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date: 07 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

According to some scholars, Victorian political liberalism inspired a new conception of the citizen and political subject,defined less in relation to belonging to a family or class than in terms of his/her mentality, including personal sentiments, memories, and tastes. On this view, one’s capacity for self-governance depended on the cultivation of certain mental capacities, among them the ability to generalize, as recommended by John Stuart Mill. William Makepeace Thackeray’s early fiction revises the historical fictional method he inherited from Sir Walter Scott by dramatizing the mental deficiencies of idiotic, morally stupid, or uncomprehending soldier protagonists. Blinded by class loyalty and hidebound convention, figures such as Barry Lyndon epitomize a system of aristocratic governance that political liberalism sought to correct. At the same time, Thackeray underscores the difficulty of cultivating rational habits of mind during the several wartime contexts out of which Victorian liberal subjectivity developed.

Keywords: Thackeray, wartime, soldier, history, Victorian, fiction, liberalism, memoir, John Stuart Mill, Barry Lyndon

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