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Salerno, N.A. (1961). Catherine: Theme and Structure. Am. Imago, 18(2):159-166.

(1961). American Imago, 18(2):159-166

Catherine: Theme and Structure

Nicholas A. Salerno

Frazer's Magazine began serial publication of William Makepeace Thackeray's Catherine in May, 1839.(1) This was Thackeray's first work of any considerable length. However, if he had any hopes of building a successful literary career on it, these hopes were soon crushed. Although Car-lyle said it was “wonderful,”(2) Catherine was generally subjected to the abuse of the critics. Even Thackeray himself finally admitted that “Catherine … was a mistake all through ….”(3) And the novel has fared no better in contemporary criticism. J.Y.T. Greig says that the book suffers from “ambivalence or instability of attitude,” that it lacks “keeping,” and that what Thackeray did was “oscillate” and “confuse the whole business.”(4) Even such ardent Thackeray admirers as George Saintsbury and Gordon N. Ray have little good to say about Catherine. Saintsbury calls it odd and immature; he adds, “I have never been able exactly to understand the precise point of view from which it was written…. The author never knows quite what hare he is hunting; and the reader is perpetually puzzled and vexed at the way in which the dogs change scent and course.”(5)Ray categorically states that the novel lacks coherence and unity.(6)

These critical verdicts are all based on one thing: Thackeray's own statement of purpose for writing Catherine. He told his readers that the book was offered as a protest against the then fashionable “Newgate school” of writing.

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