Vanity Fair, published in serial parts in 1847-8, made William Makepeace Thackeray famous 'all but at the top of the tree', he told his mother, 'and having a great fight up there with Dickens'. Behind him lay an extraordinary life - an intense, Anglo-Indian childhood, a fortune lost by his early twenties, a disastrous marriage to a wife who went mad and left him to bring up two small daughters in near penury.
But his later life was no less troubled. As D.J. Taylor shows in this incisive biography, Thackeray was a complex, touchy man, acutely sensitive to criticism and fearful of the publicity that accompanied his passage through life.