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Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
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Vanity Fair (1847)

by William Makepeace Thackeray

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
11,477161336 (3.88)1 / 691
  1. 131
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  5. 01
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    Anonymous user: It's all about what people do for entertainment, status, and sport. Along the way, the entire spectrum of society is satirized.
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English (151)  Italian (4)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  German (1)  Portuguese (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (161)
Showing 1-5 of 151 (next | show all)
Droll, satirical take on human nature and just as relevant today as it was in the Victorian Age. ( )
1 vote PatsyMurray | Mar 3, 2019 |
Isn't it fitting that I should finish 'Vanity Fair' on the morning of the end of the world?

Thackeray understood people. Which is why there is a whole lot to love about this book, and is also likely why there is such a whole lot to it. I don't mind sprawling Victorian serial epics, usually the richness of the plot, the story, the characters, etc., is enough that the padding is a benefit in itself. Here that wasn't so much the case, especially towards the last third of the book and the very end.

I liked the end, it was very fitting; it's just the entire way in which it was written lacked spark, lacked the Sharp edge (ooh see what I did there?) that made the rest of the book so damn funny. Because it is. Funny, I mean.

Rebecca Sharp is fantastic from her disdainful tossing of a begrudgingly inscribed dictionary back at the gates of her school to her conquest of polite society. Her actions provided with the support of the incredibly dry wit of the narrator show up the hypocrisies and ludicrousness of "society" and the illusion that it is in any way polite.

But Becky Sharp is by no means the only reason to read this book. Thackeray could create a worthy cast of characters to fill his story. and provide a sufficient reflection of our society. I went in spates of loving or hating almost every character. None of them were static. I was impressed with how Thackeray brought out my sympathies for Miss Crawley as her "final scene" in 'Vanity Fair' draws near, or Rawdon through his affection for his son.

The problem was that the very machinations of the world that Thackeray knew and could skewer so well demanded a certain kind of finale to justify all that went before it. Propriety and the establishment had to have some sort of vindication, which is why the last section felt so forced and almost all of the sarcasm and irony is absent. Almost.

So parts may drag, but this book is well worth a read from those who wish to spare the time. Thackeray was an excellent satirist and this whole book built around the metaphor of 'Vanity Fair' is brilliant and I haven't read its equal yet. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
In discussing the origins of The Bonfire of the Vanities, his brilliant satire of the social and economic mores of New York City in the 1980s, Tom Wolfe was always quick to cite Thackeray’s Vanity Fair as his inspiration. Wolfe seemed particularly taken with that earlier work’s subtitle--A Novel Without a Hero--which he took to be a perfect characterization for the story that he himself wanted to tell. He even went so far as to arrange to have his work published in serial form in a magazine (Rolling Stone in Wolfe’s case), just as Thackeray did with his magnum opus a century and a half before. There can hardly be higher praise than that for one author to give to another.

Vanity Fair itself owes a considerable debt to a classic work that preceded it by 150 years, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In that religious allegory, a person on the path to Heaven first had to pass through the town of Vanity in which there was a fair that appealed to all the basest traits of humanity: greed, infidelity, deceit, avarice, envy, duplicity, and so on. Thackeray saw this as an apt metaphor for his story of the state of English society at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the dawn of the Victorian Age. In fact, the frame that begins and ends Vanity Fair has two young girls putting on a puppet show during which all of the action in the book takes place. Toward the end of the novel, the author even reveals himself to be the narrator of the tale, and a most unreliable one at that.

If that level of historical detail is not absolutely necessary to summarize Vanity Fair, it is perhaps useful context for a prospective reader to understand what taking on this tome will entail. Because, make no mistake, this book requires a significant investment of time and attention to get through it to the end. It is indeed a meandering and occasionally sprawling tale, written in the style of a time far removed from what the modern audience is used to. But it is also remarkably observant about the human condition as well as wickedly funny; those two things alone make reading it today well worthwhile. Further, in the character of Becky Sharp, Thackeray has created an anti-heroine for the ages—with her resilient and scheming nature, she could hold her own now just as well as she did back then.

