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The Book of Snobs and Other Sketches

Club Snobs

"Club Snobs" from The Book of Snobs (1848).

William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta to parents of Anglo-Indian descent and lived there until age five, when his family sent him back to England to be educated. Much of Thackeray's childhood experiences contributed to the social satires he would later write, including his own "gentleman's" education at boarding schools and his travels abroad. Like Dickens, Thackeray started out in journalism; his early works appeared in periodicals like Fraser's Magazine and Punch, a magazine of Victorian humor, in the mid-1830s and early-1840s. His early works, including Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond (1841) and The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844), had trouble taking off; even the first few chapters of Vanity Fair (1847-1848) were rejected by several publishers before gaining much notice by critics.

Railroad Speculators

Thackeray's "Railroad Speculators" sketch in Punch (1845).


Thackeray gained notoriety for his satires in The Book of Snobs (1848), one of many sketchbooks he would write during his career. The Book of Snobs originated as a series in Punch in 1846 and 1847, called The Snobs of England, which ran for one year. The sketches matched actual events over the course of an English year; for example, autumn and winter activities, parliamentary sessions, and exhibitions were often featured, to create a calendar of English social life.

While authors like Dickens verbalized their fears of industrialization through characters' anxieties, Thackeray took the opposite approach: humor and satire. For Thackeray, the railway itself was not as frightening as how the railway was affecting social relationships and man's unstable place in a changing England. In his "Railway Speculators" (1845) sketch, Thackeray comments on the phenomenon of the railway "money baron," who made fortunes overnight and dismantled any idea of honest upward mobility for the lower classes.