The book's title comes from John Bunyan's allegorical story The Pilgrim's Progress, first published in 1678 and still widely read at the time of Thackeray's novel.
"Vanity Fair" refers to a stop along the pilgrim's progress: a never-ending fair held in a town called Vanity, which is meant to represent man's sinful attachment to worldly things.
The novel is now considered a classic, and has inspired several film adaptations, the most recent being the 2004 film starring Reese Witherspoon. In 2003, Vanity Fair was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novel".
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.09(d)|
About the Author
About the Contributor:
Joanna Trollope is the author of THE BEST OF FRIENDS, OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN, and most recently, MARRYING THE MISTRESS, among other books. She lives in England.
William Makepeace Thackeray, whose satiric novels are often regarded as the great upper-class counterpart to Dickens's panoramic depiction of lower-class Victorian society, was born on July 18, 1811, in Calcutta, India. His father, a prosperous official of the British East India Company, died four years later, and at the age of six Thackeray was sent to England to be educated. After graduating from the Charterhouse School in London, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1829 but left the following year without taking a degree. After reading law for a short time at the Middle Temple he moved to Paris in 1832 to study art. Although he eventually abandoned the idea of painting as a career, Thackeray continued to draw throughout his life, illustrating many of his own works. When financial reversals wiped out his inheritance, he resettled in London and turned to journalism for a livelihood. By then he had married Isabella Shawe, a young Irishwoman with whom he had three daughters.
Thackeray's earliest literary success, The Yellowplush Correspondence, a group of satiric sketches written in the guise of a cockney footman's memoirs, was serialized in Fraser's Magazine beginning in 1837. Catherine (serialized 1839-40; published 1869), his first novel, parodied the crime stories popular in Victorian England. Under the name Michael Angelo Titmarsh, the most famous of his many pseudonyms, Thackeray turned out The Paris Sketch Book (1840) and The IrishSketch-Book (1843), two popular volumes of travel writing. The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844), which chronicles the adventures of an Irish knave in eighteenth-century England, marked his first serious attack on social pretension. In The Book of Snobs (1848), a collection of satiric portraits originally published in Punch magazine (1846-47), he lampooned the avarice and snobbery occasioned by the Industrial Revolution.
Vanity Fair, Thackeray's resplendent social satire exposing the greed and corruption raging in England during the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, brought him immediate acclaim when it appeared in Punch beginning in 1847. "The more I read Thackeray's works," wrote Charlotte Bronte, "the more certain I am that he stands alone—alone in his sagacity, alone in his truth, alone in his feeling (his feeling, though he makes no noise about it, is about the most genuine that ever lived on a printed page), alone in his power, alone in his simplicity, alone in his self-control. Thackeray is a Titan. . . . I regard him as the first of modern masters."
Read an Excerpt
While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour. A black servant, who reposed on the box beside the fat coachman, uncurled his bandy legs as soon as the equipage drew up opposite Miss Pinkerton's shining brass plate, and as he pulled the bell at least a score of young heads were seen peering out of the narrow windows of the stately old brick house. Nay, the acute observer might have recognized the little red nose of good-natured Miss Jemima Pinkerton herself, rising over some geranium pots in the window of that lady's own drawing-room.
"It is Mrs. Sedley's coach, sister," said Miss Jemima. "Sambo, the black servant, has just rung the bell; and the coachman has a new red waistcoat."
"Have you completed all the necessary preparations incident to Miss Sedley's departure, Miss Jemima?" asked Miss Pinkerton herself, that majestic lady; the Semiramis of Hammersmith, the friend of Doctor Johnson, the correspondent of Mrs. Chapone herself.
"The girls were up at four this morning, packing her trunks, sister," replied Miss Jemima; "we have made her a bow-pot."
"Say a bouquet, sister Jemima, 'tis more genteel."
"Well, a booky as big almost as a haystack; I have put up two bottles of the gillyflower water for Mrs. Sedley, and the receipt for making it, in Amelia's box."
