Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

by William Makepeace Thackeray

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This classic story of two nineteenth-century social climbers is the basis for countless films and TV series, and one of the UK’s “Best-Loved Novels.”

Before the Real Housewives, there were Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley. Ruthless and cunning, Becky may have been born in a lower class, but now that she’s graduated from school, she’s ready to climb up to a better life—and do whatever it takes to get there. Her friend Emmy, however, is the opposite. She may have mastered music, dancing, and embroidery like any young woman of her class, but she utterly lacks a backbone.
Together these friends navigate the perils of Regency society as they search for love and happiness. Social battles are waged against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, and when the smoke finally clears, there’s no telling who will come out victorious.
A satirical masterpiece, Vanity Fair was #14 on The Guardian’s list of the 100 Best Novels and #122 in the BBC’s “Big Read” poll for the UK’s best-loved novel. It has inspired numerous adaptations, from early silent films to a 2004 movie by Mira Nair starring Reese Witherspoon as Becky.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789897781469
Publisher: Big Cheese Books
Publication date: 11/05/2017
Sold by: De Marque
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863) was a novelist and satirist. Born in Calcutta, India, Thackeray moved to England as a child following his father’s death. After finishing school, he initially looked into a career in art before turning to writing. Thackeray first achieved success through writing for the humor magazine Fraser’s, and was regarded as an equal of Dickens in his time after the publication of the classic novel Vanity Fair.

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Chiswick Mall

Excerpted from "Vanity Fair"
by .
Copyright © 2013 William Makepeace Thackeray.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Subtitled "a novel without a hero," Vanity Fair offers an acidly satirical romp across all levels of English society during the Napoleonic wars. William Thackeray focuses on how the war affects people other than soldiers, the typical heroes. All of his characters are deeply flawed, from social climber Becky Sharp and sweet Amelia Sedley to caddish George Osborne and loyal William Dobbin. Becky, liar and hypocrite, takes center stage as one of literature's great female protagonists. Penniless, armed with only her beauty, charm, and cunning, she claws her way forward by practicing the corrupt principles of her world. Becky seduces her enemies and betrays friends with a charismatic energy that has captivated generations of readers.
Regarded as Thackeray's best novel and masterpiece, Vanity Fair was published in serial form in 1847–48 in Punch and established the author's literary reputation as well as his social status and financial security. Critic A. E. Dyson acclaimed it as "one of the world's most devious novels, devious in its characterization, its irony, its explicit moralizing, its exuberance, its tone. Few novels demand more continuing alertness from the reader, or offer more intellectual and moral stimulation in return."
Dover (2016) republication of the edition originally published by the Oxford University Press, London and New York, 1908.
See every Dover book in print at

Reading Group Guide

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?

