Skip to Content

Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

The Story of Mary Ancel

Author: William Makepeace Thackeray
Story Originally Published: ??? I know it appeared in an 1840’s collection, but I think it appeared in a magazine or newspaper before that point. Not sure.
Found in Collection: Classic Victorian & Edwardian Ghost Stories, edited by Rex Collings

The Story

Pierre is a fourteen-year-old orphan living with his uncles and his seventeen-year-old cousin Mary Ancel. The two cousins are in love with each other, and when her father finds out, he sends Pierre off to train for the priesthood. Only problem is, it is the middle of the French Revolution (specifically the Reign of Terror), and the man he was supposed to train with is a very prominent member of the Committee of Public Safety.

So. This man, Schneider, has foresaken his beliefs in the church, and has become a tyrant. And, is of a very selfish man who is just trying to get ahead in his life. Oh, huzzah.

It’s only expected that when Pierre mentions his cousin Mary, and how perfect and wonderful she is, and what a huge fortune she possesses, to Schneider, Schneider would want to possess Mary for his own. And so he threatens her uncle with threat of the guillotine of he doesn’t give her to him in marriage. So of course, Mary cannot do anything but agree to marry this monster of a man and forget about her dearly beloved cousin… or is there another way out of this mess?

The Response

This story was actually quite surprising to me. Previously, all I had known of Thackeray’s work was Vanity Fair, and I did NOT get along with that book AT ALL. Yes, Vanity Fair is a classic, it’s a satire on how we are all too attached to wordly goods, blah blah blah but oh my goodness I loathed it. So I was surprised by how much I liked this one.

The Story of Mary Ancel is very engaging – I was interested right from the beginning, and it read very well. It wasn’t hard to get accustomed to the language and narrative, as it can be in some books/stories written around that time. And it doesn’t go on for a half of the story setting up what is going to happen, but gets down to it right at the beginning. (That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about some of the stories in this book – they go on so long just introducing the era and place and you don’t even meet any characters until halfway through.)

So that was all good… but… well… I just do not get why this book is in this collection! There are no ghosts! Nothing spooky! Nothing gothic! Nothing like that!! Instead, it’s about a strong girl who outsmarts one of Robespierre’s greatest proponents. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really thoroughly did… but I just don’t get why this would be included in a collection of Edwardian and Victorian ghost stories.

I really couldn’t care about the main character, Pierre… I thought what he had with his cousin was more puppy love than real love, but we all know my adoration of kick-arse female characters, and she seemed a whole lot more kick-arse than a lot of women portrayed in fiction those days. She was rather ingenious and a lot braver than a lot of fictional females. Who would pretend to agree to marry a man, only to really plan to expose him for what he really is while the marriage ceremony is about to take place? Quite admirable, really.

The Bottom Line

Now – is Thackeray’s other stuff more like this, or more Vanity Fair? Because if it’s like this than I totally would like to read more… but if it’s ANYTHING like Vanity Fair then I will be QUITE happy with this being the only Thackeray I enjoy.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 7:03 am August 20, 2010.
Category: Short Stories
Book Author(s):