Reading Groups

William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair


Led by: N. John Hall


Time: 6 - 7:30pm


Meets: Every second Tuesday, four sessions 


Dates: 2/14, 3/14, 4/11, 5/9


Sign up:

Members & Trollope Society Members: $120

Nonmembers: $140



Vanity Fair is on just about everybody’s list of the world’s greatest novels. Yet posterity has not been as kind to Thackeray as to his great rival, Dickens—except for this one book. Published in 1848 and set in 1812 to 1830, this “Novel without a Hero” was ground-breaking in its massive realism, its panoramic reach, its depiction of the passage of time, its relaxed colloquial style, always witty, satiric, elegant, graceful. But more important, as Thackeray’s biographer Gordon Ray puts it, is “the illumination it provides of mankind’s moral experience.” Or, as David Cecil writes, “Thackeray is the first novelist to do what Tolstoy and Proust were to do more elaborately, use the novel as a conscious, considered criticism of life.” Accordingly, our readings will investigate the question of whether Vanity Fair can change your life, or at least your view of it.


For the first meeting participants should have read the first 16 chapters.


Recommended edition: Oxford University Press World's Classics, ed. John Sutherland.


This group is in collaboration with the Trollope Society.


N. John Hall ("Jack") is distinguished Professor Emeritus, BCC and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has been twice the director of NEH Summer Seminars for College Teachers and twice a Guggenheim Fellow. His many publications include The Trollope Critics (ed); Trollope and His Illustrators; the two-volume Letters of Anthony Trollope; and Trollope: A Biography. This last earned Hall a front-page review in the New York Times Book Review and occasioned the (London)Times calling him "arguably the world's leading authority on Anthony Trollope." Hall, who has also written on Thackeray, points out that Thackeray was Trollope’s pick for the all-time preeminent novelist in the language.