Customer Reviews

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Vanity Fair 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 248 reviews.
inkarus More than 1 year ago
Surprisingly, after over 150 years, Vanity Fair is still a page-turner. This novel is supposed to be a groundbreaking work of "English realism" for its time (middle 1800's), but is surprisingly pertinent to today's consumer-oriented culture. Anyone who wants a slightly cynical look at the human condition will really enjoy this rendition of the foibles of human society and the sharply drawn characters of Becky Sharp, Emmy Sedly and her brother, Jos., and Thackeray's alter-ego, Dobbin (who is a bit too virtuous, of course). Not only is it a classic but it is very entertaining. It helps, however, to know just a bit of French an German, since there are a few foreign phrases salted in here and there. Even if you are in the dark about these exotic expressions, however, there are plenty of quips and escapades to keep you amused and anxious to move from chapter to chapter. I would have given Vanity Fair five stars, except for the difficulty of downloading the entire novel. My first attempt produced a (1853) download of the beginning third of the book (despite being told I was downloading "Vanity Fair"). My next attempt got farther, however this version ended in mid-sentence. I then downloaded another "Vanity Fair, Vol. II", which picked up later than the point at which I was dumped by my second attempt,and this third (and final) download also included another short novel not noted on the cover page. Furthermore, the OCR image of the "Vol II" final download had a fair number of uncorrected errors, although it was usually possible to understand what was in the original. I managed to fill in the missing chapters between my second and third downloads from a paperback I had purchased (I had only downloaded to the Nook because it is more convenient to read than a fat paperback). These problems with the descriptions of the various copies available for download limit the overall enjoyment of the reading experience. B&N needs to clear up these problems before they can expect perfect scores! The novel is well worth the effort, however.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading vanity fair and was very pleased with the book. There were some parts that were alittle boring but the rest of the book makes up for it. The ending, in particular, could not have been better. This is a very big book and does take alot of time to read, however, it is well worth it. I read Anna korenina right before Vanity Fair, and I have to say that this one is much better. Vanity Fair is definately going into my book collection.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The difference between right and wrong- who doesn't know it? This book is all around amazing. You know, before reading Vanity Fair, I had no idea how bad the magazine disgraces this great book. I loved it! It's not like it goes into detail about who is cheating and such like a country song, but shows what is wrong and write. It also simply shows the dark side of this seemingly innocent era.
twigtip More than 1 year ago
This is an epic social satire with spot-on observation and biting commentary. The characters are wholly believable and recognizable, even in today's society. I must add that it is very, very long, and to be fully appreciated probably needs to be read at a leisurely pace. Set aside a week's worth of spare time. You'll be amply rewarded.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always thought that this would be a drag to read because it looked like a snobby, long Victorian novel. However, once I started reading it, I was addicted.
prettybrowneyes More than 1 year ago
I loved reading Vanity Fair. Rebecca Sharp is one of the most evil but intelligent characters I have ever read! Thackeray reminds me alot of Charles Dickens by the way he describes the characters and the enviornment they live in.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book of all time, so clearly I am a biased reviewer. That said, there are many reasons for why that is so. The character of Becky Sharp is engaging and well-developed--beautiful, witty and ambitious, she is capable of manipulating her way through society at any cost, even that of 'implied' murder. Thackeray's range in the novel is tremendous: he takes us from the drawing-rooms of the great Lord Steyne, to the country parsonage of Bute Crawley, to the battlefields of Waterloo and back again. His delineations of social class are equally widespread, and delightfully perceptive. Additionally, the Barnes and Noble edition happens to have an extremely good introduction and notes--which cannot be said for every title in their classics series. I think I need not say that it is superior to the movie in every way imaginable 'although, granted, the film was not bad'. Highly, highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Vanity Fair is not a short novel. It is long, and has many difficult words (so get a dictionary). However, by assiduously following the plot, one is quickly enchanted by the characters, and the intricately woven plot. It's a novel that needs some work to be appreciated, but the footnotes (with translations of the occasional French dialogue and cultural notes)are helpful in achieving this task. I finished the novel after reading it in installments for half a year, and it made me more aware of Victorian culture than any history book ever could. It's historical, romantic, and comedic. I'd give it six stars if I could.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While it may be long, it is far from boring. Thackery makes hilarious commentaries on British society.
Guest More than 1 year ago
William Thackeray's Vanity Fair is, by far, one of the most amazing works of fiction I have ever read. Unlike most authors of his age (especially those who wrote similar serials), Thackeray remains the consummate third-person satirist, creating characatures of some of the greatest minds in England of the time. Reading Vanity Fair was like eating the richest possible chocolate. Do not be turned off by the size, Vanity Fair is well worth the time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Drama and comedy mix beautifully in this period character study. The story line does not necessarily go where the reader anticipates; but it is never disappointing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
