Thackeray, William Makepeace


Thackeray, William Makepeace
(1811–1863)
   The friend and great literary rival of Charles Dickens, Thackeray was an English novelist, comic illustrator, essayist, and lecturer. The son of a high government official in India,Thackeray was born in Calcutta in 1811. After his father died in 1815, he was sent to England to pursue his education. Thackeray attended Trinity College, Cambridge, but, an indolent student, he left there without a degree in 1830. He became adept at drawing caricatures (and at one point aspired to illustrating Dickens’s novels) and at writing little comic sketches for magazines. He displayed versatility as a journalist by penning predominately humorous pieces in the form of travel sketches, stories, and burlesques, which he contributed to Punch, Fraser’s Magazine, and other periodicals. In 1836 Thackeray married Isabella Shawe, who subsequently proved incurably insane. His care for his deranged wife and for his two daughters prohibited him from ever attaining financial security, though he mingled with upper-class society.
   Thackeray turned to the writing of fiction in due course, and his first notable novel was The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844), the story of an 18th-century rogue, which showed the writer’s promise as a novelist. His novel Vanity Fair (1848), which was particularly admired by Dickens, chronicles the adventures of Becky Sharp, an attractive, clever, scheming young adventuress who lives during the Napoleonic period. (Vanity Fair was filmed by Rouben Mamoulian as Becky Sharp in 1935, and it claimed the distinction of being the first full-Technicolor feature motion picture. ) Among his other novels are Henry Esmond (1852), set in England during the days when the Stuarts were Thackeray,William Makepeace n 367 playing a losing game to claim the crown of England. (The hero futilely supports the Stuart cause and ultimately migrates to Virginia at novel’s end. ) In these novels, Thackeray wrote convincingly about all levels of English society in a witty, urbane, and sophisticated style, portraying a society marred by greed and hypocrisy; he created a rich tapestry of English high life and low life in a perceptive and pungent manner. This serves as a backdrop against which the characters conduct their lives and which mirrors the complex interrelationships of society at large. Literary critics have praised Thackeray’s lucid, fluent prose, and, more importantly, his ability to create lifelike characters. He commented that, once he had created his characters, they seemed to take on a life of their own, and he simply followed them wherever they led, as if some occult power was moving his pen.
   Stanley Kubrick reached back to Thackeray’s earlier book, The Luck of Barry Lyndon, for the source of his 1975 epic film, BARRY LYNDON. This picaresque novel traces the amorous adventures of a handsome 18th-century rogue, who hops from a lady’s bedchamber to a gambling table with equal ease. Throughout the novel Barry roams across Europe, encountering a varied succession of adventures wherever he goes. When Barry wounds someone in a duel, he runs away, joins the army, and winds up fighting against the French in the Seven Years’War. Although Barry often gets into trouble, he retains his resilience, and is usually able to snap back after each misfortune that fate visits upon him. In writing Barry Lyndon, Thackeray was departing significantly from the portrayals of romantic heroes so common in historical fiction. In filming the book Kubrick chose a story that likewise departed from the highly romantic historical movies of the past. Many of these, like Rouben Mamoulian’s Becky Sharp (1935), and especially those made in England in the 1940s,were what Penelope Houston describes as examples of “kitchen maid realism. ” She goes on to explain how these movies gloried in the endless permutations of the same basic plots, in which the swashbuckling hero “flung himself into Regency disguise, took to the roads as a highwayman, poisoned off his enemies with, if memory serves, doses from large bottles obligingly labeled poison. ”
   By contrast, Kubrick, following Thackeray’s lead, depicts Barry Lyndon as an unmitigated scoundrel, opportunist, and fraud in a very sardonic light. Thus Kubrick sought to bring Thackeray’s characters to life on the screen in the way that the novelist had brought them to life on the printed page. In fact, the director coordinated the story with the paintings and music of the period. Kubrick managed in this film not only to translate a historical novel to the screen but to evoke the past as a vivid present.
   Thackeray’s writings seem at times almost cinematic in style. In one of his travel books, The Irish Sketchbook, he describes a mountain range in minute detail and then, dissatisfied with what he considers to be his inadequate attempt to evoke the scene for the reader, comments, “Printer’s ink cannot give these wonderful hues, and the reader will make his own picture at his leisure. ”Written in the same pictorial style, The Luck of Barry Lyndon is as filmable a book as any STANLEY KUBRICK has made into a motion picture.
   References
   ■ Carroll, Noel,“Becky Sharp Takes Over: Vanity Fair,” in The English Novel and the Movies, ed. Michael Klein and Gillian Parker (New York: Ungar, 1981), pp. 108–120;
   ■ Thackeray, William Makepeace, The Luck of Barry Lyndon, ed. Martin Anisman (New York:New York University Press, 1970);
   ■ Prawer, S. S. ,W. M. Thackeray’s European Sketch Books: A Study of Literary and Graphic Portraiture (New York: Peter Lang, 2000).

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Thackeray, William Makepeace — born July 18, 1811, Calcutta, India died Dec. 24, 1863, London, Eng. English novelist. He studied law and art but soon became a prolific writer for periodicals, using a variety of pen names. His early writings appear in such volumes as The Book… …   Universalium

  • Thackeray, William Makepeace — (18 jul. 1811, Calcuta, India– 24 dic. 1863, Londres, Inglaterra). Novelista inglés. Estudió leyes y artes, pero pronto se dedicó a escribir innumerables ensayos y artículos humorísticos en diversas publicaciones, para lo que se valía de una… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Thackeray, William Makepeace — (1811 1863)    Born in Calcutta, India, the son of a wealthy English officer of the East India Company, he was educated at Charterhouse School and Trinity College, Cambridge, but left without graduating. He was a journalist in Paris and in London …   British and Irish poets

  • Thackeray,William Makepeace — Thack·er·ay (thăkʹə rē, thăkʹrē), William Makepeace. 1811 1863. British writer whose novels, including Vanity Fair (1847 1848), explore the ethical and social pretensions of largely amoral Victorian characters.   Thackʹer·ay·an adj. * * * …   Universalium

  • THACKERAY, WILLIAM MAKEPEACE —    novelist, born in Calcutta, educated at the Charterhouse and at Trinity College, Cambridge; after leaving college, which he did without taking a degree, travelled on the Continent, making long stays at Rome and Paris, and the dear little Saxon …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Thackeray, William Makepeace —  (1811–1863) English novelist. thalassic. Pertaining to the sea …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • Thackeray, William Makepeace — (1811 1863)    Novelist, s. of Richmond T., who held various important appointments in the service of the East India Company, and who belonged to an old and respectable Yorkshire family, was b. at Calcutta, and soon after the death of his f.,… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • William Makepeace Thackeray — Thackeray redirects here. For other uses, see Thackeray (disambiguation). William Makepeace Thackeray William Makepeace Thackeray Born William Makepeace Thackeray …   Wikipedia

  • William Makepeace Thackeray — Nom de naissance William Makepeace Thackeray Activités Romancier et essayiste Naissance …   Wikipédia en Français

  • William Makepeace Thackeray — noun English writer (born in India) (1811 1863) • Syn: ↑Thackeray • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author * * * William Makepeace Thackeray [William Makepeace Thackeray] …   Useful english dictionary


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