Thursday, 5 June 2014

"Cabbages" and other parodies

Having been put off Thackeray at school, by being made to read Vanity Fair before I was able to appreciate its sharp social satire, I wish I'd read more of his works, which often go into outright parody. A reference in The Primrose Way brought me to a Thackeray piece I'd never encountered: Cabbages, a parody on Letitia Elizabeth Landon's Violets apparently written when he was 14.
Cabbages! bright green cabbages
April's loveliest gifts, I guess,
There is not a plant in the garden laid,
Raised by the dung, dug by the spade,
None by the gardener watered, I ween,
So sweet as the cabbage, the cabbage green.

I do remember how sweet a smell
Came with the cabbage I loved so well,
Served up with the beef that beautiful looked,
The beef that the dark-eyed Ellen cooked.
I have seen beef served with radish of horse,
I have seen beef served with lettuce of Cos,
But it is far nicer, far nicer, I guess,
As bubble and squeak, beef and cabbages.

And when the dinner-bell sounds for me—
I care not how soon that time may be—
Carrots shall never be served on my cloth;
They are far too sweet for a boy of my broth;
But let me have there a mighty mess
Of smoking hot beef and cabbages. 
And the original:
Violets! Deep blue violets!
April's loveliest coronets:
There are no flowers grow in the vale,
Kissed by the sun, woo'd by the gale,
None with the dew of the twilight wet,
So sweet as the deep blue violet.

I do remember how sweet a breath
Came with the azure light of a wreath,
That hung round the wild harp's golden chords
That rang to my dark-eyed lover's words;
1 have seen that dear harp rolled
With gems of the East and bands of gold,
But it never was sweeter than when set
With leaves of the dark blue violet

And when the grave shall open for me—
I care not how soon that time may be—
Never a rose shall blow on my tomb,
It breathes too much of hope and bloom;
But let me have there the meek regret
Of the bending and deep blue violet.
Both are from pp 125-126, A Memorial of Thackeray's School-Days, The Cornhill Magazine,  Vol XI, 1865. Thackeray's parody shows serious promise, in both its general closeness of phraseology, and in its dig at the unnatural stress of LEL's rhymes ("than when set / violet").

A number of Thackeray's works contain direct parody, as in his imaginary chapter embedded in Vanity Fair, which leads with a pastiche of Bulwer-Lytton's notorious "It was a dark and stormy night" introduction to the 1830 Paul Clifford, goes on to the jargon-ridden picaresque novels of William Harrison Ainsworth, and finishes with the genteel polyglot "silver fork novel".

