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Reading Groups

William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair with Rebecca Rukeyser

Eight Sessions Mondays, 6:00 pm EDT - 7:30 pm EDT June 17 to September 23, 2024

Online via Zoom

The ‘With Book’ option includes the title required for this group with a 10% discount from our Bookstore.

Meeting Dates:
6/17, 7/1, 7/15, 7/29, 8/12, 8/26, 9/9, 9/23
Online via Zoom

Scathing and scandalous, Vanity Fair was a smash hit when it appeared on the scene in 1847 in serial form. Its popularity proved enduring: Thackeray’s masterpiece, listed as #14 in The Guardian’s 100 Best Novels is hailed as one of the great works of Victorian literature.

Much of this is thanks to its protagonist. The novel’s full title is Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero. Is Becky Sharpe likable? Absolutely not. In the literary landscape of the mid-1800s, when most young female characters were insipid maidens or comic wenches, Becky Sharpe was a radical departure. She’s one of the great fictional anti-heroes— a charismatic, scheming sinner. Bound by the conventions of a world where matrimony is a financial proposition, Becky Sharpe plays the marriage market like Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street plays the stock market.

But it’s not just about Becky. Vanity Fair is full of morally ambiguous characters navigating a twisted world of class, materialism, manners, war, geopolitics, and societal hypocrisy. It’s also a blisteringly funny analysis of the human condition as told by a gossipy and unreliable narrator, punctuated with Thackery’s odd illustrations and bursts of surprising violence.

It’s impossible to read a novel as popular and enduring as Vanity Fair without talking about its cultural impact on literature. We’ll spend the brunt of our time discussing the novel, but we’ll also discuss the tumultuous society into which it was published, the literature it inspired, its many film adaptations, and its most well-known legacy: a little magazine called Vanity Fair.

Participants should read Chapters 1-8 of the novel prior to the first session.

Sessions I–VIII: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

What to Expect from This Reading Group: This class will be primarily conversational and participant-driven, but will also include supplemental material provided by the instructor.

Please Note: All virtual classes are recorded. Please click here for information about our recording policy.

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Led by

  • Rebecca Rukeyser

    Rebecca Rukeyser

    Rebecca Rukeyser

    Rebecca Rukeyser is the author of the novel The Seaplane on Final Approach (2022; Doubleday USA/ Granta Books UK). Her work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Believer, Granta, The Guardian, and Zyzzyva, among others, and was awarded the Berlin Senate Endowment for Non-German Literature. She’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She currently lives in Germany, where she teaches creative writing at Bard College Berlin.