William Makepeace Thackeray

Melissa Raines

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:
William Makepeace Thackeray

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William Makepeace Thackeray (b. 18 July 1811–d. 23 December 1863) was born in Calcutta, India, the only son of British parents, but he was sent to England for his education at the age of five. In spite of the early death of his father and the separation from his mother, Thackeray’s young life was full of promise; he was the sole heir to his father’s fortune and studied for a period at Cambridge. However, Thackeray never completed his degree, and gambling and successive Indian bank failures resulted in the loss of his fortune while he was still quite young. His marriage to Isabella Shawe in 1836 was a love match, but Isabella’s development of severe mental illness left Thackeray a widower emotionally, struggling to support himself and his daughters. He described his early literary efforts as “writing for his life,” and he gained some popularity through his serialized novels (such as Catherine and The Luck of Barry Lyndon), illustrations, travel writing, and satirical contributions to literary magazines. His first real success came with the 1847 publication of Vanity Fair, the novel for which he is most popularly known. A prolific, if somewhat disorganized, writer, he also published The History of Henry Esmond, The Newcomes, and The History of Pendennis, among other fiction, lectures, and journalism, before his rather sudden death in 1863. In spite of the popularity of his novels and the iconic view of Vanity Fair in particular, he is one of the least studied of the great Victorian novelists. Early critical views of Thackeray the novelist tended to focus on the autobiographical aspects of his writing. More recent criticism has highlighted his complex and subversive presentation of women as well as his troubling conceptions of race. One constant in the area of Thackerayan criticism is a focus on the challenging narrators in his novels and the complicated sense of morality that emerges as a result—a product of Thackeray’s own effort to balance his biting satire with his commitment to social realism.

Article.  9570 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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