The night was dark and wild--the clouds black—black—ink-black. The wild wind tore the chimney-pots from the roofs of the old houses and sent the tiles whirling and crashing through the desolate streets. No soul braved that tempest—the watchmen shrank into their boxes, whither the searching rain followed them —where the crashing thunderbolt fell and destroyed them—one had so been slain opposite the Foundling. A scorched gaberdine, a shivered lantern, a staff rent in twain by the flash, were all that remained of stout Will Steadfast. A hackney coachman had been blown off his coach-box, in Southampton Bow—and whither? But the whirlwind tells no tidings of its victim, save his parting scream as he is borne onwards! Horrible night! It was dark, pitch dark; no moon, No, no. No moon. Not a star. Not a little feeble, twinkling, solitary star. There had been one at early evening, but he showed his face, shuddering, for a moment in the black heaven, and then retreated back.
    One, two, three! It is the signal that Black Vizard had agreed on.
    “Mofy! is that your snum?” said a voice from the area. “I'll gully the dag and bimbole the clicky in a snuffkin.”
    “Nuffle your clod, and beladle your glumbanions,” said Vizard, with a dreadful oath. “This way, men; if they screak, out with your snickers and slick! Look to the pewter room, Blowser. You, Mark, to the old gaff’s mopus box! and I,” added he, in a lower but more horrible voice, “I will look to Amelia!”
    There was a dead silence. “Ha! ” said Vizard, “was that the click of a pistol?”
    Or suppose we adopted the genteel rose-water style. The Marquis of Osborne has just despatched his petit tigre with a billet-doux to the Lady Amelia.
    The dear creature has received it from the hands of her femme de chambre, Mademoiselle Anastasie.
    Dear Marquis! what amiable politeness! His lordship’s note contains the wished-for invitation to Devonshire House!
    “Who is that monstrous fine girl,” said the Sémillant Prince G—rge of C—mbr—dge, at a mansion in Piccadilly the same evening (having just arrived from the omnibus at the opera.) “ My dear Sedley, in the name of all the Cupids, introduce me to her!”
    "Her name, Monseigneur,” said Lord Joseph, bowing gravely, “is Sedley."
    “Vous avez alors un bien beau nom,” said the young Prince, turning on his heel rather disappointed, and treading on the foot of an old gentleman who stood behind, in deep admiration of the beautiful Lady Amelia.
    “Trente mille tonneres!” shouted the victim, writhing under the agonie du moment.
    "I beg a thousand pardons of your Grace,” said the young étourdi, blushing, and bending low his fair curls. He had trodden on the toe of the great Captain of the age!
    “Oh, Devonshire ” cried the young Prince, to a tall and goodnatured nobleman, whose features proclaimed him of the blood of the Cavendishes. “A word with you! Have you still a mind to part with your diamond necklace? ” .
    “I have sold it for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, to Prince Easterhazy here.”
    "Und das war gar nicht teuer, potztausend! ” exclaimed the princely Hungarian, etc., etc., etc . . . . . . .
    Thus you see, ladies, how this story might have been written, if the author had but a mind; for, to tell the truth, he is just as familiar with Newgate as with the palaces of our revered aristocracy, and has seen the outside of both. But as I don’t understand the language or manners of the Rookery, nor that polyglot conversation which , according to the fashionable novelists, is spoken by the leaders of ton; we, must, if you please, preserve our middle course modestly, amidst those scenes and personages with which we are most familiar. In a word, this chapter about Vauxhall would have been so exceeding short but for the above little disquisition, that it scarcely would have deserved to be called a chapter at all. And yet it is a chapter, and a very important one too. Are not there little chapters in everybody’s life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?
- Vanity Fair, 1848
Thackeray's parodizing got fairly vicious, in some cases clearly motivated by his grievance at the publication of other works that he viewed of low merit, such as the 'Newgate School' of crime fiction. His serialized novel Catherine aimed to out-nasty the nastiness of the Newgate school simply by example, but contains polemical passages expounding his views on the genre's glorification of unfeasibly erudite criminals:
And here, though we are only in the third chapter of this history, we feel almost sick of the characters that appear in it, and the adventures which they are called on to go through. But how can we help ourselves? The public will hear of nothing but rogues; and the only way in which poor authors, who must live, can act honestly by the public and themselves, is to paint such thieves as they are: not dandy, poetical, rosewater thieves; but real downright scoundrels, leading scroundrelly lives, drunken, profligate, dissolute, low; as scoundrels will be. They don’t quote Plato, like Eugene Aram; or live like gentlemen, and sing the pleasantest ballads in the world like Jolly Dick Turpin: or prate eternally about τò καλόν, like that precious canting Maltravers, whom we all of us have read about and pitied; or die white-washed saints, like poor ‘Biss Dadsy’ in ‘Oliver Twist’. No, my dear madam you and your daughters have no right to admire and sympathize with any such persons, fictitious or real; you ought to be made cordially to detest, scorn, loathe, abhor, and abominate all people of this kidney. Men of genius like those whose works we have above alluded to, have no business to make these characters interesting or agreeable; to be feeding your morbid fancies or indulging their own, with such monstrous food. (Thackeray, Catherine).
- quoted from Writing the Underworld: Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy – Part Three).
Other Thackeray works are in the same vein. His unfinished A Shabby Genteel Story, while intended as a standalone novel, nevertheless takes a strong dig at the romantic expectations derived from popular novels. His 1847 Novels by Eminent Hands (Internet Archive novelsbyeminent00thacgoog) was direct parody, and is worth checking out for its satires on the styles of major novelists including Bulwer-Lytton (as "George de Barnwell"), Disraeli (as "Codlingsby"), Charles Lever (as "Phil. Fogarty"), GPR James (as "Barbature"), Catherine Gore (one of the classic exponents of the 'silver fork' novel, as "Lords and Liveries"), a self-parody as "Crinoline", James Fenimore Cooper (as "The Stars and Stripes ... the author of The Last of the Mulligans").

These didn't go down well with everyone, some authors in particular (not necessarily those actually parodized) felt the pastiches were bad form, and they contributed to a polarization of novelists into pro-Dickens and pro-Thackeray camps.  John Forster, the biographer and friend of Dickens called Thackeray "false as hell", and according to some accounts, this remark nearly led to a duel (see Under the Reading Lamp, WJ Hurlow, Ottawa Citizen, July 26, 1947). Dickens himself was of the view that
I had a strong opinion of my own: and that it was that they did no honour to literature or literary men, and should be left to very inferior and miserable hands: which I desired Thackeray to know.
- p29, The Letters of Charles Dickens, edited by Walter Dexter, Nonesuch Press, 1938
No wonder that Thackeray wrote to his mother:
"Jerrold hates me, Ainsworth hates me, Dickens mistrusts me, Forster says I am false as hell, and Bulwer curses me"
- p20, Trollope's Thackeray: one phase of Victorian biography, Mark Douglas Hawthorne, PhD dissertation, 1964 (Internet Archive trollopesthacker00hawt).
- Ray


  1. Easterhazy? Oh, my. Spare me
    As for author vs author, see Twain's comments on Cooper:

  2. Thanks! - I'd never read that.