Vanity Fair was published as a series of installments, beginning in 1847. Even before all installments had been published, the work was an enormous hit. Thackeray was hailed for his realistic satire, and yet at the same time criticized for his ruthless depiction of his characters. It is difficult to locate any redeeming qualities in the characters of Vanity Fair, as each character seems totally consumed by the pursuit of social mobility and wealth. In particular, the novel's heroine (if she can be properly labeled as such) seems entirely devoid of conscience.
The catchy title was derived from a reference made in John Bunyan's allegorical story, The Pilgrim's Progress. One of the towns encountered by the pilgrims is called Vanity, and it constantly hosts a fair, intending to call the reader's attention to humanity's excessive attachment to the material world. This story was widely read at the time, and therefore the moral implications were not lost on his audience.