William Thomas Beckford (1 October 1760 – 2 May 1844), usually known as William Beckford, was an English novelist, a profligate and consummately knowledgeable art collector and patron of works of decorative art, a critic, travel writer and sometime politician, reputed at one stage in his life to be the richest commoner in England. His parents were William Beckford and Maria Hamilton, daughter of Hon. George Hamilton (MP). He was Member of Parliament for Wells from 1784 to 1790, for Hindon from 1790 to 1795 and 1806 to 1820. He is remembered as the author of the Gothic novel Vathek, the builder of the remarkable lost Fonthill Abbey and Lansdown Tower ("Beckford's Tower"), Bath, and especially for his art collection.
The History of the Caliph Vathek can best be summarized as a type of morality tale, though its tone should not be too overstated as it also relies on a subtle type of parody. The work starts with a description of the Caliph, a Muslim ruler, Vathek and his numerous sensuous interests. These interests include numerous palaces, each devoted to a type of sense, such as the palace of perfumes and flowers devoted to smell. Furthermore, it is claimed that Vathek himself is a man of near monstrous appetites, include food, drink, and women. Indeed, it is Vathek’s gluttonous behavior and attempts to reach beyond his limits that eventually place him in the central pearl of the work.
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