Ward raises the issue of social and economic class in the scene when John Fenwick, who has recently arrived from Westmoreland, first meets two young fellow artists, Cuningham and Watson:

Fenwick came in and shut the door. Cuningham pushed him a chair, and Watson offered him a cigarette, which he somewhat doubtfully accepted. His two hosts—men of the educated middle-class—divined at once that he was self-taught, and risen from the ranks. Both Cuningham and Watson were shabbily dressed; but it was an artistic and metropolitan shabbiness. Fenwick's country clothes were clumsy and unbecoming; and his manner seemed to fit him as awkwardly as his coat. The sympathy of both the older artists did but go out to him the more readily. [51]

They treat him with great generosity and compliment his work, welcoming him into the brotherhood of young artists, but his rough conduct then and later diminishes him the reader's eyes. Fenwick comes from a blackground no worse economically that those of two painters who achieved great fame — William Holman Hunt, son of a warehouseman, and John Everett Millais, who eventually became President of the Royal Academy. True, he does comes from the country rather than the urban childhood environments of Hunt and Millais, but that hardly accounts for his abrasiveness and later self-destructive acts. Like Pip in Great Expectations, Fenwick feels himself diminished in the new world of his acquaintances, becomes prosperous beyond his childhood imaginings, and then loses much of his wealth. Like Pip, too, he feels lost, out of his depth, when he meets a beauty, in his case an extraordinarily kind woman rather than the haughty Estella (though both have unhappy marriages from which they are released by the death of their dreadful husbands).

Although we encounter the issue of social class when he first meets Cuningham and Watson, Ward makes it a major issue when Fenwick meets the kind, charming, beautiful, and very wealthy Eugénie de Pastourelles, Lord Findon's daughter, who becomes his friend and advocate. When he talks to this woman who always listens “with a charming kindness,” he becomes increasingly aware of “the double self in her — of the cultivated, social self she was bringing into play for his benefit, and of something behind—a spirit watchful and still — wrapt in a great melancholy — or perhaps a great rebellion?” Fenwick's sense of “something concealed or strongly restrained,” captivates him, and Ward's narrator continues with what seems either a narrative path not taken or simply a red herring when we read that “something exquisite in her movements and looks, also in the quality of her voice and the turn of her phrases, drew from his own crude yet sensitive nature an excited response.” We expect, as we do several times in the novel, that Fenwick will fall in love with Eugénie, but then Ward concludes this paragraph with the observation that, he “began to envisage what these highly trained women of the upper class, these raffinées of the world, may be for those who understand them—a stimulus, an enigma, an education” (80-81).

At times, despite her kindness, he experiences “curious resentments” when she unknowingly “cheapened or humiliated him in his own eyes,” which he characteristically takes to be the effect of “aristocratic insolence,” and he concludes angrily that

to move so delicately and immaculately through life, with such superfine perceptions, must mean that you were brought up to scorn the common way, and those who walk in it. 'The poor in a lump are bad'—coarse and ill-mannered at any rate—that must be the real meaning of her soft dignity, so friendly yet so remote, her impossibly ethereal standards, her light words that so often abashed a man for no reasonable cause. [90-91]

Like her gracious conversation, superfine perceptions, and double self, Eugénie's physical beauty places her in something like another species: Her “classical head, with its small ear, the pale yet shining face, combined with the dress to suggest a study in ivory, wrought to a great delicacy and purity. Only the eyes, much darker than the hair, and the rich brown of the sable cloak where it touched the white, gave accent and force to the ethereal pallor, the supreme refinement, of the rest — face, dress, hands” (118; emphasis added). This description of Eugénie, seen through Fenwick's consciousness, has little to do with the superficially similar Petrarchan praise of the beloved. We realize that thus is not Renaissance but nineteenth-century praise when we read that “nothing but civilisation in its most complex workings could have produced such a type; that was what prevailed dimly in Fenwick's mind as he wrestled with his picture” (118). That this is more than simply a matter of nurture being more important than nature appears in a later conversation Eugénie has with her father, who remarks about yet another instance of Fenwick's abrasiveness, “‘So he was—abominably rude. But what can one expect? He hasn't had the bringing-up of a gentleman—and there you are. That kind of thing will out.’” When Eugénie, trying to defend him asks, “‘I wonder whether it matters—to a genius?’” her Lord Findon responds, “‘It matters to everybody!’ cried Lord Findon. ‘Gentlefolk, my dear, say what you will, are the result of a long natural selection’” (150; emphasis added). Does Ward really believe that the aristocracy has evolved into a different species, making class separation and conflict a matter of two species rather than Disraeli's two nations — something hard to believe given Ward's life of service to the poor? Or is she merely recording late-Victorian upper-class attitudes? These two statements, after all, come from Lord Findon and Fenwick himself when he feels his social inferiority.


Ward, Mrs, Humphry. Fenwick's Career. New York and London: Harper Brothers, 1906.

Ward, Mrs. Humphry. Fenwick's Career. [No publisher listed] Project Gutenberg E-text prepared by Andrew Templeton, Juliet Sutherland, Bill Hershey, and Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders. Last Updated: May 21, 2004 [eBook #12403]. Web. 20 July 2014.

Last modified 1 August 2014