Books

Vanity Fair

William Makepeace Thackeray

The Penguin English Library Edition of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

'Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?'

No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her sentimental companion Amelia, however, longs only for caddish soldier George. As the two heroines make their way through the tawdry glamour of Regency society, battles - military and domestic - are fought, fortunes made and lost. The one steadfast and honourable figure in this corrupt world is Dobbin with his devotion to Amelia, bringing pathos and depth to Thackeray's gloriously satirical epic of love and social adventure.

The Penguin English Library - 100 editions of the best fiction in English, from the eighteenth century and the very first novels to the beginning of the First World War.

Vanity Fair

William Makepeace Thackeray

Becky Sharp is a poor orphan when she first makes friends with the lovely Amelia Sedley at Miss Pinkerton's Academy for Young Ladies. She may not have the natural advantages of her companion but she more than makes up for it with her wit, charm, deviousness and determination to make a success of herself whatever the cost. Vanity Fair is the story of Becky's spectacular rise and fall as she gambles, manipulates and seduces her way through high society and the Napoleonic wars.

Vanity Fair

William Makepeace Thackeray (and others)

William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair depicts the anarchic anti-heroine Beky Sharpe cutting a swathe through the eligible young men of Europe, set against a lucid backdrop of war and international chaos. This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by John Carey.

No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her sentimental companion Amelia Sedley, however, longs only for the caddish soldier George. As the two heroines make their way through the tawdry glamour of Regency society, battles - military and domestic - are fought, fortunes made and lost. The one steadfast and honourable figure in this corrupt world is William Dobbin, devoted to Amelia, bringing pathos and depth to Thackeray's gloriously satirical epic of love and social adventure. Set against the background of the Napoleonic wars, Thackeray's 'novel without a hero' is a lively satirical journey through English society, exposing greed, snobbery and pretension.

This edition follows the text of Thackeray's revised edition of 1853. John Carey's introduction identifies Vanity Fair as a landmark in the development of European Realism, and as a reflection of Thackeray's passionate love for another man's wife.

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) was born and educated to be a gentleman, but gambled away much of his fortune while at Cambridge. He trained as a lawyer before turning to journalism. He was a regular contributor to periodicals and magazines and Vanity Fair was serialised in Punch in 1847-8.

If you enjoyed Vanity Fair you might like Guy de Maupassant's Bel-Ami, also available in Penguin Classics.

'Vanity Fair has strong claims to be the greatest novel in the English language. It is also the only English novel that challenges comparison with Tolstoy's War and Peace'
John Carey

The History of Pendennis

J. Stewart (and others)

Written immediately after Vanity Fair, Pendennis has a similar atmosphere of brooding disillusion, tempered by the most jovial of wits. But here Thackeray plunders his own past to create the character of Pendennis and the world in which he lives: from miserable schoolboy to striving journalist, from carefree Oxbridge to the high (and low) life of London. The result is a superbly panoramic blend of people, action and background. The true ebb and flow of life is caught and the credibility of Pen, his worldly uncle, the Major, and many of the other characters, extends far beyond the pages of the novel. Held together by Thackeray's flowing, confident prose, with its conversational ease of tone, Pendennis is as rich a portrait of England in the 1830s and 40s as it is a thorough and thoroughly entertaining self-portrait.

The History of Henry Esmond

John Sutherland (and others)

'What spectacle is more august than that of a great king in exile? Who is more worthy of respect than a brave man in misfortune?' When "Henry Esmond" appeared in 1852, noted writers and critics of the time acclaimed it as the best historical novel ever written. Set in the reign of Queen Anne, the story follows the troubled progress of a gentleman and an officer in Marlborough's army, as he painfully wrestles with an emotional allegiance to the old Tory-Catholic England until, disillusioned, he comes to terms of a kind with the Whiggish-Protestant future. This change also entails a very uncomfortable switch in his affections. The love story of Henry Esmond is charged with sombre, unconscious emotions, yet is skilfully embedded into historical events which are convincing but never too prominent.

Biography

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) was born and educated to be a gentleman but gambled away much of his fortune while at Cambridge. He trained as a lawyer before turning to journalism. He was a regular contributor to periodicals and magazines and Vanity Fair was serialised in Punch in 1847-8.
John Carey is Professor of English at Oxford University. He has written on Dickens and Thackeray.