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Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero

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Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

A marvelous, incisive social satire that gleefully exposes the greed and corruption raging in England during the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars through its tracing of the changing fortunes of two unforgettable women. It is a comic masterpiece that still resonates today.
"Re-reading Vanity Fair, one realises what a brilliant innovation this was in the English novel," remarked V. S. Pritchett. "Thackeray is like the modern novelists who derive from James and Proust, in his power of dissecting (and of desiccating!) character."

Generally considered to be his masterpiece, Vanity Fair is Thackeray's resplendent social satire that exposes the greed and corruption raging in England during the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars. Subtitled "A Novel Without a Hero," it traces the changing fortunes of two unforgettable women: the scheming opportunist Becky Sharp—one of literature's most resourceful, engaging, and amoral heroines—and her foil, the faithful, naive Amelia Sedley. Thackeray's subversive, comic attack on the hypocrisy and "dismal roguery" of an avaricious world resonates 150 years later with implications for our own times.

"Thackeray is an urbane nineteenth-century guide and commentator in a portrait gallery that is for all time," observed Louis Auchincloss. "He is the restless inhabitant of a prudish age, nostalgic, discursive, anecdotal, sentimental, worldly-wise, now warning us, now making fun of us, now reproving us .... Thackeray's harshest criticism of humanity is simply the point where ours commences. His perception of self-interest in every act is the ABC of modem psychology."

1. In her Introduction, Joanna Trollope asserts that "one of the huge charms of [Vanity Fair] is that nothing is conventional." Do you think Thackeray's choice of a protagonist speaks to this claim, given the novel's picaresque structure? How does this choice inform the novel? In what other ways does the novel confirm Trollope's claim?

2. What is your opinion of Thackeray's preface, "Before the Curtain"? How does it illuminate for you what he is attempting to do in the novel? In what ways is Thackeray "manager of the performance"? Discuss the role of the narrator in the novel. Is he reliable?

3. Why does Thackeray insist that this is a "novel without a hero"? Do you agree? What are the implications, if any, of such a claim?

4. Compare Becky and Amelia. What, if anything, does Thackeray intend by their contrasting destinies? Does one represent or confirm Thackeray's moral viewpoint better than the other, or do neither? What do you think of the preponderance of unlikable characters? Do you find Thackeray's outlook in any way misanthropic?

5. Anthony Trollope points out that many of Thackeray's contemporaries concluded upon reading Vanity Fair that he "was no novelist, but only a cynic." Do you agree? Do you think this judgment was simply a consequence of the period?

6. Robert Louis Stevenson, in a comment about the novel, remarked on Rawdon's striking of Lord Steyne in chapter 53, saying, "If Rawdon Crawley's blow were not delivered, Vanity Fair would cease to be a work of art." Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

7. Discuss the significance of the Battle of Waterloo. What role does this crucial event play in the novel? Does it in any way serve as a metaphor for other episodes in the text?

Product Details

ISBN:
9780679642015
Subtitle:
A Novel without a Hero
Publisher:
Modern Library
Author:
Thackeray, William Makepeace
Author:
William Makepeace Thackeray
Subject:
Classics
Subject:
Married women
Subject:
British
Subject:
Movie & television tie-in
Subject:
Fiction-Classics
Subject:
Fiction : Classics
Subject:
Fiction : General
Subject:
British and irish fiction (fictional works by
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Women -- England -- Fiction.
Subject:
Women
Subject:
England
Subject:
Waterloo, battle of, 1815
Subject:
main_subject
Subject:
all_subjects
Publication Date:
19991001
Binding:
ELECTRONIC
Language:
English
Pages:
731

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 731 pages Random House Publishing Group - English 9780679642015 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Chronicles the exploits of Becky Sharp, an unscrupulous young woman who is determined to achieve wealth and social success
"Synopsis" by , On a broad and colourful canvas, extending from urban and rural England to Waterloo and the continental haunts of exiles, Thackeray gives us one of the greatest social-satirical novels in the language - one of the most entertaining and profound, and, in the person of Becky Sharp, we have one of literature's most resourceful, attractive, and amoral characters. Essentially a commentary on hypocrisy and those ethical principles to which society pays lip-service, Vanity Fair (1847-8) invites us to consider which is to blame: the opportunist or the society that makes opportunism necessary.
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