Sally Minogue looks at the book behind the current ITV series ...
"Do not be in a hurry to succeed. What would you have to live for afterwards? Better make the horizon your goal; it will always be ahead of you. "
William Makepeace Thackeray, an only child, was born on 18 July 1811, in Calcutta, India, where his father, Richmond Thackeray held the high rank of secretary to the Board of Revenue in the British East India Company. His mother, Anne Becher was the second daughter of Harriet and John Harman Becher who was also a secretary for the East India Company.
After the death of his father in 1815, Thackeray was sent to England where he was educated in Southhampton, Chiswick, Charterhouse School and finally Trinity College, Cambridge. Thackeray didn’t finish his education and in the 1830s he travelled to Germany where he met Goethe, the German poet, writer and philosopher.
In 1837 Thackeray started working as a journalist, often using bizarre pen names such as George Savage Fitz-Boodle. In 1836 he married Isabella Gethin Shawe, second daughter of Matthew Shawe, and the couple had three daughters together, Anne Isabella, Jane, and Harriet Marian. Now with a young family Thackeray started working seriously to support them and primarily worked for Fraser’s Magazine.
Isabella Thackeray suffered a mental breakdown in 1840 and on a trip to her home town in Ireland, she attempted to jump into the sea. In the following years, she deteriorated into a permanent state of detachment from reality, unaware of the world around her. Despite her mental health problems she outlived Thackeray and remained in their home in Paris until 1893.
During the 1840s, Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair, which appeared in serialized instalments beginning in January 1847. Even before Vanity Fair completed its serial run, Thackeray had become a celebrity, sought after by the very lords and ladies he satirised, who hailed him as the equal of Dickens. His health worsened during the 1850s and he was plagued by the recurring stricture of the urethra that laid him up for days at a time.
On 23 December 1863, after returning from dining out, and before dressing for bed, Thackeray suffered a stroke and was found dead on his bed in the morning. He was buried on 29 December at Kensal Green Cemetery, and a memorial bust sculpted by Marochetti can be found in Westminster Abbey.
TITLES BY WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY