Short summary - The Newcomes - William Makepeace Thackeray

British literature summaries -

Short summary - The Newcomes
William Makepeace Thackeray

In "Overture", which is a prologue to the story, representatives of English society are compared with the heroes of fables who are as old as the world - cowards and bouncers, offenders and their victims, rogues and coots. Good and evil are mixed, and the poor man is not necessarily honest, and the rich man is cruel, he is a cheater, he is deceiving, but an honest man "does not remain unprofitable." It has always been this way, and it happens in the 30s. XIX century in London, where the novel takes place.

The narration is on behalf of the writer Arthur Pendennis, senior fellow at the London School of Gray Monks protagonist Clive Newcom. Pendennis is going to offer the reader a story where crows appear in peacock feathers and peacocks ridicule them for this. After several years of separation, Pendennis and Clive accidentally meet in the Musical Cave tavern. With Clive, his father, Colonel Newcom, lived in India for a long time. Clive was born there, but his mother died, and the boy, who could hardly endure the difficult climate, was sent to England under the supervision of relatives. Over the course of many pages of the novel, the reader becomes acquainted with them. Among them there are all sorts of people: good and bad, rich and poor. However, the narrator urges readers not to be angry with the stepbrothers of Colonel Brian and Hobson Newcom for that they had neglected their Indian relative before and did not respect him very much. And only when he was widowed, when his exploits on the field of battle were written in the newspapers and he became rich, then the brothers-bankers finally recognize him. Little Clive is invited to visit and presented with money and sweets. Thus, the Newcomers, the narrator observes, follow the generally accepted law of singing praises to the successful and, like infection, to shun the loser.


The relatives of the late wife of the colonel are depicted in a different light: these are modest, modest, hearty people. Such is Aunt Hanimen, who lives in the resort town of Brighton and rents rooms to guests. Such is the old lady Miss Mason, the nanny and relative of the colonel, now living alone in her hometown of Newcom. Well known in London is Mr. Hanimen, Rector of Lady Whittlesey Chapel. His sermons are crazy not only for parishioners of the chapel, who send him embroidered slippers and fruits. Members of parliament and even ministers sit at the foot of his pulpit. But Hanimen is not so simple and «pounds» a thousand pounds a year from his chapel, not counting the money from renting church cellars under the cellars - it’s nice to know that «there are not coffins under you, but barrels of wine.»

Clive is already a handsome young man by the time his father returns from India. He has the ability to draw, and Colonel Newcom picks him up from the school of Gray Monks and gives him to study painting. Clive will later recall this time as the happiest in his life. True, relatives believe that the colonel’s son should choose a more solid occupation. However, the colonel himself, an honest man, direct and independent, believes that a gentleman is appropriate for any occupation, if it is not dishonest. Colonel Newcom dreams of his son marrying the daughter of banker Brian Newcom Ethel and his life will be arranged. Clive himself paints portraits of Ethel and extols her beauty. However, her mother's grandmother, Lady Kew, an ominous old woman who has an influence on all the affairs of the Newcom family, does not favor Clive and the Colonel. Cousin Clive Barnes spreads rumors that he is drinking, playing dice. And although other relatives agree that Clive is a modest, courageous and sweet young man, Ethel begins to believe these rumors and prays to God to guide Clive on the true path. He leads a usual way of life for his age - he accepts friends, talks with them about literature, carried away by historical painting, travels to Paris and admires the paintings of the Louvre in a letter to Pendennis.


Together with the colonel in his house in London, lives his old friend from India, Mr. Binnie. When he broke his leg, his sister Mrs. Mackenzie and her daughter Rosie come from Scotland to look after him. Surprisingly nice and beautiful ladies bring revival to the colonel’s house, although Clive has to move to his studio on another street because of them.

The calm and unhurried narrative gets a dramatic twist. First, fortune is unfaithful to Mr. Hanimen - he has rivals and «takes the sheep to their shepherds,» they beat off the flock. The preacher gets into debt and ends up in a prison house, from where he is rescued by Colonel Newcom, whose business is also not brilliant. He sells his horses and is going back to India to serve in the army on time and then, having received a good pension, return to England forever. The Colonel is a noble and simple-minded gentleman who in life is guided primarily by feelings of duty and honor. Love, duty, family, religion - all these problems are very interesting for the narrator. However, the understanding, for example, of the debt in the characters of the novel is different. Old Lady Kew believes that her duty to loved ones is to help them advance in the world.

