Why did Thackeray subtitle Vanity Fair "A book without a hero"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There seems to be an inescapable conclusion to make regarding the subtitle of this excellent Victorian classic, and that is that the overarching theme of this novel is the way in which all of society and all in it are shown to be overwhelmingly vain. Some may be more vain than others, but the subtitle indicates that none, according to the author, can be called a hero.

It may be useful to recognise that the title is an allusion from Pilgrim's Progress and refers to a city, called Vanity Fair, whose soul purpose was to divert and entertain people with pleasures and goods and distract them on their way to reaching heaven. Thackeray places Vanity Fair in London during Victorian times, and presents us with a range of middle and upper class characters who only live for achieving greater wealth and higher social status, and show themselves willing to cheat, lie and deceive in order to reach those goals. Thus it is that Thackeray gave his novel the subtitle that it has: the pages of this novel are remarkable for the complete absence of anyone who matches up to the definition of the hero. All are self-serving characters.

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