04 October 2018, The Tablet

Rome or Babylon: was William Thackeray a violent anti-Catholic?

Thackeray and the Church

Rome or Babylon: was William Thackeray a violent anti-Catholic?

Olivia Cooke as Vanity Fair's heroine Becky Sharpe and Tom Bateman as Rawdon Crawley


here is a fair-sized doctoral thesis waiting to be written on the topic of  “Anti-Catholic Sentiment in the Early Victorian Novel”. Its subjects would doubtless include Charles Dickens, not least for his description of the Jesuit priests of Genoa “slinking noiselessly about, in pairs, like black cats”. There would be a place in it for Anthony Trollope, who once endowed the Italian pretender to an English marquisate with the highly implausible name of “Popenjoy”. And, naturally, a chapter or two would have to be reserved for William Makepeace Thackeray, whose anti-Catholic stance is, in certain respects, the most virulent of them all.

The principal item on the charge sheet is his Irish Sketch Book, the record of a four-month visit made in the summer and autumn of 1842, a good four years before he began work on Vanity Fair, in which Thackeray’s dislike of the “slavish brute superstition” of the Catholic faith declares itself from one stopping-off point to the next.

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