William Makepeace Thackeray: The man and satirist behind “Vanity Fair”

William Makepeace Thackeray is primarily known for one piece of fiction: “Vanity Fair.” However, his life had some entertaining and what sounds like fictitious adventure in high-society as well, as he held multiple positions as an art critic, journalist, and he also made an excellent bed as a renowned satirist.

Early Years

Thackeray was born in Calcutta in 1811, but after the death of his father, who succumbed to fever in 1815, he moved back to England for education. His mother joined the young Thackeray five years later after she remarried. Thackeray attended “private boarding schools … including six years at Charterhouse” (Victorianweb.org), and, apparently, these experiences had a lasting, negative experience on him. Undoubtedly, his future extensive travels and knowledge of British society abroad had a profound impact on his opinions of Britain and its culture as a whole. As many biographers have also pointed out, while Thackeray did not intimately know Calcutta as he had moved away at an early age, that setting appeared in many of his novels.


Thackeray spent some time writing as a freelance journalist and submitted to Punch and Times (among other publications), and also wrote travel books, including The Paris Sketch Book (1840), and From Cornhill to Grand Cairo (1844). As previously mentioned, he is well-known for one novel particularly, and that novel is Vanity Fair (which was serialized from 1847-1848). The story satirized British society through the lens of Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley as they attempted to ascend the social ladder. Later in his life, Thackeray wrote poetry, and he passed away on Dec. 24, 1863.

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