"AndI trust, Miss Jemima, you have made a copy of Miss Sedley's account. This is it, is it? Very goodninety-three pounds, four shillings. Be kind enough to address it to John Sedley, Esquire, and to seal this billet which I have written to his lady."
In Miss Jemima's eyes an autograph letter of her sister, Miss Pinkerton, was an object of as deep veneration as would have been a letter from a sovereign. Only when her pupils quitted the establishment, or when they were about to be married, and once, when poor Miss Birch died of the scarlet fever, was Miss Pinkerton known to write personally to the parents of her pupils; and it was Jemima's opinion that if anything could console Mrs. Birch for her daughter's loss, it would be that pious and eloquent composition in which Miss Pinkerton announced the event.
In the present instance Miss Pinkerton's "billet" was to the following effect:
-The Mall, Chiswick, June 15, 18-
After her six years' residence at the Mall, I have the honour and happiness of presenting Miss Amelia Sedley to her parents, as a young lady not unworthy to occupy a fitting position in their polished and refined circle. Those virtues which characterize the young English gentlewoman, those accomplishments which become her birth and station, will not be found wanting in the amiable Miss Sedley, whose industry and obedience have endeared her to her instructors, and whose delightful sweetness of temper has charmed her aged and her youthful companions.
In music, in dancing, in orthography, in every variety of embroidery and needlework, she will be found to have realized her friends' fondest wishes. In geography there is still much to be desired; and a careful and undeviating use of the backboard, for four hours daily during the next three years, is recommended as necessary to the acquirement of that dignified deportment and carriage, so requisite for every young lady of fashion.
In the principles of religion and morality, Miss Sedley will be found worthy of an establishment which has been honoured by the presence of The Great Lexicographer, and the patronage of the admirable Mrs. Chapone. In leaving the Mall, Miss Amelia carries with her the hearts of her companions, and the affectionate regards of her mistress, who has the honour to subscribe herself, Madam,
Your most obliged humble servant,
P.S.Miss Sharp accompanies Miss Sedley. It is particularly requested that Miss Sharp's stay in Russell Square may not exceed ten days. The family of distinction with whom she is engaged, desire to avail themselves of her services as soon as possible.
This letter completed, Miss Pinkerton proceeded to write her own name, and Miss Sedley's, in the fly-leaf of a Johnson's Dictionarythe interesting work which she invariably presented to her scholars, on their departure from the Mall. On the cover was inserted a copy of "Lines addressed to a young lady on quitting Miss Pinkerton's school, at the Mall; by the late revered Doctor Samuel Johnson." In fact, the Lexicographer's name was always on the lips of this majestic woman, and a visit he had paid to her was the cause of her reputation and her fortune.
Being commanded by her elder sister to get "the Dictionary" from the cupboard, Miss Jemima had extracted two copies of the book from the receptacle in question. When Miss Pinkerton had finished the inscription in the first, Jemima, with rather a dubious and timid air, handed her the second.
"For whom is this, Miss Jemima?" said Miss Pinkerton, with awful coldness.
"For Becky Sharp," answered Jemima, trembling very much, and blushing over her withered face and neck, as she turned her back on her sister. "For Becky Sharp: she's going too."
"MISS JEMIMA!" exclaimed Miss Pinkerton, in the largest capitals. "Are you in your senses? Replace the Dixonary in the closet, and never venture to take such a liberty in future."
"Well, sister, it's only two-and-ninepence, and poor Becky will be miserable if she don't get one."
"Send Miss Sedley instantly to me," said Miss Pinkerton. And so venturing not to say another word, poor Jemima trotted off, exceedingly flurried and nervous.
Miss Sedley's papa was a merchant in London, and a man of some wealth; whereas Miss Sharp was an articled pupil, for whom Miss Pinkerton had done, as she thought, quite enough, without conferring upon her at parting the high honour of the Dixonary.
