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Title:Thackeray's Moral Landscape: The Aesthetic Principles of William Makepeace Thackeray
Author(s):Fisher, Judith Law
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:Thackeray had a personal inclination toward art in addition to professional training as a painter. Thus when he turned art critic he was prepared to develop his own aesthetic as well as to reflect his contemporaries' tastes. The painting Thackeray had to work with was in a transitional phase; tastes were changing from the traditional neoclassic school of "high" art to the domesticated "low" art of genre, landscape, and watercolor. Thackeray typified this tendency in his rejection of sublime art and espousal of beautiful art. But, particularly Thackeray's was the "aesthetic of the mediocre" which he developed to teach the proper appreciation of art to the middle classes. Mediocre painting is pleasant and didactic, unlike sublime painting which can be morally harmful to the viewer by arousing his baser passions.
Although Thackeray was somewhat ambivalent about his aesthetic of mediocrity, he nonetheless applied its tenets to his fiction, turning a visual aesthetic into a moral philosophy. Thackeray's male protagonists such as Henry Esmond, Clive Newcome, Pendennis, and, in a rougher form, George Osborne and Rawdon Crawley, must choose between women who are presented to them and the reader as different types of art works. The "sublime" women, Becky Sharp and Beatrix Esmond, affect the men as would a sublime painting--overpowering their senses and threatening them with moral destruction. Their refuge from her and their own desires lies with either a child-woman such as Amelia Sedley, or a maternal figure like Laura Pendennis.
However, the cost of the protagonists' redemption is the loss of their vitaliity and any meaningful role in society. The Newcomes is a final refinement on this process and the sterile denouement of the earlier novels. Both Ethel and Clive fall prey to the temptations of a sublime life and undergo the same transformation. But with the completion of a mature pattern Thackeray does not marry them at the end of the novel, because he has not created a dependency between them which is necessary for his "safe" marriages. Mediocrity is the best way to live, perhaps, but Thackeray expresses a profound dissatisfaction with its products.
Issue Date:1980
Description:307 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8017936
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-12
Date Deposited:1980

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