*Thackeray, William Makepeace

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray



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Thackeray, William Makepeace

British, 1811–1863
William Makepeace Thackeray’s career as an essayist spanned 30 years and can be divided into two eras: early (1833–47) and late (1860–63), with an interval (1847–60) in which his novels (beginning with Vanity Fair), took precedence. George Saintsbury (1931), one of the few commentators wbo gives as much space to Thackeray’s essays as to his novels, rates his last collection, Roundabout Papers (1863), as one of the best of the 19th century. Exactly which is Thackeray’s first publication has never been definitively determined. Leaving Cambridge without graduating and the law without articling, he had fallen into casual journalism as a means of supporting his apprenticeship to the fine arts in Paris during the mid–1830s. Ultimately it was his essayistic loiterings with “the Fraserians” that brought him a living. In Fraser’s Magazine, the most highspirited magazine of the day, he published his first famous satiric series, The Yellowplush Correspondence (1837–38). Yellowplush’s purlieus are those of fashionable Regency London below-stairs, rather like Vanity Fair misspelled. This is not the poverty of Dickens’ London slums but rather the straits of those who, like Defoe’s heroes, fall in and out of credit. Fraser’s, with its abusive and boisterous severity, was the special vehicle of this satiric voice. Leslie Stephen in the Dictionary of National Biography bemoans this “practice common to the literary class of the time,” known as “personality.”
The 1830s “personality” dates much of Thackeray’s first decade as a writer, and because of this rowdy element, his writing from this time is not what later readers think of as the familiar essay along the lines of Addison and Steele.
Thackeray reprinted some of this 1830s journalism as two volumes of Comic Tales and Sketches “edited and illustrated by Michael Angelo Titmarsh” (1841). He used the same pseudonym for the tourist narrator of The Paris Sketch Book (1840). What is confusing is that “Titmarsh” becomes the voice for both Thackeray’s essays and fiction. He is the author of The Second Funeral of Napoleon (1841) and The Chronicle of the Drum
(1841), The Irish Sketch-Book (1843), Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo (1846), and two longer narratives, Mrs. Perkins’s Ball (1847) and Our Street (1848).
Thackeray used other pseudonyms as well—Ikey Solomons, Our Fat Contributor, Jeames de la Pluche—and in these narratives, satire emerges as much from the burlesque voices of the characters as from the stories they tell. This is what makes it difficult to say sometimes what genre Thackeray is working in. Eventually Titmarsh was to step aside, and Thackeray and his “Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society” finally took center stage in Vanity Fair (1847–48), with this and the novel Pendennis (1849–50) representing the apogee of Thackeray’s journalistic career. The Book of Snobs, first published in Punch as “The Snobs of England, by One of Themselves” (1846–47)—with its “University Snobs,” “Dining-out Snobs,” and snobs of the literary, military, clerical, and aristocratic kinds—was but a prelude to his sketches of English society in Vanity Fair. After Vanity Fair, the fiction work The History of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond (1849) is advertised as being by “W.M.Thackeray, Author of ‘Pendennis,’ ‘Vanity Fair,’ &c.” Thus the pseudonym of the journalist is used alongside the real-life identity of the author—which is finally seen to be that of the novelist.
The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century (1853) follows naturally from the novel Henry Esmond (1852). Standing alone, the lectures from the English Humourists series are more satisfactory as essays than the Titmarsh spoofs, which require the context of the pages of the Fraser’s club of the 18305 to achieve their effect. The parodies, too, in Punch’s Prize Novelists (1853) of Ainsworth, Disraeli, Bulwer, and others lose their point when detached from the 1840s.
Thackeray is calculated to have written 380 pieces for Punch alone during the years between 1842 and 1851. However, in the early 1860s, his name is most associated with the Cornhill Magazine, of which he was the first editor; its covers were the same yellow as his novels. His lecture series The Four Georges was first printed in a periodical format in the Cornhill (July–October 1860) as “Sketches of Manners, Morals, Court, and Town Life,” then as a book later that year. Meanwhile, in between the novels The Newcomes (1853–55) and The Virginians (1858–59), his publishers put together four volumes of Miscellanies: Prose and Verse (1855–57). After The Four Georges, the next and final collection of Thackeray’s papers in his lifetime was Roundabout Papers (1863), a reprint of his essays from the Cornhill. Leslie Stephen’s characterization of the Cornhill essays may stand as a description of Thackeray’s essay writing at its best: “They are models of the essay which, without aiming at profundity, gives the charm of playful and tender conversation of a great writer.” As an essayist for the six-shilling magazine market of the 1830s, Thackeray acted out the role of the fashionable young Regency buck; presiding over the editorship of a new-style shilling magazine in the 1860s, he protected his readers’ domestic sensibilities from those Regency adventures with the watchful eye of the Victorian paterfamilias.

