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Thaddeus of Warsaw

Thaddeus of Warsaw was an 1803 novel written by Jane Porter. It comprised four volumes and was a groundbreaking work of historical fiction,[1] "arguably the first English historical novel".[2] The story was derived from eyewitness accounts of British soldiers and Polish refugees fleeing the failed revolts against the foreign occupation of Poland in the 1790s. The work is a hybrid: the first third relates developments and battles within Poland as a historical novel, the remainder of the books serve as a novel of manners describing how Thaddeus, having befriended a British soldier in the Russian army and learned from his mother that he himself is half English, flees to London to seek help for his cause among the British. He sells art, falls in love, and finds (and restores the honor of) his long-lost father.[3] Porter wrote that her goal was "to exhibit so truly heroic and enduring a portrait of what every Christian man ought to be"; she felt obliged to look at the past and to Poland because such people were "extinct" within Britain in her time.[2] Written during a lull in the Napoleonic Wars, Thaddeus of Warsaw includes numerous speeches and scenes arguing for a spirited defense of constitutional government against absolutism and criticizes the perceived dilettantism of the English aristocracy.[2]

It went through at least 84 editions,[4] including translations into French and German.[5] The German edition was praised by Tadeusz Kościuszko,[6] the inspiration for the "Thaddeus" of the title and a hero of the American Revolution, and earned Porter a ladyship from the King of Württemberg.[3] The book was responsible for the name of Warsaw, North Carolina (founded c. 1838).[7] The character of Thaddeus Sobieski was the namesake of Thaddeus Lowe (b. 1832), the father of aerial reconnaissance in the United States, and Pembroke Somerset was the namesake of Pembroke, Kentucky (est. 1836).[8] Nonetheless, in the shadow of Walter Scott's Waverley and the general dismissal of early female novelists by late Victorian critics,[2] Porter came to be so disregarded that the editor of an 1897 edition of Porter's diary took it for granted that her readers would not have heard of her and an 1905 edition of Thaddeus was published as part of a series on Half-Forgotten Books.[4] By 1947, the Marxist critic Lukács felt entitled to argue that Scott's was the first "true" historical novel, which presented the past as a distinct social and cultural setting.[9][2]

Despite the work's success, Porter was described as "totally destitute or nearly so", was obliged to circulate among her friends as a houseguest, and repeatedly petitioned the government for a literary pension (denied in part because of the hostility or indifference of Scott and other male writers[10]). This penury arose because the rights to Thaddeus and her other stories were – after protracted litigation – no longer held by Porter but belonged to her various publishers, including Owen Rees,[6] Richard Bentley, and George Virtue. Issuing "improved" and "corrected" versions with prefaces and other errata permitted her to keep some income from works.[4]


  1. McLean, Thomas. "Nobody's Argument: Jane Porter and the Historical Novel". Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Fall–Winter, 2007), pp. 88–103. University of Pennsylvania Press. Accessed 26 September 2013.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Anessi, Thomas. "England's Future/Poland's Past: History and National Identity In Thaddeus of Warsaw". Accessed 26 September 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 McMillan, Dorothy. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "Porter, Jane" Oxford Univ. Press (Oxford), 2004. Accessed 1 October 2013.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Looser, Devoney. Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–1850, pp. 157 ff. JHU Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4214-0022-8. Accessed 30 September 2013.
  5. Laskowski, Maciej. "Jane Porter's Thaddeus of Warsaw as evidence of Polish–British relationships". Instytucie Filologii Angielskiej (Poznan), 2012. Accessed 26 September 2013.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lee, Elizabeth. Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 46. "Porter, Jane". Smith, Elder, & Co. (London), 1885. Accessed 1 October 2013.
  7. Town of Warsaw. "History of Warsaw". 2010. Accessed 26 September 2013.
  8. Rennick, Robert. Kentucky Place Names, p. 229. University Press of Kentucky (Lexington), 1987. Accessed 1 Aug 2013.
  9. Lukács György. The Historical Novel. Merlin (London), 1962. (Orig. published in Hungarian in 1947)
  10. Looser, p. 159.

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