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Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair


Vanity Fair

ratings:
4/5 (85 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Released:
Jun 1, 1997
ISBN:
9789629545680
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

Vanity Fair, with its rich cast of characters, takes place on the snakes-and-ladders board of life. Amelia Sedley, daughter of a wealthy merchant, has a loving mother to supervise her courtship. Becky Sharp, an orphan, has to use her wit, charm, and resourcefulness to escape from her destiny as a governess. This she does ruthlessly, musing’I think I could become a good woman, if I had £5000 a year.’ Thackeray’s story is set at the time of the battle of Waterloo, in which the Sedley fortunes are lost – and Amelia is back to square one – while Becky rises with contemptuous ease.
Released:
Jun 1, 1997
ISBN:
9789629545680
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook


About the author

William Makepeace Thackeray was a nineteenth century English novelist who was most famous for his classic novel, Vanity Fair, a satirical portrait of English society. With an early career as a satirist and parodist, Thackeray shared a fondness for roguish characters that is evident in his early works such as Vanity Fair, The Luck of Barry Lyndon, and Catherine, and was ranked second only to Charles Dickens during the height of his career. In his later work, Thackeray transitioned from the satirical tone for which he was known to a more traditional Victorian narrative, the most notable of which is The History of Henry Esmond. Thackeray died in 1863.

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4.0
85 ratings / 85 Reviews
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  • (5/5)
    Droll, satirical take on human nature and just as relevant today as it was in the Victorian Age.
  • (2/5)
    When I was in junior high school (The Age of the Dinosaurs), I read “Gone with the Wind” for the first time, and was raving about Scarlett O’Hara to an English teacher I greatly admired. She said Scarlett was but a poor imitation of The Original Anti-Heroine, Becky Sharp, and if I wanted the real thing, I should read “Vanity Fair”.

    I believe I may have attempted to do so, and gave up fairly quickly. Five decades have now passed, and I actually read Mr. Thackeray’s classic this month.

    Well, I read about 75% of it. Toward the end there, when Thackeray’s wordiness overwhelmed me and all I wanted to do was to finish the d*d thing, I admit to skimming his incredibly wordy, repetitive, and dull lists of who was at which party and what their ancestry was and how their great-grandfather cheated somebody else’s great-grandfather out of the ancestral manse, etc etc etc…… (The work originally appeared in serialization, and Thackeray may have been paid by the word. That would certainly explain much of his meandering.)

    Mark Twain said that a classic is “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” He may well have been talking about “Vanity Fair”.

    Lord love a duck, it’s dreary. Though sometimes considered the "principal founder" of the Victorian domestic novel, it is terribly dated. And it’s very much a novel of its time, repeatedly reminding the reader of the delicacy of womankind, bless her kind little heart and dull little intellect. Amelia Sedley, the literary foremother of Melanie Hamilton is so sappy that the modern reader really, really wants to smack her upside the head. Her frenemy Becky Sharp is certainly manipulative, avaricious, duplicitous, and all the negative things Scarlett O’Hara also represented, but without Scarlett’s stubborn resourcefulness or passionate tango with the dashing Rhett Butler.

    "Vanity Fair" also presents itself as a biting indictment of the falseness of British society in the 19th century, with its emphasis on titles, elaborate social codes, and fascination with wealth and status. Unfortunately, the humor doesn’t age well, either, as much of it (as with any satirical work) depends on the reader’s familiarity with the milieu it skewers.

    Sprinkled with phrases in French, German, Latin, and Greek, and full of now-archaic language, the modern reader will need a very comprehensive dictionary at hand, as well as a phrase book of the common non-English terms with which the text is ornamented. Thackeray’s tendency to step back and address the reader directly is yet another stylistic choice which (fortunately) largely disappeared along about the middle of the 20th century.

    All in all, reading "Vanity Fair" may itself be an exercise in vanity for the modern reader, who can now say “I’ve read it.” The same reader would probably be stretching the boundaries of truth to say “I enjoyed it.”

