William Makepeace Thackeray: Rise in Literature through ‘Vanity Fair’

Introduction to William Thackeray

William Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray, (born July 18, 1811, Calcutta, India—died Dec. 24, 1863, London, Eng.), English novelist whose reputation rests chiefly on Vanity Fair (1847–48), a novel of the Napoleonic period in England, and The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (1852), set in the early 18th century.

Early Life

Thackeray was the only son of Richmond Thackeray, who was an administrator in the East India Company. When he died, Thackeray was sent home to England after which his mother joined him in 1820. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1828–30. In 1830 he left Cambridge without taking a degree, and during 1831–33 he studied law at the Middle Temple, London. He had inherited 20,000 pounds from his father but soon lost his fortune, through gambling and unlucky speculations and investments.

Thackeray married young and had three daughters, of whom one died in infancy. In the year 1840, Mrs. Thackeray became insane. Thackeray lived for his daughters and remained a widower in effect for the rest of his life. The publication of his novel Vanity Fair brought him both fame and prosperity. From this novel onwards, he was an established author.

Vanity Fair (1847–48), was published as a novel serially in monthly parts, a formula that had been previously used by Dickens. The novel catapulted him to fame, establishing a new genre. The novel is deliberately antiheroic, he states that in this novel, his objective is to indicate and empahsize the vanities of the people of that society.

The Virginians was Thackeray’s next novel, which is set partly in America and partly in England in the latter half of the 18th century. In that time, he was regarded as the only possible rival to Dickens. His portrayal of contemporary life were real and were accepted as such by the middle classes. Through his works, he analyzed and satirized snobbery and examined  subjects such as hypocrisy, secret emotions, and the vanity of much of life.

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