William Thackeray: Biography & Books

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
He was definitely brilliant, but he was also wild. Lavish parties, gambling away his inheritance, dropping out of school -- the list goes on. But in between the drinking and escapades, he managed to produce some great novels. Read further to learn more about William Thackeray.

Thackeray's Childhood

William Makepeace Thackeray did not live the kind of live many would expect from a British novelist -- though he certainly left his mark, in more ways than one. But first, let's back up a bit, all the way to the beginning...

Thackeray was born in Calcutta, India on July 18, 1811. His parents were Richmond and Anne Thackeray. His mother was a secretary and writer and his father was a high ranking secretary to the board of revenue. Both of his parents worked with the British East India Company. His father died in 1815, and his mother married Captain Henry Carmichael-Smyth in 1817. In the same year, the family moved to England.

William Thackeray's Brief Education

Okay, here's where it gets interesting. Young Thackeray started out at Charterhouse School, which he hated and later described in one of his writings. In 1830, he began studying at Trinity College in Cambridge and decided he didn't like it, so he dropped out. He traveled for a while, lost a great deal of money gambling, and then decided to try college again.

In 1831, William Thackeray began studying law at Middle Temple, and again he left before graduating. Throughout his brief college career, he wrote for the college newspapers.

William Thackeray

Gaining and Losing his Inheritance

When he turned 21, Thackeray received an inheritance from his father of 17,000 pounds, which translates to a little over $26,000 in United States Dollars (USD). He did try to increase the money by investing in weekly newspapers and banks, but the businesses were already failing.

After losing his inheritance to bad investments and a carefree lifestyle of drinking, gambling, and women, Thackeray realized he needed a job. He decided to earn a living by doing what he was naturally good at: writing. He was a contributing writer for Fraser's Magazine, The Morning Chronicle, Punch and other papers.

Marriage and Children

During this period of his life where he began to get more serious about earning a living consistently, Thackeray met and married his wife, Isabella. The two married in 1836, and their first child was born the next year. The couple had a total of three children (all girls), but the second died before her first birthday.

While Thackeray was traveling and publishing his writings, his wife was losing her mind (figuratively not literally). She was often by herself and developed a depression that grew progressively worse. After an attempt to drown herself, she was sent to an asylum in Paris. Thackeray continued writing in London, with his grandmother and daughters living with him.

William Thackeries Books and Other Writing

Throughout his lifetime, William Thackeray produced many pieces of literature. He used many of his life experiences to engage and entertain readers. He was gifted in using satire, or making fun of different things that society considered important.

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