Although schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no more nor less than churchyard epitaphs; yet, as it sometimes happens that a person departs this life who is really deserving of all the praises the stone-cutter carves over his bones; who is a good Christian, a good parent, child, wife, or husband; who actually does leave a disconsolate family to mourn his loss; so in academies of the male and female sex it occurs every now and then that the pupil is fully worthy of the praises bestowed by the disinterested instructor. Now, Miss Amelia Sedley was a young lady of this singular species; and deserved not only all that Miss Pinkerton said in her praise, but had many charming qualities which that pompous old Minerva of a woman could not see, from the differences of rank and age between her pupil and herself.
For she could not only sing like a lark, or a Mrs. Billington, and dance like Hillisberg or Parisot; and embroider beautifully; and spell as well as a Dixonary itself; but she had such a kindly, smiling, tender, gentle, generous heart of her own, as won the love of everybody who came near her, from Minerva herself down to the poor girl in the scullery, and the one-eyed tart-woman's daughter, who was permitted to vend her wares once a week to the young ladies in the Mall. She had twelve intimate and bosom friends out of the twenty-four young ladies. Even envious Miss Briggs never spoke ill of her; high and mighty Miss Saltire (Lord Dexter's granddaughter) allowed that her figure was genteel; and as for Miss Swartz, the rich woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt's, on the day Amelia went away, she was in such a passion of tears that they were obliged to send for Dr. Floss, and half tipsify her with salvolatile. Miss Pinkerton's attachment was, as may be supposed from the high position and eminent virtues of that lady, calm and dignified; but Miss Jemima had already whimpered several times at the idea of Amelia's departure; and, but for fear of her sister, would have gone off in downright hysterics, like the heiress (who paid double) of St. Kitt's. Such luxury of grief, however, is only allowed to parlour-boarders. Honest Jemima had all the bills, and the washing, and the mending, and the puddings, and the plate and crockery, and the servants to superintend. But why speak about her? It is probable that we shall not hear of her again from this moment to the end of time, and that when the great filigree iron gates are once closed on her, she and her awful sister will never issue therefrom into this little world of history.
But as we are to see a great deal of Amelia, there is no harm in saying, at the outset of our acquaintance, that she was a dear little creature; and a great mercy it is, both in life and in novels, which (and the latter especially) abound in villains of the most sombre sort, that we are to have for a constant companion so guileless and good-natured a person. As she is not a heroine, there is no need to describe her person; indeed I am afraid that her nose was rather short than otherwise, and her cheeks a great deal too round and red for a heroine; but her face blushed with rosy health, and her lips with the freshest of smiles, and she had a pair of eyes which sparkled with the brightest and honestest good-humour, except indeed when they filled with tears, and that was a great deal too often; for the silly thing would cry over a dead canary-bird; or over a mouse, that the cat haply had seized upon; or over the end of a novel, were it ever so stupid; and as for saying an unkind word to her, were any persons hard-hearted enough to do sowhy, so much the worse for them. Even Miss Pinkerton, that austere and godlike woman, ceased scolding her after the first time, and though she no more comprehended sensibility than she did Algebra, gave all masters and teachers particular orders to treat Miss Sedley with the utmost gentleness, as harsh treatment was injurious to her.So that when the day of departure came, between her two customs of laughing and crying, Miss Sedley was greatly puzzled how to act. She was glad to go home, and yet most woefully sad at leaving school. For three days before, little Laura Martin, the orphan, followed her about like a little dog. She had to make and receive at least fourteen presentsto make fourteen solemn promises of writing every week: "Send my letters under cover to my grandpapa, the Earl of Dexter," said Miss Saltire (who, by the way, was rather shabby). "Never mind the postage, but write every day, you dear darling," said the impetuous and woolly-headed, but generous and affectionate Miss Swartz; and the orphan little Laura Martin (who was just in round-hand), took her friend's hand and said, looking up in her face wistfully, "Amelia, when I write to you I shall call you Mamma." All which details, I have no doubt, Jones, who reads this book at his Club, will pronounce to be excessively foolish, trivial, twaddling, and ultra-sentimental. Yes; I can see Jones at this minute (rather flushed with his joint of mutton and half pint of wine), taking out his pencil and scoring under the words "foolish, twaddling," &c., and adding to them his own remark of "quite true." Well, he is a lofty man of genius, and admires the great and heroic in life and novels; and so had better take warning and go elsewhere.
