Though Thackeray set his novel a generation earlier, Thackeray was really writing about his own society (he even used contemporary clothing in his illustrations for the novel). Thackeray saw how capitalism and imperialism with their emphasis on wealth, material goods, and ostentation had corrupted society and how the inherited social order and institutions, including the aristocracy, the church, the military, and the foreign service, regarded only family, rank, power, and appearance. These values morally crippled and emotionally bankrupted every social class from servants through the middle classes to the aristocracy. High and low, individuals were selfish and incapable of loving.
Anne's family's deception was unexpectedly revealed in 1812, when Richmond Thackeray unwittingly invited the supposedly dead Carmichael-Smyth to dinner. Five years later, after Richmond had died of a fever on 13 September 1815, Anne married Henry Carmichael-Smyth, on 13 March 1817. The couple moved to England in 1820, after having sent William off to school there more than three years earlier. The separation from his mother had a traumatic effect on the young Thackeray, which he discussed in his essay "On Letts's Diary" in The Roundabout Papers .