William Makepeace Thackeray
The mid-nineteenth century didn’t have reality television, but it did have William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and the novel’s social-climbing, backbiting and profligate behavior rivals any episode of Real Housewives. Subtitled A Novel Without a Hero, the book was published in 1847 and made Thackeray a wealthy man. And though he never achieved the popularity of his literary peer Charles Dickens, Thackeray’s book has become a classic of Western literature—as recently as 2003, it was voted the UK’s best loved novel. Like any sprawling saga, this one is set against a time of war, here it’s The Napoleonic Wars, but instead of heroism, the military backdrop prompts what have become classic Vanity Fair fare: the drive for upper-crust privilege and pecuniary self-interest—and as many self-serving love matches as possible.