Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero

Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero

by William Makepeace Thackeray


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Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair is considered one of the five best novels in English and the "principal founder" of the Victorian domestic novel. Written by William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair was first published in 1848. The novel follows the lives of Becky Sharp and Emmy Sedley amid their friends and families during and after the Napoleonic Wars.
The story is framed as a puppet play and the narrator, despite being an authorial voice, is notoriously unreliable. In its satire of early 19th-century British society, William Makepeace Thackeray does not hold a mirror up to life; he holds up a warped and twisted reflector that gives the life it reflects a half comic, half satirical aspect.
Thackeray is a master of English; his flexible sentences adapt themselves like running water to every circumstance, flowing and shifting so easily from pathos to humor, from tragedy to comedy, from satire to sympathy; and in 'Vanity Fair' his style is at its best.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781727727869
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 10/03/2018
Pages: 528
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 - 24 December 1863) was an English novelist of the 19th century.

Read an Excerpt

Chiswick Mall

While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour. A black servant, who reposed on the box beside the fat coachman, uncurled his bandy legs as soon as the equipage drew up opposite Miss Pinkerton's shining brass plate, and as he pulled the bell at least a score of young heads were seen peering out of the narrow windows of the stately old brick house. Nay, the acute observer might have recognized the little red nose of good-natured Miss Jemima Pinkerton herself, rising over some geranium pots in the window of that lady's own drawing-room.

"It is Mrs. Sedley's coach, sister," said Miss Jemima. "Sambo, the black servant, has just rung the bell; and the coachman has a new red waistcoat."

"Have you completed all the necessary preparations incident to Miss Sedley's departure, Miss Jemima?" asked Miss Pinkerton herself, that majestic lady; the Semiramis of Hammersmith, the friend of Doctor Johnson, the correspondent of Mrs. Chapone herself.

"The girls were up at four this morning, packing her trunks, sister," replied Miss Jemima; "we have made her a bow-pot."

"Say a bouquet, sister Jemima, 'tis more genteel."

"Well, a booky as big almost as a haystack; I have put up two bottles of the gillyflower water for Mrs. Sedley, and the receipt for making it, in Amelia's box."

"And I trust, Miss Jemima, you have made a copy of Miss Sedley's account. This is it, is it? Very good--ninety-three pounds, four shillings. Be kind enough to address it to John Sedley, Esquire, and to seal this billet which I have written to his lady."

In Miss Jemima's eyes an autograph letter of her sister, Miss Pinkerton, was an object of as deep veneration as would have been a letter from a sovereign. Only when her pupils quitted the establishment, or when they were about to be married, and once, when poor Miss Birch died of the scarlet fever, was Miss Pinkerton known to write personally to the parents of her pupils; and it was Jemima's opinion that if anything could console Mrs. Birch for her daughter's loss, it would be that pious and eloquent composition in which Miss Pinkerton announced the event.

In the present instance Miss Pinkerton's "billet" was to the following effect:

-The Mall, Chiswick, June 15, 18-


After her six years' residence at the Mall, I have the honour and happiness of presenting Miss Amelia Sedley to her parents, as a young lady not unworthy to occupy a fitting position in their polished and refined circle. Those virtues which characterize the young English gentlewoman, those accomplishments which become her birth and station, will not be found wanting in the amiable Miss Sedley, whose industry and obedience have endeared her to her instructors, and whose delightful sweetness of temper has charmed her aged and her youthful companions.

In music, in dancing, in orthography, in every variety of embroidery and needlework, she will be found to have realized her friends' fondest wishes. In geography there is still much to be desired; and a careful and undeviating use of the backboard, for four hours daily during the next three years, is recommended as necessary to the acquirement of that dignified deportment and carriage, so requisite for every young lady of fashion.

In the principles of religion and morality, Miss Sedley will be found worthy of an establishment which has been honoured by the presence of The Great Lexicographer, and the patronage of the admirable Mrs. Chapone. In leaving the Mall, Miss Amelia carries with her the hearts of her companions, and the affectionate regards of her mistress, who has the honour to subscribe herself, Madam,

Your most obliged humble servant,
Barbara Pinkerton

P.S.--Miss Sharp accompanies Miss Sedley. It is particularly requested that Miss Sharp's stay in Russell Square may not exceed ten days. The family of distinction with whom she is engaged, desire to avail themselves of her services as soon as possible.

