Let’s Discuss the Cover of Vanity Fair, Shall We?

Posted April 30, 2012 by in Reading Challenges / 8 Comments

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray
This month’s discussion for the November’s Autumn Classics Challenge is all about book covers:

  • What are your first impressions as you look at the cover?
  • Does the book cover have an aspect that reflects the character, setting, or plot of the novel?
  • If you could have designed the book cover what would you have chosen?

Let’s just dig right in, since I am so thoroughly frustrated with having spent so much time reading Vanity Fair this month.

My first impression as I look at the cover is one of boredom–much like my attitude concerning many parts of the book. My edition of Vanity Fair is the QPB (Quality Paperback Book  Club) Classics edition; it’s obscurity forced me to take an actual photo of my book, as I couldn’t even find a picture of the cover on the internet. The photo on the cover of the book shows a portion of a table, covered with a table cloth that is all bunched up, on which sit the following: some candles in a fancy candelabra, one of the candles askew; two bunches of grapes (grapes that were never mentioned in the book, I don’t think, although I probably wouldn’t remember at this point if the grapes had played a prominent role); a pair of dice; and some other things that might be jewelry or other trinkets.

The items in the cover photo do pertain to certain aspects of the story. I suppose the table is meant to look like it was set up for a fancy meal. The grapes represent the food served (I guess? A leg of mutton or some turtle soup would have been a better representation, but who wants to look at a leg of mutton on a book cover?); the dice represent the gambling that goes on throughout much of the book, which also brings about the ruin of more than one character; the random pieces of jewelry/trinkets represent the high society of which the book pokes fun; and I would guess that the crooked candle is meant to represent the idea that everything in high society is not as perfect as those folks would have us believe.

I have no clear vision of what the cover would look like if I had to choose. It took me all month to read this book (for reasons that will be discussed when I write about my actual experience and thoughts), so my chosen cover would be designed in total frustration right now. Maybe one of those fake, genteel folks giving us a big yawn (which would represent how the book made me feel at different times)? A painting or drawing of Amelia and Becky in a boxing ring, duking it out? Amelia and Becky, each with a small angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other? A large, fancy dinner table, piled with food, surrounded by people in fancy clothes?

Here are some covers of other editions of Vanity Fair (click to view larger images):

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace ThackerayI think the people on this cover are supposed to be Major Dobbin and Amelia, but I’m not sure. There were so many men going after so many women in the story that this could just be two random people, representing the wooing of women by men in the military. There was a lot of that in Vanity Fair. This cover is nicer than mine, but still a bit boring.

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace ThackerayWhat is going on in the cover to the right? It looks like a group of people bum-rushing a carriage, maybe in an attempt to tip it over…except it’s happening in a house or something. I really have no idea what’s going on here. Lot’s of excitement (of which there was some in the story), but excitement over what? I don’t remember any riots happening in the book; there was no bum-rushing, or carriage-tipping, or any other major excitement that gave me a mental image that looked anything like this one.

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace ThackerayNow this is a cover that I like. This must be a representation of the notorious Becky Sharp: black hair, dress, and choker (black = evil/impure); bare shoulders. This woman looks like she could have a disreputable side, doesn’t she? I also like the overall look of the painting, the background, and the way the title and author’s name take up a fair portion of the cover. This look is just as simple as the look of my edition’s cover, but with much more appeal. This is my second favorite of all the covers shown here.

Vanity Fair, William Makepeace ThackerayThis last cover to the right is my favorite. Again, I have no idea what is going on here–people are running up and down a staircase that doesn’t seem to be attached to anything above or below–but those ladies at the bottom who have tripped (or been shoved) are showing their bare bottoms. Yes, you read that correctly. If you have never seen this cover before, I assure you that those ladies who are falling at the bottom of the stairs aren’t wearing any undergarments, and their big, bare bottoms are out there for the rest of high society to have a good look at. When I found this cover in my search for the QPB cover, I giggled like a little kid seeing someone else’s bare butt for the first time. I have no idea why this was chosen for cover art, because there are no women falling down stairs and showing their rosy bottoms in the story. Again, maybe those “fallen women” are meant to represent the quick fall one can take out of high society for the lamest reason–like suddenly losing one’s fortune, or having a mother who was an opera singer. I’m not sure what the lack of underwear is supposed to represent, though.

What do you think? Have you read Vanity Fair? Did you like the cover of the edition you read? Do you like any of the covers I have included here? Do you have any idea what is going on in the bum-rushing cover?


November's Autumn Classics ChallengeIf you’re unfamiliar with the November’s Autumn Classics Challenge, here are the other posts I have written in past months:


  • I’ve got the Modern Library edition — which I love! Because Becky clearly has character –


    But I also really like the second to last one in your list. 🙂 I’ve only read half so far, but I ADORE it. Which is why it is taking me so long to finish it. 😉

    • I saw that one in my search, too. I like the woman-looking-in-the-mirror idea (vanity), but wasn’t fond of the color scheme.

      I enjoyed the characters and their stories, but I can’t say I adored the book. But that conversation is “coming soon.” 🙂

  • I have the Barnes and Noble classics edition. After studying a bit after looking at yours listed it may be my favorite. With the second to last one of yours being my second favorite. I too have spent all month reading Vanity Fair and still have quite a ways to go. Like you I have found it boring and hard to get through due to lack of excitement or captivating my attention. I look forward to reading your thoughts on it soon. 🙂


    • I like that cover, too, and I can actually picture it as one of the scenes in the book.

      I’m sorry that you’re having issues with it, too, but I feel a little better knowing that I’m not the only one. So many people gush about it, and I felt like the odd (wo)man out.

  • I love this post. I hate it when the cover of a book doesn’t go with the story. I do think the first cover is the best one. The rest are too odd or too dark.

    • Thank you, Vasilly! I get annoyed when covers don’t match the stories, too, because I actually *do* keep the cover and the title in the back of my mind while I’m reading a book.

      I typically don’t like very dark covers, either, but I like the one in this post.

  • I think my favorite is the Amelia and Captain Dobbin one. Haven’t read the book but I’ve seen the BBC tv adaptation and I’ve never been very inclined to read it, but I probably will give it at least one try. I’ve heard good things about it from Jillian.

    • The “Captain Dobbin cover” is a nice one–nice artwork.