    The convoluted plot involves the interplay among Rebecca (Becky) Sharp, Amelia (Emmy) Sedley, and begins as the girls leave finishing school. Becky, the orphaned daughter of an itinerant portrait-painter and a French dancing girl, is in line to begin a position as governess in a baronet's household, but plans a brief visit with her school friend Emmy, first. Emmy’s family is well-off, her father doing something that apparently involves stocks or banking or somesuch. (He makes money. ‘Nuff said.) Becky hopes to leverage this visit into a marriage with Emmy’s elder brother Joseph, a sadly ridiculous figure, pompous, self-important, and dim, but nevertheless the heir to Sedley’s estate. Emmy’s marriage prospects are fixed on George Osborne, the son of her father’s business partner and a foppish young man without much moral character, though he looks quite dashing in his military uniform. Emmy is too dim (and well-bred) to see the emptiness behind George’s pretty face. (Apparently, dimness runs rampant in the Sedley genes.)

    The Becky/Joseph pairing never gets off the ground and Becky goes off to her governess position at roughly the same time Emma’s father is cheated out of his business share by George’s father. The young sweethearts, in defiance of the elder Osborne’s command, run off and are married, laughing gaily at the old man’s obdurate insistence that he will disown George, which he does. Becky, meantime, has now set her lacy cap at one Rawdon Crawley, the second son of her baronet employer. Rawdon is also a military man, and while the title will never be his, he is the favorite of a wealthy spinster aunt, thus making him prime marriage material in Becky’s eyes. It’s all very gay (except that George is already beginning to letch for Becky) and the two newlywed couples, accompanied by Osborne’s good buddy William Dobbins, are having a gay old time until Napoleon Bonaparte escapes his exile and once again begins ravaging across Europe and – dash it all – the young soldiers are actually expected to take up arms, leaving their pregnant brides after a bare six weeks of marital bliss.

    George is inconsiderate enough to die at Waterloo, leaving Emma the bereaved widow, doting on the son born after his father’s death, and eking out a living by moving in with her also-impoverished parents. Dobbins, who has loved her all along, does The Honorable Thing, and she spurns him, preferring the untarnished (and highly embroidered) memory of George, so William is forced to sneakily provide a small living for Emma and the baby. Becky’s husband fares better, but the avaricious little imp, attempting to worm her way into the graces of the Rich Old Spinster Aunt, manages to piss off the old broad so thoroughly that she leaves all her money elsewhere. This is highly inconvenient to Becky, whose husband has left the military and supports them with his gambling skills which, alas, are not consistent, and the young couple learns how to Live Well on Nothing, mostly by sponging off friends and stiffing the various landlords, grocers, and milliners who provide them with their surface prosperity.

    This state of affairs goes on for about 600 pages, with Emma being poor but gracious and Becky being sinful and scheming until she is caught en flagrante (or as close to en flagrante as the literary conventions of the day will allow) with one of her wealthy “sponsors”, and her husband kicks her out and goes off to be the governor of some miserable tropical locale. Emma feels sorry for her and believes Becky's edited version of events in which she is the totally innocent victim. It seems that Becky may yet rise from the ashes, but – worse luck! – Emma discovers what a rotter George really was and how close he came to running off with her friend. Eventually, the faithful devotion of Dobbin makes an impression on her, and they are married to live happily ever after while Becky sinks irretrievably into sin. Not to worry, though – her husband eventually dies and leaves her a small pension. We assume she toddles off into old age with a dashing young buck on each arm, and the exhausted reader finally shuts the cover of this massive and overwrought tome.

    If you’re really interested in more, there’s a movie. Reese Witherspoon is in it. It’s three bucks (used) on eBay.

  • (4/5)
    I wonder if anyone who works for the magazine Vanity Fair has ever read the book. I would think that if they had, they wouldn't call it Vanity Fair because Thackeray was (very effectively in my opinion) making fun of the kind of people who live that type of life style.

