William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray (thăk´ərē), 1811–63, English novelist, b. Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. He is important not only as a great novelist but also as a brilliant satirist. In 1830, Thackeray left Cambridge without a degree and later entered the Middle Temple to study law. In 1833 he became editor of a periodical, the National Standard, but the following year he settled in Paris to study art. There he met Isabella Shawe, whom he married in 1836. He returned to England in 1837, supporting himself and his wife by literary hack work and by illustrating. Three years later his wife became hopelessly insane; she was cared for by a family in Essex and survived her husband by 30 years. Thackeray sent his two young daughters to live with his parents in Paris, lived himself the life of a clubman in London, and worked assiduously to support his family. Throughout the 1830s and 40s, his novels appeared serially together with miscellaneous writings in several magazines. His "Yellowplush Correspondence," in which a footman assumes the role of social and literary critic of the times, appeared (1837–38) in Fraser's. As a contributor to Punch he often parodied the false romantic sentiment pervading the fiction of his day. In 1848, Thackeray achieved widespread popularity with his humorous Book of Snobs and the same year rose to major rank among English novelists with Vanity Fair, a satirical panorama of upper-middle-class London life and manners at the beginning of the 19th cent. The novel contains many fascinating characters, particularly Becky Sharp, who, although clever and unscrupulous, is also extremely appealing. His reputation increased in 1850 with the completion of the partly autobiographical novel Pendennis. In 1851 he delivered a series of lectures, English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century, which he repeated in a tour of the United States in 1852–53. In 1852 his novel of 18th-century life, Henry Esmond, appeared. The Newcomes, in which some of the characters of Pendennis reappear, came out serially in 1853–55. In 1855–56 he delivered another series of lectures in the United States entitled The Four Georges (pub. 1860). His next novel, The Virginians (1857–59), is a continuation of the Esmond story. In 1860 Thackeray became editor of the newly founded Cornhill Magazine, in which his last novels appeared—Lovel the Widower (1860), The Adventures of Philip (1861–62), and the unfinished historical romance, Denis Duval (1864). Thackeray's eldest daughter, Anne, Lady Ritchie, was also an author; his younger daughter Harriet married Sir Leslie Stephen.

See his complete works (26 vol., 1910–11); his letters (ed. by G. N. Ray, 4 vol., 1945–46); studies by R. A. Colby (1979) and E. F. Harden (1979); G. N. Ray, Thackeray (2 vol., 1955 and 1958, repr. 1972) and The Buried Life (1952, repr. 1974); D. J. Taylor, Thackeray: The Life of a Literary Man (2001).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

William Makepeace Thackeray: Selected full-text books and articles

Thackeray By Laurence Brander Longmans, Green & Co., 1959
Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero By W. M. Thackeray; John Sutherland Oxford University Press, 1998
The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq By William Makepeace Thackeray; Andrew Sanders Oxford University, 1984
William Thackeray: The Critical Heritage By Geoffrey Tillotson; Donald Hawes Routledge, 1995
Thackeray as Metahistorian, or the Realist Via Media By Barnaby, Edward T CLIO, Vol. 31, No. 1, Fall 2001
Thackeray By Gordon N. Ray McGraw-Hill, 1972
Figures of Finance Capitalism: Writing, Class, and Capital in the Age of Dickens By Borislav Knezevic Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Three "The Middle Class and the Novel in W. M. Thackeray's The Newcomes"
Society in the Novel By Elizabeth Langland University of North Carolina Press, 1984
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Willing Suspension of Social Probability in Fielding, Thackeray, and Dickens"
The Genealogy of the Literary Bildungsroman: Edward Bulwerlytton and W. M. Thackeray By Salmon, Richard Studies in the Novel, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Translating Life: Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics By Shirley Chew; Alistair Stead Liverpool University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Thackeray and the 'Old Masters'" begins on p. 233
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