The Penguin English Library Edition of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
'Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?'
No one is better equipped in the struggle for wealth and worldly success than the alluring and ruthless Becky Sharp, who defies her impoverished background to clamber up the class ladder. Her sentimental companion Amelia, however, longs only for caddish soldier George. As the two heroines make their way through the tawdry glamour of Regency society, battles - military and domestic - are fought, fortunes made and lost. The one steadfast and honourable figure in this corrupt world is Dobbin with his devotion to Amelia, bringing pathos and depth to Thackeray's gloriously satirical epic of love and social adventure.
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William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1811, but was sent to England at the age of six. After his education at Charterhouse and Trinity College, Cambridge, having gambled away much of his fortune at university, he settled in Paris and tried a career as a painter. It was here that he met nineteen-year-old Isabella Shawe, upon whom he based many of his virtuous but weak heroines, and whom he married in 1836, before returning to London with her a year later. He was a novelist and journalist, writing prolifically for numerous periodicals and magazines - Vanity Fair was first published as a twenty-part serial in Punch in 1847-8 - and becoming editor of the newly established Cornhill Magazine in 1860. Thackeray, who had a penchant for eating and drinking heavily and led a generally unhealthy lifestyle, died suddenly of a stroke in 1863.