ON “VANITY FAIR” AND “JANE EYRE”
[From The Quarterly Review, December, 1848]
1. Vanity Fair; a Novel without a Hero. By WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY. London, 1848.
2. Jane Eyre; an Autobiography. Edited by CURRER BELL. In 3 vols. London. 1847.
A remarkable novel is a great event for English society. It is a kind of common friend, about whom people can speak the truth without fear of being compromised, and confess their emotions without being ashamed. We are a particularly shy and reserved people, and set about nothing so awkwardly as the simple art of getting really acquainted with each other. We meet over and over again in what is conventionally called “easy society,” with the tacit understanding to go so far and no farther; to be as polite as we ought to be, and as intellectual as we can; but mutually and honourably to forbear lifting those veils which each spreads over his inner sentiments and sympathies. For this purpose a host of devices have been contrived by which all the forms of friendship may be gone through, without committing ourselves to one spark of the spirit. We fly with eagerness to some common ground in which each can take the liveliest interest, without taking the slightest in the world in his companion. Our various fashionable manias, for charity one season, for science the next, are only so many clever contrivances for keeping our neighbour at arm’s length. We can attend committees, and canvass for subscribers, and archaeologise, and