At Vanity Fair tells the story of Bunyan's powerful metaphor, exploring how Vanity Fair was transformed from an emblem of sin and persecution into a showcase for celebrity, wealth and power. This literary history, focusing on reception, adaptation and influence, traces the fictional representation of Vanity Fair over three centuries from John Bunyan's masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress (1678), to William Makepeace Thackeray's own Vanity Fair (1847-8). It explores the influence of anonymous journalists and booksellers alongside well-known authors including Ben Jonson, Samuel Richardson and Thomas Carlyle. Over time, Bunyan's dystopian fantasy has been altered and repurposed to characterise consumer capitalism, channelling memories that inform and unsettle modern hedonism. By tracking the idea of 'Vanity Fair' against this shifting background, the book illuminates the relationship between the individual and the collective imagination, between what is culturally available and what is creatively impelled.
Kirsty Milne (1964-2013) was a highly regarded British journalist and academic. During her career she was staff writer for The New Statesman and The Scotsman, was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, was Fellow at Harvard's Center for European Studies, was author of a pamphlet, Manufacturing Dissent (2005) and gained a Leverhulme Fellowship.
Introduction: the boy at the Royal Exchange; 1. 'Copying from life': the literal and the literary in Bunyan's Vanity Fair; 2. Reforming Bartholomew Fair: Bunyan, Jonson, and the transmission of a trope; 3. 'More moderate now than formerly': re-writing Vanity Fair, 1684-1700; 4. 'Gay ideas of Vanity-Fair': transforming Bunyan in the eighteenth century; 5. 'Manager of the performance': Thackeray's Vanity Fair; Conclusion: the fair in vogue; Afterword Sharon Achinstein.