Places Discussed

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Fairoaks. Pen’s family home, based upon Larkbeare, a real house near the town of Ottery St. Mary, in southern England’s Devon County, where William Makepeace Thackeray’s mother and stepfather lived. To its female inhabitants, Pen’s mother and her ward, Laura Bell, Fairoaks is quite sufficient. When an urban observer notes its shortcomings, Laura almost boasts that it supports, not pheasants, but nine hens, a rooster, a pig, and an old dog. Near the end of the novel, Laura holds Fairoaks out as a haven to be returned to, although she admits temptation can enter even there.

Clavering Park

Clavering Park. Village near Ottery St. Mary in which Pen appears to seduce a lower-class girl, setting off gossip that flashes throughout the village to reach the ears of his mother. Based on the real village of Escot Park, Clavering Park is typical rural village, parochial and insular. The narrator points out that the village is prettier from a distance; its Anglican church has lost members to the New Church, while a ribbon factory has opened on the banks of its river.


Clavering. Ancestral home to the Clavering family that at first appears as a romantic prospect to the young Pen, as he plays in its grounds. After the scion of the family reopens the house, its ludicrous allegorical depictions of Clavering ancestors are scathingly described, and the chief memory of Sir Frank about its hallowed halls is that his father caned him there. The house’s old trappings and new furnishings are discussed in a purely financial light; their worth is solely monetary to its inhabitants, and their acquisition based on their fashionability.


Chatteris. Larger country town in which Pen first falls in love with an older actress appearing at its often less-than-full theater. Based on Exeter, Chatteris appears to be a representative rural town of the period before the appearance of the railroad.

Oxbridge University

Oxbridge University. Fictional university whose St. Boniface College Pen attends. The name “Oxbridge” is a conflation of the names of England’s two greatest universities, Oxford and Cambridge, and St. Boniface is modeled on Cambridge’s Trinity College, which Thackeray attended. The imaginary university has all the romantic apparatus of the real ones—dreaming spires, ivy-covered buildings, and gleaming green quads—but for Pen, it proves to be not a haven for learning but another place where he proves his capacity for irresponsibility.

*Tunbridge Wells

*Tunbridge Wells. Location of Lady Clavering’s villa, to which she flees after Sir Frank’s Derby day disaster. Among its recently built “antiquities,” Pen and Blanche Amory seem to fall in love; however, the narrator’s facetious reference to them as “Phillis and Corydon” (classical pastoral lovers) hints that in such an environment their romance will be short-lived.


*London. Chief city of England which, to the inhabitants of Clavering Park, is “Babylon.” In a sense, the city never loses an aura of temptation. Pen remarks on how the city changes people. In his case, he is changed, for a time, into a self-proclaimed “Sadducee,” a person for whom life is a “transaction.” Despite these moral dangers, the scope and variety of life in London appeal as much to Thackeray as they did to writers such as Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson (who is referred to several times in the novel as having frequented a particular location). Pen, like Thackeray, welcomes the chance London gives him to observe the seamier side of life: boxers, pickpockets, burglars, cracksmen.

Lamb Court

Lamb Court. London neighborhood near the city’s legal center where Pen and George Warrington have rooms. As the narrator points out, the roses in the...

(This entire section contains 636 words.)

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Middle Temple Gardens that once gave their colors to the war between York and Lancaster could not grow in polluted mid-nineteenth century London.


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Betsky, Seymour. “Society in Thackeray and Trollope.” In From Dickens to Hardy, edited by Boris Ford. New York: Penguin Books, 1982. Suggests that Thackeray writes of his own social milieu, which includes the evils of self-interest and snobbery, and that he observes with a cool, detached eye.

Lester, John A., Jr. “Thackeray’s Narrative Technique.” PMLA 69 (1954): 392-409. Discusses Thackeray’s doublings backward and forward in time as he reveals the story, and his variation of telling the story in his own words and then presenting it in dramatic scenes.

Loofbourow, John. “Neoclassical Conventions: Vanity Fair, Pendennis, The Newcomes.” In Thackeray and the Form of Fiction. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964. Asserts that Thackeray experimented with hybridizations of neoclassical conventions where chivalry is combined with mock-epic, pastoral with romance, and sentimentality with satire as part of The History of Pendennis’ sustained narrative.

Ray, Gordon Norton. The Buried Life: A Study of the Relation Between Thackeray and His Personal History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952. Suggests the original persons upon whom Thackeray modeled his fictitious characters. Especially relevant for The History of Pendennis, Thackeray’s most autobiographical novel.

Wagenknecht, Edward. “Counter-blast: W. M. Thackeray.” In Cavalcade of the English Novel. 1943. Reprint. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965. Discusses the parallels in the works of Charles Dickens and Thackeray. Also analyzes Thackeray’s career, his technique and point of view, and his shortcomings as a novelist.


Critical Essays