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A bewitching beauty who bends men to her will using charm, sex, and guile. An awkward man who remains loyal to his friends, even when those friends don't deserve his affection. A mother who cannot get over the loss of her husband and devotes her life to her child. Though written in 1847-48, William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair is peopled by types who remain familiar today. The novel's early nineteenth-century setting immerses us in a strange world of social stratification, moral strictures, and self-conscious sentiment. Yet its characters—from dissolute playboys and self-important heirs to judgmental aunts and finicky gourmands—are instantly recognizable.... Thackeray interweaves the stories of these three main characters into an exuberant narrative that's chockablock with indelible secondary characters and cynical aperçus that illuminate all manner of human folly. His withering gaze lands on both lords and ladies, exposing the mean-spirited pretensions and craving for distinction that permeate the whole social world. By placing the social skirmishes and family clashes of his characters against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, Vanity Fair invites us to contemplate the pervasiveness of human strife—and the damage that our egotism and self-delusion do every day.
Penguin Group USA (publishers)
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