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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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 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,...
Published on Feb. 22 2007 by E. A Solinas

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and dull for a "masterpiece"
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...
Published on Nov. 5 1999


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and fair, Feb. 22 2007
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 10 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME)   
This review is from: Vanity Fair (Paperback)
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.

Like most nineteenth-century writers, Thackeray had a very dense, formal writing style -- but once you get used to it, his writing becomes insanely funny. Witticisms and quips litter the pages, even if you don't pick them all up at once. At first Thackeray seems incredibly cynical (Becky's little schemes almost always pay off), but taken as a social satire, it's easier to understand why he was so cynical about the society of the time.

Becky Sharp is the quintessential anti-heroine -- she's very greedy and cold, yet she's also so smart and determined that it's hard not to have a grudging liking for her, no matter what she does. Certainly life hasn't been fair for her. Next to Becky, a goody-goody character like Amelia is pretty boring, and even the unsubtle George can't measure up to Becky.

To sum up "Vanity Fair": think a period soap opera with a heavy dose of social commentary. In other words, it doesn't get much better than this, Thackeray's masterpiece.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great 19th Century novels, March 27 2004
By 
Dean Campbell (El Paso, TX USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Vanity Fair (Hardcover)
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 Copperfield, George Eliot's Middlemarch or either of the Tolstoy novels, then Vanity Fair may be for you. I won't duplicate what other reviewers have already described below. Instead I'll mention a couple of points that haven't received enough attention.
First, what sets this novel apart from others of its kind is the active role of the narrator, presumably the author himself, or perhaps an unnamed character. Analogizing to sportscasts, this narrator is not content with doing the play-by-play; instead he(she?) constantly butts in with color commentary on the characters, exhortations to the reader, and rhetorical moralizing on such issues as men's treatment of women (bad), women's treatment of women (possibly worse), the harm that comes from living beyond one's means (which extends well beyond the spendthrift), and the question of what makes a gentleman and what makes a lady (honor and honesty). This is all done with such a sense of irony, satire or sarcasm that it's hard to tell when the narrator is being serious. It is this narrative distance from the characters that sets this novel apart from the sentimentality of Dickens, the earnestness of Eliot, the moral seriousness of Tolstoy. I don't think this is cynicism on Thackeray's part but rather an unwavering commitment to seeing the world as it really is, unblinkered by any ideology, philosophy or religion.
The second point derives from the first. There are no heroes or heroines, and no villains. All of the characters, regardless of gender, age, class are possessed of both good and bad qualities. Those on the good end of the spectrum are capable of bad acts: Amelia exploits Dobbin's love, and Dobbin foolishly lets her. Those on the bad end of the spectrum do good things: Lord Steyne obtains a government post for Rawdon Crawley; Becky Sharp Crawley brings about the reconciliation of Dobbin and Amelia. Not only that, but after 800 pages and fifteen years the baddies end up about as well off as the goodies. So what is the moral of this tale? Well, it's the old saw that you should be careful of what you wish for, because you just might get it. That caution applies even to such lofty goals as love and fidelity, and it goes double for fame and fortune.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the supreme masterpieces of the English novel genre, March 18 2004
By 
Michael Bernstein (Coulterville, California United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
It is impossible to compare this to any other 19th century English novel, or to compare Thackery with Dickens, or anyone else. That being said, it's almost as if there was a Mendelian cross between the astute (and gentle) social observations of Jane Austen, and the savage and bitter analysis of human nature of Jonathan Swift.
Regarding the novel's pace, the author presents a complex, rounded view of the numerous characters, major and minor, and this couldn't have been done at a best-seller type pace. Every character is a mixture of good and evil, of weakness and strength.
This is a work to be savored for its' wisdom - and I believe there is a great deal of wisdom in the novel. Above all, I don't see how it's not possible to not be fascinated by the two female "heroines," nor to want to know what theie eventual fates are. A GREAT, PROFOUND WORK OF IMAGINATION.
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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
