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William Beckford

William Beckford, 1760-1844, English novelist and eccentric.

Beckford is now best known for his Gothic-influenced oriental tale The History of the Caliph Vathek (1786); Vathek, originally published in French, tells the story of the deranged eponymous caliph's vicious life and final descent into hell. In his own day, though, his fame depended at least as much upon his unconventional life. He had scandalous romantic liaisons with a young boy and with the wife of his cousin, and was known to participate in black magic. In 1796 he built Fonthill Abbey, a pseudo-Gothic structure similar in spirit to Walpole's Strawberry Hill.