William Beckford 1760–1844

  • Ian McGowan
Part of the St. Martin’s Anthologies of English Literature book series (AEL)


A wealthy exotic, MP, and son of a Lord Mayor of London, Beckford spent two of his several periods on the Continent after sexual scandals (the second homosexual). On his return, he spent a fortune on his Gothic mansion, Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire, whose huge octagonal tower collapsed shortly after its sale in 1822 for £300,000. His tower at the top of Lansdown Road, Bath, still stands. His travel books are overshadowed by Vathek (1786), written in French, and translated by Samuel Henley. This oriental tale relates the Caliph’s quest for knowledge and sensual experience through acts of barbarism described with a deadpan wit, which finally gives way to a horrific exposure of the price of forbidden knowledge. Here, Vathek’s mother Carathis prepares in the tower a sacrifice to the supernatural powers of the cruel Giaour. Morakanabad is his prime vizir, Bababalouk his chief eunuch.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 1989

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  • Ian McGowan

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