Vanity Fair (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

Vanity Fair (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

“I think I could be a good woman, if I had five thousand a year,” observes beautiful and clever Becky Sharp, one of the wickedest—and most appealing—women in all of literature. Becky is just one of the many fascinating figures that populate William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair, a wonderfully satirical panorama of upper-middle-class life and manners in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Scorned for her lack of money and breeding, Becky must use all her wit, charm and considerable sex appeal to escape her drab destiny as a governess. From London’s ballrooms to the battlefields of Waterloo, the bewitching Becky works her wiles on a gallery of memorable characters, including her lecherous employer, Sir Pitt, his rich sister, Miss Crawley, and Pitt’s dashing son, Rawdon, the first of Becky’s misguided sexual entanglements.

Filled with hilarious dialogue and superb characterizations, Vanity Fair is a richly entertaining comedy that asks the reader, “Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?”

Features more than 100 illustrations drawn by Thackeray himself for the initial publication.

Nicholas Dames is Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and is the author of Amnesiac Selves: Nostalgia, Forgetting, and British Fiction, 1810–1870, and other commentary on nineteenth-century British and French fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593083656
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 09/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 696
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 8.44(h) x 1.81(d)

Read an Excerpt



From Nicholas Dames's Introduction to Vanity Fair

What kind of a novel is Vanity Fair? Given the bewildering variety of responses that it has elicited since its publication began in January 1847, we might assume that at no time since Thackeray's serial first gained public notice has the answer to that question been obvious. To the novel's first readers, Thackeray's aim seemed puzzling. G. H. Lewes, one of the Victorian period's most able critics, wondered whether Vanity Fair was too embittered to be truly humorous, and too uniformly skeptical to be effectively satirical; Charlotte Brontë, however, dedicated the second edition of Jane Eyre to Thackeray, whom she had never met, and in the process compared the effect of Vanity Fair to that of a Hebrew prophet admonishing the kings of Judah and Israel. That dilemma—whether Vanity Fair is the work of a moral satirist, or a worldly cynic retailing gossip for the diversion of his audience—has haunted efforts to understand Thackeray ever since. In our own time the pendulum has swung closer to the latter sentiment, thanks in no small part to the efforts of more recent novelists and critics to discredit Thackeray's method; E. M. Forster, in his Aspects of the Novel (1927), compared Thackeray's interruptions of his narrative to that of a bar patron offering to buy you a drink in return for some attention to his not quite lucid stories. There have, however, been intriguing testimonies to the contrary. The Trinidadian historian, social critic, and activist intellectual C. L. R. James attested to reading Vanity Fair regularly starting at the age of eight, learning the workings of the British class system while feeling their persistence in his own West Indian milieu; as James later commented, it was to Thackeray, even more than to Marx, that he owed his vocation.

Worldly cynic, righteous prophet, tiresome companion, proto-Marxist social anatomist: the appellations are as contradictory as they are vivid and plausible. What unites these disparate accounts of the novel's effect, however, is their attempt to describe its voice—a narrative style that speaks in a manner utterly unlike the usual Victorian novel. Vanity Fair is Thackeray's masterpiece, his most ambitious and colorful effort, full of characters and scenes memorable in a way his later work could only occasionally recapture; but its most important element, the fact of its presentation that accounts at once for its brilliance and its undeniable difficulty, is the voice of its narrator. Amid a babble of distinctive accents—Becky Sharp's light, cutting wit, Jos Sedley's ponderous inanities, William Dobbin's plain, gentlemanly eloquence—the narrator stands out as the most continually entertaining, and continually protean, of voices. The voice of Vanity Fair's narrator is its great contribution to the history of the English novel, while being nonetheless the most difficult of the novel's aspects to describe fully or accurately. Without the pyrotechnic virtuosity of Dickens's style, or the measured gravitas of George Eliot, Thackeray's narrator speaks with a mixture of tones that might perhaps be the most distinctively modern among the styles of the Victorian novel.

