|William Makepeace Thackeray|
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863) was the major rival to Dickens—their disagreements were both personal and professional—and author of Vanity Fair (1847–1848), the first great example of the Victorian multiplot novel. Thackeray was born in Calcutta, where his father worked for the East India Company and later collected taxes. After his father’s death in 1815, he was sent to live in England. Along the way, while the ship was in port at St. Helena, the future novelist caught a glimpse of Napoleon in exile. He left Cambridge without taking his degree, largely because of a financial crisis brought on by gambling. His family life was also marked by disappointment. After only four years of marriage, his wife suffered a complete mental breakdown. In 1842, she was placed in an institution, where she lived for another 50 years. Thackeray never remarried and seems to have devoted himself to the care of his two surviving daughters, one of whom became a novelist in her own right. He began his literary career in the 1830s, working as both editor and writer, eventually producing his best work for Punch. His real breakthrough came with Vanity Fair, a work that he also illustrated. Billed as a “novel without a hero,” Vanity Fair challenges almost every dominant social value, including marriage and motherhood, imaging a fictional world in which anyone can be the object of both ridicule and sympathy. Thackeray’s major works of fiction include The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844, revised 1856), later made into a film by Stanley Kubrick (1975); The History of Pendennis (1848–1850); The History of Henry Esmond (1852); and The Newcomes (1853–1855). He died on Christmas Eve, at the age of 52.
[Courtesy: Professor Timothy Spurgin]