The Inheritance of Genius: A Thackeray Family Biography 1798-1875

By John Aplin

Volume I of a biographical study of the author William Makepeace Thackeray and his family, including new research shedding light on the lives of his daughters.

ISBN: 9780718892241


This book, the first of two volumes anticipating the bicentenary of the birth of William Makepeace Thackeray in 1811, details not only the author’s life, but also the cosmopolitan and literary worlds inhabited by his two daughters, Minny and Annie.

When Thackeray died in 1863, the two sisters were forced to find their own way in the world. Minny would marry Leslie Stephen, later father of Virginia Woolf, and die at only thirty-five; Annie, encouraged in early years by her father, would herself emerge as a successful novelist, though one always living, albeit willingly, within her father’s shadow.

Drawing extensively on the letters, diaries, journals and notebooks of the Thackerays and their circle, Aplin sheds light on this remarkable man’s family, and the effect that his life, death and legacy had on those closest to him. The first biography of the Thackeray family circle since that of Gordon Ray in 1958, Aplin’s two-part study incorporates significant new documentary evidence, some of it never previously seen by Thackeray scholars, and includes the fullest and frankest examination of the lives of Thackeray’s two daughters yet published.

Illustrated with portraits, group photographs, and original sketches by the Thackerays, this book is a wholly new reappraisal of Thackeray’s life, writing, and legacy through the lens that truly defined him – his family. It will appeal not just to those interested in Thackeray and the Victorians, but also to readers of biography, women’s studies and memoirs, and to followers of Viriginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Additional information

Dimensions234 × 156 mm


Trade InformationLPOD

About the Author

Formerly Head of the Department of Performing Arts at Brunel University, John Aplin has been pursuing independent and extensive research on the Thackeray family since 2001. In 2006 he published A True Affection: Anne Thackeray Ritchie and the Tennysons. The Inheritance of Genius will be followed by a second volume Memory and Legacy, to be published later in 2010 by The Lutterworth Press.


List of Illustrations
Prelude and Acknowledgements

1. Scenes of All Sorts (1798-1839)
2. Not Yet Actors in the Play (1839-1846)
3. Our Street (1847-1852)
4. A Little Rain of Dollars (1852-1855)
5. Towards the Unknown Ocean (1855-1862)
6. Here is Night and Rest (1860-1863)
7. All This Endless Year (1863-1865)
8. A Woman’s Cares and Joys (1865-1867)
9. A Great Enormous Half Grown Place (1867-1868)
10. The Shabby Tide of Progress (1869-1873)
11. The Inscrutable Design (1873-1875)

Thackeray and Ritchie Family Tree
Abbreviations and Sources
Select Bibliography


Endorsements and Reviews

… delightful original sketches by William Makepeace Thackeray and his two daughters … a great deal of new material … essential reading for anyone interested in Virginia Woolf and her Victorian heritage and background.
Hilary Newman, in The Virginia Woolf Bulletin

He thoroughly grasps the complicated intermarriages of the Ritchies and their friends, and he is strong on allusions to the Bible and to hymns.
Charlotte Mitchell, in The Times Literary Supplement

Anyone who has read Gordon Ray’s two-volume biography of Thackeray will be familiar with the outline of events in the first six chapters of this book; those who have not, will not appreciate the amount of data provided here for the first time. A chief reason for the new details is the shift Aplin has applied to the biographical task – from Thackeray the literary master to Thackeray the pater familias … Aplin gives the most detailed account to date of Thackeray’s last days and death, and carries the story forward twelve more years, through the death of his mother, Minny’s marriage to Leslie Stephen, the birth of their daughter, Laura; Annie’s first books, and the early development of Annie’s friendship with her future husband, Richmond Ritchie … It is good to see this family with its generosity, tolerance, and emotional connections explored so thoroughly.
Peter Shillingsburg, in Notes and Queries, Vol 58, No 4

In documenting the lives of the Thackeray family, Aplin draws on a rich trove of primary sources, including diaries, letters and journals as well as previously unpublished papers and photographs that belong to the Thackeray family. He puts these materials to good use, painting a compelling portrait of Thackeray as a paterfamilias who juggled the demands of his public and private lives … The real success of Aplin’s work lies in the focus on the author’s familial relationships with the three central women in his life: his mother and his two daughters … Aplin succeeds in bringing his first volume to a graceful conclusion … The Inheritance of Genius is a fine first volume that provides readers with a valuable reassessment both of Thackeray and the family that his public persona eclipsed.
Kristi N. Embry, in Studies in The Victorian Novel, Dec 2011

The chief value of this biography for Thackeray scholars lies in its thorough exploration and accessible presentation of a hitherto undocumented research archive. … Although Aplin does not directly address the issue of gender difference, the biography sheds light on the customary role of the female dependant (either wife or daughter) of the ‘great man’ within nineteenth-century biographical discourse, a role requiring both self-effacement and a surrogate form of self-assertion.
Richard Salmon, in Journal of Historical Biography, Vol 9, Spring 2011

There can be no doubt that both collections by Aplin will enhance scholar’s understanding of Thackeray but their greatest contribution will be to researchers of Anne Thackeray Ritchie’s life.
Clare Horrocks, in Journal of Victorian Culture, Vol 17 (2)

John Aplin has succeeded in resituating Thackeray the public author within a domestic, private history of daughters, cousins and generations. … Aplin writes well, balancing a sense of drama with a judicious use of evidence to make this family history compelling and readable.
Judith L. Fisher, Trinity University, in English Studies, Vol 94, No 5