Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 569
During a visit to Italy in 1854, William Makepeace Thackeray’s daughters persuaded him to draw the traditional characters for a Twelfth Night party held for the children in the English colony in Rome. Thackeray used the drawings as the basis for a fantastic story he told to Edith Story, who,...
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- Critical Essays
During a visit to Italy in 1854, William Makepeace Thackeray’s daughters persuaded him to draw the traditional characters for a Twelfth Night party held for the children in the English colony in Rome. Thackeray used the drawings as the basis for a fantastic story he told to Edith Story, who, like himself, was convalescing from malaria. In March he returned to the story, which became the last of his Christmas books.
All events in the story are influenced by a magic rose and ring, gifts from the Fairy Blackstick. The person in possession of either the rose or the ring becomes instantly attractive and irresistible to all around them.
The story opens at the court of Valoroso XXIV, the king of Paflagonia. The king, his queen, and their daughter, Angelica, are awaiting the visit of Prince Bulbo, heir to Padella, the reigning king of Crim Tartary. Valoroso had usurped the place of his nephew, Prince Giglio, when his brother, Savio, died. He hopes for an alliance between his Angelica and Prince Bulbo. It turns out that Duke Padella had defeated King Cavolfiore of Crim Tartary and taken the crown. Cavolfiore’s death orphaned his daughter, Princess Rosalba, who wandered out into the wilderness. Some time later, Princess Angelica discovered a “funny little girl” and took her as a maid, naming her Betsinda.
Giglio, an empty-headed fool, had given his magic ring to his cousin Angelica, whom he loves and who is adored by all the court. In an argument before Bulbo’s visit, Angelica throws the ring away and breaks her “engagement” to Giglio. To the amazement of all, Angelica no longer seems attractive or charming to anyone. The old and ugly Countess Gruffanuff picks up the ring and is perceived by all, especially Giglio, as charming and beautiful. She tricks him into signing a promise to marry her.
In the meantime, Prince Bulbo has arrived, wearing the magic rose. Angelica is immediately enamored, but Bulbo is indifferent to her. While he is there, Countess Gruffanuff gives the ring to Betsinda and loses her charms. Betsinda then becomes even more attractive, particularly to Bulbo and Giglio, who both fall in love with her. In a fit of jealous rage, Gruffanuff and Angelica send Betsinda out wearing the tattered clothes in which she had been found.
Betsinda wanders in the woods, where she is recognized as Queen Rosalba of Crim Tartary by a kind woodman who was once her father’s vassal. The woodman, Lord Spinachi, leads an Army of Fidelity to regain the throne for her. Meanwhile, Giglio has run away to escape his promise to marry Countess Gruffanuff. The Fairy Blackstick guides him to the city to be educated. Back in Paflagonia, Bulbo agrees to marry Angelica. He gives her his rose. She instantly becomes beautiful again, and he becomes plain.
After his examinations at the University of Bosforo, Giglio reads an account of Queen Rosalba, who has been imprisoned by King Padella. Giglio befriends Bulbo and both march to free Rosalba. They discover the magic of the ring, but when Rosalba takes off the ring, Giglio still loves her. In a gesture of kindness, Giglio gives the ring to Bulbo, who instantly becomes attractive.
Shortly before Giglio and Rosalba’s wedding ceremony, Countess Gruffanuff produces the signed promise, and Giglio is honor-bound to marry her. The Fairy Blackstick intervenes so that Giglio and Rosalba can be married.