This copiously illustrated study focuses, for the first time in any language, on the whole range of Thackeray’s verbal and graphic portraits and caricatures of European men, women and children of his own and earlier periods. It takes its readers on what he called a ‘Roundabout Journey’ in which they look, through the eyes of a variety of narrators and personae, at natives of France, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, the Habsburg Empire, Poland, Russia, Scandinavia, the Low Countries, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey. There are a few German examples too: but these are peripheral here, because the author has considered them in depth in a previous book:
Breeches and Metaphysics. Thackeray’s German Discourse. The contexts in which these portraits and caricatures are set include more or less ironized stereotypes and conventions; impressions of landscapes and townscapes; trade and diplomatic relations; European literature, drama, showmanship, journalism, music and many varieties of the pictorial arts. Some of the most memorable portrayals characterize past and present writers and artists through descriptive analyses of their work. Contemporary prejudices and received opinions relating to class, gender and nationality flow freely into such characterizations; but they are constantly relativized by the interposition of quirky narrators and a keen sense of the failings and snobberies of Britons observed at home and abroad. While reflecting his time in many ways, Thackeray’s discourse also helped to shape it – and a close scrutiny of the European portraits here disengaged from his work should serve to enhance his stature as a shrewd and witty observer, a gifted portraitist and caricaturist with pen and pencil, and a powerful voice in Britain’s ongoing conversation with her European neighbours.