W.M.Thackeray did a wonderful job in grasping the convictions and the rationalisms of the 19 Century in England. The book is filled with over a dozen truly genuine characters who have much to teach us about the true characters of men and women in circumstances of much opulence and poverty. In the story one of the pivotal characters , Becky overcomes many of the social barriers imposed by her low station in society by using her charms, magnetism and charisma to raise her self in society. The Barnes & Nobles Classics Editions was much helpful for it provided; critical background information and important language translations which made the text a lot more agreeable. Due to the fact that the book was published in installment its lengthy and requires a significantly long time to finish reading it.
SarahJenny More than 1 year ago
Excellently written, yet I have never, ever so disliked a heroine. I couldn't feel concern for such an awful character and was awaiting her demise with glee!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story of blind ambition and blinder honesty manages to be several things at once: it is laugh-out-loud funny and at some points tragic; it is a what-will-happen next potboiler and a philosophical exploration; it offers bleak cynicism and surprising tenderness. Perhaps what helps it to work is the fact that it was published in chapter-long installments, and Thackeray needed to keep the public coming back. But it's much more than just a soap opera. The emotional range is hugely impressive, on occasion it moves from farce to tragedy within a single sentence. The book has a surprisingly modern feel to it, considering its age. With most classics you have to steel yourself a little bit to get through them. This was quite the opposite for me: I looked forward to every opportunity to read it.
Radella on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love the 19th century... but the movie was better. The book was a bit tedious, disappointing, really.
vrchristensen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Vanity Fair is about the adventures of the young Becky Sharp, born to humble circumstances but given certain opportunities to raise herself, which she takes full advantage of, sometimes to her benefit, more often to her detriment. As heroine's go...well...she isn't one, hence the book's subtitle, "A Novel Without a Hero". It is written as social satire. For a man fully entrenched in Victorianism, the early part of the century provided a great deal of fodder for novel material. But there's nothing funny about it. The Napoleanic War, the fight for Social survival, the harsh realities of a class system, and thrown into this is the avaricious and scheming Becky Sharp, who takes advantage, and with a realism that at times persuades the reader to sympathise with her. In her path, however, she leaves a wake of ruin. Sympathies change, though, as the book progresses, and while, at first, we may have rooted for one non-heroine, by the end, we are rooting for quite another. The book has a happy-ish ending, with a sobering monologue to put all in its place and to cast a shade of reality over it. But one is left, at the conclusion, with the impression that Thackeray rather tired of his characters before he had quite completed his novel. Overall, it was an interesting look into a Victorian gentleman's view of the decades before him, but it is not by any means one of my favourite books of the era.
StoutHearted on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This lengthy novel at times tries the reader's patience, but the firey Becky Sharp commands attention to the end.School chums Amanda Sedley and Becky Sharp come from two different backgrounds: the former from privelege, the latter from poverty thanks to a starving artist father. Amanda is meek while Becky is cunning, and the novel depicts how these two different personalities make their way through life. Amanda falls in love with Osbourne, a handsome scoundrel whose father ruined the Sedleys financially. Becky takes her place befitting her station as a servant in the Crawley household, but is determined to make it to the top any way she can. Her main weapon is flirtation and deceit, and many men are ruined in her wake. Even Osbourne, who sees through Becky, eventually makes himself a fool over her. Amanda remains blindly devoted to her husband while she, meanwhile, is blindly devoted to by Osbourne's fellow soldier Dobbin, a man who is strong when it comes to the military, but an absolute pushover when it comes to Amanda. Becky Sharp remains one of the most dynamic characters in English literature. Even if her fellow characters were not so weak-willed and wishy-washy, she still would be a force to be reckoned with. Little shames her except the sting of poverty. She's unfaithful, deceitful, and cruel to those who love her, even her own son. She's played the survivor's game for so long that, to the end, Becky Sharp remains her first priority. She's been thrown off the top of the world so many times that you know she always has a trick up her sleeve, a new plan to regain wealth and position. She does not need love because she will always love herself. This makes her a terrifying force among the other, weaker characters. Sounds awful, right? How can readers like her? Perhaps because Thackeray gives us no other hero, we cling to Becky for her never-say-die attitude. She's the catalyst that finally pushes milquetoast Dobbin and Amanda together, albeit in her usual cruel way. But it's a relief after reading hundreds of pages of Amanda pining for undeserving Osbourne while Dobbin shoots her the puppy-dog eyes. In the end, no character is left with respect for Becky, but she comes out just fine. She was never out for people's respect; she just wanted their money. On the whole, it's a biting satire of society life, and the things one does to "make it" among its confines.
wrmjr66 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This one took me a long time to read. It's a good book--I'd say about 60% of it is a great book--but it wanders and lags a bit too much for me. The characters are either interesting but inconsistent (like Becky Sharp) or consistent but uninteresting (like Dobbin). None of the characters are ultimately very likable, but that isn't a weakness, in my opinion. More of an issue is that the book is really two novels that intertwine a little bit at some key moments. One novel is the satiric look at the rise and fall of Becky Sharp and the other is the "romance" of Amelia and Dobbin. The former is by far the stronger part, and the scenes of Becky's triumphs in London are written without any allusion to Amelia and Dobbin. The romance isn't of much interest, and given the other narrative, the very idea of romance is treated with ambivalence. The problem, though, is that one plot or the other will take over for a hundred or more pages, and by the time Thackeray returns to the other plot, I had forgotten many of the important but undifferentiated characters. I'm glad I read it, but I would not say it is a "must read" novel from the 19th century.