Clive heads to Italy. Along the way, in Germany, he meets the family of Brian Newcom - Aunt Anna, Ethel, children who came here for the summer. He goes with them to Baden-Baden, where he gets acquainted with the life of the great world, which is treacherous and cruel. All Newcoms gather here - «our Baden Congress,» says Ethel. She is still beautiful and charming and knows that young girls are sold as Turkish women, «they are waiting for a buyer to come for them.» Ethel is engaged to the young Lord Kew - with this news, Clive flinches. Kew is not the same rake as he was before. Now this is a highly moral decent person. He helps to resolve scandals at the resort, but he himself becomes a victim of such a scandal. Ethel, wanting to prove her decisive and firm character, behaves at a ball in Baden-Baden as a «desperate and reckless coquette», lures the gentlemen of the socialite the Duchess D'Ivry. The same does not miss the moment to take revenge. As a result, one of the duchess's fans challenges Lord Kew to a duel and seriously injures him. Engagement Ethel and Kew are upset. Clive heads to Italy to paint. Art is truth, the narrator observes, and truth is a shrine and all service to it is like a daily feat in the name of faith.

Ethel, encouraged by her grandmother, flutters from ball to ball, from reception to reception, leaving Clive hope of reciprocity. She chases across Scotland and Europe for the lucrative fiancé Lord Farintosh. But, when he still manages to be caught on the net, the engagement is again upset because of the scandal in the Barnes Newcom family. His wife runs away from him, at which he scoffed and even beat.

The aged Colonel Thomas Vyukom returns from India. He became rich, became a shareholder and one of the directors of the Bundelkund Indian Bank and is trying to make his son Clive happy with the help of Barnes Newcom. He mercilessly deceives him, only giving hope for success. The Colonel is struck by the baseness of Barnes, their enmity translates into an open struggle during the parliamentary elections in their hometown of Newcom. Barnes, booed and almost beaten by a crowd of voters who knew about the sins of his youth, is decisively defeated. But the colonel is not able to take advantage of the fruits of his victory. The Bundelkund Indian bank crashes, not without the help of the Newcom Banking House. «Outrageous and skillful cheating,» one of the many fraudulent businesses that thrive at the expense of simpletons, the narrator writes about this.

Clive, listening to the persuasion of his father, marries Rosie Mackenzie, but this does not bring him happiness. In addition, the life of the whole family is poisoned by the angry and greedy Mrs. Mackenzie, who, by the grace of the colonel, lost a lot of money during the collapse of the bank. Now Clive is poor and forced to sell his work to small booksellers. He is depressed and gloomy, although fellow artists are trying to help him. Rosie dies after giving birth, and the colonel finds his last refuge in the almshouse at the School of Gray Monks. Here he once studied, here he studied science and his son. The narrative culminates in the last pages of the novel, when already on his deathbed "this man with an infant soul heard the call and appeared before his Creator." Among the relatives surrounding him is Ethel. In her paternal grandmother’s papers, she finds a letter, in which she refused the colonel six thousand pounds. This saves Clive and his little son from total poverty. Ethel herself is reborn under the influence of all the troubles that have fallen on her family (her father and grandmother die). She is greatly influenced by the wife of Pendennis Laura, a model of family virtue, a strong, independent and moral woman. Ethel takes care of the abandoned mother of the children of Barnes, is engaged in charity work.

At the end of the novel, the author appears on the stage and discusses the fate of the heroes: Ethel may unite with Clive, and they will raise his son together; Barnes Newcom will marry again and will be enslaved to her new wife, Mrs. Mackenzie will not have the audacity to take money from Clive, and she will leave it to little Tommy ...


The author is against dividing the characters into «pure» and «unclean», villains and saints. Each has one and the other, and the author gradually reveals that Clive, devoid of vile practicality and the spirit of profit, is a characterless and faceless hero, and Ethel is not only a proud and suffering beauty, but also a weak, conceited creature, a voluntary victim of prejudice. The noble colonel, who conquers with magnanimity, moral purity and selflessness, turns out to be Don Quixote with the naivete of a child whose blindness and self-confidence (just remember his part in banking) are «redeemed» only by a tragic ending that returns this image to its original elevation and touch. «It’s hard to even imagine,» writes Thackeray, «how many different reasons each of our actions or addictions determines; how often, analyzing their motives, I took one after the other and, having invented many glorious, worthy and lofty reasons for my act, I began to be proud of myself ... So throw off your peacock plumage! «Walk the way Nature created you, and thank Heaven that your feathers are not too black.»