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Vanity Fairby William Makepeace Thackeray
Synopses & Reviews
Vanity Fair, Thackeray's panoramic, satirical saga of corruption at all levels of English society, was published in 1847 but set during the Napoleonic Wars. It chronicles the lives of two women who could not be more different: Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals; and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family. Becky's fluctuating fortunes eventually bring her to an affair with Amelia's dissolute husband; when he is killed at Waterloo, Amelia and her child are left penniless, while Becky and her husband Rawdon Crawley rise in the world, managing to lead a high life in London solely on the basis of their shrewdness. (The chapter entitled "How to Live on Nothing" is a classic.) Thackeray's subtitle, "A Novel Without a Hero," is understating the case; his view of humanity in this novel is distinctly bleak and deliberately antiheroic. Critics of the time misunderstood the book, decrying it as (among other things) vicious, vile, and odious. But VANITY FAIR has endured as one of the great comic novels of all time, and a landmark in the history of realism in fiction.
"In the early numbers of that work he kept the secret at once of his plans--if he had any--and of his power. So poor were the beginnings of the tale that the subsequent numbers ran a great chance of being thrown aside on the faith of the early ones...It was interesting to see how the writer's power grew and accumulated by its own exercise. Number after number of the work seemed to present a new strength drawn out and nourished by the strength of that which preceded. No reader could have pre-pictured the final mastery of hand from the feeble workmanship that laid the first inadequate foundations of that remarkable book." Athenaeum (London), 19th-century
"'Vanity Fair', though it does not include the whole extent of Thackeray's genius, is the most vigorous exhibition of its leading characteristics. In freshness of feeling, elasticity of movement, and unity of aim, it is favorably distinguished from its successors, which too often give the impression of being composed of successive accumulations of incidents and persons, that drift into the story on no principle of artistic selection and combination....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." Edwin Percy Whipple, Atlantic Monthly
"There are scenes of all sorts; some dreadful combats, some grand and lofty horse-riding, some scenes of high life, and some of very middling indeed; some love-making for the sentimental, and some light comic business; the whole accompanied by appropriate scenery, and brilliantly illuminated with the Author's own candles." William Makepeace Thackeray
No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and wordly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her sentimental companion Amelia, however, only longs for the caddish soldier George.
Essentially a commentary on hypocrisy and those ethical principles to which society pays lip-service, VANITY FAIR (1847-8) is a classic epic extending from urban and rural England to Waterloo and the continental haunts of exiles. Considered one of the greatest social-satirical novels in English, this edition includes all of the author's own illustrations.
In William Thackeray's Vanity Fair, 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.
New editions published as part of Penguin's relaunch of their "Classic" series.
About the Author
William Makepeace Thackeray (18111863) was born and educated to be a gentleman but gambled away much of his fortune. He was a regular contributor to periodicals and Vanity Fair was serialized in Punch in 18471848.
John Carey is Professor of English at Oxford University and the chief book reviewer of the Sunday Times (London). He lives in London.
Coralie Bickford-Smith is an award-winning designer at Penguin Books (U.K.), where she has created several highly acclaimed series designs. She studied typography at Reading University and lives in London.
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