Vanity Fair (First Edition) by William Makepeace Thackeray



2015-06-26 10:30:31

Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero is a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863). This work was first published in serial, printed in 20 monthly parts between January 1847 and July 1848 by Punch Magazine. It was first published in book form in 1848 by Bradbury and Evans, London. Background

Thackeray began his writing career as a satirist and parodist. He wrote under pseudonyms including Charles James Yellowplush, George Savage Fitz-Boodle and Michael Angelo Titmarsh. In his heyday, he was ranked alongside Dickens as a writer, but now he is known largely for this work alone, Vanity Fair. He wanted to both amuse and morally educate his readers, so there is a certain didacticism implicit in the novel – hence the unhappy endings of the consistently flawed characters. However, Thackeray does seem to fondly sympathise with his characters and their foolishness.

The work was a huge hit even before the installments had all been published.

Plot, Characters, Themes

The novel is set 30 years prior to its publication, during the reign of George IV and the second Napoleonic invasion. However, this setting was used to satirise Thackeray’s own society.

It follows the events of Becky Sharp, an intelligent and strong willed young social climber determined to make a name for herself in society, the good-natured, simple Amelia Sedley, and a large cast of characters, poor and rich, aristocratic and destitute, cunning and naive.

The novel is realistic satire, and what is known as ‘picaresque’ satire. Every character is in some way flawed, hence the subtitle – A Novel without a Hero.


William Makepeace Thackeray was ranked alongside Dickens as a writer. He is known for his comic and satirical writings.

See main article: William Makepeace Thackeray rare books and memorabilia

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

Collecting all 20 original monthly parts that Vanity Fair was published in is an engaging project for a collector, and the complete set can be very valuable. First editions as published in book form as much less valuable, unless signed by Thackeray. Either way, first editions are worth much more in their delicate original bindings.

Complete first edition sets in original 20 parts (1847-1848, Punch Magazine, London) were sold by Christie’s for $17,500 in December 2009, and by Bonhams for $27,500 in October 2011.

First editions in book form (1848, Bradbury and Evans, London) were sold by Bloomsbury Auctions for £1,000 in October 2004, by Sotheby’s for £5,000 in October 2010, and by Christie’s for $5,640 in July 2000, and an inscribed copy for $32,900 in April 2000.


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