William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863) is best remembered today for his 1848 novel Vanity Fair, and its scheming central character Becky Sharp. His first full-length work of fiction also featured an anti-heroine: Catherine, a Story first appeared in Fraser’s Magazine between May 1839 and February 1840, and told the tale of Catherine Hayes, an 18th-century thief and murderer.
In that February 1840 issue, shown here, Thackeray explains the objectives behind the novel. He is concerned about the portrayal of criminals in recent novels as rounded, human characters, and the consequent risk of glamourising their evil doings. Examples he cites include the Artful Dodger in Charles Dickens’s (1812–1870) Oliver Twist, or William Harrison Ainsworth’s (1805–1882) Jack Sheppard, a sensational portrayal of the 18th-century robber of that name.
While praising the authors’s prowess, he believes he has the moral high ground, by writing about criminals in a way that will ‘cause the public to hate them’.