How the specific events in the story transpire is not the most important thing about the novel, serving as they do as the backdrop for the societal skewering that was the author’s true purpose. In short, Becky comes from an impoverished background in a culture where that is a serious impediment to advancement. Her school friend Amelia Sedley is from a well-to-do family, but she herself is a rather simple and unambitious girl. Both of these friends enter into disappointing marriages, Becky to a rich but rough-hewn fellow whose family disapproves of her while Amelia devotes herself to a philandering cad and ignores the less-dashing colleague who truly loves her. When Amelia’s family falls on hard economic times, it sets off chain of events that takes several hundred pages to unfold. In those pages, though, there is some real literary gold as Thackeray uses his razor-honed wit and gentle word play to expose a multitude of vanities and foibles as he saw them. I certainly can recommend this book, but only for those who understand what they are getting into first! ( )
  browner56 | Dec 21, 2018 |
When I was in junior high school (The Age of the Dinosaurs), I read “Gone with the Wind” for the first time, and was raving about Scarlett O’Hara to an English teacher I greatly admired. She said Scarlett was but a poor imitation of The Original Anti-Heroine, Becky Sharp, and if I wanted the real thing, I should read “Vanity Fair”.

I believe I may have attempted to do so, and gave up fairly quickly. Five decades have now passed, and I actually read Mr. Thackeray’s classic this month.

Well, I read about 75% of it. Toward the end there, when Thackeray’s wordiness overwhelmed me and all I wanted to do was to finish the d*d thing, I admit to skimming his incredibly wordy, repetitive, and dull lists of who was at which party and what their ancestry was and how their great-grandfather cheated somebody else’s great-grandfather out of the ancestral manse, etc etc etc…… (The work originally appeared in serialization, and Thackeray may have been paid by the word. That would certainly explain much of his meandering.)

Mark Twain said that a classic is “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” He may well have been talking about “Vanity Fair”.

Lord love a duck, it’s dreary. Though sometimes considered the "principal founder" of the Victorian domestic novel, it is terribly dated. And it’s very much a novel of its time, repeatedly reminding the reader of the delicacy of womankind, bless her kind little heart and dull little intellect. Amelia Sedley, the literary foremother of Melanie Hamilton is so sappy that the modern reader really, really wants to smack her upside the head. Her frenemy Becky Sharp is certainly manipulative, avaricious, duplicitous, and all the negative things Scarlett O’Hara also represented, but without Scarlett’s stubborn resourcefulness or passionate tango with the dashing Rhett Butler.

"Vanity Fair" also presents itself as a biting indictment of the falseness of British society in the 19th century, with its emphasis on titles, elaborate social codes, and fascination with wealth and status. Unfortunately, the humor doesn’t age well, either, as much of it (as with any satirical work) depends on the reader’s familiarity with the milieu it skewers.

Sprinkled with phrases in French, German, Latin, and Greek, and full of now-archaic language, the modern reader will need a very comprehensive dictionary at hand, as well as a phrase book of the common non-English terms with which the text is ornamented. Thackeray’s tendency to step back and address the reader directly is yet another stylistic choice which (fortunately) largely disappeared along about the middle of the 20th century.

All in all, reading "Vanity Fair" may itself be an exercise in vanity for the modern reader, who can now say “I’ve read it.” The same reader would probably be stretching the boundaries of truth to say “I enjoyed it.”

The convoluted plot involves the interplay among Rebecca (Becky) Sharp, Amelia (Emmy) Sedley, and begins as the girls leave finishing school. Becky, the orphaned daughter of an itinerant portrait-painter and a French dancing girl, is in line to begin a position as governess in a baronet's household, but plans a brief visit with her school friend Emmy, first. Emmy’s family is well-off, her father doing something that apparently involves stocks or banking or somesuch. (He makes money. ‘Nuff said.) Becky hopes to leverage this visit into a marriage with Emmy’s elder brother Joseph, a sadly ridiculous figure, pompous, self-important, and dim, but nevertheless the heir to Sedley’s estate. Emmy’s marriage prospects are fixed on George Osborne, the son of her father’s business partner and a foppish young man without much moral character, though he looks quite dashing in his military uniform. Emmy is too dim (and well-bred) to see the emptiness behind George’s pretty face. (Apparently, dimness runs rampant in the Sedley genes.)

The Becky/Joseph pairing never gets off the ground and Becky goes off to her governess position at roughly the same time Emma’s father is cheated out of his business share by George’s father. The young sweethearts, in defiance of the elder Osborne’s command, run off and are married, laughing gaily at the old man’s obdurate insistence that he will disown George, which he does. Becky, meantime, has now set her lacy cap at one Rawdon Crawley, the second son of her baronet employer. Rawdon is also a military man, and while the title will never be his, he is the favorite of a wealthy spinster aunt, thus making him prime marriage material in Becky’s eyes. It’s all very gay (except that George is already beginning to letch for Becky) and the two newlywed couples, accompanied by Osborne’s good buddy William Dobbins, are having a gay old time until Napoleon Bonaparte escapes his exile and once again begins ravaging across Europe and – dash it all – the young soldiers are actually expected to take up arms, leaving their pregnant brides after a bare six weeks of marital bliss.