sweetiegherkin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
During his lifetime, Thackeray described himself as being at the top of his game, duking it out with Dickens for the title of greatest living author. In my opinion, Dickens has nothing to worry about. Vanity Fair, a hefty tome like many of Dickens' novels, is most known for the character of Becky Sharp. The book isn't entirely about her though. Rather, the novel examines the lives of two women: Becky Sharp and her friend Amelia Sedley, who is as completely opposite from Becky as one could possibly be. We start following Becky and Amelia from the time they leave school as young women and through their subsequent ups and downs in life. We also become intimately acquainted with their friends, family members, and extended family members. For most of the novel, we watch as kind, humble Amelia loses her wealth and good fortunes while scheming, devious Becky rises in society and material possessions. Along the way, Thackeray will often stop and philosophize about life and the funny way it works. His characterizations at these points are particularly spot on. However, I really couldn't get into this book, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps it was that I could not really feel for the characters the way you should in a novel like this. I honestly wasn't much concerned about what would happen to them next. My dominant feeling when reaching the end of the novel was relief that it was finally finished, not any feelings about the characters and their final lots in life. Or it could have been that Thackeray wrote in the same style whether he was discussing a crucial, plot-changing event or if he was discussing a family dinner where nothing of significance happens. A plus about this particular edition of the novel is that it includes illustrations by Thackeray, which are an interesting touch. Overall, however, I would have a hard time recommending this book because I personally was not thrilled by reading this classic.
bleached on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As mysterious and delectable Becky Sharp travels up and down the social latter, the reader is enticed by her lies, manipulations, and scandals. Every character in this charming book is deep and riveting and both loved and hated for their actions, thoughts and habits. Becky, who is the most cunning of them all, is the main character and the one the reader has the most love/hate relationship with. Her betrayals are cruel but understandable. There is no middle ground with Ms. Sharp and the reader has to decide for himself whether she is heroine or villain.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a really really good story, I just wish it hadn't been so long winded. The bit where Amelia has to choose whether to part with her child is absolutely heartbreaking, really really well written. In contrast there were some bits (particularly in Belgium) which were so tedious I practically lost the will to live.
mountie9 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mini Book Review: This was a truly fascinating but at time extremely boring piece of literature. At times I was laughing aloud at the biting and witty commentary about early 19th century Britain and the absurdity of the upper class society. But I found that as soon as I was enjoying it Thackery would go off on some side story that really could have been left out and quite frankly bored this simple girl to tears. I struggled less with the language in this classic as it wasn't as flowery or overly descriptive as in many pieces of literature during this period in history. I did have to put it down quite frequently as Thackery gives a very dark portrayal of human nature and I have a more hopeful positive nature and it was making me sorta depressed. The characters are very richly drawn, but they are extremely flawed and I felt no real attachment to them. I know that this is the point of the book, but I have to feel something for the characters in the story to truly enjoy. I was either disgusted with how horrific the characters were (Becky & Jos) or disgusted by how wussy other characters were (Amelia & Dobbin). As a social commentary this is brilliant and for those obviously more intellectual than I am you will enjoy. However, I am a far more simple girl and I prefer a good story that I can lose myself in.3 Dewey's (as usual this is based on my enjoyment and not on the quality of the writing)I read this as part of the BBC Top 100 Books Challenge & it came preloaded onto my Kobo
lucybrown on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this ages ago. First in my Victorian novel class, and a few years later at a more leisurely pace. It is a real treat. Very pointed satire made even funnier with the sly illustrations. This is certainly one for the ages; pure entertainment
mariamreza on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Vanity Fair may be a little long, with Thackeray drawing out background histories longer than necessary and 'revealing' twists long after he has already given enough hints. However, his witty satirical remarks about society and his astute observations about human nature make this book definitely worth reading. The balance in the characters is another positive; the villainous characters have redeeming qualities and the 'good' characters can be quite insuffereable at times!The names of some of the minor characters are quite comic; 'Lord Tapeworm' comes to mind!
MaowangVater on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A biting and witty satire on English social life and customs during the first part of the nineteenth century, its subtitle is ¿a novel without a hero,¿ and it could also be added without heroines. Yet the book¿s two central characters, the virtuous but dim and naive Amelia Sedley and the amoral, clever, congenial Becky Sharp both display admirable and distressing qualities as they rise, fall, and rise again in society. One of the great virtues of Vanity Fair is that while it is told in hilarious prose, with short burst of genuine pathos, it was praised by its contemporaries as a thoroughly realistic account of the society that it portrays.