In the Overture, which is a prologue to the narrative, the representatives of English society are compared to the heroes of fables, who are old as the world – cowards and braggarts, offenders and their victims, rogues and simpletons. Good and evil are mixed, and the poor man is not necessarily honest, but the rich man is cruel, the cheat deceives, but an honest man “does not remain in the wrong”. So it was always, so it happens in the 30-ies. XIX century. in London, where the action of the novel proceeds.
The narration is conducted on behalf of the writer Arthur Pendennis, a senior fellow at the London school of Gray Monks, the main character Clive Newcome. Pendennis is going to offer the reader a story where crows perform in peacock feathers and peacocks make fun
In a different light the relatives of the deceased wife of the colonel are depicted: they are modest, poor, and heartfelt people. Such is the aunt Haniman, who lives in the resort town of Brighton and rents the rooms to the guests. Such is the old lady Miss
By the time of his father’s return from India, Clive is already a handsome young man. He has the ability to draw, and Colonel Newcome takes him from the school of Gray Monks and gives him training in painting. Clive will later recall this time as the happiest in his life. True, relatives believe that the son of a colonel should choose a more solid occupation. However, the Colonel himself, an honest man, direct and independent, believes that any work is acceptable to a gentleman, if it is not dishonorable. Colonel Newcome dreams of his son marrying the daughter of banker Brian Newcome Ethel and then his life will be arranged. Clive himself paints portraits of Ethel and praises her beauty. However, her mother’s grandmother, Lady Kew, an ominous old woman who influences all the affairs of the Newcome family, does not like Clive and the colonel. Cousin Clive Barnes dissolves rumors that he is drunk, plays dice. And while the other relatives agree that Clive is a modest, courageous and sweet young man, Ethel begins to believe these rumors and pleads with God to guide Clive into the true path. He also leads a way of life that is normal for his age: he accepts friends, talks with them about literature, takes a great interest in historical painting, goes to Paris and admires the paintings of the Louvre in a letter to Pendennis.
Together with the colonel, his old friend in India, Mr. Binnie, still lives in his house in London. When he broke his leg, from Scotland, his sister Mrs. McKenzie and her daughter Rosie come to take care of him. Surprisingly nice and beautiful ladies bring animation to the colonel’s house, although Clive also has to move to their studio on another street because of them.
A calm and unhurried narrative takes a dramatic turn. First, fortune changes Mr. Hanimenu – he has rivals and “lead the sheep into their sheepfolds,” they beat off the flock. The preacher gets into debt and gets to the convict’s house, where he gets Colonel Newcome, whose business also does not go brilliantly. He sells his horses and is going back to India to finish serving in the army and then, having received a good pension, to return forever to England. Colonel – a noble and simple-minded gentleman, who in life is guided first of all by feelings of duty and honor. Love, duty, family, religion – all these problems are very much occupied by the narrator. However, understanding, for example, the debt of the characters in the novel is different. The old lady Kew believes that her duty to her loved ones is, to promote their progress in the light. The colonel, however, believes that relatives should be helped in every possible way, to surround them with care, to instruct them with a kind word.
Clive heads to Italy. On the way, in Germany, he meets the family of Brian Newcome – 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 big world, which is cunning and cruel. Here all Newcomas gather – “our Baden Congress”, as Ethel says. She is still beautiful and charming and knows that young girls are sold as Turkish women, “they are waiting for the buyer to come for them.” Ethel is betrothed to the young lord Kew – Clive is startled at the news. Kew is no longer the same rake as he was before. Now this is a highly moral decent man. He helps to settle scandals in the resort, but he himself becomes a victim of such a scandal. Ethel, wishing to prove his resolute and determined character, behaves at a ball in Baden-Baden as “
Ethel, encouraged by his grandmother, flits from the ball to the ball, from reception to reception, leaving Clive no hope of reciprocity. She is chasing Scotland and Europe for a lucrative bridegroom, Lord Farintosh. But, when he still manages to catch on the net, the engagement is again upset because of the scandal in the Barnes Newcome family. He runs away from his wife, whom he mocked and even beat.
From India comes the aged Colonel Thomas Watch. He got rich, became a shareholder and one of the directors of the Indian Bundelkund bank and tries to arrange the happiness of his son Clive with the help of Barnes Newcome. He mercilessly deceives him, only giving hope for success. The colonel is struck by Barnes’s meanness, their enmity is pouring into open struggle during the parliamentary elections in their hometown of Newcombe. Barnes, booed and almost beaten by a crowd of voters who knew about the sins of his youth, suffers a decisive defeat. But the colonel can not take advantage of the fruits of his victory. The Indian Bundelkund bank is failing, not without the help of the Newcomov banker’s house. “Outrageous and skilful trickery,” one of the many fraudulent enterprises that thrive at the expense of simpletons, “the narrator writes about this.
Clive, having heeded the persuasions 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 vicious and greedy Mrs. McKenzie, who, by the mercy of the Colonel, lost a lot of money in the collapse of the bank. Now Clive is poor and forced to sell his work to small booksellers. He is depressed and gloomy, although his friends-artists are trying to help him. Rosie dies after childbirth, and the colonel finds his last shelter in the hospice at the school of Gray Monks. Here he once studied, there passed science and his son. The narration reaches its culmination on the last pages of the novel, when on his deathbed “this man with a baby’s soul heard a call and appeared before his Creator.” Among the relatives around him is Ethel. In the papers of her grandmother on the paternal line, she finds a letter, in which she denied the Colonel six thousand pounds. This saves Clive and his young son from total poverty. Ethel herself is reborn under the influence of all the troubles that have fallen upon her family. She is greatly influenced by Pendennis Laura’s wife, an example of family virtue, a strong, independent and highly moral woman. Ethel takes care of the abandoned children of Barnes, is engaged in charity.
At the end of the novel, the author comes to the stage and talks about the fate of the heroes: Ethel may join with Clive, and they will bring up his son together; Barnes Newcome will marry again and fall into bondage with his new wife, Mrs. Mackenzie will not have the nerve to take money from Clive, and she will leave them to little Tommy…
The author is against the division of characters into “pure” and “unclean”, villains and saints. In each there is one and the other, and the author gradually reveals that, without the vile practicality and the spirit of profit, Clive is a spineless and faceless hero, and Ethel is not only a proud and suffering beauty, but also a weak, vain creature, a voluntary victim of prejudice. Noble Colonel, conquering generosity, moral purity and disinterestedness, turns out to be Don Quixote with the naivete of a child, whose blindness and self-confidence are “redeemed” only by a tragic ending, returning this image to an original sublimity and touching. “It’s hard to imagine,” writes Thackeray, “how many different causes each action or addiction determines, how often, when analyzing my motives, I took one for another and, having devised many glorious, worthy and high reasons for his action, began to be proud of himself… So throw off your peacock feathers! Walk the way Nature created you, and thank Heaven that your feathers are not too black. “