Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

vanity fair william makepeace thackeray


Hooray, another book off of my Classics Club list! And I kind of loved it.

I read Vanity Fair along with a great group of people for a readalong, so you may have seen the posts for the first and second halves of the book. But those are full of spoilers and random thoughts, so this here my spoiler-free review for the book as a whole.

Vanity Fair (often subtitled A Novel Without A Hero) is a classic revolving around the lives of two women in Vanity Fair – the modest, simple Amelia Sedley and the ambitious, scheming Becky Sharp. The novel follows their lives through the ups and downs, while making fun of society and it’s ridiculous rules, morals, and hypocrisy. It’s a satire in the finest sense of the word, and still has a lot of relevance in today’s world.

I could sit here and pick apart the messages in the novel and discuss the author’s criticisms of society, but I’m not going to do that. Besides, Thackeray is pretty open about it – he breaks the fourth wall constantly to talk directly to the reader, and refers to the characters as if they’re actors in a play we’re watching. Personally, I loved that he talks directly to the audience – it was usually entertaining and witty. His use of humor and satire made this book a really fun read.

The characters and their drama are definitely what drive the story. Becky is mean and conniving – her goal in life is to climb as far up the social ladder as she can to secure some wealth and position for herself. Cliff’s Notes says she’s a bit of a sociopath – while she’s definitely cold and calculating, I don’t know if I’d go quite that far. Amelia is a pretty, innocent, naive little thing who only has eyes for one man – George Osborne.

George Osborne, Rawdon Crawley, and William Dobbin are also some main characters, and really add to the story whether you love or hate them. Personally I adored Dobbin – if this novel does have a hero, it’s him. You’ll see him on any future “favorite men in classic literature” lists I do.

It’s so hard to talk about the characters any more than that without spoiling anything! But there is drama and plotting abound in this book, with several laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled in. I liked how ruthless Thackeray was when it came to mocking the upper class, and how Becky is a character I rooted for even though she’s pretty much a horrible person.

I definitely recommend reading this along with a group, if you can. While I did enjoy it, there were a couple dull chapters here and there that might have made me want to quit. When Vanity Fair was released, it was in 3 or 4 chapter increments in a periodical thingy – I aimed to read one of those sections a day, which worked pretty well. It kept me from getting frustrated, and even built up my excitement – there were times when I wanted to keep reading, but made myself wait until the next day to start the next section.

vanity fair sections

The sections of the novel as they were released.

This would have been a 5-star read except for two things – the dull chapters (there were only maybe 5 throughout the whole book, but they really were so slow and unnecessary), and Thackeray’s hints of racism. This occurred more in the beginning of the book, but it was noticeable and annoying. I know that it was pretty much the norm for the 1800’s, but it still rubs me the wrong way. It means I’ll never really consider him a favorite author, even if I end up enjoying some more of his books. 

I’m so glad I read Vanity Fair, and I can’t wait to check out some of the film adaptations.

Sarah Says: 4 stars




  1. I haven’t read this and I haven’t added it to my Classics Club list. I am in two minds whether I want to read it but I did watch and enjoy the 2004 film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon and one of my favourites actresses Romola Garai.


    1. Thanks 🙂 I decided sometimes last year that when I do a readalong, I’m going to write a spoiler-free review afterwards. I like to update my “reviews” page with the books I’ve read, and linking to the readalong posts themselves is tedious and they’re also full of spoilers. Plus it helps me sort out my feelings about the book as a whole, instead of in sections, lol.


  2. Becky was impossible for me to like, even though I tried. I felt for Amelia so much! I don’t remember noticing the racism but I tend to try to block things like that out. It’s a double standard but I think I hold pre-1900s authors to a different standard when it comes to racism. It’s horrible but I do.


  3. I definitely fell more in the Becky camp. I wanted to smack Amelia! I’m with you on the fourth wall thing. I really liked that Thackeray kept talking directly to us. I’m also really glad I read it with a group. I liked the style, but those slow chapters are hard to get through!


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