Well, then. The flowers, and the presents, and the trunks, and bonnet-boxes of Miss Sedley having been arranged by Mr. Sambo in the carriage, together with a very small and weather-beaten old cow's-skin trunk with Miss Sharp's card neatly nailed upon it, which was delivered by Sambo with a grin, and packed by the coachman with a corresponding sneerthe hour for parting came; and the grief of that moment was considerably lessened by the admirable discourse which Miss Pinkerton addressed to her pupil. Not that the parting speech caused Amelia to philosophise, or that it armed her in any way with a calmness, the result of argument; but it was intolerably dull, pompous, and tedious; and having the fear of her schoolmistress greatly before her eyes, Miss Sedley did not venture, in her presence, to give way to any ebullitions of private grief. A seed-cake and a bottle of wine were produced in the drawing-room, as on the solemn occasions of the visits of parents, and these refreshments being partaken of, Miss Sedley was at liberty to depart.
Table of Contents
|Before the Curtain||ix|
|II||In Which Miss Sharp and Miss Sedley Prepare to Open the Campaign||18|
|III||Rebecca Is in Presence of the Enemy||29|
|IV||The Green Silk Purse||38|
|V||Dobbin of Ours||52|
|VII||Crawley of Queen's Crawley||78|
|VIII||Private and Confidential||87|
|X||Miss Sharp Begins to Make Friends||105|
|XII||Quite a Sentimental Chapter||128|
|XIII||Sentimental and Otherwise||137|
|XIV||Miss Crawley at Home||150|
|XV||In Which Rebecca's Husband Appears for a Short Time||171|
|XVI||The Letter on the Pincushion||181|
|XVII||How Captain Dobbin Bought a Piano||190|
|XVIII||Who Played on the Piano Captain Dobbin Bought||200|
|XIX||Miss Crawley at Nurse||213|
|XX||In Which Captain Dobbin Acts as the Messenger of Hymen||225|
|XXI||A Quarrel About an Heiress||236|
|XXII||A Marriage and Part of a Honeymoon||246|
|XXIII||Captain Dobbin Proceeds on His Canvass||256|
|XXIV||In Which Mr. Osborne Takes Down the Family Bible||263|
|XXV||In Which All the Principal Personages Think Fit to Leave Brighton||278|
|XXVI||Between London and Chatham||300|
|XXVII||In Which Amelia Joins Her Regiment||309|
|XXVIII||In Which Amelia Invades the Low Countries||316|
|XXX||"The Girl I Left Behind Me"||341|
|XXXI||In Which Jos Sedley Takes Care of His Sister||351|
|XXXII||In Which Jos Takes Flight, and the War is Brought To a Close||364|
|XXXIII||In Which Miss Crawley's Relations Are very Anxious About Her||383|
|XXXIV||James Crawley's Pipe is Put Out||395|
|XXXV||Widow and Mother||414|
|XXXVI||How to Live Well on Nothing a Year||426|
|XXXVII||The Subject Continued||436|
|XXXVIII||A Family in a Very Small Way||452|
|XXXIX||A Cynical Chapter||468|
|XL||In Which Becky is Recognized by the Family||479|
|XLI||In Which Becky Revisits the Halls of Her Ancestors||489|
|XLII||Which Treats of the Osborne Family||502|
|XLIII||In Which the Reader has to Double the Cape||510|
|XLIV||A Roundabout Chapter between London and Hampshire||521|
|XLV||Between Hampshire and London||532|
|XLVI||Struggles and Trials||542|
|XLVIII||In Which the Reader is Introduced to the Very Best of Company||561|
|XLIX||In Which We Enjoy Three Courses and a Dessert||574|
|L||Contains a Vulgar Incident||582|
|LI||In Which a Charade is Acted Which May or May Not Puzzle the Reader||593|
|LII||In Which Lord Steyne Shows Himself in a Most Amiable Light||613|
|LIII||A Rescue and a Catastrophe||625|
|LIV||Sunday After the Battle||635|
|LV||In Which the Same Subject is Pursued||645|
|LVI||Georgy is Made a Gentleman||663|
|LVIII||Our Friend the Major||686|
|LIX||The Old Piano||699|
|LX||Returns to the Genteel World||711|
|LXI||In Which Two Lights are Put Out||718|
|LXIII||In Which We Meet an Old Acquaintance||745|
|LXIV||A Vagabond Chapter||759|
|LXV||Full of Business and Pleasure||777|
|LXVII||Which Contains Births, Marriages, and Deaths||803|
|A Note on the Text||832|
Reading Group Guide
1. In her Introduction, Joanna Trollope asserts that "one of the huge charms of [Vanity Fair] is that nothing is conventional." Do you think Thackeray's choice of a protagonist speaks to this claim, given the novel's picaresque structure? How does this choice inform the novel? In what other ways does the novel confirm Trollope's claim?
