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At Vanity Fair
From Bunyan to Thackeray


Sharon Achinstein
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  • Date Published: May 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107105850

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About the Authors
  • At Vanity Fair tells the story of Bunyan's powerful metaphor, exploring how Vanity Fair was transformed from an emblem of sin and persecution into a showcase for celebrity, wealth and power. This literary history, focusing on reception, adaptation and influence, traces the fictional representation of Vanity Fair over three centuries from John Bunyan's masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress (1678), to William Makepeace Thackeray's own Vanity Fair (1847–8). It explores the influence of anonymous journalists and booksellers alongside well-known authors including Ben Jonson, Samuel Richardson and Thomas Carlyle. Over time, Bunyan's dystopian fantasy has been altered and repurposed to characterise consumer capitalism, channelling memories that inform and unsettle modern hedonism. By tracking the idea of 'Vanity Fair' against this shifting background, the book illuminates the relationship between the individual and the collective imagination, between what is culturally available and what is creatively impelled.

    • Traces the progress of a hugely influential literary metaphor to reveal broader insights into literary and cultural attitudes
    • Explores the changing attitudes towards pleasure from seventeenth century to the present, while showing the long legacy of Puritanism
    • Proposes new ideas about the origins of our current consumer culture, and how literary texts and images are 'handed down' across the ages
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'At Vanity Fair is built upon a vast amount of research and scholarship (the notes and bibliography run to eighty pages). It is also a pleasure to read. All students of Bunyan will want to consider its arguments, but so too will scholars interested in the burgeoning field of adaptation studies, in book history and the history of reading, and in the concept of intertextuality. Sadly, her untimely death in 2013 meant that Kirsty Milne did not live to see the publication of this outstanding contribution to literary scholarship.' W. R. Owens, The Review of English Studies

    'Milne traces [Vanity Fair] as it appears in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novels, letters, journalism and light verse. The result is a pugnacious and provocative interrogation of the ways in which 'a literary text is constructed' and of the relationship between seventeenth-century Puritanism and the modern free market.' Frances Wilson, New Statesman

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2015
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107105850
    • length: 237 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • contains: 5 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: the boy at the Royal Exchange
    1. 'Copying from life': the literal and the literary in Bunyan's Vanity Fair
    2. Reforming Bartholomew Fair: Bunyan, Jonson, and the transmission of a trope
    3. 'More moderate now than formerly': re-writing Vanity Fair, 1684–1700
    4. 'Gay ideas of Vanity-Fair': transforming Bunyan in the eighteenth century
    5. 'Manager of the performance': Thackeray's Vanity Fair
    Conclusion: the fair in vogue
    Afterword Sharon Achinstein.

  • Author

    Kirsty Milne, University of Oxford
    Kirsty Milne (1964–2013) was a highly regarded British journalist and academic. During her career she was staff writer for The New Statesman and The Scotsman, was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, was Fellow at Harvard's Center for European Studies, was author of a pamphlet, Manufacturing Dissent (2005) and gained a Leverhulme Fellowship.


    Sharon Achinstein, The Johns Hopkins University


    Sharon Achinstein

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