William Makepeace Thackeray was born in the family of a prominent official in Calcutta. In 1817, the boy was sent to England where he went to school and in 1828 entered the Cambridge University. While at the university, Thackeray displayed a talent for drawing and edited a student paper. The stagnant atmosphere of the place irked Thackeray so that finally he left the University. In 1830, he went traveling over Germany, Italy and France, going in for self-education and art studies. On his return to England in 1833, he took up journalism.
In 1846-47, Thackeray published 'The Book of Snobs'. The book admirably draws a gallery of English 'snobs' from different walks of life. In Thackeray's view, a snob is a person who fawns upon his social superiors and looks down with contempt upon his inferiors. In his book, the author declares war against snobbism, vanity and selfishness. 'The Book of Snobs' may be considered as a kind of prelude to the author's major work 'Vanity Fair'.
In the forties, Thackeray's creative method as that of a realistic writer becomes firmly established. A brilliant example of this method and one of the greatest masterpieces of literature under critical realism is his 'Vanity Fair', a novel without a hero, published in 1847-48. Along with snobbery, the book treats of a more significant theme – portrayal of the world which is under the influence of money and hypocritical morals.
'Vanity Fair' was the peak of Thackeray's creative realism.
Similar ideas characterize another work of this period – 'Memoir of the Most Respectable Family of the Newcomes' (1833-55). In other two novels 'The History of Henry Esmonde' (1852) and 'The Virginians' (1857-58) Thackeray turns to historic subjects which he treats with a realistic approach. The action of 'Henry Esmonde' is laid in England at the beginning of the 18th century during the reign of Queen Anne. 'Henry Esmonde' gives a truthful picture of England of that time. The author vividly portrays the life of English aristocracy filled with debauchery, gambling and dueling. The author shows how unscrupulously the aristocrats trade not only with their honor but with their own country. Henry Esmonde, a man of great and magnanimous heart lives an acute tragedy being a total stranger in an alien world.
The 'Virginians', a sequel to 'Henry Esmonde', tells of the life of Henry Esmonde's two grandsons in England and America. The portrayal of social life here is rather limited. The greater part of the book deals with young men's adventures during the American war of independence. The strongest point of the novel is the critical and often comical description of English fashionable life.
During the last years of his life Thackeray worked on the novel 'Denis Duval', which remained unfinished due to the author's premature death in 1863.
Theme 6: The basic problems raised by English realists of the 19th century in their works. Social events (Chartist Movement) that had impact on the development of literature. Among the problems highlighted by writers – children, education, rich and poor.
1. Name the greatest English critical realists you know.
2. What books belong to Dickens's first period of literary work?
3. What books were written by Dickens between the years 1842-1848?
4. Why is Dickens called the creator of the theatre for one actor?
5. What impression did the novel 'Dombey and Son' make on you?
6. What are the greatest merits of Thackeray's works?
7. What classes of society does he show in his novels?
8. Which work of the writer is considered to be a prelude to his
masterpiece 'Vanity Fair'?
9. What vices of the society are exposed in 'Vanity Fair'?
10. Who are the main characters of the novel?
11. Which character embodies the spirit of Vanity Fair?