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William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray William Makepeace Thackeray[1†]

William Makepeace Thackeray (July 18, 1811 – December 24, 1863) was an English novelist and illustrator, known for his satirical works[1†][2†]. His most notable works include the 1847–1848 novel “Vanity Fair”, a panoramic portrait of British society, and the 1844 novel “The Luck of Barry Lyndon”, which was adapted for a 1975 film[1†]. Thackeray was born in Calcutta, British India, and was sent to England after his father’s death in 1815[1†]. He studied at various schools and briefly attended Trinity College, Cambridge, before leaving to travel Europe[1†].

Early Years and Education

William Makepeace Thackeray was born on July 18, 1811, in Calcutta, India[3†][4†][5†]. He was the only child of Richmond and Anne Thackeray[3†][4†][5†]. His father, who worked for the East India Company, died when Thackeray was just four years old[3†][6†][5†]. After his father’s death, five-year-old Thackeray was sent to England to live with his aunt and receive his education[3†][4†].

Around 1818, Thackeray’s mother married Major Carmichael Smyth, an engineer and author[3†][4†]. In 1821, the couple moved back to England and reunited with Thackeray, who developed a close relationship with his stepfather[3†][4†].

Thackeray was a precocious child and showed a talent for drawing from a young age[3†][4†]. When he was eleven, he was sent to the prestigious Charterhouse School[3†][4†][6†][5†]. Schoolmates described him as a student who was not too serious, but very sociable[3†][4†]. He did not enjoy or participate in any sports or games, but he did learn about gentlemanly conduct—an ideal that he both criticized and upheld later in his life[3†][4†].

In 1829, Thackeray entered Trinity College at Cambridge University[3†][4†][6†]. He was only an average student and left the university the next year, convinced that it was not worth his while to spend more time in pursuit of a second-rate degree under an unsuitable educational institution[3†][4†]. A six-month stay in Weimar, Germany, gave Thackeray a more sophisticated polish, as well as a more objective view of English manners[3†][4†].

After Thackeray returned to London, he began studying law at the Middle Temple[3†][4†]. However, he seemed more devoted to the fashionable but expensive habits of drinking and gambling that he had acquired at Cambridge[3†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

After leaving Cambridge University and the Middle Temple, Thackeray considered painting as a profession and studied art in Paris[3†]. However, he soon turned to journalism to support his family[3†][1†]. He worked primarily for Fraser’s Magazine, The Times, and Punch[3†][1†]. His writing career began with satirical sketches like The Yellowplush Papers[3†][1†][7†].

Thackeray squandered much of his inheritance on gambling and unsuccessful newspapers[3†][1†]. Despite these setbacks, he gained fame with his novel Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of British society[3†][1†][8†]. He produced several other notable works, including The Luck of Barry Lyndon, which was adapted for a 1975 film by Stanley Kubrick[3†][1†][8†].

Thackeray began as a satirist and parodist, gaining popularity through works that showcased his fondness for roguish characters[3†][1†]. His early works were marked by savage attacks on high society, military prowess, marriage, and hypocrisy, often written under various pseudonyms[3†][1†]. His later novels, such as Pendennis and The Newcomes, reflected a mellowing in his tone, focusing on the coming of age of characters and critical portrayals of society[3†][1†].

In 1857, Thackeray unsuccessfully ran for Parliament[3†][1†]. He edited the Cornhill Magazine in 1860[3†][1†]. His health declined due to excessive eating, drinking, and lack of exercise, and he died from a stroke at the age of fifty-two[3†][1†].

During the Victorian era, Thackeray was ranked second to Charles Dickens but is now primarily known for Vanity Fair[3†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

William Makepeace Thackeray was a prolific writer, and his works spanned various genres, including novels, travel books, and satirical sketches[3†][1†][6†]. Here are some of his main works, along with additional information about each of them:

Thackeray’s works were marked by his fondness for roguish characters and his savage attacks on high society, military prowess, marriage, and hypocrisy[3†][1†]. His early works were often written under various pseudonyms[3†][1†]. His later novels reflected a mellowing in his tone, focusing on the coming of age of characters and critical portrayals of society[3†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

William Makepeace Thackeray’s works are renowned for their satirical and realistic portrayal of characters and society[7†][9†]. His novels, which span English social history from 1690 to 1863, are appreciated for their vivid characters, ranging from despicable scoundrels to noble heroes[7†]. Thackeray’s command of style, narrative technique, and his gift for satire brought these characters to life[7†].