    (Maybe someday I'll write more of a review but wanted to get that idea down.)
  • (4/5)
    In discussing the origins of The Bonfire of the Vanities, his brilliant satire of the social and economic mores of New York City in the 1980s, Tom Wolfe was always quick to cite Thackeray’s Vanity Fair as his inspiration. Wolfe seemed particularly taken with that earlier work’s subtitle--A Novel Without a Hero--which he took to be a perfect characterization for the story that he himself wanted to tell. He even went so far as to arrange to have his work published in serial form in a magazine (Rolling Stone in Wolfe’s case), just as Thackeray did with his magnum opus a century and a half before. There can hardly be higher praise than that for one author to give to another.Vanity Fair itself owes a considerable debt to a classic work that preceded it by 150 years, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. In that religious allegory, a person on the path to Heaven first had to pass through the town of Vanity in which there was a fair that appealed to all the basest traits of humanity: greed, infidelity, deceit, avarice, envy, duplicity, and so on. Thackeray saw this as an apt metaphor for his story of the state of English society at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the dawn of the Victorian Age. In fact, the frame that begins and ends Vanity Fair has two young girls putting on a puppet show during which all of the action in the book takes place. Toward the end of the novel, the author even reveals himself to be the narrator of the tale, and a most unreliable one at that.If that level of historical detail is not absolutely necessary to summarize Vanity Fair, it is perhaps useful context for a prospective reader to understand what taking on this tome will entail. Because, make no mistake, this book requires a significant investment of time and attention to get through it to the end. It is indeed a meandering and occasionally sprawling tale, written in the style of a time far removed from what the modern audience is used to. But, it is also remarkably observant about the human condition as well as wickedly funny; those two things alone make reading it today well worthwhile. Further, in the character of Becky Sharp, Thackeray has created an anti-heroine for the ages—with her resilient and scheming nature, she could hold her own now just as well as she did back then.How the specific events in the story transpire is not the most important thing about the novel, serving as they do as the backdrop for the societal skewering that was the author’s true purpose. In short, Becky comes from an impoverished background in a culture where that is a serious impediment to advancement. Her school friend Amelia Sedley is from a well-to-do family, but she herself is a rather simple and unambitious girl. Both of these friends enter into disappointing marriages, Becky to a rich but rough-hewn fellow whose family disapproves of her while Amelia devotes herself to a philandering cad and ignores the less-dashing colleague who truly loves her. When Amelia’s family falls on hard economic times, it sets off chain of events that takes several hundred pages to unfold. In those pages, though, there is some real literary gold as Thackeray uses his razor-honed wit and gentle word play to expose a multitude of vanities and foibles as he saw them. I certainly can recommend this book, but only for those who understand what they are getting into first!
  • (4/5)
    Long and sprawling, witty and satirical, this is quite a character study. I think I recognized someone I know in real life in each and every one of the main characters. A novel without a hero, you say, Mr. Thackeray? Then please explain Dobbin! :)
  • (5/5)
    After nearly three weeks, I have finished this mammoth satirical novel of late Georgian life, after watching the excellent ITV adaptation. Despite some rambling chapters, especially in the middle, this is a brilliant satire of life in that era, covering a whole range of human emotions and weaknesses, with some great characters. Becky Sharp is one of the most manipulative characters in 19th century fiction, but it is easy to see why she fools so many people. Amelia Sedley is much more of a stereotypical passive Victorian young lady, but still has interesting facets that lift her above similar characters in other 19th century novels. George Osborne is fairly shallow, but dies half way through the novel, so it is his memory that is a character, at least for Amelia, for the remainder of the story. Rawdon Crawley, who marries Becky, is also fairly shallow, but elicits more sympathy, not least due to his genuine affection for their son, a trait that Becky entirely, and cruelly, lacks. There are many interesting minor characters (though I do get rather confused by the various generations of the Crawley family - a family tree would be useful). My edition contained the wonderful original illustrations by the author, which were often very amusing, especially the supercilious expression on Becky's face each time she is depicted. Each of the 67 chapters was also headed by an illustration around the initial capital in the style of a Medieval manuscript - these often seemed to have little or no connection to the story, but were a nice and amusing addition. Overall a brilliant novel.
  • (4/5)
