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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
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...
Published on March 27 2004 by Dean Campbell

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic, but not great
"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...
Published on Nov. 3 1999


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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
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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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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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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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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Vanity Fair prys into the yearnings of an era and a culture., March 25 2004
By 
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 underlying societal truths within his text. As a modern philosopher of his own society during the Victorian era, Thackeray is utterly charming.
Vanity Fair must have been a phenomenon not unlike 'Sex and the City' which debuted some years ago on HBO television. Vanity Fair, when it was released, was done in "monthly numbers" for over one and one-half years in periodicals. Readers were drawn into the lives of Becky and Amelia and had no quips about producing their hard-earned pounds to read of what would ultimately become of the two fascinating girls. Purposely suspenseful plots "hooked" the London public. Thackeray became a star amongst the literary supreme of London. By inserting himself and his thoughts and views of England, the nature of man, war, poverty and the boastful aristocratic society into the work, he presents himself and his own opinions to the world through Vanity Fair.
This novel is as important today as it was when it was released, especially for one studying historical life as it was from day to day. We are given plain viewpoints of somewhat normal, fashionable, destitute and poverty striken women of the era. Very interesting, always charming, a splendid read--albeit a very long one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A True Must-Read for any Fan of 19th Century / Victorian Lit, March 18 2004
By 
Pete Amaro (New York, NY, United States) - See all my reviews
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 indulgent by today's standards, is nothing less than breathtaking. This combines with the ability to create characters so thoroughly developed that the reader cannot help but be invested in their fate (be it with or without sympathy). Thackeray's Vanity Fair is, in my opinion, a near perfect example of the greatness of the Victorian novel. The sheer length of his epic allows him to spare no expense giving the reader every detail of his characters, in addition to a very pointed and often-amusing critique of 19th Century military society. His novel is as much a satire of social ascendency as it is a love story. One can be gripped by the trials of Becky and Amelia and amused by his criticisms with equal fervor. He weaves the stories of the characters in such a way that the reader's opinion of them may (and perhaps, should) change several times. The end (not to reveal one detail) underscores Thackeray's committment to Vanity Fair as a novel of satire. He provides excellent characterization of every possible sentimental disposition, from the absolutely wicked to the unquestionably benevolent. While pages of the book may seem tangential to the plot, his 'digressions' are not without merit as examples of satire or his eloquent style.
I can say that I am disappointed at the apparent ignorance of this novel by many curricula. While authors like Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Dickens and even Trollope are well-known, Thackeray seems to be somewhat unheard-of in general society. While I am no less a fan of the former writers (I can claim the 19th Century British novel as my favorite genre), I think that Thackeray (and Vanity Fair in particular) is worth at least comparable attention and acclaim. I recommend Vanity Fair for any fan of 19th Century British literature, pointed social satire, or classic world literature in general. This epic will appeal to the romantic and cynic with equal depth.
Note: I recommend especially the re-issue of the Penguin Classics edition. While admitting myself as a fan of the series in general, this edition's exclusion of Thackeray's hand-drawings is, as noted by editor John Carey, a likely advantage for the novel's reader.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly marvelous example of superb writing in English, Oct. 31 2003
By 
J. Lockie "Teacher Jay" (San Miguel de Allende Mexico) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
After reading over 150 classics as part of my study of books for students of English as a Second Language, I rate this book in my top 8! It will sit along with Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, Dickens' David Copperfield, Cervantes' Don Quijote, Spyri's Heidi, Wyse's Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings on my BEST BOOKS of all time shelf. Thackeray's command of English is awesome. I LOVE the way he talks to us as readers throughout the book. It makes you feel like he's talking to you. Fantastic style. At times the book slows a little with details of British life in 1815-1825 and side character issues, but from Chapter 35 on it truly becomes a superb work in English Literature. Chapter 35 stands as a devasting view of the effect of war on the people back home. Truly brilliant! His emotional descriptions and characterizations(expecially the names of people!) are superb. His subtle wit is among the best I have read. Just put aside 2-3 weeks to read and enjoy this superb example of writing as English can be. Thackeray calls it the "vanity of human affairs" (Vanity Fair). It truly is. I had left this as the last book to read among my classics collection. This was a stroke of luck, because it made me reflect on all the other books and realize Thackeray is a much underrated writer and unfortunately died before he could write more... Be patient and enjoy a good read...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Vanitas Vanitatum, Feb. 27 2003
By 
Jeffrey Leach (Omaha, NE USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vanity Fair (Hardcover)
Many consider William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) a minor novelist who wrote in a time when George Eliot, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope ruled the roost of British literature. Out of all of his works, "Vanity Fair" is the most recognizable in literary circles, although Stanley Kubrick immortalized Thackeray's "Barry Lyndon" in a film of the same name. "Vanity Fair" appeared in serial form in 1847-48, a process of publishing used to great success by Charles Dickens. The introduction to this Everyman's Library edition, written by Catherine Peters, says that the title of the book came from John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress," an immensely popular work in circulation at the time.
