Monday, March 23, 2015

Let's Bust A Recap : Vanity Fair

Yes. It is finished. I have completed Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. *cue the Hallelujah Chorus and bring on the selfies* This was my big novel for the year, y'all. 67 chapters. 680 pages. I began reading this monster on January 19 and completed it March 18. Not bad. At one point, I was on track to finish by the end of February, but my brush with death threw me off that track for a couple weeks. Let's attempt a recap, shall we?

Let's start off by talking a little bit about Thackeray and the inspiration for the novel that rocketed him into instant fame as an author.

William Makepeace Thackeray lived between 1811 and 1863. Vanity Fair was published in monthly installments in a London periodical called Punch during 1847 and 1848. After the last installment, it was published in book form and was an instant success, elevating Thackeray to the rank of major novelist. Rightfully so, believe me. The title and novel were inspired by John Bunyan's Vanity Fair in his enduring work The Pilgrim's Progress. In The Pilgrim's Progress, Vanity Fair was an ancient carnival on the outskirts of a town called Vanity. Permanently situated in the path that leads toward Heaven, Vanity Fair tried to lure men away from their proper spiritual goal and has done so since the beginning of time. (Ecclesiastes, anyone?) I had no idea that this was the inspiration for Vanity Fair, and it makes me a little happy that The Pilgrim's Progress is also on my reading list this year. Fun connection.

Vanity Fair is a historical novel set in the early 1800s with one of the main events in the book being the Battle of Waterloo in which the Duke of Wellington overthrew Napoleon Bonaparte. Now do not be deceived, this novel is hardly a history lesson. It is complete fiction with only certain historic events mentioned to mark the time in which the story is set.

Our narrative is cast with a host of colorful characters, too many to even begin to name. Many would say that the main character in Vanity Fair is Rebecca Sharp, but I would argue that Amelia Sedley and William Dobbin were given just as much attention and detail by Thackeray as Becky was. The novel centers mainly around three families: the Crawley family, the Sedley family, and the Osborne family (much to my chagrin as Osborne is my maiden name and I hated the Osborne family in Vanity Fair. *sigh*). Other major players include the O'Dowds, the Southdowns, and the Marquis of Steyne.

In Vanity Fair, Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley could not be any more different from each other. Rebecca's ultimate goal is to elevate herself from her poor station in life by any means necessary. She is cunning, devious, and entirely wicked. Amelia, on the other hand, is the sweetest and most innocent of women, always assuming the best in people and forgiving even the worst offenses committed against her without question. As our story follows the lives of these two women, the contrast is undeniable, and you can't help but beg for justice as the tale unfolds.

I have mixed feelings about whether I would recommend this novel. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was superb. As I have mentioned in other posts, it is complete satire and I found myself pondering the different vices of men and realizing once again that there is nothing new under the sun. I also found myself laughing a lot, and I got emotionally involved in the novel. I intensely disliked certain characters (good riddance, George! die, Becky!), wished others would just grow a spine already (c'mon, Amelia), and rooted for some wholeheartedly (GO DOBBIN!). Parts of the book disgusted me while others had me giggling gleefully. Vanity Fair is considered a classic and has inspired several film adaptations. I believe that all these qualities make a book excellent and worth reading. If you are an avid reader, I would highly recommend you taking the time to read Vanity Fair.

However, there were times of transition in the story that bogged me down a bit. Pages of introductions to places and people that, while setting the stage for what was about to happen, were overly wordy and hard to read. The narrative follows the lives of several people and is almost biographical in nature. Vanity Fair itself is subtitled A Novel Without A Hero, so if you like to read books based solely on their compelling plots, you may be disappointed reading Vanity Fair and give up on it before finishing.

All in all, I think Vanity Fair is definitely worth reading, but if you do decide to take it on, I would encourage you to really commit yourself to finishing it before you even start. If you read it, come back and leave me a comment so I can congratulate you and bake you some cookies. Seriously. I will.

On a final note, Vanity Fair reminded me of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes with a cynical narrator throughout, and, in fact, the final words of the novel are practically taken out of that wise work.
"Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?--Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out."
From chapter 67 ("Births, Marriages, and Deaths") page 680.

What about you? Have you read Vanity Fair? What is your opinion of it? Have I piqued anyone's curiosity? Has anyone seen a film adaptation? I watched the trailer for the one starring Reese Witherspoon, and I am very skeptical. It looks as if they would have you sympathize with Becky, and I am just not about that. At this point, I don't want to watch it, but if anyone who has read Vanity Fair would recommend any film adaptation of it, I am open to seeing one.

I still have a few quotes from the last few chapters of the book that I will probably be discussing here on the ol' blog so don't be surprised if this isn't my last word on Vanity Fair.

Peace out, cub scouts.


  1. Replies
    1. Excellent. Are you reading anything right now?

    2. Also, speaking of adaptations, I did a little more research and from what I've read of people who like the book, the BBC mini-series is the best, hands down. BBC always does it right. So I might look into watching that.

    3. people rave about those BBC adaptations. i don't think i could watch 6 straight hours of period. don't think i could do it.

      pretty sure i'm in the middle of three jack reacher novels right now.

      ps: new "bond" teaser came out yesterday. looks good!

    4. Oh, you could do it. You'd probably have to take a few breaks, but I think you could make it.

      You're reading three different ones at the same time?? How are you not confusing the plots?? I can understand reading three different books at the same time, but not three about the same character!

      Just watched the teaser. I really don't like him as Bond. But it does look intense.

    5. eh. maybe.

      i confuse them all the time! most times i open one of the books and go, "wait--what? wasn't he just facing that other---oh...." it's hilarious.

      methinks it's gonna be awesome.

    6. Hahaha! But why??? Why don't you just read them one at a time? And in order, preferably....

  2. I must say, you have done an excellent job of making me interested in reading this providing I ever have time to read again.

    1. Thanks, Jon. I appreciate your feedback.

  3. I read it about 10 years ago. I agree with your assessment of the characters and the writing. Becky Sharp is an awful person, and most literary critics try to paint her as the ultimate survivor while completely ignoring how she used people to lift herself up. On a similar note, I did not care for the Reese Witherspoon remake of this novel. The BBC version is by far superior.

    1. Yeah, I think anyone describing her that way missed Thackeray's point entirely. Thanks for the comment, Jess!