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Chapter 7 - Thackeray: Styles of Fallibility

from Part II - Authors

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2021

Daniel Tyler
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

This chapter argues that the complexities of Thackeray’s style play on the conceptual uncertainties embedded in the idea of style itself. It demonstrates that Thackeray’s prose exacerbates the interpretive conundrums posed by the very notion of style, including such puzzles as whether style expresses authorial personality or a more general standard, whether style is the sign of intention or contingency, and whether style is personal or historically contingent. The chapter focuses on the use of first- and second-person pronouns in Vanity Fair (1847) and on the curious third-person autobiography that is Henry Esmond (1852) to argue that Thackerayan style oscillates between two radically distinct affective temperatures: a “hot” style that gets in the reader’s face and a “cold” one that turns away from us, in an alternation between unparalleled effects of intimacy and uncanny feats of distance. The chapter argues that this wavering makes Thackeray’s style particularly suited to an investigation of the historicity of language (the ways living meanings ossify and go dead over time) as well as to an inquiry into the mystery of authorial intention (the question, particularly pointed for Thackeray’s uneven reputation, of whether authors are in control of their own most characteristic effects).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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