JOSEPH VANCE is the story of the life of Joseph Vance from his earliest recollections until the last years of his life. As William De Morgan states through the words of his main character, there is much that might have been left out, since there are many threads of the plot that are unimportant to the story. Humor and pathos are successfully mixed; the humor particularly is the quiet kind that makes readers chuckle. It comes largely from the character of Vance’s father, who firmly believes that to be a success a person must know absolutely nothing about doing the job he is hired to do. De Morgan gave his novel the subtitle “An Ill-Written Autobiography” but few of his readers will agree with him.
The influences of Sterne and Dickens are very clear in Joseph Vance. Sterne especially is evident in the tone of the narration, the descriptions of the characters, and in the philosophizing and digressions, for example, on Joe’s Father’s Hat and Human Nature. The author’s style is not as smooth and graceful as Sterne’s, however, resulting at times in a rather strained and arch humor. The protagonist’s father, for example, is too obviously intended to be a grand old “character.” The narrative vitality and sense of place and the minor characters suggest Dickens. The lower-class dialect is often skillfully utilized, but it is carried to the point of preciousness; mispronunciations and absurd grammar alone do not make a character comic....
(The entire section is 476 words.)