Books | Cheat's guide to Vanity Fair

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We break up William Makepeace Thackeray’s gargantuan tale of love, lash and Napoleonic lads into easy chunks of satirical fun.


Rebecca Sharp: Witty, wily, morally challenged. A social climber.

Amelia Sedley: Spends most of her time sighing and weeping over portraits.

George Osborne: The apple of Amelia’s eye, totally undeservedly.

Joseph Sedley: Drinks far too much, ‘writhes’ during hangovers, and won’t stop going on about his years abroad. Sound familiar?

Rawdon Crawley: A prolific gambler and bad guy. He does seem to like his own child though, which sets him apart from the majority in this book.

William Dobbin: If there were to be a hero in this book, it would be him. Unfortunately, he’s a bit of a wet blanket.


Becky and Amelia are parallel women, both of whom attend a good school but who come from wildly different backgrounds, and go through massive changes of social fortunes. much every male is in love with one of them. Pretty much every female hates both of them.

A satire on genteel society and the narrative of the nouveau riche. Beware the attractive, intelligent Becky – she’s probably cheating you at cards – but remember that she overcomes the social rejection of women of her class and outdoes most of the men in the book in terms of her accomplishments. Other morals: Paying bills is optional if you’re willing to bankrupt your friends, and crying over your husband for 12 years will probably get you nowhere.

Rebecca Shortt

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