George is inconsiderate enough to die at Waterloo, leaving Emma the bereaved widow, doting on the son born after his father’s death, and eking out a living by moving in with her also-impoverished parents. Dobbins, who has loved her all along, does The Honorable Thing, and she spurns him, preferring the untarnished (and highly embroidered) memory of George, so William is forced to sneakily provide a small living for Emma and the baby. Becky’s husband fares better, but the avaricious little imp, attempting to worm her way into the graces of the Rich Old Spinster Aunt, manages to piss off the old broad so thoroughly that she leaves all her money elsewhere. This is highly inconvenient to Becky, whose husband has left the military and supports them with his gambling skills which, alas, are not consistent, and the young couple learns how to Live Well on Nothing, mostly by sponging off friends and stiffing the various landlords, grocers, and milliners who provide them with their surface prosperity.

This state of affairs goes on for about 600 pages, with Emma being poor but gracious and Becky being sinful and scheming until she is caught en flagrante (or as close to en flagrante as the literary conventions of the day will allow) with one of her wealthy “sponsors”, and her husband kicks her out and goes off to be the governor of some miserable tropical locale. Emma feels sorry for her and believes Becky's edited version of events in which she is the totally innocent victim. It seems that Becky may yet rise from the ashes, but – worse luck! – Emma discovers what a rotter George really was and how close he came to running off with her friend. Eventually, the faithful devotion of Dobbin makes an impression on her, and they are married to live happily ever after while Becky sinks irretrievably into sin. Not to worry, though – her husband eventually dies and leaves her a small pension. We assume she toddles off into old age with a dashing young buck on each arm, and the exhausted reader finally shuts the cover of this massive and overwrought tome.

If you’re really interested in more, there’s a movie. Reese Witherspoon is in it. It’s three bucks (used) on eBay.

( )
  LyndaInOregon | Dec 14, 2018 |
Long and sprawling, witty and satirical, this is quite a character study. I think I recognized someone I know in real life in each and every one of the main characters. A novel without a hero, you say, Mr. Thackeray? Then please explain Dobbin! :) ( )
1 vote sprainedbrain | Dec 1, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 151 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (85 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thackeray, William MakepeaceAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ball, RobertIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beach, Joseph WarrenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carey, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carey, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Castle, JohnReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hill, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Macchi, RuthTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marquand, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Melosi, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nierop, A. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pym, RolandIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ridley, M. R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saintsbury, GeorgeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stewart, J. I. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stewart, J. I. M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutton, GeorginaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trollope, JoannaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuomikoski, AinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weldon, FayIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winterich, John T.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To

B.W. PROCTER

this story is affectionately dedicated
To B. W. Procter This Story is affectionately dedicated
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While the present century was in its teens, and on one sun-shiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.
While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of hour miles an hour.
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But, lo! and just as the coach drove off, Miss Sharp put her pale face out of the window and actually flung the book back into the garden.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439831, Paperback)

No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her sentimental companion amelia, however, longs only for caddish soldier George. As the two heroines make their way through the tawdry glamour of Regency society, battles—military and domestic—are fought, fortunes made and lost. The one steadfast and honourable figure in this corrupt world is Dobbin with his devotion to Amelia, bringing pathos and depth to Thackeray's gloriously satirical epic of love and social adventure. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:34 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

"Thus asks Thackeray in his gloriously entertaining saga, as a vibrant cast of characters scheme and scramble for life's prizes on the crowded stage of Vanity Fair. And no one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than Becky Sharp, Thackeray's supreme creation. Brilliant, alluring and ruthless, she defies her poverty-stricken background to clamber up the social ladder, while her sentimental companion Amelia longs only for caddish soldier George." "As the two heroines make their way through the tawdry glamour of Regency society, battles - military and domestic - are fought; fortunes are made and lost. And amid the fast-paced action stands Dobbin with his unrequited love for Amelia. A true gentleman in a corrupt world, he brings pathos and depth to Thackeray's epic tale of love and social adventure."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141439831, 0141199644, 0141199547

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