William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair


Published by Manesse, Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, 1959


Hardly any author is so qualified to write about the seductive power of money as William Makepeace Thackeray. Born in 1811 to a colonial offer in Calcutta, Thackeray enjoyed financial security thanks to a significant inheritance early in his life. But just as quickly as he had come to money, however, he lost it again. Still underage, young Thackeray was not lucky with gambling, neither at the table nor the stock exchange. And so he was compelled to earn his living as a writer.


At least, it enabled him to write from an insider’s perspective when he held a mirror up to the greedy Victorian England with his “Vanity Fair”. Published from 1848 onwards, the serialized novel is a satirical assessment of how different people behave in the game for money and prestige.


Rebecca “Becky” Sharp’s approach is a very straightforward one. She knows exactly what she wants and uses all her feminine charms. In order to gain a fortune, she repeatedly ensnares influential men. And they let the tempting young woman have her way. Becky’s girlfriend Amelia Sedley is a stranger to such strategic thinking. Good-natured to naive, the daughter of a bankrupt seems to be a loser.


In the end, however, after trials and tribulations against the background of the Napoleonic wars – Thackeray’s novel takes place in the time 1815-1830 – the loser is: Machiavellian Becky. She, who does not even flinch from legacy hunting, can secure herself a livelihood. No need to envy her, though. Not even as a mother capable of real warmth, her scheming ultimately chases everyone away.


With “Vanity Fair”, William Makepeace wrote a social panorama that was to be published countless times, in the form of books, movies and theater plays. A pleasure to read, the work of the fellow writer to Dickens and the Brontë sisters, revolving around what people do for money, is just as topical today as it was back then.


Annika Backe

Signet Sunflower Foundation