This letter completed, Miss Pinkerton proceeded to write her own name, and Miss Sedley's, in the fly-leaf of a Johnson's Dictionary--the interesting work which she invariably presented to her scholars, on their departure from the Mall. On the cover was inserted a copy of "Lines addressed to a young lady on quitting Miss Pinkerton's school, at the Mall; by the late revered Doctor Samuel Johnson." In fact, the Lexicographer's name was always on the lips of this majestic woman, and a visit he had paid to her was the cause of her reputation and her fortune.

Being commanded by her elder sister to get "the Dictionary" from the cupboard, Miss Jemima had extracted two copies of the book from the receptacle in question. When Miss Pinkerton had finished the inscription in the first, Jemima, with rather a dubious and timid air, handed her the second.

"For whom is this, Miss Jemima?" said Miss Pinkerton, with awful coldness.

"For Becky Sharp," answered Jemima, trembling very much, and blushing over her withered face and neck, as she turned her back on her sister. "For Becky Sharp: she's going too."

"MISS JEMIMA!" exclaimed Miss Pinkerton, in the largest capitals. "Are you in your senses? Replace the Dixonary in the closet, and never venture to take such a liberty in future."

"Well, sister, it's only two-and-ninepence, and poor Becky will be miserable if she don't get one."

"Send Miss Sedley instantly to me," said Miss Pinkerton. And so venturing not to say another word, poor Jemima trotted off, exceedingly flurried and nervous.

Miss Sedley's papa was a merchant in London, and a man of some wealth; whereas Miss Sharp was an articled pupil, for whom Miss Pinkerton had done, as she thought, quite enough, without conferring upon her at parting the high honour of the Dixonary.
Although schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no more nor less than churchyard epitaphs; yet, as it sometimes happens that a person departs this life who is really deserving of all the praises the stone-cutter carves over his bones; who is a good Christian, a good parent, child, wife, or husband; who actually does leave a disconsolate family to mourn his loss; so in academies of the male and female sex it occurs every now and then that the pupil is fully worthy of the praises bestowed by the disinterested instructor. Now, Miss Amelia Sedley was a young lady of this singular species; and deserved not only all that Miss Pinkerton said in her praise, but had many charming qualities which that pompous old Minerva of a woman could not see, from the differences of rank and age between her pupil and herself.

For she could not only sing like a lark, or a Mrs. Billington, and dance like Hillisberg or Parisot; and embroider beautifully; and spell as well as a Dixonary itself; but she had such a kindly, smiling, tender, gentle, generous heart of her own, as won the love of everybody who came near her, from Minerva herself down to the poor girl in the scullery, and the one-eyed tart-woman's daughter, who was permitted to vend her wares once a week to the young ladies in the Mall. She had twelve intimate and bosom friends out of the twenty-four young ladies. Even envious Miss Briggs never spoke ill of her; high and mighty Miss Saltire (Lord Dexter's granddaughter) allowed that her figure was genteel; and as for Miss Swartz, the rich woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt's, on the day Amelia went away, she was in such a passion of tears that they were obliged to send for Dr. Floss, and half tipsify her with salvolatile. Miss Pinkerton's attachment was, as may be supposed from the high position and eminent virtues of that lady, calm and dignified; but Miss Jemima had already whimpered several times at the idea of Amelia's departure; and, but for fear of her sister, would have gone off in downright hysterics, like the heiress (who paid double) of St. Kitt's. Such luxury of grief, however, is only allowed to parlour-boarders. Honest Jemima had all the bills, and the washing, and the mending, and the puddings, and the plate and crockery, and the servants to superintend. But why speak about her? It is probable that we shall not hear of her again from this moment to the end of time, and that when the great filigree iron gates are once closed on her, she and her awful sister will never issue therefrom into this little world of history.

