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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In The Virginians, W. M. Thackeray portrays British society during the late colonial era in North America. Centering on two brothers—George and Harry—he traces their activities in Virginia, where they live on their family plantation, and in England, where they interact with other members of high society. As the revolutionary movement heats up, the brothers find themselves on opposite sides.

The brothers’ rivalry involves George’s assigned role as future heir to the family’s fortune and lands, as well as his participation in the British army during the wars with the French. The owner of a neighboring plantation is none other than George Washington; he is introduced first as he is building a military career and is in the process of becoming a revolutionary.

When George is captured in the war and presumed dead, Harry takes up the role of heir. Their domineering mother, Rachel (a widowed plantation owner-manager), sends Harry back to England. There he quickly gets into hot water, squandering his money on gambling and falling in love with an older woman. It turns out that George is alive, however, and goes over to rescue his brother from the romantic entanglement and, more importantly, from debtors’ prison. George goes broke buying his brother's release. George falls in love with a girl named Theo and becomes a writer to make money, while Harry becomes a military officer and returns to Virginia.

A surprise twist makes George’s fortune when he inherits from a deceased relative, and he and Theo go to Virginia. Harry, however, discards his loyalty to the Crown and joins up with Washington’s patriots. Although the war wreaks havoc, the brothers manage to remain close, in part through helping Rachel fight for the title to their land. George and Theo end up in England, while Harry never marries and stays in Virginia with their mother.

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