William Makepeace Thackeray Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201593-Thackeray.jpg William 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...

(The entire section is 972 words.)


(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,...

(The entire section is 377 words.)