W.M. Thackeray and the tradition of English comedy
This thesis is about Thackeray and the comic tradition in the plays and novels of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It aims at showing that a study of Thackeray's fiction and its connection with the comedy of the past contributes to an understanding of the sophistication and subtlety of his comic vision. In his fiction Thackeray takes some of the comedic conventions of the tradition, though in some respects he also departs from them, expanding, developing and applying them to his time to make ironic comments on the inconsistencies and follies of English society from the eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In the early and central stage of his career as a novelist he adheres to the comic tradition, yet he also introduces unconventional elements, while in the later phase occasionally he detaches himself from it temporarily, but never completely. This study examines the Thackeray's major works of fiction in chronological order, because it allows us to trace a development of his comic perspective, his narrative technique and his concerns through time. Each chapter deals with a single work of fiction, except Chapter 1 and Chapter 8. A selection of his illustrations, which offer visual comments on the story, will also be analysed; they have various purposes and integrate with the text, adding subtlety and sophistication to the author's vision. Thackeray's comic perspective is a complex combination of satire and sentimentality where the two aspects often overlap and generate ambiguity and challenge for the reader. But, ultimately, this thesis reveals that towards the end of his life the writer enriches his vision considerably by adding tragic elements in alignment with comic ones, and that he was turning to a new direction: he was embracing the tragicomic.