This English novelist, regarded in his day as second only to Dickens, was born in Calcutta on 18 July 1811, the son of Richmond Thackeray, an administrator in the East India Company. In 1816 he was sent home to England, had an unpleasant period at Charterhouse School, attended Trinity College, Cambridge, 1828-1830, left without taking a degree and studied law at the Middle Temple, 1831-1833. In 1832 he came into a patrimony of £20,000 that he squandered through gambling and imprudent investments. While in Paris studying art he married, in 1836, a poor Irish girl, returned to London, gave up some of his dilettante habits and turned seriously to journalism. He wrote under several pen names in various magazines. The serial publication in 1847-48 of his novel “Vanity Fair”, appearing under his own name, brought him success and fame.
Thackeray travelled and lectured in the United States from 1852 to 1856 and then returned to London, where he became a fixture at the Garrick Club, which he had joined in 1833. In 1858 his literary quarrel with Dickens and Edmund Yates found its way to the Garrick Club’s Committee, who eventually denied Yates admission despite Dickens’s support. Only in the last months of his life did Thackeray patch up the quarrel with Dickens.
Thackeray died in London on 23 December 1863 at the age of 52 and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. A commemorative bust was placed in Westminster Abbey. His wife went insane, but long survived him. His attachment to Jane Brookfield, the wife of a Cambridge friend, had ended at the insistence of her husband.
“Vanity Fair” showed his gift for depicting the London scene and the contrast between rich and poor and good and evil. It is regarded as one of the great historical novels. Thackeray’s other important works were “The Luck of Barry Lyndon” (1844, later revised as “The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon”, 1856), “The History of Henry Esmond” (3 vols, 1952), “The Newcomers” (1853-1855) and “The Virginians” (1857-1869). See Gordon N. Ray, “Thackeray” (2 vols, 1955-1958, and 1972), Geoffrey Tillotson, “Thackeray the Novelist” (1954 and 1974), and F. G. Kitton, ‘The Portraits of Thackeray,’ “Magazine of Art” (July 1891). For Thackeray and the Garrick Club, see Richard Hough, “The Ace of Clubs” (1986). (EB)