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The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William…
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The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (original 1852; edition 1970)

by William Makepeace Thackeray (Author)

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1,3811413,859 (3.55)46
Classic Literature. Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML:

Can't get enough historical fiction? Immerse yourself in this imaginative retelling of the events that led up to and followed the restoration of the British monarchy in the late seventeenth century. Thackeray's sweeping epic encompasses a huge cast of fascinating historical characters, but focuses on the perspective of Henry Esmond, a military officer serving in Queen Anne's personal militia.

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Member:MarkWarner
Title:The History of Henry Esmond, Esq.
Authors:William Makepeace Thackeray (Author)
Info:Penguin Classics (1970), Edition: Later Printing Used, 544 pages
Collections:Your library
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The History of Henry Esmond by William Makepeace Thackeray (1852)

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» See also 46 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
I started reading this but just couldn't stand it. People's understood senses of what constituted honor and right behavior seemed to me contrary to common sense. So I didn't finish the book.
  lidaskoteina | Mar 15, 2023 |
Edited for school Use
  Kayla.Dernier | Aug 13, 2022 |
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. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
I came to this book having already read and enjoyed both Vanity Fair and A history of Pendennis 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 not 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. And 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 revulsive. 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. ( )
  marina61 | Sep 22, 2013 |
I first read the book, when I was thirteen. Spontaneously, I would have liked Henry to be my friend, offering him same family conditions: being my father’s illegitimate son.
  hbergander | Dec 12, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thackeray, William Makepeaceprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benét, LauraIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stange, G. RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"... servetur ad imum
Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet
"
Dedication
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE
WILLIAM BINGHAM, LORD ASHBURTON.

MY DEAR LORD,

The writer of a book which copies the manners and language of Queen Anne's time, must not omit the Dedication to the Patron; and I ask leave to inscribe this volume to your Lordship, for the sake of the great kindness and friendship which I owe to you and yours.

My volume will reach you when the Author is on his voyage to a country where your name is as well known as here. Wherever I am, I shall gratefully regard you; and shall not be the less welcomed in America because I am,

Your obliged friend and servant,

W. M. THACKERAY.

LONDON, October 18, 1852.
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The estate of Castlewood, in Virginia, which was given to our ancestors by King Charles the First, as some return for the sacrifices made in His Majesty's cause by the Esmond family, lies in Westmoreland county, between the rivers Potomac and Rappahannoc, and was once as great as an English Principality, though in the early times its revenues were but small.
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The sequel to this novel was The Virginians, written in 1857-1859.
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Classic Literature. Fiction. Historical Fiction. HTML:

Can't get enough historical fiction? Immerse yourself in this imaginative retelling of the events that led up to and followed the restoration of the British monarchy in the late seventeenth century. Thackeray's sweeping epic encompasses a huge cast of fascinating historical characters, but focuses on the perspective of Henry Esmond, a military officer serving in Queen Anne's personal militia.

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