossness and cowardly assault."

In vain did Thackeray publish an explanatory letter (in the Morning Chronicle) assuring those offended that he had been thinking only of the Catherine Hayes "who died at Tyburn, and subsequently perished in my novel – and not in the least about an amiable and beautiful young lady now acting at Her Majesty's Theatre" (Oxford Thackeray 10:589-92). He was, despite his disclaimer, "flogged all round the Irish press," as he said in a letter quoted by his daughter, Lady Ritchie, in her introduction to the Biographical Edition of Catherine. Lady Ritchie also recounts that her father received a threatening letter from one Briggs, who warned that a company of Irishmen was going to "chastise" him. Briggs himself rented a room opposite Thackeray's house, causing such alarm that a police detective was assigned to protect the threatened author. Thackeray, however, decided the situation was absurd, and went across the street to speak to Briggs, returning in twenty minutes' time, with peace restored and with a new chair, which he had bought from Briggs's landlady (Ritchie 4:xix-xxi; Ray 133-35, Monsarrat 233-34). Perhaps as a result of the controversy, the offending passage was cut out of later editions of Pendennis, although a passage in a later number of the novel alluding to the affair remained uncut. In this later passage (in Chapter 54 of the original novel and Chapter 53 of the revised version) the narrator refers to the hero-worship by women of men who are not heroes, and adds: "This point has been argued before in a previous unfortunate sentence (which lately drew down all the wrath of Ireland upon the writer's head) ..." (Works 2:520).

Works Cited

Monsarrat, Ann. An Uneasy Victorian: Thackeray the Man, 1811-1863. London: Cassell, 1980.

Oxford Thackeray. Ed. George Saintsbury. 17 volumes. London: Oxford University Press, [1908].

Ray, Gordon N. Thackeray: The Age of Wisdom, 1847-1863. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958.

Ritchie, Anne Thackeray, Lady. Introduction to Volume 4 of The Works of William Makepeace Thackeray. The Biographical Edition. 13 vols. London: Smith, Elder, 1899. xiii-xxxvi.

Works of William Makepeace Thackeray. The Biographical Edition. 13 vols. London: Smith, Elder, 1899.