Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero

Front Cover
Cambridge University Press, Jan 3, 2013 - Fiction - 722 pages
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The quintessential satire of life in early nineteenth-century Britain, Vanity Fair is a panoramic tour of English social strata, charting the rise and fall of the opportunistic Becky Sharp. Rejected by several publishers before finding a place with Bradbury and Evans, this 'novel without a hero' first appeared as a popular serial. The twenty parts were finally printed together in 1848, incorporating the author's own illustrations. Although William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63) was not a debut author, this was the first of his works to bear his name on the title page; the vast scope of the novel gained him immediate critical acclaim, though reviewers often expressed misgivings about the dark portrayal of human nature. In response, Thackeray wrote that 'we are for the most part an abominably foolish and selfish people ... I want to leave everybody dissatisfied and unhappy at the end of the story.'
 

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Contents

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About the author (2013)

William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta, India, where his father was in service to the East India Company. After the death of his father in 1816, he was sent to England to attend school. Upon reaching college age, Thackeray attended Trinity College, Cambridge, but he left before completing his degree. Instead, he devoted his time to traveling and journalism. Generally considered the most effective satirist and humorist of the mid-nineteenth century, Thackeray moved from humorous journalism to successful fiction with a facility that was partially the result of a genial fictional persona and a graceful, relaxed style. At his best, he held up a mirror to Victorian manners and morals, gently satirizing, with a tone of sophisticated acceptance, the inevitable failure of the individual and of society. He took up the popular fictional situation of the young person of talent who must make his way in the world and dramatized it with satiric directness in The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844), with the highest fictional skill and appreciation of complexities inherent within the satiric vision in his masterpiece, Vanity Fair (1847), and with a great subtlety of point of view and background in his one historical novel, Henry Esmond (1852). Vanity Fair, a complex interweaving in a vast historical panorama of a large number of characters, derives its title from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and attempts to invert for satirical purposes, the traditional Christian image of the City of God. Vanity Fair, the corrupt City of Man, remains Thackeray's most appreciated and widely read novel. It contrasts the lives of two boarding-school friends, Becky Sharp and Amelia Smedley. Constantly attuned to the demands of incidental journalism and his sense of professionalism in his relationship with his public, Thackeray wrote entertaining sketches and children's stories and published his humorous lectures on eighteenth-century life and literature. His own fiction shows the influence of his dedication to such eighteenth-century models as Henry Fielding, particularly in his satire, which accepts human nature rather than condemns it and takes quite seriously the applicability of the true English gentleman as a model for moral behavior. Thackeray requested that no authorized biography of him should ever be written, but members of his family did write about him, and these accounts were subsequently published.

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