Most evident of all this voice's traits is its undeniable worldliness. As the narrator frequently advertises, he (for this voice is always a male one) has seen the insides of gentlemen's clubs, society dining rooms, auction houses where the effects of bankrupts are sold, foreign courts, respectable and not-so-respectable theaters, boarding schools, tourist hotels, coaching inns, even the chambers of servants. A Londoner, evidently, this narrator can know even the secrets whispered in female drawing rooms; "every person who treads the Pall Mall pavement and frequents the clubs of this metropolis," he blandly announces, "knows, either through his own experience or through some acquaintance with whom he plays at billiards," as much as one need know about the kind of disreputable female who dresses too showily in public and who women refuse to meet. True to his worldly awareness, Thackeray's narrator refuses to spell out the full implications of his description—how might these women earn the money to afford those dresses?—preferring instead to let implication, and a knowing smile, do the work. The innocent and ignorant, "the apprentices in the Park" or "the squire's wife in Somersetshire, who reads of their doings in the Morning Post," will remain uninstructed in this curious aspect of metropolitan society. As for the narrator and his readers, surely they know enough without being explicitly instructed. "Men living about London," we are told, "are aware of these awful truths." We are in the hands, therefore, of a discreet and rather jaundiced narrative voice, acquainted with—and perhaps already tired of—all the restless machinations of urban strivers. Vanity Fair is a novel full of scandal, including fraud, petty deceit, extramarital complications, and (possibly) murder, but these putative outrages to Victorian notions of social decency are never narrated as surprises. Instead, Thackeray presents them to us with a half-amused, half-disgusted species of boredom, as if to say: Surely you weren't so naïve as to pretend this wasn't the case?

