Books: The Great Swell

THACKERAY: THE AGE OF WISDOM—1847-1863 (523 pp.)—Gordon N. Ray—McGraw-Hill ($8).

William Makepeace Thackeray was the greatest prose stylist of his day, and the tallest (6 ft. 3 in.). Once, staring over the heads of a crowd, he saw himself being watched at a distance by "a strange visage" that studied him "with an expression of comical woebegoneness." Just as he was getting interested in the "rueful being," he discovered that it was himself, reflected in a mirror.

In his previous volume, Thackeray: The Uses of Adversity, University of Illinois Provost Gordon N. Ray, No. 1...

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