    This novel makes example of Becky's story as a demonstration that she can be the more interesting character versus Amelia; that is, that a reader will be most intrigued by whichever character is most active and eventful, rather than merely the most moral. If this helped widen the door to authors introducing more wicked protagonists in future, so much the better. Charlotte Bronte deeply admired this work and author, so I wonder how she didn't see this parallel with her sister Emily's "Wuthering Heights" which only seemed to trouble her.Perhaps the humour is the difference. Vanity Fair is filled with almost universally unlikeable characters (Captain Dobbin is the reader's life preserver in this morass, and Amelia to a lesser extent), but at least we can laugh at them, and the author acknowledges their faults by inserting some amusing commentary, ostensibly in their defence. His base argument is that such is life, and only a fool would expect nothing but Amelia to represent the real world around us. We do get a handful of more serious interludes, centred on war and death. I found Mr. Osbourne strangely sympathetic (when he wasn't encouraging his grandson to be a bully). Thackeray can be poignant when he isn't purposely undermining it.PS - I'm mildly sorry I didn't read Tom Jones prior to this, since Thackeray apparently borrowed much from Henry Fielding's authorial style; and here I'd thought the name Vanity Fair was Thackeray's invention, but discover he rented it from "Pilgrim's Progress" and society by Thackeray's time had already embraced it as an expression to encompass our world entire.
  • (4/5)
    This is one of my favorite Victorian novels and Becky Sharp is one of the best "bad girls" that has danced her way across the pages of a novel. From the very first pages when she throws the commemorative book given to her upon leaving school out the carriage window upon leaving that institution to her final days as a down and out woman of ill repute being supported by her son, I continually root for her even though she is very, very bad.Compared to the anemic good girl, Amelia, who simpers her way through the novel, Becky shines on as a force of nature - a proto-feminist who knows what she wants and lets few obstacles stand in her way. We're not supposed to like her, but we do anyway.
  • (5/5)
    Brilliant, snarky, hilarious.
  • (5/5)
    Becky Sharpe is one of my all time favourite literary characters. I've read this book twice now, with different book clubs, 14 years apart, but the joy has not diminished. Those who finished the book were in thrall to Thackeray's mastery of the genre. A definite classic and a treat!
  • (3/5)
    Quite witty, with barbed humor.
  • (4/5)
    The cynic's Jane Austen. All's well that ends well, and it does for both the main characters - nice Amelia and scheming Becky. It's never clear whose side the narrator is on. He has the most disconcerting habit of presenting happy things as spoilt somehow, and tragedy as possibly amusing. Also - possibly the earliest recorded instance (at least that I've read), of the modern semi-vulgar use of 'screw'. Thackeray's landowners are often screwing their tenants. It may have been meant in a slightly more particular sense, but you can still read that just about how it sounds today. I was glad for Amelia and her happy ending, whether the narrator cared or not. It's unusual for a book to make you want an ending that it seems like the storyteller doesn't care about at all. The people were very aptly drawn - everyone ought to recognize someone they know in the descriptions of the various main and side characters. Thackeray's naming is funny, also. He calls the characters things like "Lord Tapeworm" - adjective surnames that often quickly encapsulate their personality - it reads like a novel, but seems allegorical too. I'd read more Thackeray, though, while I enjoy his writing, I'm not sure I care for him personally. He isn't nice. I know that in these times, that's a sentiment that detracts more from the opinion-holder than the subject, but it gives you a better feeling when you know that, to your novelist, mutual happiness and well-being is at least a desirable goal.
  • (4/5)
    A satire about "highborn" English life in the 19th century. I found Thackeray's writing witty, funny, and biting. Then, as now, it is meant to be read in serialized form, hence I read it via Serial Reader. I couldn't really take too much Thackeray in a day! That being said, I did enjoy the inhabitants of Vanity Fair, although I did not care a whit for any of them. 822 pages
  • (4/5)
    I can now place a check mark beside this one in my "must read" classics list. An interesting, cautionary tale filled with detailed descriptions and characters I never really cared about. Yes, Becky is a schemer of the highest order while Amelia is such a doormat, it is not surprising that events develop as they do. Good thing this is billed as being a satire of English society because one can only hope that individuals were not as stupid back than as Thackeray portrays. Characters driven by petty decisions based purely on advancing one's station and over the top efforts to only socialize with the "right" people, does not surprise me. Became a bit tedious in its predictability but then, human nature can be very predictable as well. While the story tended to drag in places, Thackeray does a decent job at providing witticisms for the reader to smile at and nod in agreement. Overall, happy that I have finally read this one, but not be one that I will "re-read".
  • (5/5)
    This novel, set in part around the famed Battle of Waterloo in which Napoleon gets his ultimate defeat at the hands of the British, goes through 66 chapters of set up for a tumultuous (and brilliant) final chapter in which every supposition in the prior chapters is set on its head. As a whole, this book is witty, wonderful, and enchanting. It is fit to be a classic - indeed, one of the best books I've ever read.

