Study Guide

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201593-Thackeray.jpgWilliam Makepeace Thackeray Published by Salem Press, Inc.

William Makepeace Thackeray (THAK-uh-ree) was born in Calcutta, India (where his father was in the service of the East India Company), in 1811, and died in London in 1863. At least until 1859, when George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859) appeared, he was Charles Dickens’s only possible rival as the leading Victorian novelist.{$S[A]Solomons, Ikey, Jr.;Thackeray, William Makepeace}{$S[A]Titmarsh, M. A.;Thackeray, William Makepeace}{$S[A]Fitz-Boodle, George Savage[Fitz Boodle, George Savage];Thackeray, William Makepeace}

Thackeray’s father, Richmond Thackeray, died in 1815; his mother thereafter married Captain Henry Carmichael-Smyth, the original of Thackeray’s fictional Colonel Newcome. In 1822 the boy was sent to the Charterhouse School, where he experienced real cruelty. A school bully flattened his nose beyond repair, rendering him physically grotesque. For the rest of his life Thackeray was acutely self-conscious about his appearance. He was an indifferent student at Cambridge University, leaving without taking a degree. Lacking a definite aim or goal in life, he spent time in Weimar, where he had a private audience with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. For a while he lived a bohemian life as an art student in Paris; he then read for the law at the Middle Temple, but he disliked it so heartily that he never practiced. After losing most of his considerable inheritance through a combination of folly and ill luck, Thackeray thought he would make his living as an artist. He sought to illustrate Dickens’s The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-1837), but Dickens turned him down. Fortunately for posterity Thackeray turned to literature, but he always loved art and he later illustrated many of his own writings.

Thackeray began his career by burlesquing popular contemporary novelists whose work he considered mawkish, absurd, or morally vicious for Fraser’s Magazine; the most important outcome of these labors was his Catherine, in which he attacked the vogue of the crime story. A more important enterprise, Barry Lyndon, was an eighteenth century rogue story, influenced by Thackeray’s admiration for Henry Fielding’s Jonathan Wild (1743). The writer did not really catch the public fancy until he published Vanity Fair in 1847-1848. From then on, though his sales always ran far behind...

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William Makepeace Thackeray Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born in India, William Makepeace Thackeray was the only son of Richmond and Ann Becher Thackeray. His grandfathers on both sides of the family had been with the Indian civil service, and after his father died in September, 1815, he was sent to school in England. He attended schools in Southampton, Chiswick, and Charterhouse; the bullying he received there was later fictionalized. One of his first pen names was Michael Angelo Titmarsh, adopted because his nose was broken by a classmate, as Michelangelo’s had been three centuries earlier. He called his school “Slaughterhouse” for the brutality he endured there. His mother remarried, and he spent 1828 in Devon with her and Major-General Henry Carmichael-Smythe. From February, 1829, to July, 1830, he attended Trinity College, Cambridge. He traveled in Germany until May, 1831, and met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar. He briefly studied law in England. In 1832, he spent four months in Paris, and from 1834 he began training as a professional artist since he had always had a talent for drawing. On August 20, 1836, he married Isabel Shawe, whose neurotic, domineering mother became the model for all the terrible mothers-in-law in Thackeray’s fiction. Their daughter Anne was born in June, 1837; she later became a novelist and the editor of her father’s letters to Edward Fitzgerald, and of his complete works. She married Sir Richmond Ritchie of the India office. Jane was born in July, 1838, and died eight months later. Harriet, born in May, 1840, was to marry Sir Leslie Stephen in 1867. In 1840, Isabel became so depressed that she attempted suicide, and in 1846 she was declared incurably insane. The fortune Thackeray had inherited was dissipated by 1833, and the professional gamblers who swindled him out of his money figure in several of his stories. His stepfather invested in a paper so that Thackeray could write for it, but it failed, leaving them financially ruined. He wrote for twenty-four different periodicals between 1830 and 1844 trying to support his family, even applying to Charles Dickens for the job of illustrating the Pickwick Papers (1836-1837). Finally, the publication of Vanity Fair in 1848 made him a public figure. He began a series of public lectures which took him twice to the United States, from 1852 to 1853 and from 1855 to 1856. He died at the age of fifty-two on Christmas Eve, 1863.

William Makepeace Thackeray Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

William Makepeace Thackeray was born on July 18, 1811, in Calcutta, India. His father, Richmond Thackeray, pursued a family career in the East India Company; his mother, Anne Becher, traced her ancestry back to a sixteenth century sheriff of London. The senior William Makepeace Thackeray and John Harman Becher had extensive interests in India. After his father’s death in 1815, Thackeray’s mother married Major Henry Carmichael-Smith, a former suitor. As was the custom, Thackeray was sent to England at the age of five for reasons of health and education. His unhappy, early experiences at the Arthurs’ school and at Chiswick were later rendered in “Dr. Birch and his Young Friends” (1849).

At Cambridge, as a member of a privileged class, Thackeray was trained in the standards and preconceptions that he later pilloried in The Snobs of England, by One of Themselves (1846-1847; later published as The Book of Snobs, 1848, 1852) and many other works. He was left with a distaste for bullying and with a distrust of his own intellectual abilities. After two years at Cambridge, Thackeray abandoned the pursuit of academic honors. Although he believed that his education had, on the whole, served him ill, it nevertheless had given him a background in history and culture, a double appreciation that is well evidenced in Henry Esmond; it also convinced him of his social status, although his expensive aristocratic habits were to prove difficult to control.

