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The History of Henry Esmond

William Makepeace Thackeray

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Henry Esmond is the modest but appealing hero of his own story. Set, for the most part, in the early years of the eighteenth century, Esmond is regarded as a bastard member of his noble family. He gains some ability in arms, exercises his capable brain, and finds that the tumultuous events of those years give him ample opportunity to make his way as a military man. But as political intrigues and love interests come in to play, Esmond discovers there is more to his past than his present circumstances would suggest.

The History of Henry Esmond had a mixed reception. George Eliot was put off by it, finding aspects of the plot “uncomfortable.” Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, admired the work and thought it “the greatest novel in the language”—as, indeed, did Mrs. Trollope, who so wore out her copy with repeated re-readings that it needed to be replaced.

Modern assessments recognize Thackeray’s fine technical achievement in the effective first-person voice, and his deft handling of the complex plot which, in the words of one modern literary critic, “won Henry Esmond the fame of Thackeray’s best executed work.”

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