    It is set around the main character, born Becky Sharp. She is a social climber who built her life up from poverty. However, as the subtitle of this book intones, she is an ignoble protagonist. She stirs her hand in every section of the book as a manipulator and as a fraud, yet somehow much good is wrought by her improprieties in the lives of many of her compatriots.

    This book provides an interesting look into the lives of England in the 1800s. English classism and the pettiness of nobles are on full display. Nonetheless, there are noble, though still flawed and human, characters such as Amelia. The story traverses from character to character as a masterful plot is wrought.

    I especially enjoyed Thackeray's wit - on full display in various comments on the narrative. He writes like a journalist, but not one striving for poor objectivity as is seen in the American practice. He entertains as he tells - and is shown to be a master of the quill.
  • (5/5)
    "A Novel without a Hero" is promised and delivered. But it is also a work of great insights, and has never been out of print. the feckless military hero George, the spoiled darling, the ever-suffering Amelia Sedley, and the ambitious and vindictive Becky Sharpe will endure for a very long time in its native language. One is reminded of the perhap apocryphal story of the writer who produced a screenplay of this lengthy novel only to have his producer come to him to ask "Why is Becky considered the villain of this movie?" is too much fun to pass up. Read it, and enjoy it, especially if you have heretofore considered life as a contest of "Good" and "Evil". This book has been blowing the whistle on us all since 1847.
  • (2/5)
    I can understand the point Thackeray was trying to make by leaving out the hows and whys of plot, because all of that was improper in Becky Sharp's case. Still, it wasn't much of a story. Perhaps I am too steeped in more modern storytelling, but I was hardly satisfied when the puppet box was stored away. As was, I think, Thackeray's point.
  • (4/5)
    The cynic's Jane Austen. All's well that ends well, and it does for both the main characters - nice Amelia and scheming Becky. It's never clear whose side the narrator is on. He has the most disconcerting habit of presenting happy things as spoilt somehow, and tragedy as possibly amusing. Also - possibly the earliest recorded instance (at least that I've read), of the modern semi-vulgar use of 'screw'. Thackeray's landowners are often screwing their tenants. It may have been meant in a slightly more particular sense, but you can still read that just about how it sounds today. I was glad for Amelia and her happy ending, whether the narrator cared or not. It's unusual for a book to make you want an ending that it seems like the storyteller doesn't care about at all. The people were very aptly drawn - everyone ought to recognize someone they know in the descriptions of the various main and side characters. Thackeray's naming is funny, also. He calls the characters things like "Lord Tapeworm" - adjective surnames that often quickly encapsulate their personality - it reads like a novel, but seems allegorical too. I'd read more Thackeray, though, while I enjoy his writing, I'm not sure I care for him personally. He isn't nice. I know that in these times, that's a sentiment that detracts more from the opinion-holder than the subject, but it gives you a better feeling when you know that, to your novelist, mutual happiness and well-being is at least a desirable goal.
  • (5/5)
    Victorian writing impresses me. This book is at the top for its exquisite writing and story.
  • (5/5)
    Well, there's more life in this than in Dickens. Simultaneously more ebullient and affectionate, more mordant and morbid, less principled and progressive, certainly, but realer. Dickens is your vegan uncle who listens to public radio and gives you that painfully earnest pep talk that you often just don't wanna hear right now but that usually makes you feel better, and Thackeray is your really funny rich alcoholic Republican uncle who's great when you're in the mood but only has a bottle of sparkling wine and some mayonnaise at home in the fridge (and some shadows lurking in the corners). I found it really touching how this book started off kind of light-hearted and poking fun at everybody's foibles, but then by the end everyone was weary and full of psychic wounds and hints of even darker things and I don't think Thackeray even planned it that way. Just like every party, just like life. Who of us is happy? It's a relief, saying that.
