By William Makepeace Thackeray
(Bantam Classics, Mass Market Paperback, 9780553214628, 848pp.)
Publication Date: July 1, 1997
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A deliciously satirical attack on a money-mad society, Vanity Fair, which first appeared in 1847, is an immensely moral novel, and an immensely witty one. Called in its subtitle “A Novel Without a Hero,” Vanity Fair has instead two heroines: the faithful, loyal Amelia Sedley and the beautiful and scheming social climber Becky Sharp. It also engages a huge cast of wonderful supporting characters as the novel spins from Miss Pinkerton’s academy for young ladies to affairs of love and war on the Continent to liaisons in the dazzling ballrooms of London. Thackeray’s forte is the bon mot and it is amply exercised in a novel filled with memorably wicked lines. Lengthy and leisurely in pace, the novel follows the adventures of Becky and Amelia as their fortunes rise and fall, creating a tale of both picaresque and risqué. Thackery mercilessly skewers his society, especially the upper class, poking fun at their shallow values and pointedly jabbing at their hypocritical “morals.” His weapons, however, are not fire and brimstone but an unerring eye for the absurd and a genius for observation of the foibles of his age. An enduring classic, this great novel is a brilliant study in duplicity and hypocrisy…and a mirror with which to view our own times.
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY was born in India to a long line of Yorkshire gentry recently mixed with equally ancient gentry. In 1817, two years after the death of his father a prosperous official of the East India Company, the boy was sent back to England. There he underwent the proper education of a young gentleman, including rounds of laziness and dissipation at Cambridge, where he made the acquaintance of Tennyson and other notables, and later at the Middle Temple.
He next crossed to Paris, where he studied art and made a love match with Isabella Shawe, whom he married in 1836, overcoming strong maternal resistence. The couple returned to London, where Thackeray embarked on ten years as a journalistic hack-of-all-trades. Meanwhile, two daughters were born and lived, Anne (1837) and Minny (1840), but one, Jane (1838) died after eight months. The serial publication of VANITY FAIR in 1847-48 ended Thackeray's days as a minor journalist and he went on to become the author of miscellaneous satires and reviews, including essays, lectures, and seven novels. After a period of deteriorating health, Thackeray died during the early hours of December 24th, 1863.
"I do not say there is no character as well drawn in Shakespeare [as D'Artagnan]. I do say there is none that I love so wholly."
--Robert Louis Stevenson
"The lasting and universal popularity of The Three Musketeers shows that Dumas, by artlessly expressing his own nature in the persons of his heroes, was responding to that craving for action, strength and generosity which is a fact in all periods and all places."