Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair. Place on the way to the Celestial City that John Bunyan created in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684), which represents the destructive temptations of the world. For Thackeray, “Vanity Fair” is likewise the place where lusts and pleasures are bought and sold, but for him the moral dimension of the threat of damnation is minimized. His Vanity Fair is mildly amusing and satirical; his characters are like puppets, jockeying for social position and money. His novel has no hero or heroine, but only his panoramic view of various versions of Vanity Fair, all filled with snobbery and acquisitiveness.

Miss Pinkerton’s Minerva House Academy

Miss Pinkerton’s Minerva House Academy. Girls’ school in which the wealthy Amelia Sedley and her orphaned friend, Rebecca Sharp, are trained. The importance of position and money is immediately obvious in the academy, for Amelia is polished with husband-acquiring skills, while the orphan Rebecca must earn her keep by teaching French, and she must also soon become a governess in the household of the wealthy Lord Pitt Crawley. The social contrast between the two students is also made obvious in parallel scenes at Dr. Swishtail’s School, whose male students include the wealthy and snobbish George Osborne and the modest grocer’s son, William Dobbin.


*Vauxhall. Pleasure gardens in London that represent Vanity Fair in microcosm, with their love of display, dark walkways, and matchmaking. There, Amelia plans a party and includes her brother Jos Sedley, a perfect counterpart to Vauxhall itself, foolishly vain and pleasure-seeking. Becky works hard to charm Jos in the hope of escaping from having to work for her living, but Jos’s overindulgence in punch and his friend George’s snobbery prevent her from snaring him.

Great Gaunt Street

Great Gaunt Street. London street on which stands the gloomy home of Lord Pitt Crawley, to whom Becky reports for work as a governess. Crawley finds Becky attractive, and she vows to make good use of all opportunities to advance herself in his home. His house, though grand with family portraits, is ruled over by no handsome baronet, but by a dirty, vulgar, and lewd old man. However, his country home, Queen’s Crawley, proves to be a fertile ground for the shrewd Becky. She wins the affections of those who count in the household, especially wealthy old Miss Crawley, whose fortune and ill health make her everyone’s focus. This wretched family is driven by greed, jealousy, and snobbery, and its members’ very names reflect their vain, empty, selfish lives: “Rawdon” and the other “Pitts” of “Gaunt” Street and Queen’s “Crawley.”

*Park Lane

*Park Lane. Home in London’s Mayfair district of Miss Crawley, to which Becky is called to care for the wealthy, ailing, old woman. Comic but...

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The interior court of London's Fleet Prison, a debtor's prison Published by Gale Cengage

Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo
The Napoleonic Wars began in the late 1790s, with Napoleon Bonaparte leading the...

(The entire section is 805 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Victorian Literature
It was during the Victorian period (1837-1901) that the novel became the dominant literary form....

(The entire section is 1170 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

Early to Mid-Nineteenth Century: People are routinely sent to prison when they are unable to pay their debts. Debtors'...

(The entire section is 210 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Do some research on Thackeray's life. Write an essay exploring some ways in which the author's life experiences are reflected in the...

(The entire section is 164 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Unabridged audio versions of Vanity Fair have been published by Audiobook Contractors (1987), Books on Tape, Inc. (1989), and...

(The entire section is 173 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

W. M. Thackeray Library, edited by Richard Pearson and published in 1996, presents an array of Thackeray's writing, including short...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Brontë, Charlotte, Preface to Jane Eyre, Clarendon Press, 1969.

Colby, Robert A.,...

(The entire section is 254 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Makepeace Thackeray. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Contemporary critical anthology brings together essays on Thackeray’s main novels. Excellent starting place for discussion of Thackeray’s major works.

Harden, Edgar F. The Emergence of Thackeray’s Serial Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979. Discussion of the serial structure of five novels, including Vanity Fair, with focus upon the manuscripts and process of composition as the novels evolved. Explains how the fact that the novel was written in serial installments shaped its form.

Ray, Gordon N. “Thackeray: ‘The Newcomes.’ ” In The Age of Wisdom (1847-1864). New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958. The authoritative biography of Thackeray, authorized by the Thackeray family. The two volume set contains an in-depth study of Thackeray as well as an excellent study of the novel.

Sundell, M. G., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Vanity Fair.” Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Comprehensive collection of six essays on such topics as characters, form, theme, and content. Eight short viewpoints give concise focus to various elements of the novel.

Tillotson, Kathleen. “Vanity Fair.” In Thackeray: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Alexander Welsh. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Discusses Thackeray’s plan and purpose. The book contains two other excellent essays: “On the Style of Vanity Fair” by G. A. Craig and “Neoclassical Conventions” by John Loofbourow.