Beckford research is, traditionally, inclined towards biography. Though it strictly speaking wasn't the first biography to appear (a brief sketch of Beckford's life had, for instance, appeared in 1823 - The Unique: A Series of Portraits of Eminent Persons. With Their Memoirs, no. 18, Oct. 4, 1823, "William Beckford, Esq."), Cyrus Redding's Memoirs of William Beckford (printed in London 1859) defined Beckfordian criticism for a long period of time. Many volumes were written in the following century which expanded, contracted and corrected Redding's account of Beckford's life; a life that was more often than not seen as the key to his writings [click here to access a lengthy review of Redding's biography, published online by Gaslight]. Yet one would do these biographical works a great injustice if one did not acknowledge their merits as well as their shortcomings. Lewis Melville's major life and letters volume, The Life and Letters of William Beckford of Fonthill (Author of "Vathek"), published in London in 1910, is to this very day the best collection of Beckford's letters - though it is riddled with imperfect transcriptions it can not be avoided by anyone wishing to deal with Beckford's letters either as biographical evidence or as literary products in their own rights. It forms - together with J.W. Oliver's letter-based biography The Life of William Beckford (London 1932), Guy Chapman's Beckford. A Biography (London 1937) and Boyd Alexander's England's Wealthiest Son. A Study of William Beckford (London 1962) - a nucleus of biographical sketches that combine strict archival research and plausible biographical reconstruction.

These are by no means the only biographies. Marcel May's La Jeunesse de William Beckford et la Genèse de son "Vathek" (Paris 1928) is, though sometimes overlooked, a major work on Beckford's youth and early aesthetics. Brian Fothergill's Beckford of Fonthill (London 1979) is an impressive recapitulation of earlier findings. James Lees-Milne's William Beckford (Tisbury 1976 and several subsequent editions) is beautifully illustrated and focuses on Beckford's buildings and collections; H.A.N. Brockman's The Caliph of Fonthill (London 1956) is a study of Beckford from an architectural viewpoint. Malcolm Jack's William Beckford. An English Fidalgo (New York 1996) is especially strong on Beckford's Portuguese connections. Timothy Mowl's William Beckford. Composing for Mozart (London 1997) is the latest addition to these biographies.

The past forty years have seen a steady rise in studies dealing with matters outside the scope of biography. This development goes hand in hand with a rising awareness regarding the theories of literary aesthetics. Who is this William Beckford that we have become accustomed to? And may we really equate the man with his fictional characters? What mechanisms make Vathek a work of great complexity? What allowed Beckford's works to become icons of English Romanticism? These questions are only a few of those that recent research have attempted to answer. Click here to continue to BIBLIOGRAPHY ::: PART 2 (this link is not yet finished [as of April 13, 2001]), where the rise of textually orientated studies in Beckford's works is discussed. Click here to continue to BIBLIOGRAPHY ::: PART 3 (this link is not yet finished [as of April 13, 2001]), where aspects of Beckford's biography is discussed in the light of recent theoretical advances.