W. M. Thackeray (1811-1863) was an English novelist best known for the satirical novel Vanity Fair (1848).
William Makepeace Thackeray was born on July 18, 1811 in Calcutta, British India. He was the only child of Anne Becher Thackeray and her husband, the East India Company collector Richmond Makepeace Thackeray.
Thackeray enjoyed a carefree and privileged upbringing in Calcutta until his father passed away in 1815. His mother sent her son to England in 1816 while remaining behind and remarrying in India. He was traumatized by the separation from his mother, who did not return to England for four more years. Thackeray was educated in Southampton and in Chiswick before enrolling at Charterhouse School in London.
In 1829 Thackeray began his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge University. Unhappy there, he left after a year and traveled to France and then to Germany. Among the figures he met there was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar.
Thackeray obtained his inheritance when he reached age twenty-one, but he lost much of it on gambling. He was also invested poorly in such projects as the short-lived periodical The National Standard. When it failed, Thackeray went to Paris to study art. He supported himself by writing for The Constitutional.
Thackeray married Isabella Shawe in 1836. When The Constitutional too failed, the couple moved to London. They had three daughters, Anne, Jane, and Harriet. Jane died as an infant. Harriet would later marry Sir Leslie Stephen, a famous writer and the father (by his second wife) of Virginia Woolf.
To support his growing family, Thackeray wrote fictional pieces and art criticism for Fraser's Magazine. He also contributed to The Times, The Foreign Quarterly Review, and The Morning Chronicle. After the birth of his youngest daughter, Harriet, in 1840, his wife became severely depressed. She eventually required institutionalization. Thackeray sent his daughters to be raised by his mother.
Thackeray's first full-length work of fiction was the serialized Catherine: A Story (1839-40). He began publishing in Punch, a weekly satirical magazine established in 1841. A particularly popular contribution was The Snob Papers, which he later collected as The Book of Snobs (1848).
Thackeray's great success, however, came with Vanity Fair, which appeared in monthly installments in 1847 and 1848. The novel was immensely popular even before all the chapters had been published. Remaining popular, Thackeray published such novels as Pendennis (1848–1850), The History of Henry Esmond (1852), The Newcomes (1855), The Rose and the Ring (1855), and The Virginians (1857–1859).
As a well-known lecturer Thackeray twice traveled to the United States on tours. He also lectured in England on such topics as historical English humorists, and The English Humorists of the eighteenth century: a series of lectures appeared posthumously in 1867.
Thackeray served as editor of the influential Cornhill Magazine from 1860 to 1862. His final novel, Denis Duval, appeared in its incomplete form in Cornhill Magazine in 1864.
Thackeray died of a stroke on December 24, 1863. He was fifty-two.