Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 332
The Virginians: A Tale of the Last Century is an 1857–1859 historical novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray, originally published in two volumes. It is a sequel of Thackeray’s 1852 novel The History of Henry Esmond and tells the story of Esmond’s grandsons, George and Henry Warrington—two brothers who discover love, friendship, history, and politics, as they fight on opposite sides in the American War of Independence.
The novel introduces us to Esmond's daughter, the snobbish Madam Esmond of Castlewood estate in Virginia, and her twin sons, George and Henry Warrington. George is only a half an hour older than his brother, and the two of them have contrasting personalities. George is a bookworm; he is quiet, serious, and could be considered a bit of an introvert. Henry, on the other hand, is playful and outgoing; he enjoys sports and even likes to gamble from time to time. But, even their different personalities couldn’t stand in the way of their strong brotherly bond.
The only thing that puts their sibling love at risk is the revolutionary war. George remains loyal to King George the III, while Henry becomes a general in George Washington’s army. However, George, being the wiser of the two, decides to resign his commission, as he refuses to fight his brother. Thus, the division that war and politics can bring in families and close friends is considered an important theme of the novel. Typical of his style, another thematic representation Thackeray explores is the prevalence of vanity, as he often mocks the characters, especially those who take pride in their conceited and, more often than not, selfish personalities.
Even though many readers consider Henry Esmond one of Thackeray’s best novels, The Virginians gained numerous positive reviews as well, especially for its entertaining narrative and its well-drawn characters. It was described as an easy, but also a slow and a bit tedious read. The book is considered a classic example of a nineteenth-century, Victorian fiction novel.