Thackeray created this decorated initial "t" for Vanity Fair]
hackeray, a master of character delineation, developed an important new kind of fiction — the "novel without a hero," the prime examples of which are his The Luck of Barry Lyndon and Vanity Fair (1848), his first commercially successful novel. Among his pseudonyms at Fraser's Magazine was George Savage Fitz-Boodle, in which persona he presented himself as the "editor" of a novel-without-a-hero, The Luck of Barry Lyndon, the supposed autobiography of an Irish adventurer, Barry Redmond, a former soldier in the British and Prussian armies during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). After his misadventures as a soldier and a spy, he becomes a gamester and confidence man under the tutelage of his uncle, the Chevalier de Balibari, a practised fraud. The gamester turns fortune-hunter, marrying a wealthy widow, the Countess of Lyndon, but ends his days as a bankrupt in the Fleet Prison. The story was serialized in Fraser's Magazine from January to December, 1844, and appeared in revised form in The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esqu. in Thackeray's Miscellanies, III (1856).
Next to Catherine (1839-40), his first novel (in which he parodies Dickens's sympathy for criminals manifested in Oliver Twist), Barry Lyndon is Thackeray's most unsavory story, containing as it does both an anti-hero and sordid subjects. At the time of its initial publication it was much criticized for its harshness. However, it also offers his best-fashioned plot and his most adroit use of the first-person, reminiscent point-of-view. The finest brief analysis of the book is Robert A. Colby's "Barry Lyndon and the Irish Hero." Although the actual writing began in Paris, in June, 1844, Thackeray was in Ireland, presumably hunting for material for The Luck of Barry Lyndon, a satire of then-popular "Irish" novels.
Thackeray's roguish Redmond Barry is patently an imitation of Henry Fielding's picaresque hero Jonathan Wild, although unlike his eighteenth-century progenitor he is not a professional criminal. Thackeray goes Fielding one better by making his protagonist condemn himself out of his own mouth with the very words that the anti-hero intends will do him credit. "'Common' is one of Barry's favorite epithets — to be applied to others" (Colby 111). The irony is that the narrator is utterly unconscious of the implications of what he is saying. Although Barry believes himself to have been in youth both a man of courage and of genius, he was outwitted by those who are not particularly clever (including his first love, Nora Brady; the intriguing Countess Ida; and even his wife, Lady Lyndon). He demonstrates his so-called courage by deserting his regiment and by abusing those unable to defend themselves — women, children, and weaklings. He reveals some intelligence when impersonating Lord Fakenham, spying for the Emperor Frederick, and helping his rascally uncle cheat at cards. However, his running his wife's estate into debt through indulging extravagant tastes and his handling of his election campaign hardly demonstrate a managerial capacity.
Barry keeps insisting on the truth of his narrative, even though he begins by confiding that the "Irish gentry . . . tell more fibs than their downright neighbours across the water." Though thoroughly Irish, Barry is alienated from his own people by his Protestant upbringing, which has conditioned him to think of himself as an Englishman. Thackeray based the second part of the story, which concerns Barry's stormy marriage to an English heiress, on the career of the notorious Andrew Robertson Stoney-Bowes (Thackeray had been a school friend of the grandson of the victimized heiress, and had access to Jesse Foot's Lives of Andrew Robertson and the Countess of Strathmore, 1812). There is also a parallel between Barry's sad end and the ignominious death of the dashing Regency figure Beau Brummell, publicized through William Jesse's two-volume The Life of George Brummell, Esq., 1844. In revising the serialized version for volume publication as The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. Of The Kingdom Of Ireland Containing An Account of His Extraordinary Adventures; Misfortunes; His Sufferings In The Service Of His Late Prussian Majesty; His Visits To Many Courts of Europe; His Marriage and Splendid Establishments in England And Ireland; And The Many Cruel Persecutions, Conspiracies And Slanders Of Which He Has Been A Victim (the grandiose title is the invention of the publisher), Thackeray eliminated Fitz-Boodle and his discursive essays, making the 1856 version shorter and tighter than the original. According to Colby, "after Barry Lyndon Thackeray never again hampered himself with the autobiographic point of view, apparently feeling the need for the greater amplitude afforded by the omniscient narrator and detached observer" (129). In composing Vanity Fair from 1845 through 1847 Thackeray refined his belief that personal fortune or situation masters all, and that chance is the overriding factor in most men's fortunes, though like Barry Lyndon the later novel shows a "doctrine of destiny" that takes into account the culpability of the individual.
Clarke, Michael M. "Thackeray's Barry Lyndon: An Irony against Misogynists." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 29: 3 (Fall 1987): 261-277.
Colby, Robert A. "Barry Lyndon and the Irish Hero." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 21, 2 (September 1966): 109-130.
Harden, Edgar F. "William Makepeace Thackeray." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 21. Victorian Novelists Before 1885, ed. Ira B. Nadel and W. E. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Pp. 258-292.
Klein, Michael. "Narrative and Discourse in Kubrick's Modern Tragedy; With Halftone Illustrations." The English Novel and the Movies, ed. Michael Klein and Gillian Parker. New York: Ungar, 1981. Pp. 95-107.
Klotz, Gunther. "Thackeray's Ireland: Image and Attitude in The Irish Sketch Book and Barry Lyndon." Literary Interrelations: Ireland, England, and the World. Vol. 3, National Images and Stereotypes, ed. Wolfgang Zach and Heinz Kosok. Tubingen: Narr, 1987. Pp. 95-102.
McCarthy, Terence. "Chronological Inconsistencies in Barry Lyndon." English Language Notes 21: 2 (December 1983): 29-37.
McMaster, Juliet. Thackeray: The Major Novels. 1971.
Sanders, Andrew. "Introduction." The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esquire, by W. M. Thackeray. Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, Oxford U.P., 1984.
Thackeray, William Makepeace. The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq., ed. Andrew Sanders. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Tyson, Nancy J. "Thackeray and Bulwer: Between the Lines in Barry Lyndon." English Language Notes 27: 2 (December 1989): 53-56.
Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York: Garland, 1988.
Vann, J. Don. "The Luck of Barry Lyndon: A Romance of the Last Century 'by Fitz-Boodle' in Fraser's Magazine, January-December 1844." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Page 135.
Last modified January 30, 2002