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Reviews93 Rowland D. McMaster. Thackeray's Cultural Frame ofReference: Allusion in The Newcomes. Toronto: McGill-Queen's UP, 1991. 194. $39.95 CDN (cloth). The Newcomes has long had a special attraction for Rowland McMaster, as members of the Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada wiU remember from the founding conference in Edmonton, where he read a lively paper on tiiat novel later published in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1974). An article on Henry James and The Newcomes appeared in the same journal during 1978. More recently he composed the excellent and extensive annotations for that novel in the two-volume set of Annotations for the Selected Works of William Makepeace Thackeray (Garland, 1990). Now die fruit of this long engagement with Thackeray's last great novel appears in McMaster's evocative study of the artistry of its unusually rich aUusiveness. As McMaster emphasizes, Few other novelists in English—one thinks, perhaps, of Sterne and Joyce—are as allusive as Thackeray. Allusions crowd his text: allusions to literature and history—ancient and modern, major and minor—to mythology, fairy-tale, music and opera, popular songs, nursery rhymes, painting, sculpture, architecture, cities and places at home and abroad, spas, museums, restaurants, politics, imperial affairs, politicians, dancers, singers, pugilists—the list goes on. (1) Part of McMaster's task, therefore, is to reveal that richness, which he does by devoting the longest of his chapters (two-fifths of the book) to literary allusion, and supplementing it with discussions organized under headings like the art world, history and India, France of the Citizen King, London and its topography, newspapers, and names. Inevitably, the subject requires an elaborate marshalling of evidence, but for the most part he avoids mere lists by deftly weaving his examples together and concluding the discussions with generalizations that lead die reader to die values that permeate and energize Thackerayan narrative, producing its irony and purposeful discord as well as its archetypal recognition and cyclicality. McMaster is especially alert to the ways in which allusion operates not simply to propose an identity but also to undermine an initial recognition and to qualify it with extended ambiguity. He thereby provides a distinctive context for viewing Thackeray's wit and self-mockery, his piercing awareness and his epistemológica! uncertainty. McMaster also devotes attention to the multiple audiences towards which The Newcomes was directed, and to die kind of responses it evokes from readers of varying backgrounds and interests. He is notably successful in illuminating contemporary allusions and Thackeray's characteristic 94Victorian Review interpénétration of the contemporary with the historical, biblical, and archetypal—an interpénétration that, as McMaster points out, reflects the tensions between typology and mid-nineteenth-century realism. Finally, what McMaster says of Thackerayan names leads into his view of Thackerayan allusion in general: both their number and ingenuity in The Newcomes must affect the reading consciousness in special ways, drawing attention to their artificial construction and their place as signifiers within a social and moral discourse. At however many stages of remove, they are alties with allegory, requiring the reader not only to pursue an action but to consider it from various perspectives, so that the apparentiy single narrative becomes several types of discourse. . . . [For Thackeray] the present action is merely a localising of eternally recurrent patterns. He emphasises the textuality of history and the blurred lines between history and fiction. ... He develops his city's topography as a semiological system of moral, intellectual, artistic and class signifiers. He saturates his narrative with supplementary fictions, fables, plays, operas, paintings and songs that call attention to the mental and creative processes operative in trying to formulate what we like to call reality. And lest that all hang together too comfortably, he . . . leaves his story unfinished for the reader to conclude. (171) McMaster's book is the genial result of authoritative scholarship and years of thoughtful reflection upon a major work of nineteenth-century fiction. Edgar F. Harden Simon Fraser University E. Thai's Morgan, ed. Victorian Sages and Cultural DiscourseRenegotiating Power and Gender. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990. $38.50 US (cloth). $15.00 US (paper). Victorian Sages and Cultural Discourse is a crucial interposition into the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 93-94
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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