William Makepeace Thackeray Additional 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,...

(The entire section is 963 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

William Makepeace Thackeray Published by Gale Cengage

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...

(The entire section is 875 words.)


(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 understand Victorian England.


(Novels for Students)

William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta India on July 18, 1811, the only child of English parents. His father, Richmond, worked for...

(The entire section is 393 words.)