The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray.

Front cover of the 1854 edition of
The Rose and the Ring
Vanity Fair is one of those books everyone seems to love except me; I read it once, wouldn't say I hated it but certainly didn't like it, then a few years later gave it another go and couldn't finish it. Since then, out of curiosity, I've been meaning to read another Thackeray, The Rose and the Ring, to see if it was Vanity Fair I didn't like or Thackeray himself, and it would seem I dislike Thackeray himself. Or his writing, at least.

The Rose and the Ring; or, The History of Prince Giglio and Prince Bulbo: A Fire-Side Pantomine for Great and Small Children was published in Christmas 1854 and does have the feel of the likes of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or A Winter's Tale: light entertainment to perk up a cold, wintery day. It tells the story of a royal family in the fictional countries of Paflagonia and Crim Tartary. It begins in Paflagonia with King Valoroso, the Queen, and Princess Angelica. A visit from Prince Bulbo of Crim Tartary, the son of King Padella, is expected, and we also learn that King Valoroso seized the throne from Prince Giglio, his nephew and prince of Paflagonia.

1883 edition.
Prince Giglio and Princess Angelica are very close friends, and Giglio once gave Angelica a ring that had belonged to his mother: the ring, we learn, had been enchanted by Fairy Blackstick to make its wearer appear more beautiful. When Angelica removes it (throwing it out of the window during an argument), we then see her for her unattractive self. Meanwhile, Prince Bulbo has a rose also enchanted by Fairy Blackstick, which, much to the dismay of Giglio, makes her fall in love with Bulbo. Countess Gruffanuff finds the magic ring and, by wearing it, convinces Giglio to marry her. Then she gives it to Betsinda, a maid, who then wears it herself and Giglio, Bulbo, and King Valoroso all fall in love with her, much to the fury of the queen and Princess Angelica, who drive her out. What they don't know is that Betsinda is in fact Rosalba, the brother of King Valoroso (who ought to be king).

At this point, I'm sorry to say, my attention started to wane. A similar thing happened with Vanity Fair; one minute it had me, the next minute gone. There's a farcical element to The Rose and the Ring, and I've never yet enjoyed any farcical humour. It's also a satire which slightly saved it on the monarchy and marriage (which was rather brave of Thackerary, I thought, given the time he was writing), but the one thing I did truly enjoy was the illustrations by Thackeray himself. I've just learned that Thackeray originally wanted to be an illustrator, and even applied to be the illustrator of The Pickwick Papers after the death of Robert Seymour (Hablot Knight Browne a.k.a. Phiz got the job). Here are a few of the illustrations, which remind me a little of John Tenniel (who illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871):

And that was my 27th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. I'm sorry, by the way - I hate writing negative reviews! Hopefully next week will be better: I've drawn The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier by Gustave Flaubert.


  1. I completely agree with you on Vanity it twice and I do not hate it but do not like it, per se! I did love this one though, both imagining it as a child and as an adult! As a child I loved the story and as an adult I love the satire and the take on the round of mill fairy tales! The illustrations are awesome!

    1. I did love the illustrations, unfortunately though that was about it :) Perhaps I wasn't in the right mood for it. It's short enough to think about revisiting one of these days :)

  2. it has seemed to me that Victorian parody runs more to the grotesque than i'm comfortable with; and T's satires have a lot of that sort of exaggeration... so it's unpleasant to read... maybe there's just a bit too much hate in them... or maybe i'm oversensitive; in any case, i don't read T much anymore...

    1. Grotesque - yes, that's the word, that's the very word. Too nightmarish to enjoy, I thought. Still one of these days I might try Vanity Fair again. Read it twice and still don't know what it's about!


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