Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
(Penguin Classics)

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There is yet another aspect in Vanity Fair where the narrator's ironic strategies act so subversively as to endanger the premises of the whole realist enterprise. This time the problem has to do with truth not as a moral but as an epistemological category.
-Jacqueline Banerjee


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.

About William Makepeace Thackeray

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William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta, India, where his father was in service to the East India Company. After the death of his father in 1816, he was sent to England to attend school. Upon reaching college age, Thackeray attended Trinity College, Cambridge, but he left before completing his degree. Instead, he devoted his time to traveling and journalism. Generally considered the most effective satirist and humorist of the mid-nineteenth century, Thackeray moved from humorous journalism to successful fiction with a facility that was partially the result of a genial fictional persona and a graceful, relaxed style. At his best, he held up a mirror to Victorian manners and morals, gently satirizing, with a tone of sophisticated acceptance, the inevitable failure of the individual and of society. He took up the popular fictional situation of the young person of talent who must make his way in the world and dramatized it with satiric directness in The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844), with the highest fictional skill and appreciation of complexities inherent within the satiric vision in his masterpiece, Vanity Fair (1847), and with a great subtlety of point of view and background in his one historical novel, Henry Esmond (1852). Vanity Fair, a complex interweaving in a vast historical panorama of a large number of characters, derives its title from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and attempts to invert for satirical purposes, the traditional Christian image of the City of God. Vanity Fair, the corrupt City of Man, remains Thackeray's most appreciated and widely read novel. It contrasts the lives of two boarding-school friends, Becky Sharp and Amelia Smedley. Constantly attuned to the demands of incidental journalism and his sense of professionalism in his relationship with his public, Thackeray wrote entertaining sketches and children's stories and published his humorous lectures on eighteenth-century life and literature. His own fiction shows the influence of his dedication to such eighteenth-century models as Henry Fielding, particularly in his satire, which accepts human nature rather than condemns it and takes quite seriously the applicability of the true English gentleman as a model for moral behavior. Thackeray requested that no authorized biography of him should ever be written, but members of his family did write about him, and these accounts were subsequently published.
Published March 12, 2016 by William Makepeace Thackeray. 748 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Humor & Entertainment, History, Travel, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Arts & Photography, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Romance, Children's Books, Parenting & Relationships, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Comics & Graphic Novels, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Self Help, Action & Adventure. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Vanity Fair
All: 9 | Positive: 8 | Negative: 1


Reviewed by Robert McCrum on Dec 21 2013

...Vanity Fair is a bravura performance by a writer who has found his theme. As the serialisation of the novel that would transform its author's reputation draws to a close, Thackeray himself concluded his tale with a nod to the gaudy theatricality of the whole business...

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Dear Author

Reviewed by Jennie on Jul 09 2014

It may be of interest to those of us who cut our teeth on Regency-era romances; Vanity Fair presents a somewhat jaundiced view of the British upper classes of the time...Vanity Fair is well worth reading, and I’m glad it’s famous enough that it came to my attention.

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The Atlantic

Above average
Reviewed by Edwin Percy Whipple on May 01 1980

Take from Vanity Fair that special element of interest which comes from Thackeray's own nature, and it would lose the greater portion of its fascination. It is not so much what is done, as the way in which is is done, that surprises and delights; and the manner is always inimitable, even when the matter is common.

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Above average
Reviewed by Else Cederborg on Mar 13 2010

This novel is very entertaining, it is full of wonderful and often funny sceneries, interesting characters and a good of the greatest English comic novels of manners and it is still worthwhile to new readers even though it sometimes veers from the downright cynical to the sentimental.

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Rebecca Reads

Reviewed by Rebecca Reid on Jul 18 2012

I cannot help reflecting that yes, Vanity Fair is well deserving of the designation as one of the best Victorian novels there is. It certainly is a perfect example of satire, and the complexities in character and plot make it a true delight to read.

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Sarah Says Read

on Mar 21 2013

This would have been a 5-star read except for two things – the dull chapters (there were only maybe 5 throughout the whole book, but they really were so slow and unnecessary), and Thackeray’s hints of racism.

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Reviewed by Simon McLeish on Jan 01 2011

It is also somewhat uneven, some chapters being a little dull, but overall it is a stimulating, witty, and fascinating read and deserves its classic status...

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Page Plucker

Reviewed by Sophia on Dec 06 2011

But for me, the best thing about this book is its narration. Thackeray breaks the fourth wall and lets the reader in on all sorts of observations about his characters - filling the book with little asides and witticisms that really make it sparkle.

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Jacqueline Banerjee

Below average
on Jul 05 2010

There is yet another aspect in Vanity Fair where the narrator's ironic strategies act so subversively as to endanger the premises of the whole realist enterprise. This time the problem has to do with truth not as a moral but as an epistemological category.

Read Full Review of Vanity Fair (Penguin Classics)

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