William Makepeace Thackeray - 1811-1863 - Self Portrait

William Makepeace Thackeray - 1811-1863 - Self Portrait


Born 18 July 1811 in Calcutta. Sent to England, 1817. Studied at the Charterhouse, London, 1822–28; Trinity College, Cambridge, 1829–30; studied law at Middle Temple, London, 1831–32. Traveled in Europe and visited Goethe in Weimar, 1831–32. Owner and editor, National Standard, London, 1833–34. Lived in Paris, and studied painting, 1834–37. Married Isabella Gethin Shawe, 1836 (declared insane, 1840, and confined from 1842): three daughters (one died in infancy). Paris correspondent for London
Constitutional, 1836–37; contributor to many magazines and newspapers, including the Times and Fraser’s Magazine, from 1837, and Punch, 1842–54; reviewer for the Morning Chronicle, mid– 1840s. Lecturer on English humorists and on Hanoverian monarchs, in Britain and the United States, 1851–57. Editor, Cornhill Magazine, London, 1859–62. Died in Kensington, London, 24 December 1863.

Selected Writings
Essays and Related Prose
The Yellowplush Correspondence, 1838
An Essay on the Genius of George Cruikshank, 1840
The Paris Sketch Book, 2 vols., 1840
Comic Tales and Sketches, 2 vols., 1841
The Irish Sketch-Book, 2 vols., 1843
Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, 1846
The Book of Snobs, 1848; complete edition, 1852; edited by John Sutherland, 1978
Miscellanies: Prose and Verse, 2 vols., 1849–51
Punch’s Prize Novelists, The Fat Contributor, and Travels in London, 1853
The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century: A Series of Lectures, 1853; revised edition, 1853
Miscellanies: Prose and Verse, 4 vols., 1855–57
The Four Georges: Sketches of Manners, Morals, Court, and Town Life, 1860
Roundabout Papers, 1863
Early and Late Papers, edited by J.T.Fields, 1867
The Orphan of Pimlico and Other Sketches, Fragments and Drawings, 1876
Loose Sketches, An Eastern Adventure, 1894
The Hitherto Unidentified Contributions to Puncb, edited by M.H. Spielmann, 1899
Writings in the National Standard and the Constittitional, edited by Walter Thomas Spencer, 1899
Stray Papers: Being Stories, Reviews, Verses, and Sketches 1821–47 [sic: should be 1829], edited by Lewis Melville, 1901
The New Sketch Book, Being Essays frotn the Foreign Quarterly Review, edited by R.S.Garnett, 1906
Contributions to the Morning Chronicle, edited by Gordon N.Ray, 1955
Drawn from Life: The Journalism, edited by Margaret Forster, 1984

Other writings: many novels (including Vanity Fair, 1847–48; Pendennis, 1849–50;
Henry Esmond, 1852; Barry Lyndon, 1852–53; The Newcomes, 1853–55; The Virginians, 1858–59), books of drawings, and correspondence.
Collected works editions: The Oxford Thackeray, edited by George Saintsbury, 17 vols., 1908; Works, edited by Peter L.Shillingsburg, 1989–(in progress).

Flamm, Dudley, Thackeray’s Critics: An Annotated Bibliography of British and American Criticism, 1836–1901, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967
Goldfarb, Sheldon, Thackeray: An Annotated Bibliography, 1976–1987, New York: Garland, 1989
Olmsted, John C., Thackeray and His Twentieth-century Critics: An Annotated Bibliography, 1900–1975, New York: Garland, 1977

Further Reading
Eddy, Spencer L., The Founding of the Cornhill Magazine, Muncie, Indiana: Ball State University Press, 1970
Ferris, Ina, William Makepeace Thackeray, Boston: Twayne, 1983
Harden, Edgar F., “The Writing and Publication of Thackeray’s English Humourists,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 76, no. 7 (1982):197–207
Kiely, Robert, “Victorian Harlequin: The Function of Humor in Thackeray’s Critical and Miscellaneous Prose,” in William Makepeace Thackeray: Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom, New York: Chelsea House, 1987
Monsarrat, Ann, An Uneasy Victorian: Thackeray the Man, 1811–1863, London: Cassell, 1980
Oram, Richard W., “‘Just a little turn of the circle’: Time, Memory, and Repetition in Thackeray’s Roundabout Papers,” in William Makepeace Thackeray: Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom, New York: Chelsea House, 1987
Pantuckova, Lidmila, W.M.Thackeray as a Critic of Literature, Brno: Purkyne University Press, 1972
Ray, Gordon N., Thackeray, London: Oxford University Press, and New York: McGraw Hill, 2 vols., 1955–58
Saintsbury, George, A Consideration of Thackeray, New York: Russell and Russell, 1968 (original edition, 1931)
Segel, Elizabeth, “Thackeray’s Journalism: Apprenticeship for Writer and Reader,” Victorian Newsletter 57 (Spring 1980):23–27

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