The Bonfire of the Vanities

BY Thomas Wolfe
Book Information1/1/1/US/FL/1987/?  •  ?  •  ? 

Tom Wolfe, who passed away on Monday (14 May 2018), was the flamboyant writer whose debut novel, “Bonfire of the Vanities”, is the quintessential New York narrative.

“Bonfire” borrows its title from the medieval ritual to burn (thus bonfire) of all things sinful (thus vanities), and is inspired in part by William Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair”, a satiric novel mocking, in part, the upper class during the Dickensian period (Thackeray was up there in the popularity chart with Dickens then, but his star, and that of Wolfe’s, have fallen since). Interestingly, Thackeray borrowed “Vanity Fair”, a fictitious venue, from John Bunyan’s widely successful religious allegory, “A Pilgrim’s Progress”, about trials and tribulations, not unlike Wolfe’s “Bonfire”, where Sherman McCoy, a successful bond trader and self-proclaimed Master-of-the-Universe (imagery of the cartoon character, He-Man), experienced life’s bests and worsts.

“Bonfire” is a thick, long book, but it is worth reading, if only to appreciate Wolfe’s literary flair, erudition, and compendious vocabulary. Additionally, “Bonfire” is also one of the best examples of what came to be known as the “New Journalism” school of literary prose that Wolfe, along with Truman Capote (of Breakfast at Tiffany’s fame, and acclaimed master of punctuation) and Norman Miller (the small Jewish man with a big temper who, like Wolfe, could not surpass the success of his debut novel and classic, “The Naked and the Dead”). I know I will be digging that dog-eared copy out tonight to relive the magic of New York’s decadence in Wolfe’s eloquence, in solace.

The true first edition is Franklin Library's limited signed first edition with a frontispiece drawn by Tom Wolfe himself. Despite the "limited" status, it is unknown how many copies were printed. The first trade edition was published by FSG. The tome is rarely in good shape as it crumples under the weight and poor binding. It is important to validate the first printing status by checking the copyright page for "First Printing, 1987" because there is a later version with new foreword by the author that states "First Printing, 1990" in its copyright page. This 1990 version is not the true first trade edition. The dust jacket should show 19.95 on the top right corner of the front flap.