"Vanity Fair" centers on the exploits of two British women, Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley, beginning roughly at the time of the Battle of Waterloo and ending at some time in the 1830's. The two women are polar opposites: Becky is a conniving, domineering, sometimes insensate woman who constantly attempts to secure a position in high society. Amelia is a rather plain, simple girl who trusts people too often and ends up getting her heart stomped on repeatedly. The two women are ostensibly friends, spending their youth together at a finishing school and occasionally running into each other throughout their lives. Thackeray often likes to place the two in opposition to one another: when Amelia falls into a crisis, Becky is moving in the highest circles of society. When Amelia comes into luck, Becky's fortunes plummet. This see-sawing action helps move the novel through a series of intricately detailed scenes showing off Thackeray's sense of humor, his caustic critiques of English society, and his insightful commentary into the human condition.
Arrayed around these two figures is a veritable constellation of major and minor characters, all with their own foibles that Thackeray exposes in minute detail. There is Joseph Sedley, Amelia's obese and selfish brother who nearly marries Becky in the beginning of the book. George Osborne appears through part of the book as Amelia's fiancée and eventual husband, a vain man with an eye for the ladies and a spendthrift attitude. George's friend William Dobbin also figures prominently in the story. Dobbin is an admirable man, marred by his inability to come to terms with the feelings he has for Amelia. Other characters appear and disappear rapidly, too many to outline here. It is sufficient to say that Thackeray does not worry about overburdening the reader with too many cast members, and with nearly 900 pages in the book, he definitely has the time to adequately describe numerous scenes and people.
I do not know much about literary tags, but I will say that Thackeray must certainly fall into the category of a realist writer. His goal with "Vanity Fair" was to write a story that went against the romantic hero/heroine novels of his day. The subtitle to this book, "A Novel Without a Hero," clearly outlines the author's intentions to oppose unrealistic, feel good literature that failed to properly reflect genuine life. In this respect, Thackeray succeeds admirably by creating characters that exhibit both good and bad traits during their lives. For example, Becky steals and schemes her way through life but performs an amazingly beautiful service for Amelia at the end of the book. Does this make Becky a heroine? Hardly, as Becky does not change her ways after this event. Thackeray constantly sets us up to see a heroic act, only to dash our hopes a few pages later.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the novel is Thackeray's acidulous wit. Everyone comes in for a drubbing here, from the aristocracy to the common man. Names often reflect the author's scorn: nobles carry such embarrassing monikers as Lord Binkie, Lady Bareacres, and Lord Steyne. Sharp is an effective name for Becky, exposing her character and incisive wit. "Vanity Fair" is full of backstabbing, lying, adultery, stealing, pride and general rowdiness, and no one is above these base behaviors.
A slight problem with the story concerns the numerous narrative digressions that wax philosophic about relationships, women and their roles in society, and bad behavior. These insertions do become taxing at times even though they often help move the story along. Thackeray wants to make sure you know what he is trying to accomplish; he wants you to see yourself and your friends and family in these character sketches.
A bigger problem for me concerned this particular edition of the story. There were no footnotes or endnotes in the Everyman's Library version to help explain the jargon or place names of Thackeray's England. While the author's use of language never approaches the level of Walter Scott's Scottish vernacular, to cite an extreme example, it is still a problem at times. I recommend picking up the Penguin Classics version of "Vanity Fair," since Penguin editions usually employ explanatory notes.
"Vanity Fair" is a long yet worthwhile read. The book is hardly unreadable, an unfair label often attached to this agreeable story. If you enjoy reading 18th century English literature, you must read "Vanity Fair."
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5.0 out of 5 stars Michener named Vanity Fair his most influential book, Sept. 6 2002
By A Customer
The late James A. Michener, a Pulitizer Prize winner and best-selling author, wrote in his essay "The Book That Made A Difference" that "It was in following the intricacies of this novel [Vanity Fair] that I first saw, in my own terms, how a work of fiction could be constructed." Michener later acknowledges in his essay that "today it's fashionable to denigrate Thackery . . . but when I read him at the right moment he was explosive and I revere his memory."
William Makepeace Thackery, a lawyer who didn't like law and turned to journalism and art, wrote "Vanity Fair" with a plan. He crafted an outline and stuck to it. To learn how to develop a character, read and think about how Thackery outlined and wrote Becky Sharp in "Vanity Fair."
Michener writes: "'Vanity Fair'was the first book I ever read as a novel, as a conscious construction for the purpose of enchanting the reader. I'd read most of Dickens and fine works like "Madame Bovary," but not as prototypes of what the artist can do when he sets out consciously to engage the reader."
"Vanity Fair" can be inspiring and instructive as well as enjoyable if the reader becomes as absorbed and as interested as Michener.
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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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