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Vanity Fair [Paperback]

William Thackeray
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 12 2012 0140620850 978-0140620856
"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.

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"I do not say there is no character as well drawn in Shakespeare [as D'Artagnan]. I do say there is none that I love so wholly."
--Robert Louis Stevenson

"The lasting and universal popularity of The Three Musketeers shows that Dumas, by artlessly expressing his own nature in the persons of his heroes, was responding to that craving for action, strength and generosity which is a fact in all periods and all places."
--Andreé Maurois

From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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Founded in 1906 by J.M. Dent, the Everyman Library has always tried to make the best books ever written available to the greatest number of people at the lowest possible price. Unique editorial features that help Everyman Paperback Classics stand out from the crowd include: a leading scholar or literary critic's introduction to the text, a biography of the author, a chronology of her or his life and times, a historical selection of criticism, and a concise plot summary. All books published since 1993 have also been completely restyled: all type has been reset, to offer a clarity and ease of reading unique among editions of the classics; a vibrant, full-color cover design now complements these great texts with beautiful contemporary works of art. But the best feature must be Everyman's uniquely low price. Each Everyman title offers these extensive materials at a price that competes with the most inexpensive editions on the market-but Everyman Paperbacks have durable binding, quality paper, and the highest editorial and scholarly standards. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and fair Feb. 22 2007
Greed, gold-digging and deception sit at the heart of "Vanity Fair." It's no joke that it's subtitled "a novel without a hero" -- William Makepeace Thackeray mercilessly skewered the pretentions and flaws of the upper class all throughout it. The result is a gloriously witty social satire.

It opens with two young women departing from a ladies' academy: dull, sweet Amelia (rich) and fiery sharp-witted Rebecca (poor). Becky Sharp is a relentless social climber, and her first effort to rise "above her station" is by trying to get Amelia's brother to marry her -- an effort thwarted by Amelia's fiancee. So instead she gets married to another family's second son, Rawdon Crawley.

Unfortunately, both young couples quickly get disinherited and George is killed. But Becky is determined to live the good life she has worked and married for -- she obtains jewels and money from admiring gentlemen, disrupting her marriage. But a little thing like a tarnished reputation isn't enough to keep Becky down...

"Vanity Fair" is actually a lot more complex than that, with dozens of little subplots and complicated character relationships. Reading it a few times is necessary to really absorb all of it, since it is not just a look at the two women in the middle of the book, but at the upper (and sometimes lower) social strata of the nineteenth century.