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Vanity Fair 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bring back the classics. We need them. Vanity Fair is one of Thackeray's most brilliant works that can compete with the best writings today. It deals principally with the lives of two young women, Miss Sedley and Miss Sharp and what they did after leaving school. It is about their loves, their ambitions, their terribly endearing families and most importantly, their dreams. The book openly and almost brutally describes the selfishness of human nature and the thousand little subtilities of everyday life during that time. Attitude towards women, status in society, the power of money and marriage are recurring themes in this delightful novel. Extremely unique characters like Miss. Crawley, Mr.Osbourne and Captain Dobbin give the book a splendid Dickensian touch. To me, it is an excellent read because like terrorism, it really makes you stop and take a step back.
rainpebble on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This review will read a bit strangely as it was a group read and I commented on each "part" as I finished reading it.Spoilers ahead!~!I enjoyed this read tremendously and I found much to admire in our little Becky Sharp. She had a lot on the ball and was very quick to know what she needed do in order to attain her wants and needs. Those who pity her need think again.I found Jos to be a big old baby puss and thought that he needed to "man up". But his character truly suited the narration of the story. I did think that his sister, Miss Amelia's character changed too much in the story line. I quite liked her in the beginning, but throughout the middle part...................The class levels in Vanity Fair are very much "out there" but strangely I see a lot of the same small ostracizings going on today.Surprising things happening midway through the book.What a wonderful hero our Captain Dobbin is turning out to be. I rooted for him the entire way through and for things to turn out nicely for him.I must say that I found the encouragement of the courting of Miss Swartz by Mr. Crawley, the younger, quite odd for this time period and at the same time found it quite brave of the "younger" to refrain from obedience and follow his heart.Not only soldiers go to war during this era. Apparently people found battles to be of great entertainment as they followed them and could not get there quickly enough. Amazing more civilians did not die at the front than did.Miss Amelia is quickly turning to milk toast. Funny, I thought she had more spunk than that and perchance by book's end it will show it's face again.Well, well, well, our Miss Becky is beginning to show her true colors and her adeptness at using people very much to her advantage. Not that she has not all the way through the book done this, but she does it now with a different attitude and heart.Jos is off somewhere, most likely in India again doing whatever he does there. Miss Amelia has begun to grow a backbone which I am so glad to see.Thackeray writes this entire work with his tongue in his cheek and I quite enjoy the result of his efforts. This third part is a bit slow going up until the last chapter. Then things begin to pick up.My, my, my. Such happenings and carryings on as we should ever see. Things coming together to the benefit of "some". Becky getting her comeuppance and then getting her life back to the order in which she enjoys. Miss Amelia waking up to see the real order of the world, getting rid of her rose colored glasses, coming to her senses and doing what she most likely has wanted to do all along. Poor Jos; such an unknowingly sad life and such a sad demise. Do we dare to think he was poisoned? And William; William finally growing some big kahunas at last and standing up for himself.Thackeray has written a very enjoyable tete-a tete here and I find I quite liked it. I think it could have been compiled into perhaps 480 pages instead of 680. I loved all the little sketches throughout the book.I am very happy to have been a part of this group read as I was not familiar with Thackeray in the least. I still don't know that I am but I am interested enough to try something else of his. I do know that without the group read, I would never have picked up this particular book, so thank you all for having chosen it as one of this years reads.
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Vanity Fair is a thought provoking novel that highlights hypocrisy in high-class society. The story follows the lives of main characters, Amelia Sedley, and Rebecca Sharp, as they battle real troubles that plagued most women of the time. The novel highlights how these troubles change the perception of characters, as well as the changes in the characters themselves. Each character seems to face a different conflict; however, most of these problems are either character vs. society or character vs. character. Amelia is a fortunate, woman who has never had to work much for anything. Her kind disposition makes her seem very naïve and child-like. She is a compassionate character with a delicate heart. The youthful girl finds a sister in Becky, an attachment that she later grows to regret. Ultimately, Amelia learns that life can be cruel and unjust, but the people who truly care for her will always be by her side. Although the author states that the novel has no hero, Rebecca is often referred to by the author as the heroine of the story. She starts off as the poor orphaned daughter of an unrecognized artist, and must do anything she can to gain respect in high-class society. Becky can make friends and enemies quite easily. She will do what ever it takes to make a name for herself; however, some of her methods may seem unconventional. Becky's merciless grab for power is first noted in her attempt to find a husband. Of course, in Vanity Fair, a woman is only as respected as the man she marries. Becky spends a lapse of time with Amelia's family while waiting to be transported to Queen's Crawley. Here, she is introduced to Amelia's wealthy brother, Joseph. Becky commanded his attention, and nearly had his proposal for marriage, sadly, she had to take leave for her job as a governess. This is the first event that makes up the rising action of Vanity Fair. Later, Becky's employer, Sir Pitt Crawley, makes astonishing revelations to Becky. It is at the time of these announcements that she reveals shocking news of her own. Her announcement marks the second rising action of Vanity Fair. The climax, however, does not occur until long after this important point of the story. I found Vanity Fair to be very entertaining novel that gives a very strong statement about all of society. Thackeray captures the bitter betrayal of trust that exists between friends. His account of Becky's manipulating nature is stunning. This is shown when the author tells of how Becky knowingly controlled the heart of Amelia's husband. He truly poisons the mind with the idea that women- often thought to be delicate and genteel- are not only vain and manipulative, but also have the capacity to be brutally cruel to each other. The author often leaves it up to the reader to make conclusions and inferences. For example, towards the end of the novel, a certain death leaves the reader questioning the cause. The holes in his story are made up by his occasional commentary on certain events that have occurred. I also enjoyed that Thackeray uses historical events in his text. His account of the battle of Waterloo and the following years gives the reader a better sense of time elapsing. This novel may not be for everybody. I found it to be very entertaining, but the Thackeray's cynical satire and irony may not appeal to everyone. Overall, Vanity Fair is an enjoyable, stimulating novel.