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
"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 
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. The novel then becomes a study in reversal, followed by a sort of restoration, of fortune -- Becky uses her charm to climb the ladder of high society while Amelia struggles to support herself and her young son.
My biggest problem with "Vanity Fair" is Thackeray's general style. His prose is serviceable but unrefined; he has a poor sense for the arrangement of detail, constructing lopsided paragraphs and dispensing useless information like complimentary mints at the door of a restaurant. His serious characters fail to invoke sympathy and his few comical characters fail to amuse. Perhaps it was his intention to avoid caricatures, but he can't fairly be called a realist either. Additionally he chooses to write with the voice of a narrator whose tone is gossipy bordering on the obnoxious. Occasionally he does offer a psychological or social insight that is interesting if not profound, but these moments seem more like digressive interjections than integral parts of the story.
I know I'm being picky with this novel, but I expected better considering its permanent status in the English literary canon. As a Victorian novelist, Thackeray cannot compete with Eliot, Hardy, Dickens, the Brontes, or even Wilkie Collins or Samuel Butler; rather, he unfortunately seems to be on the same level as Anthony Trollope, whose voluminous chronicles of the straight-laced middle class are written well but leave a bland aftertaste. Despite its purport to be something more, "Vanity Fair" is merely a genteel, fluffy, uneventful soap opera penned by an author who attempts to be wry but instead compels his reader to wade through a Slough of Despond.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Please! Make it end., Aug. 23 2011
By 
M. Witcher - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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!"
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My Thoughts on Vanity Fair, April 22 2002
In his novel, "Vanity Fair", W.M. Thackeray weaves an enjoyable tale that will prove pleasing to many audiences. Within his work, Thackeray explores the role vanity plays in his characters lives. This novel is set in various places in Europe and is focused around two main female characters, Ameila and Rebecca. The novel opens as the girls are leaving a boarding school and follows them througout most of their lives. Both experience different types of marriages and come from different backgrounds, but their friendship remains strong throughout the novel. Chapters usually focus on either Amelia or Rebecca and ocassinally incorporate both into several, especially the first few. I find this to be a very intreseting and helpful style of organization. Thackeray also directly addresses his readers during various parts of the novel and helps them to form their own opinions about the topics at hand. Within the novel, our main characters prove themselves to be very dynamic and interesting. Amelia and Rebecca have very different personalities, that do clash at times, but thier interaction adds to the drama of the novel. The humorus explaination of other flat characters, such as Sir Pitt, help this novel to take a on lighter tone after more serious matters are discussed. Although this novel incorporates more serious undertones about roles humans play in society and the importance of wealth and status, it also brings forth a warm romance that many readers are sure to enjoy. Wealth does prove to be an important aspect of this novel, as it is in many pieces written during this time period, and plays roles in both of the main characters lives. Amelia and Rebecca experience both poverty and riches, each at different times, throughout the novel. As the characters true personalities are revealed, throughout the novel, many shocking secrets are brought forth. And, as many novels do, the reader will most certianly find themselves wishing they could tell the characters what they should do. Although, I personally find Thackeray's style somewhat exhausting, as he repeats previous facts and discusses unrealted imformation, he does create a very enjoyable novel that is sure to entice readers for many decades to come.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Entertaining, Aug. 31 2010
By 
Andrea (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
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 with breaks for shorter books in between. As it turned out, I got so into the story that I read it straight through. It was entertaining and funny. I enjoyed Thackeray's commentary on society. There were parts where he rambled on unnecessarily (in my opinion, at least) but never long enough to make the story drag. All in all, a satisfying read. I'd suggest, however, not getting the version of this novel with Reese Witherspoon on the cover. She is NOT Becky Sharp and I found her picture really distracting because it made it that much harder not to picture Becky as her.
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Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero
Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero by William Makepeace Thackeray (Paperback - May 8 2001)
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