But as we are to see a great deal of Amelia, there is no harm in saying, at the outset of our acquaintance, that she was a dear little creature; and a great mercy it is, both in life and in novels, which (and the latter especially) abound in villains of the most sombre sort, that we are to have for a constant companion so guileless and good-natured a person. As she is not a heroine, there is no need to describe her person; indeed I am afraid that her nose was rather short than otherwise, and her cheeks a great deal too round and red for a heroine; but her face blushed with rosy health, and her lips with the freshest of smiles, and she had a pair of eyes which sparkled with the brightest and honestest good-humour, except indeed when they filled with tears, and that was a great deal too often; for the silly thing would cry over a dead canary-bird; or over a mouse, that the cat haply had seized upon; or over the end of a novel, were it ever so stupid; and as for saying an unkind word to her, were any persons hard-hearted enough to do so--why, so much the worse for them. Even Miss Pinkerton, that austere and godlike woman, ceased scolding her after the first time, and though she no more comprehended sensibility than she did Algebra, gave all masters and teachers particular orders to treat Miss Sedley with the utmost gentleness, as harsh treatment was injurious to her.So that when the day of departure came, between her two customs of laughing and crying, Miss Sedley was greatly puzzled how to act. She was glad to go home, and yet most woefully sad at leaving school. For three days before, little Laura Martin, the orphan, followed her about like a little dog. She had to make and receive at least fourteen presents--to make fourteen solemn promises of writing every week: "Send my letters under cover to my grandpapa, the Earl of Dexter," said Miss Saltire (who, by the way, was rather shabby). "Never mind the postage, but write every day, you dear darling," said the impetuous and woolly-headed, but generous and affectionate Miss Swartz; and the orphan little Laura Martin (who was just in round-hand), took her friend's hand and said, looking up in her face wistfully, "Amelia, when I write to you I shall call you Mamma." All which details, I have no doubt, Jones, who reads this book at his Club, will pronounce to be excessively foolish, trivial, twaddling, and ultra-sentimental. Yes; I can see Jones at this minute (rather flushed with his joint of mutton and half pint of wine), taking out his pencil and scoring under the words "foolish, twaddling," &c., and adding to them his own remark of "quite true." Well, he is a lofty man of genius, and admires the great and heroic in life and novels; and so had better take warning and go elsewhere.