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dablackwood on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Being immersed in 19th century society in and around London was a real treat. Of course there were some tedious parts - the naming of all the people at an event, etc., but the story was wonderful and the characters rich and fulfilling. A wonderful summer read
unlikelyaristotle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As characteristic for novels written in that period of time, or at least ABOUT that era (19th century England), Vanity Fair is an extremely wordy book. It pushes the boundaries of rambling, in my opinion, but still, the story is always a good one. What I love about it is, the theme is one that is timeless, true for every generation probably since the history of man, and most likely in every country. If every country in the world made it mandatory for their schools to direct a play based on this novel, edited according the cultural norms of their society (e.g. in the Arab world Rebecca - Becky - Sharp would be Reem Shalabya, perhaps, in Argentina she might be Renata Salvas, etc), it would make total sense, and I'm pretty sure everyone would be able to relate to it. It's social climbing at it's ugliest, hidden behind the beautiful setting of England in the 1800s. The main character, Becky Sharp, is extremely unlikeable because of her selfishness and utter cruelty to people around her, beloved or not. I take some issue with the rather misogynistic view that if a woman knows what she wants then the author has to portray her as cruel and conniving, whereas the kind and good-hearted Amanda Sedley is always vulnerable and weak, as if that's the way woman should always be. But, if Becky Sharp was a charitable and warm-hearted person, I doubt this classic would be as interesting as it is to so many people.
AdonisGuilfoyle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
O, the satisfaction in finishing this book! Thackeray is a cynical genius - more pessimistic and critical than Dickens - and the characters in 'Vanity Fair' are captivating, but this is a heavy book padded with much social commentary and subjective griping from the author. The trick, I think, to persevering, is to read a copy with type of a legible size.This 'novel without a hero' - although the dependable and earnest Dobbin is more than worthy of that honour - is about the proud, arrogant, pompous, grasping, sly, hypocritical and vain men and women of Vanity Fair, Thackeray's name for society, and those who aspire to be accepted amongst its ranks. The anti-heroine of the story is Becky Sharp, who claws her way up from charity case to governess to army wife, at the expense of friends and lovers, but without finding satisfaction or happiness. Her tenacity and ambition are admirable, but Becky is rarely likeable - her exploits are amusing, talented and charming, but she is not a sympathetic character by any means. For all that she hurts others - her devoted husband and neglected son - there is an appropriate sense of justice in Thackeray's novel that keeps knocking Becky down at the height of her success. The odious Lord Steyne is more than a match for her scheming, and watching her come undone is refreshing. Of course, she is rarely down for long, and never defeated. The rest of the cast are also vividly human in their faults and the choices they make - pathetic Emmy and her poor father, conceited George, ridiculous Jos, proud Mr Osbourne. These characters are the strength of the novel, carrying the reader through the social and historical lectures which fill the rest of the tome. That said, Thackeray's sharp observations on the beahviour of men and women are still relevant today, and very droll in the telling. Backbiting amongst female friends, the plain companion of the vivacious beauty, English travellers herding together abroad and recreating a 'little England' in foreign countries - not much has changed!I heartily recommend this sizeable novel, but if the footnotes and meandering narrative are intimidating, then the BBC miniseries with Natasha Little as Becky, Philip Glenister as the wonderful Dobbin and Nathaniel Parker as Rawdon, is an excellent introduction, faithful in spirit to the text.
cdeuker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When Becky is the subject, the book sings. Some much to love/so much to hate about her. (Mother of the year she isn't!) When Thackeray is making general observations on life, the book doesn't exactly sing, but it certainly holds one's attention. Much is very insightful and original, and even when what he says isn't particularly original, his ability with words makes well-worn ground seem new. When Amelia is the subject, yawn, yawn, yawn. So, four stars, but I'm glad I read it.
Helena81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be truly wonderful, perhaps my new favorite. Thackeray makes his characters come alive, and the story is just so well told with its twists and turns. It's also interesting to have a central character--especially a leading woman in a 19th Century novel--who is so rotten. Becky is a sociopath but, as a friend also reading the book pointed out, she is the product of a sociopathic culture. Amelia and Dobbin I cared about deeply, although, again, Amelia isn't an Elizabeth Bennet who the reader can get behind wholeheartedly--she's too weak-willed for that. These fascinating, flawed, characters will stay with me for a long time. Despite Thackeray's 900 pages, I still long to know more!I will add, however, that there was at least one passage where I just wanted to get past the description and back to the characters I was so fascinated by. I suspect, however, that Thackeray's long description of Germany in the last 10% of the book is meant to build the reader's anticipation for the denouement of the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago