William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta in 1811. On his way to England from India, the small Thackeray saw Napoleon on St Helena.
In 1837, Thackeray came to London and became a regular contributor to Fraser's Magazine. From 1842 to 1851, he was on the staff of Punch, and this was when he wrote Vanity Fair, the work which placed him in the first rank of novelists. He completed it when he was thirty-seven.
In 1857, Thackeray stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for Oxford. In 1859 he took on the editorship of the Cornhill Magazine. He resigned the position in 1862 because kindliness and sensitivity of spirit made it difficult for him to turn down contributors.
Thackeray drew on his own experiences for his writing. He had a great weakness for gambling, a great desire for worldly success, and over his life hung the tragic illness of his wife Isabella, with whom he had hree daughters, one dying in infancy.
Thackeray died December 24, 1863. He was buried in Kensal Green, and a bust by Marochetti was put up to his memory in Westminster Abbey.