Beckford, William

Beckford, William, 1760–1844, English author. A wealthy dilettante, Beckford had a great desire to ascend to the nobility. Unfortunately his erratic and strange behavior often worked against his ambitions. About 1796 he built in Wiltshire an extravagant Gothic castle, Fonthill Abbey, where he lived in mysterious seclusion and earned himself the reputation of an eccentric. Although not deeply interested in politics, he served in the House of Commons from 1784 to 1794 and from 1806 to 1820. Beckford is chiefly remembered today for the Gothic romance Vathek, a bizarre tale about the adventures of the shockingly cruel Caliph Vathek. The book was written in French but was first published (1786) in English translation. He was also the author of several books of travel and two burlesques on the sentimental novels of his day, The Elegant Enthusiast (1796) and Azemia (1797).

See biography by P. Summers (1966).

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