Well, then. The flowers, and the presents, and the trunks, and bonnet-boxes of Miss Sedley having been arranged by Mr. Sambo in the carriage, together with a very small and weather-beaten old cow's-skin trunk with Miss Sharp's card neatly nailed upon it, which was delivered by Sambo with a grin, and packed by the coachman with a corresponding sneer--the hour for parting came; and the grief of that moment was considerably lessened by the admirable discourse which Miss Pinkerton addressed to her pupil. Not that the parting speech caused Amelia to philosophise, or that it armed her in any way with a calmness, the result of argument; but it was intolerably dull, pompous, and tedious; and having the fear of her schoolmistress greatly before her eyes, Miss Sedley did not venture, in her presence, to give way to any ebullitions of private grief. A seed-cake and a bottle of wine were produced in the drawing-room, as on the solemn occasions of the visits of parents, and these refreshments being partaken of, Miss Sedley was at liberty to depart.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Before the Curtainix
IChiswick Mall11
IIIn Which Miss Sharp and Miss Sedley Prepare to Open the Campaign18
IIIRebecca Is in Presence of the Enemy29
IVThe Green Silk Purse38
VDobbin of Ours52
VIICrawley of Queen's Crawley78
VIIIPrivate and Confidential87
IXFamily Portraits97
XMiss Sharp Begins to Make Friends105
XIArcadian Simplicity112
XIIQuite a Sentimental Chapter128
XIIISentimental and Otherwise137
XIVMiss Crawley at Home150
XVIn Which Rebecca's Husband Appears for a Short Time171
XVIThe Letter on the Pincushion181
XVIIHow Captain Dobbin Bought a Piano190
XVIIIWho Played on the Piano Captain Dobbin Bought200
XIXMiss Crawley at Nurse213
XXIn Which Captain Dobbin Acts as the Messenger of Hymen225
XXIA Quarrel About an Heiress236
XXIIA Marriage and Part of a Honeymoon246
XXIIICaptain Dobbin Proceeds on His Canvass256
XXIVIn Which Mr. Osborne Takes Down the Family Bible263
XXVIn Which All the Principal Personages Think Fit to Leave Brighton278
XXVIBetween London and Chatham300
XXVIIIn Which Amelia Joins Her Regiment309
XXVIIIIn Which Amelia Invades the Low Countries316
XXX"The Girl I Left Behind Me"341
XXXIIn Which Jos Sedley Takes Care of His Sister351
XXXIIIn Which Jos Takes Flight, and the War is Brought To a Close364
XXXIIIIn Which Miss Crawley's Relations Are very Anxious About Her383
XXXIVJames Crawley's Pipe is Put Out395
XXXVWidow and Mother414
XXXVIHow to Live Well on Nothing a Year426
XXXVIIThe Subject Continued436
XXXVIIIA Family in a Very Small Way452
XXXIXA Cynical Chapter468
XLIn Which Becky is Recognized by the Family479
XLIIn Which Becky Revisits the Halls of Her Ancestors489
XLIIWhich Treats of the Osborne Family502
XLIIIIn Which the Reader has to Double the Cape510
XLIVA Roundabout Chapter between London and Hampshire521
XLVBetween Hampshire and London532
XLVIStruggles and Trials542
XLVIIGaunt House551
XLVIIIIn Which the Reader is Introduced to the Very Best of Company561
XLIXIn Which We Enjoy Three Courses and a Dessert574
LContains a Vulgar Incident582
LIIn Which a Charade is Acted Which May or May Not Puzzle the Reader593
LIIIn Which Lord Steyne Shows Himself in a Most Amiable Light613
LIIIA Rescue and a Catastrophe625
LIVSunday After the Battle635
LVIn Which the Same Subject is Pursued645
LVIGeorgy is Made a Gentleman663
LVIIIOur Friend the Major686
LIXThe Old Piano699
LXReturns to the Genteel World711
LXIIn Which Two Lights are Put Out718
LXIIAm Rhein733
LXIIIIn Which We Meet an Old Acquaintance745
LXIVA Vagabond Chapter759
LXVFull of Business and Pleasure777
LXVIAmantium Irae786
LXVIIWhich Contains Births, Marriages, and Deaths803
Selected Bibligraphy831
A Note on the Text832

Reading Group Guide

1. In her Introduction, Joanna Trollope asserts that "one of the huge charms of [Vanity Fair] is that nothing is conventional." Do you think Thackeray's choice of a protagonist speaks to this claim, given the novel's picaresque structure? How does this choice inform the novel? In what other ways does the novel confirm Trollope's claim?

2. What is your opinion of Thackeray's preface, "Before the Curtain"? How does it illuminate for you what he is attempting to do in the novel? In what ways is Thackeray "manager of the performance"? Discuss the role of the narrator in the novel. Is he reliable?

3. Why does Thackeray insist that this is a "novel without a hero"? Do you agree? What are the implications, if any, of such a claim?

4. Compare Becky and Amelia. What, if anything, does Thackeray intend by their contrasting destinies? Does one represent or confirm Thackeray's moral viewpoint better than the other, or do neither? What do you think of the preponderance of unlikable characters? Do you find Thackeray's outlook in any way misanthropic?

5. Anthony Trollope points out that many of Thackeray's contemporaries concluded upon reading Vanity Fair that he "was no novelist, but only a cynic." Do you agree? Do you think this judgment was simply a consequence of the period?

6. Robert Louis Stevenson, in a comment about the novel, remarked on Rawdon's striking of Lord Steyne in chapter 53, saying, "If Rawdon Crawley's blow were not delivered, Vanity Fair would cease to be a work of art." Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

7. Discuss the significance of the Battle of Waterloo. Whatrole does this crucial event play in the novel? Does it in any way serve as a metaphor for other episodes in the text?

