Initial L

W.M. Thackeray


Wood engraving, probably by Joseph Swain

2 x 1½ inches

Illustration for Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, p.178.

One of George’s sisters playing with a black doll: apparently a decorative scene of the play-room, the image symbolizes the way in which Ms. Swartz, ‘the Black’, is exploited as if she were a play-thing. The initial exemplifies Thackeray’s imagery of childhood as a means to comment on adult corruption – a harsh and disturbing strategy in which innocence is conflated with experience, and the two intermingle. Thackeray’s adults have the ruthlessness of maturity and the amorality of children: a deeply misanthropic view of the world.

Scanned image and text by Simon Cooke.