Makepeace, Thackeray, William

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (Penguin Classics)

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“Vanity Fair” is a novel written by British author William Makepeace Thackeray. It was first published as a serial from 1847 to 1848 and later published as a complete novel in 1848. The full title of the novel is “Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero,” indicating Thackeray’s satirical approach to his portrayal of characters and society.

The novel is set during the early 19th century and spans the years before, during, and after the Napoleonic Wars. “Vanity Fair” is a social satire that provides a detailed and often acerbic depiction of English society, particularly the manners, morals, and ambitions of the upper class and the nouveau riche.

The story follows the lives of two contrasting women, Rebecca “Becky” Sharp and Amelia Sedley, who meet at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies. Becky is ambitious, cunning, and willing to use her charms to climb the social ladder, while Amelia is gentle, naive, and loyal to her loved ones.

The novel follows the characters as they navigate their relationships, fortunes, and societal expectations. Thackeray uses the characters and their interactions to comment on the vanity, greed, and hypocrisy of society, as well as the consequences of pursuing material gain and social status.

“Vanity Fair” is known for its extensive cast of characters, each representing different facets of society, and its detailed exploration of their lives and motivations. The narrative includes various subplots and spans multiple generations, creating a panoramic view of English society during the time period.

The novel’s narrator, often referred to as “the author,” is a distinctive feature of the work. Thackeray’s narrative style is characterized by its direct address to the reader, its use of irony, and its ability to shift between humorous and serious tones.

“Vanity Fair” is considered one of the greatest works of English literature and a prime example of the Victorian novel. Thackeray’s incisive social commentary, rich character development, and exploration of themes such as ambition, morality, and the consequences of one’s actions contribute to its enduring relevance. The term “vanity fair” itself has become synonymous with a world of superficiality and materialism.


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