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Vanity Fair 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bring back the classics. We need them. Vanity Fair is one of Thackeray's most brilliant works that can compete with the best writings today. It deals principally with the lives of two young women, Miss Sedley and Miss Sharp and what they did after leaving school. It is about their loves, their ambitions, their terribly endearing families and most importantly, their dreams. The book openly and almost brutally describes the selfishness of human nature and the thousand little subtilities of everyday life during that time. Attitude towards women, status in society, the power of money and marriage are recurring themes in this delightful novel. Extremely unique characters like Miss. Crawley, Mr.Osbourne and Captain Dobbin give the book a splendid Dickensian touch. To me, it is an excellent read because like terrorism, it really makes you stop and take a step back.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing 3 days ago
This is a masterful and beautiful story, though the characters are occasionally infuriating (they are, though, always believable). Read the book. The movie is a waste of time if compared, and the characters and situations here are unforgettable. This book combines the best of the greatest writers--the detail and thought of Dickens, the quick moving story of the novel Jane Eyre, the wit of Austen. I'd recommend it highly to any reader. As far as the criticism, it is better written than in some of the Norton editions, of a wide variety, and fairly interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hair: Carmel, doen to her waist, naturally in loose curls. <p> Eyes: Grey, very pretty <p> Age: 17 <p> Looks: she mainly wears crop tops, t-shirts, flannels, for shirts, high waisted skinny jeans or joggers for pants, then many different shoes. She has full, soft lips btw. <p> Likes: making friend, cooking/baking, bad puns, hiking, swimming, etc. <p> Dislikes: clowns, bullies, etc. <p> Sexuality: Straight/Single :p <p> Other: just ask, peace ^~^
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Table of contents should be hyperlinked and under "content" tab so it is actually functional. Titles are off and words somtimes mispelled. Book itself is good.
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Vanity Fair is a thought provoking novel that highlights hypocrisy in high-class society. The story follows the lives of main characters, Amelia Sedley, and Rebecca Sharp, as they battle real troubles that plagued most women of the time. The novel highlights how these troubles change the perception of characters, as well as the changes in the characters themselves. Each character seems to face a different conflict; however, most of these problems are either character vs. society or character vs. character. Amelia is a fortunate, woman who has never had to work much for anything. Her kind disposition makes her seem very na&#239;ve and child-like. She is a compassionate character with a delicate heart. The youthful girl finds a sister in Becky, an attachment that she later grows to regret. Ultimately, Amelia learns that life can be cruel and unjust, but the people who truly care for her will always be by her side. Although the author states that the novel has no hero, Rebecca is often referred to by the author as the heroine of the story. She starts off as the poor orphaned daughter of an unrecognized artist, and must do anything she can to gain respect in high-class society. Becky can make friends and enemies quite easily. She will do what ever it takes to make a name for herself; however, some of her methods may seem unconventional. Becky's merciless grab for power is first noted in her attempt to find a husband. Of course, in Vanity Fair, a woman is only as respected as the man she marries. Becky spends a lapse of time with Amelia's family while waiting to be transported to Queen's Crawley. Here, she is introduced to Amelia's wealthy brother, Joseph. Becky commanded his attention, and nearly had his proposal for marriage, sadly, she had to take leave for her job as a governess. This is the first event that makes up the rising action of Vanity Fair. Later, Becky's employer, Sir Pitt Crawley, makes astonishing revelations to Becky. It is at the time of these announcements that she reveals shocking news of her own. Her announcement marks the second rising action of Vanity Fair. The climax, however, does not occur until long after this important point of the story. I found Vanity Fair to be very entertaining novel that gives a very strong statement about all of society. Thackeray captures the bitter betrayal of trust that exists between friends. His account of Becky's manipulating nature is stunning. This is shown when the author tells of how Becky knowingly controlled the heart of Amelia's husband. He truly poisons the mind with the idea that women- often thought to be delicate and genteel- are not only vain and manipulative, but also have the capacity to be brutally cruel to each other. The author often leaves it up to the reader to make conclusions and inferences. For example, towards the end of the novel, a certain death leaves the reader questioning the cause. The holes in his story are made up by his occasional commentary on certain events that have occurred. I also enjoyed that Thackeray uses historical events in his text. His account of the battle of Waterloo and the following years gives the reader a better sense of time elapsing. This novel may not be for everybody. I found it to be very entertaining, but the Thackeray's cynical satire and irony may not appeal to everyone. Overall, Vanity Fair is an enjoyable, stimulating novel.
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