A Blupete Biography Page

William Makepeace Thackeray

The English novelist, Thackeray, was born in India to well-to-do parents. At the tender age of 6 years, William was sent away by his mother (his father had died and she had remarried). He was to make the long sea voyage to London, there to attend school. Thackeray was to read law at Cambridge (1829) "but abandoned the idea of the bar in order to explore journalism and art." Thackeray completed no degrees. He spent three years in Paris trying unsuccessfully to be a painter. On returning to England in 1836, he married1 and turned his hand to writing; he was to soon win "a popular and a critical reputation."

Thackeray's works include Vanity Fair (1847-48), The History of Pendennis (1848-50), Henry Esmond (1852) and Newcomes (1853-55). In the The History of Pendennis Thackeray tells of his experiences at Cambridge. "Vanity Fair is the first novel to give a conspectus of London society with its mingling of rich parvenus and decadent upper class ..." The Newcomes show what happens to young lovers when they are left to "the mercy of scheming relatives and meanspirited rival suitors."2

Though criticized as a historian3, Thackeray's The Four Georges (1855) dealing with the Hanoverian kings of England is well worth reading. Then there is Thackeray's Henry Esmond, generally considered the finest of the Victorian historical novels. From a reading of Henry Esmond (written as "history familiar rather than heroic"4) one may gain an appreciation of the backgrounds to both the Battle of the Boyne (1690) and Marlborough's victory at Blenheim (1704). At the end of the story, we see our hero, Henry Esmond, marrying his mistress, Rachel, and the pair going off to Virginia. From this last scene was to come the sequel, The Virginians (1857-59).

If interested in 18th century authors (such as: Swift, Congreve, Addison, Steele, Prior, Gay, Pope, Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne) then read Thackeray's The English Humorists.

Thackeray's works are readily available on the 'NET . According to Chambers the best biography on Thackeray was that that was done by Saintsbury (1909).

(For a sample of Thackeray's writing see his essay, "Nil Nisi Bonum.")


1 After the birth of their third child, Mrs. Thackeray's mind became affected; and, so, the family was broken up and the children sent off to their grandmother's at Paris. Incidentally, there were three daughters, one of whom married Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) who fathered Virginia Woolf (1882-1941).

2 Chambers Biographical Dictionary. More generally, as David Cecil has it: "Thackeray's books are like memories of an old man looking back, disillusioned but not embittered by experience, in the calm summer twilight of his days." [Early Victorian Novelists (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1935) at p. 88.]

3 Augustine Birrell thought Thackeray to have written in a "lazy literary fashion"; and that, Thackeray was not careful in historical details. (See "The Muse of History.")

4 As Thackeray set out in his preface to the work.


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Peter Landry