Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Castlewood House (England)

Castlewood House (England). Ancestral seat of the Esmond family, located in south-central England about one hundred miles west of London. At the beginning of the narrative, the colonials George and Harry Warrington look on their English relations with awe and respect; they have been deeply affected by their parents’ nostalgic reminiscences of Castlewood House and have even memorized the estate’s location on the map. After George is thought to have died in General Braddock’s defeat by the French in the Pennsylvania campaign of 1755, Harry travels to England for the first time and cannot help but feel that he is returning to a place to which he belongs—one that constitutes an important part of his heritage.

Over the years, the English branch of the clan has declined to the point that only wealthy relatives who will contribute materially to Castlewood House’s upkeep are welcome. What little income the mismanaged estate does produce is quickly frittered away by its improvident owner, Lord Castlewood, whose passion for horse racing, gambling, and card-playing has left him deeply in debt. The contrast between Castlewood House in England, the home of a prestigious family but in most other respects a drain on society, and Castlewood House in Virginia, a humbler but far more productive property, symbolizes the novel’s characteristic view of the relationship between a mother country that has lost its moral authority and a colony that retains many worthwhile traditional values.

Since Harry is initially assumed to be a poor relation, it is only after the size of his parents’ property and his status as its heir become known that he is suddenly received with open arms. Lord Castlewood, desperately in need of funds to keep the family solvent, now introduces Harry to the estate’s liveliest and most profitable venue, its card room, where even Sundays are devoted to the rituals of gaming and the family chaplain spends more time at the card table than in church. Although certainly amusing as a satiric portrait of upper-class fads and fancies, the card-room scenes also suggest that English society has adopted rituals which reflect its blind...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Colby, Robert Alan. “The Virginians: The Old World and the New.” In Thackeray’s Canvass of Humanity. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979. Contextual analysis of the novel focusing on its origin and the stage it represents of Thackeray’s development as a writer. Interesting discussion of the author’s portrayal of George Washington.

Harden, Edgar F. The Emergence of Thackeray’s Serial Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979. Discusses the serial structure of five novels, including The Virginians, with focus upon manuscripts and the composition process. Explains how the novels were shaped in view of the fact that they were written in serial installments.

Monsarrat, Ann. “The Virginians.” In An Uneasy Victorian: Thackeray the Man. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1980. Engaging and lucid account of Thackeray’s painstaking work to bring back past heroes of his previous novels in The Virginians. For the researcher who already has some knowledge of Thackeray’s works.

Ray, Gordon. Thackeray. 2 vols. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955-1958. Biography of Thackeray includes thoughtful essays on the novels. The era and background of the author also is discussed.

Williams, Joan M. Thackeray. New York: Arco, 1969. Brief but lucid exposition of the novel. Excellent starting point for a beginning study of Thackeray’s writings. Gives a straightforward and very readable account of the novel.