William Makepeace Thackeray was a Victorian novelist
When and Where was he Born?
18th July 1811, Calcutta, India.
William Makepeace Thackeray was the only child of Richmond and Anne Thackeray. His father was an official in the British East India Company and died when he was only four years old.
Schools in Southampton and Chiswick. Charterhouse, London. Trinity College, Cambridge.
Chronology/Biography of William Makepeace Thackeray:
1815: Death of his father.
1816: Thackeray is sent home to England to be educated leaving his mother behind in India so she could marry her childhood sweetheart. He stopped at St. Helena on the way and a servant pointed out the prisoner Napoleon.
1829: He entered Cambridge University after attending various schools although he was not an especially good scholar. Drinking, gambling and many trips to the continent meant that he neglected his studies and he left without a degree in 1830. The most important thing he got out of Cambridge was a friendship with Edward Fitzgerald.
1831: Thackeray traveled to the Continent and spent the winter at Weimar where he was introduced to Goethe. He studied the language and began to gain an interest in Romantic literature.
1832: On his return to England he lived the life of a gentleman, gambling and drinking in taverns once more.
1833: Thackeray tried briefly to study law at Middle Temple of the Inns of Court in London. Not suited to this he invested some of his father’s inheritance in a weekly paper, The National Standard, which he took over as editor and owner. Though the paper went bankrupt almost straight away it did introduce him to London journalism. As if this wasn’t bad enough his stepfather’s estate was lost due to the collapse of an Indian bank.
1834: He tried to become an artist in London.
1835: He moves to Paris to try to become a painter after failing in London and met his future wife Isabella Shawe whilst there.
1836: He is forced to earn his living and began to work for periodicals and newspapers such as “Fraser’s Magazine”, “The Morning Chronicle”, “The Times” and, most successfully, “Punch”. He tried to live in Paris for a while after his marriage but eventually returned to London the following year due to lack of funds.
1837: Thackeray worked quite often as a critic under a range of pseudonyms and also produced work such as “The Yellowplush Papers”.
1839: He published “Catherine” in Fraser’s Magazine.
1840: He made some money from writing travel books. The “Paris Sketch Book” sold enough to cover his costs.
1846: Thackeray gained notoriety when he first published “The Snobs of England” in “Punch”. Isabella his wife now began to get depressed and tried to commit suicide by jumping into the sea. Thackeray then took Isabella to various spas and sanatoriums, and underwent a “water cure” with her, since she wouldn’t go alone. She then went to a variety of asylums in France and he had to bring up his children with the help of his mother.
1847: He had a major success with “Vanity Fair”. The novel was slow to take off and the first chapters were rejected by several publishers, however it eventually sold 7,000 copies a month and it was popular and reviewed widely.
1849: The novel “Pendennis” was the next to be serialised but it was interrupted due to a severe illness which may have been cholera. This novel ran at the same time as “David Copperfield”, and this brought about comparisons with Dickens, a man whom he both loathed and admired.
1851: He delivered a series of lectures, “English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century”, which he repeated in a tour of the United States in the following year.
1852: “The History of Henry Esmond” was published as a 3-volume novel without first being serialised and for it he had to do a considerable amount of historical research. The book was celebrated for its brilliance. During these years, Thackeray lived virtually as a bachelor, even though now he had his daughters and grandmother with him. He spent time with friends, staff dinners for Punch magazine and attending social functions of fashionable society. His constant companion was Jane Brookfield, the wife of an old friend from Cambridge although this was mainly a platonic relationship despite Jane’s hatred of her cold hearted husband. Thackeray then went away on a lecture tour of America.
1853: First publication of “The Newcomes”. After a second profitable lecturing tour around Britain on “The Four Georges” (Hanoverian Kings), Thackeray stood for Parliament as an independent but was defeated when a well-known politician, Edward Cardwell, was substituted for the other candidate.
1855: Second tour of the United States.
1857: Thackeray published “The Virginians”, a novel set during the American Revolution.
1860: He accepted the editorship of a new magazine published by George Smith called “The Cornhill”. It began with a record circulation and a number of distinguished authors, many of whom were persuaded to contribute because of Thackeray’s name. He made enough money at this time to build a large house for himself in Kensington, London.
1862: Thackeray resigned as editor of the Cornhill as he preferred writing to editing. His last novels appeared in The Cornhill Magazine. Thackeray’s eldest daughter, Anne, Lady Ritchie, was also an author and his youngest daughter Harriet married Sir Leslie Stephen father of Virginia Woolf.
1863: Isabella was to live for another thirty years after his death largely cared for by the Thompson family in Leigh-on-Sea, Southend.
1837: “The Professor”.
1838:” The Yellowplush Papers”.
1840: “Sketches”. “An Essay on the Genius of George Cruickshank”. “A Paris Sketchbook”.
1841: “Comic Tales and Sketches”. “The Great Hoggarty Diamond”. “The History of Samuel Titmarsh”.
1842: “The Fitzboodle Papers”.
1843: “Bluebeard’s Ghost”.
1844: “The History of the Next French Revolution”.
1845: “The Diary of Jeannes de la Pluche”. “Legend of the Rhine”.
1846: “Cornhill to Cairo”.
1848: “Our Street”. “Vanity Fair”.
1849: “Dr Brick and his Young Friends”. “The History of Pendennis”.
1850: “The Kickleburys on the Rhine”. “Rebecca and Rowena”.
1852: “The Book of Snob”. “The History of Henry Esmond”. “The Luck of Barry Lyndon.”
1853: “The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century”.
1854: “The Newcomes”.
1858: “The Virginians”.
1861: “The Four Georges”. “Lovel the Widower”.
1862: “The Adventures of Phillipa”.
1863: “Roundabout Papers”.
(1867): “Denis Duval”.
(1876): “The Orphans of Pimlico”.
20th August 1836 to Isabella Shawe.
When and Where did he Die?
24th December 1863, London, England after a bursting of a blood vessel in his brain.
Age at Death:
Site of Grave:
Kensal Green Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, England.
Places of Interest:
Stayed at No 17 The Circus, Bath in 1857 whilst giving his lectures on the Four Georges.
Visited Chatsworth House on tour.
Literary salons at Jane Brookfield’s House, Great Pulteney Street. (Jane, although married, was a platonic companion to Thackeray until her husband forbad them from further meetings.)
The Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6AN.
Visited Clevedon Court (National Trust) on tour.