The gentle satire evident in Vanity Fair’s Pumpernickel chapters reflect Thackeray’s happy six-month tour of Germany before he undertook to study law in London. While the discipline soon proved not to his taste, his life as a gentleman of fashion (a life that included large gambling debts) was congenial, at least until the collapse of many of the Indian commercial houses reversed his inheritance prospects. Almost relieved to be forced to make his own way, Thackeray decided to develop his talent for drawing, making friends with Daniel Maclise and being tutored by George Cruikshank. While in Paris studying art, he met and married Isabella Shawe, the daughter of a colonel in the Indian army. He endeavored to support his family through journalistic activities, even offering to illustrate Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836-1837, serial; 1837,...

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William Makepeace Thackeray Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111225985-Thackeray.jpgWilliam Makepeace Thackeray Published by Salem Press, Inc.

William Makepeace Thackeray (THAK-uh-ree) was born in Calcutta, India, on July 18, 1811, the son of Richmond Makepeace Thackeray, a collector for the East India Company, and Anne Becher Thackeray, whose ancestry could be traced back to a sixteenth century sheriff of London. His pampered life changed drastically when, after his father’s death, Thackeray was sent to live with relatives in England to attend schools in South Hampton and Chiswick. His mother remained in Calcutta, married again, and did not join her son in England for four more years. This period of separation deeply affected Thackeray throughout the rest of his life.

In 1822, Thackeray continued his education at Charterhouse, a London public school. He was unhappy there and made little progress, for Charterhouse also proved to be a brutal place for the nearsighted boy who was poor at games. Thus, Thackeray’s hatred of public schools and his critical view of a classical education were formed; later in life, this hostility softened somewhat. Charterhouse is featured in his writings, most notably as Grey Friars in The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family (1853-1855).

Thackeray entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1829, but left only one year later to visit France. From Paris, he traveled to Germany; his happy tour there is reflected in the Pumpernickel chapters of Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero (1847-1848). In Weimar, he met Germany’s leading man of letters, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Back in London, Thackeray’s literary career began with his ownership of The National Standard, a weekly literary periodical. He was soon forced to abandon this project for financial reasons, partly because of poor investments and partly because of his compulsive gambling. He had, however, gained a modest entrance to London’s literary world and had cultivated friendships with the poets Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Edward FitzGerald.

While at Charterhouse, Thackeray had become interested in what were to become lifelong passions—drawing and painting. With the failure of The National Standard, and...

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William Makepeace Thackeray Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although William Makepeace Thackeray is sometimes overshadowed by his contemporaries Charles Dickens and George Eliot, his works are essential in the history of the English novel. He is the master of a slow, expository style that, for range of effect, has seldom been equaled in English. His development of the intrusive narrator and his caustic realism greatly influenced writers of later generations, especially the psychological realists.

Born between that period of notable change from the Regency to the Victorian era, Thackeray composed historical pictures that provide a social history of that time. Vanity Fair remains his best novel, but his collected works are necessary reading for anyone who wants to...

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William Makepeace Thackeray Biography (Novels for Students)

William Makepeace Thackeray Published by Gale Cengage

William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta India on July 18, 1811, the only child of English parents. His father, Richmond, worked for the East India Company until he died four years after William's birth.

At the age of six, William was sent to a boarding school in England while his mother, Anne Becher Thackeray, remained in India. Unsurprisingly, the young child was lonely and unhappy. In 1819, his mother remarried and returned to England, where she and her new husband were able to give him the family life for which he longed.

Thackeray attended Charterhouse School and went on to Cambridge University's Trinity College but did not earn a degree. He studied art in Paris and later illustrated many of his written works, including Vanity Fair. It was in Paris that Thackeray met and married Isabella Shawe, an Irish woman. They soon moved back to London where Thackeray launched his writing career. He wrote for magazines, including the famous humor magazine Punch.

Isabella Thackeray suffered from mental illness after the birth of the couple's third child. After many failed attempts to cure her, Thackeray was forced, in 1842, to send his wife away to be cared for. Unable to rear his young daughters alone, he was separated from them as well. The loneliness and separation from family that had been so difficult for Thackeray as a child were no less painful for him as a grown man. Because his wife was alive (in fact, she outlived him by many years) and divorce was not an option, Thackeray never remarried.

The first work Thackeray published under his own name was Vanity Fair, a long, sprawling satire that was published in four installments in 1847 and 1848. It remains among his most well-known novels, along with The Luck of Barry Lyndon: A Romance of the Last Century (later published as The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon) and The Virginians: A Tale of the Last Century, inspired by Thackeray's travels in the United States in 1852-1853 and 1855-1856.

Thackeray was prolific, writing short fiction and nonfiction as well as novels. By the end of his life, he had achieved both critical and financial success. In addition, he had the joy of having his mother and two of his daughters living with him and of seeing daughter Anne recognized as a successful writer. Thackeray died at his London home on Christmas Eve in 1863.