Thursday, June 18, 2020

87. The History of Henry Esmond, Esq

The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. A Colonel in the Service of Her Majesty Queen Anne. William Makepeace Thackery. 1852. 528 pages. [Source: Bought] [dull books; classic; Victorian literature]

First sentence: When Francis, fourth Viscount Castlewood, came to his title, and presently after to take possession of his house of Castlewood, county Hants, in the year 1691, almost the only tenant of the place besides the domestics was a lad of twelve years of age, of whom no one seemed to take any note until my Lady Viscountess lighted upon him, going over the house with the housekeeper on the day of her arrival.

Premise/plot: Henry Esmond is an orphan being raised by his distant cousins, Francis and Rachel Esmond. He is brought up with their two children Beatrix and Frank. He is in that awkward space between servant and adopted son. The moods of this couple vary greatly. He is either greatly beloved or scorned and rejected. For example, when the plague comes--I believe it is the plague--he is REJECTED because he's blamed for the family's exposure to it. The couple's relationship is never quite the same after that--the plague--and the happy marriage becomes miserable. Of course, Henry is to blame. But the two are determined to see him educated--and at Cambridge University. While their moods are completely volatile and unreliable, Henry feels only love, loyalty, and gratitude. Perhaps to the point of being ridiculous?

(Henry comes from a long line of Stuart-supporters and Stuart-defenders. In fact, I believe, his father and grandfather both died in battle because of their allegiance.) 

So when Henry isn't being a soldier--he's a Colonel by the end of the book--he's madly, truly, deeply in love with the unattainable, cold-hearted Beatrix. That is until he isn't. Who's the love of his life? Well, in a surprise twist that comes on the last page or second to last page, it's revealed he marries his FOSTER MOTHER. (Never mind that he's spent probably ten to twelve years at least thinking of her as HIS MOTHER.)

My thoughts: I don't know what's worse being bored to death with all the war talk (though, the fact that he had encounters with famous men of the time like Richard Steele and Jonathan Swift, and others, etc. was slightly interesting) OR being grossed out by the fact that he falls in love with his mother. Yes, she's not technically his mother--biologically. But she is his foster mother, adopted mother, recognized guardian.

  • 'Tis not the dying for a faith that's so hard, Master Harry—every man of every nation has done that—'tis the living up to it that is difficult, as I know to my cost," he added with a sigh.
  • To see a young couple loving each other is no wonder; but to see an old couple loving each other is the best sight of all.
  • 'Tis a hard task for women in life, that mask which the world bids them wear. But there is no greater crime than for a woman who is ill used and unhappy to show that she is so.
  • "I never had a mother, but I love this lady as one. I worship her as a devotee worships a saint. To hear her name spoken lightly seems blasphemy to me. Would you dare think of your own mother so, or suffer any one so to speak of her? It is a horror to me to fancy that any man should think of her impurely. I implore you, I beseech you, to leave her. Danger will come out of it."
  •  "Yes, I did, Harry," said she; "I thought of it; and think of it. I would sooner call you my son than the greatest prince in Europe—yes, than the greatest prince. For who is there so good and so brave, and who would love her as you would? But there are reasons a mother can't tell."
  • "I am your mother, you are my son, and I love you always," she said, holding her hands over him: and he went away comforted and humbled in mind, as he thought of that amazing and constant love and tenderness with which this sweet lady ever blessed and pursued him.
  • I suppose a man's vanity is stronger than any other passion in him;
  • Parting and forgetting! What faithful heart can do these? Our great thoughts, our great affections, the Truths of our life, never leave us.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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