  • (4/5)
    Wonderful story. A Great Book. This is the story of human beings period. You have probably known a person like each character in this novel. I read it as a youngster, so am not "close" to it now, but I will never forget the feeling of Becky Sharp and her husband having to keep moving because of their debts. It left me with such a cold, dank, impression of that life. Amelia Sedley will forever be the good, true friend who is wronged. And I can't remember that Captain's name, but I adored him. Also the obnoxious brother of Amelia I seem to remember.Vanity Fair is much more realistic in the way that life hits these people over and over and over. Just like life does seem to kick you when you are down.
  • (4/5)
    It was a LOOOOONG book... Thackeray's writing is witty, vibrant, and entertaining. He seems to love painting satirical pictures of society and so there's a lot that doesn't have to do directly with the main characters (of which there are many), and it got too long-winded for my taste and I longed for the end.For such a long satirical tale, there didn't seem to be any particular moral to it, just that we are all rather ridiculous creatures--although better to be sincere and honest and ridiculous rather than otherwise.Because Thackeray states from the start that the tale does not have a hero or heroine, it also kept me from sympathizing or strongly identifying with any particular character (which was Thackeray's intention, perhaps), but that also made it difficult to keep reading.Perhaps this was exactly what Thackeray aimed to produce and it's a masterful book, but I'm glad I'm done with it :p
  • (3/5)
    This story does go on and on, but I enjoyed the process. Great characters: Becky Sharpe--conniving, resourceful, a survivor; Amelia Sedley, sweet, loyal to a fault; George Osborne, not nearly as good as he ought to be, Joseph Sedley, a glutton and somewhat of a coward; many, many others with their foibles and great names--Lords Binky and Bareacres. I'm glad I finally read it.
  • (3/5)
    I'm really not sure where William Makepeace Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" went wrong for me. Classic British literature with a downtrodden orphan and snarky narrator? This should have been right up my alley.However, overall, I found the book to be okay. I enjoyed the story of the troubled and scheming Becky Sharp and her counterpoint, the simpering but kind Amelia. But it felt like the book was padded with tons and tons of extraneous material that didn't advance the story or add any interest.Disappointing because I thought I was going to love this novel.
  • (3/5)
    I didn't love Thackeray's chattiness and tendency to harangue the reader about "Vanity Fair--Vanity Fair!" And I didn't love how the characters' signature traits grew more and more extreme until it was difficult to like or sympathize with them. And it was way too long. Despite these quibbles, I did enjoy it.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed this book--although a healthy dose of red pencil when it was first edited would have helped. I loved that everything didn't end "happily ever after" and that Becky Sharpe didn't suddenly become a good person.
  • (5/5)
    The sad thing about earning a BA in English Literature is that most of the books you have to read and think about won't actually be enjoyable. This is an exception. It's funny.
  • (1/5)
    I read this in high school for a senior English class for one of our quarterly book reports.

    Absolutely hated the main character.
  • (4/5)
    Ok, I'm not going to lie, by and large I have little idea what this was about (it was kinda like shoving four seasons of a television sitcom into one weekend...). That being said, I found it hilarious. The author's writing voice was phenomenal, and the character depth and building was wonderful.
  • (3/5)
    Dated material yet quite rich in style. I was surprised how the author uses names to satirize people, the lawyer Mr. Bullocks, for example.