Thackeray was known for experimenting with various forms of first-person narration, creating subtle distinctions in tone[7†]. Even when employing an omniscient narrator, he maintained a distinct voice, separate from the author[7†]. This narrative style was one of the pleasures of reading Thackeray for his Victorian audience[7†]. However, modern readers sometimes find his tendency to tell rather than dramatize as an intrusive disruption of illusion[7†].

Thackeray’s works, particularly “Vanity Fair” and “The Luck of Barry Lyndon”, are considered his masterpieces[7†]. They feature memorable protagonists who exhibit both heroic and venal qualities[7†]. His works laid the groundwork for the psychological realism of Henry James and presaged the works of John Galsworthy[7†][9†].

Thackeray’s personality also left a lasting impression. He was known to be a man of good will and a loving father[7†]. Despite facing difficult times in his own life, he reshaped these experiences into positive ones in his works[7†]. As a writer and talented caricaturist, he deftly skewered pretension and folly where he found them[7†]. As a man, he seemed to view human nature with charity and tolerance, affirming what he saw as its inherent good sense[7†].

Personal Life

William Makepeace Thackeray married Isabella Gethin Shawe on August 20, 1836[10†]. They had three children: Anne Isabella, Jane, and Harriet Marian[10†][11†]. Jane, unfortunately, did not survive infancy, passing away after just eight months[10†].

After the birth of their third child in 1840, Isabella fell into a deep depression[10†][1†][4†]. This mental illness left Thackeray in a challenging position, effectively making him a de facto widower[10†][1†]. It was reported that Isabella even attempted suicide during this difficult period[10†].

Thackeray’s personal experiences, including his wife’s tragic illness, greatly influenced his writing[10†][12†]. Despite the personal hardships he faced, Thackeray continued to produce notable works and contribute significantly to English literature[10†][12†].

Conclusion and Legacy

William Makepeace Thackeray’s legacy is significant in the world of literature. During his time, he was regarded as the only possible rival to Charles Dickens[13†]. His depictions of contemporary life were strikingly real and were accepted as such by the middle classes[13†]. As a professional, he provided novels, stories, essays, and verses for his audience, and he toured as a nationally known lecturer[13†].

Thackeray’s prose has the lucidity, spontaneity, and pace of good reading material, making it perfect for reading aloud in the long Victorian family evenings[13†]. Throughout his works, Thackeray analyzed and deplored snobbery and frequently gave his opinions on human behavior and the shortcomings of society[13†]. He examined subjects such as hypocrisy, secret emotions, the sorrows sometimes attendant on love, remembrance of things past, and the vanity of much of life[13†].

Thackeray’s high reputation as a novelist continued unchallenged to the end of the 19th century but then began to decline[13†]. However, “Vanity Fair” is still his most interesting and readable work and has retained its place among the great historical novels in the English language[13†].

Thackeray’s legacy is not just limited to his works. His personal experiences, including his wife’s tragic illness, greatly influenced his writing[13†][14†]. Despite the personal hardships he faced, Thackeray continued to produce notable works and contribute significantly to English literature[13†][14†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - William Makepeace Thackeray [website] - link
  2. New World Encyclopedia - William Makepeace Thackeray [website] - link
  3. Britannica - William Makepeace Thackeray: British author [website] - link
  4. Encyclopedia of World Biography - William Makepeace Thackeray Biography [website] - link
  5. Britannica Kids - William Makepeace Thackeray [website] - link
  6. Poetry Foundation - William Makepeace Thackeray [website] - link
  7. eNotes - William Makepeace Thackeray Analysis [website] - link
  8. IMDb - William Makepeace Thackeray - Biography [website] - link
  9. eNotes - William Makepeace Thackeray World Literature Analysis [website] - link
  10. SunSigns - William Makepeace Thackeray Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  11. GradeSaver - William Makepeace Thackeray Biography [website] - link
  12. CliffsNotes - Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray Biography [website] - link
  13. Britannica - William Makepeace Thackeray - Novelist, Satirist, Critic [website] - link
  14. National Portrait Gallery - William Makepeace Thackeray - Person [website] - link
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