Between May 1839 and February 1840, Thackeray published a story in Fraser’s Magazine which was expressly designed to counteract the romanticization of crime and criminals in such contemporary novels as Bulwer Lytton’s Paul Clifford and Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard. Catherine: A Story is set in the early eighteenth century and is based on a murder case recorded in The Newgate Calendar—an account that Thackeray broadened out considerably and enriched with a Jewish narrator and his first German villain. Once again he chose a speaking name for this latter figure. ‘Count Gustavus Adolphus Maximilian von Galgenstein’ points to the historical past (Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish leader of the Protestant forces in the Thirty Years War, and the Emperor Maximilian, immortalized by Dürer) and to the ‘gallow’s hill’ for which the villainous Galgenstein seems predestined. His is no motiveless malignity, however; he has to make his way through a cruel world as a younger son of an English mother and a Bavarian father, thanks to whose title of nobility

he enjoyed along with a dozen other brothers, the title of count: eleven of these, of course, were penniless; one or two were priests, one a monk, six or seven in various military services, and the elder at home at Schloss Galgenstein breeding horses, hunting wild boars, swindling tenants, living in a great house with small means; obliged to be sordid at home all the year, to be splendid for a month at the capital, as is the way with many other noblemen. (iii. 6—7)

The narrator traces Galgenstein’s path to his mother’s native country: from being page to a nobleman in France and a minor member of the French king’s gardes de corps’, then back to Germany as lieutenant and captain in the Bavarian service; and after the battle of Blenheim to the 91victorious English side, along with two German regiments. Things do not go altogether Galgenstein’s way in England, where he encounters more skilful rogues, who cheat and rob him; but eventually he recovers his fortunes and contracts a venal marriage with an older Dutch woman after returning to the Continent. He has, however, in the meantime, entered a sado-masochistic relationship with Catherine Hayes, the main protagonist of Thackeray’s story, and fathered a child on her. In 1715 Galgenstein returns to England as Bavarian ambassador, and renews relations with Catherine, who embroils him, together with their son, Thomas Billings, in the murder of her husband, John Hayes. Galgenstein escapes the gallows indicated by his name only by being driven mad when he sees John Hayes’s severed head:

He was taken up a hopeless idiot, and so lived for years and years, clanking the chain, and moaning under the lash, and howling through long nights when the moon peered through the bars of his solitary cell, and he buried his face in the straw. (iii. 174)

Galgenstein’s maxim that ‘Women are like dogs, they like to be ill-treated’ (iii. 34) and his relationship with the fierce Catherine, who ultimately spells his doom, have given rise to some well-deserved praise of his creator’s awareness ‘of the subtle, irrational workings of masochism’ in a fierce character, who, as one person in the story jokes, resembled a beefsteak, in that she grew ‘more tender as she was thumped’ (iii. 36). Juliet McMaster and Micael M. Clarke have sensitively explored this relationship, based on Thackeray’s recognition, in Clarke’s words, ‘that it is not women’s “nature” but social attitudes that make people slavish’. What is most remarkable, however, about this constellation is that the apparent victim, Catherine, becomes the temptress who brings about her seducer’s doom along with her own—a striking exemplification of Nietzsche’s assertion that the weak have means to undermine and thwart the apparently ascendant in the struggle for power.