The main flaw of the book is perhaps that it sprawls too much -- there's always a lot of stuff going on, not to mention a huge cast of characters, and Thackeray sometimes drops the ball when it comes to the supporting characters and their little plots. It takes a lot of patience to absorb all of this. However... it's worth it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Get on with it! Oct. 10 2003
By A Customer
While interesting, I found this to be a laborious read. The first 135 pages are spent setting the scene and building atmosphere, thereby setting the pace for the whole novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and dull for a "masterpiece" Nov. 5 1999
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I was excited to dive into this long British classic, thinking I was possibly in for another Middlemarch, which I loved. The first section is fantastic, when we meet the girls and they leave boarding school and go to Vauxhall. But after that, it just dragged and dragged. We don't get nearly enough of feisty Becky, and instead it's all boring side stories about Bute Crawley and the entire extended family. It took forever to read and -- as I approach the last 20 pages -- I can't say what I really got from it. Sorry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic, but not great Nov. 3 1999
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
"Vanity Fair" was written by Thackeray for a magazine publication with no intention, at least during it's early stages, of becoming a novel. I think that this explains why it occassionally jumps from one line of thought to another, adding very little to the depth of the tale. It manages to keep the interest, but sometimes I found myself thinking "What is the point of this?"
This criticism aside, I found the characters to be cleverly described. I would form an opinion about the nature of one character, only to have that opinion changed by his or her subsequent actions, or Thackeray's critical observations of those actions. At times, I found this frustrating. But I quickly learned to appreciate it. My knowledge of the characters grew with time, at that was realistic.
Overall, a recommended read. There are greater classics, but this is still one to enjoy. It gives an interesting perspective on life of the wealthy, and former wealthy, English during the Napolean era.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Has not aged gracefully March 4 2004
By A.J.
The reputation of Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" perseveres to this day, but I'm not sure it demands to be read in preference to many of its contemporaneous peers. In the twenty-first century it simply fails to entertain on the level it was intended when it was written in the 1840s, and even its literary value is dubious. The novel asks rhetorically why we are never satisfied with the things we achieve in life, and the question reverberates in a canyon of echoes as Thackeray repetitively beats the theme to death with a story that is too long and too dull. Of course it satirizes the hypocrisy, materialism, and frivolity in the higher strata of English society, but it hardly excels in this regard when compared to so many other novels, particularly Dickens's, of the same era that do likewise with more subtlety and intelligence. If "Vanity Fair" can be considered a socially valuable novel merely because it satirizes society, then nearly any novel can be considered socially valuable.
Set in the 1810s and 1820s, "Vanity Fair" is basically the tale of two young women, Amelia Sedley and Becky Sharp, making their respective ways through English society after leaving school. Amelia, a virtuous girl from an affluent family, marries George Osborne, the son of a man with whom her father has a financial quarrel. Becky, a beautiful, vivacious girl from an artistic but broken family, takes a job as a governess for a repulsive old man named Sir Pitt Crawley and eventually marries his son Rawdon. Both husbands are British military officers who fight under the Duke of Wellington against Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo; only one comes home alive.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Please! Make it end.
Another reviewer stated it best. This book has not aged well.

The whole time I was reading this I was thinking "Make it stop! Make it die!"
Published on Aug. 23 2011 by M. Witcher
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Entertaining
Going into Vanity Fair, I had expected it to be something like Jane Austen meets Anna Karenina. I planned to read it just like I did Anna Karenina, in (roughly) 100 page blocks... Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2010 by Andrea
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and unfair
Greed, gold-digging and deception sit at the heart of "Vanity Fair." It's no joke that it's subtitled "a novel without a hero" -- William Makepeace Thackeray mercilessly skewered... Read more
Published on May 14 2007 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and Fair
Greed, gold-digging and deception sit at the heart of "Vanity Fair." It's no joke that it's subtitled "a novel without a hero" -- William Makepeace Thackeray mercilessly skewered... Read more
Published on March 7 2007 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic!!
As Thackeray's Vanity Fair was my first serious foray into 19th century british literature, I found it a bit daunting at first. Read more
Published on July 2 2004 by Keith Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great 19th Century novels
If you like the big, sprawling novels of the 19th Century, full of dozens of characters with a supporting cast numbering in the hundreds, novels like Dickens's Bleak House or David... Read more
Published on March 27 2004 by Dean Campbell
4.0 out of 5 stars Vanity Fair prys into the yearnings of an era and a culture.
William Makepeace Thackeray was a wonderfully insightful and intelligent rabble-rouser. He speaks in this tale with a very gossipy tone and spectacular wit and with elements of... Read more
Published on March 25 2004 by "bignami-finn"
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the supreme masterpieces of the English novel genre
It is impossible to compare this to any other 19th century English novel, or to compare Thackery with Dickens, or anyone else. Read more
Published on March 18 2004 by Michael Bernstein
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Must-Read for any Fan of 19th Century / Victorian Lit
One of the greatest triumphs of the 19th Century / Victorian novel is the way in which it masters the English language, utilizing it with such eloquence that, nearly bordering on... Read more
Published on March 18 2004 by Pete Amaro
5.0 out of 5 stars Vanity Fair
William Makepeace Thackeray was not a major author, but his major work-Vanity Fair-is a fine piece of English prose. Read more
Published on Feb. 29 2004
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