2. What is your opinion of Thackeray's preface, "Before the Curtain"? How does it illuminate for you what he is attempting to do in the novel? In what ways is Thackeray "manager of the performance"? Discuss the role of the narrator in the novel. Is he reliable?
3. Why does Thackeray insist that this is a "novel without a hero"? Do you agree? What are the implications, if any, of such a claim?
4. Compare Becky and Amelia. What, if anything, does Thackeray intend by their contrasting destinies? Does one represent or confirm Thackeray's moral viewpoint better than the other, or do neither? What do you think of the preponderance of unlikable characters? Do you find Thackeray's outlook in any way misanthropic?
5. Anthony Trollope points out that many of Thackeray's contemporaries concluded upon reading Vanity Fair that he "was no novelist, but only a cynic." Do you agree? Do you think this judgment was simply a consequence of the period?
6. Robert Louis Stevenson, in a comment about the novel, remarked on Rawdon's striking of Lord Steyne in chapter 53, saying, "If Rawdon Crawley's blow were not delivered, Vanity Fair would cease to be a work of art." Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
7. Discuss the significance of the Battle of Waterloo. Whatrole does this crucial event play in the novel? Does it in any way serve as a metaphor for other episodes in the text?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bring back the classics. We need them. Vanity Fair is one of Thackeray's most brilliant works that can compete with the best writings today. It deals principally with the lives of two young women, Miss Sedley and Miss Sharp and what they did after leaving school. It is about their loves, their ambitions, their terribly endearing families and most importantly, their dreams. The book openly and almost brutally describes the selfishness of human nature and the thousand little subtilities of everyday life during that time. Attitude towards women, status in society, the power of money and marriage are recurring themes in this delightful novel. Extremely unique characters like Miss. Crawley, Mr.Osbourne and Captain Dobbin give the book a splendid Dickensian touch. To me, it is an excellent read because like terrorism, it really makes you stop and take a step back.
This review will read a bit strangely as it was a group read and I commented on each "part" as I finished reading it.Spoilers ahead!~!I enjoyed this read tremendously and I found much to admire in our little Becky Sharp. She had a lot on the ball and was very quick to know what she needed do in order to attain her wants and needs. Those who pity her need think again.I found Jos to be a big old baby puss and thought that he needed to "man up". But his character truly suited the narration of the story. I did think that his sister, Miss Amelia's character changed too much in the story line. I quite liked her in the beginning, but throughout the middle part...................The class levels in Vanity Fair are very much "out there" but strangely I see a lot of the same small ostracizings going on today.Surprising things happening midway through the book.What a wonderful hero our Captain Dobbin is turning out to be. I rooted for him the entire way through and for things to turn out nicely for him.I must say that I found the encouragement of the courting of Miss Swartz by Mr. Crawley, the younger, quite odd for this time period and at the same time found it quite brave of the "younger" to refrain from obedience and follow his heart.Not only soldiers go to war during this era. Apparently people found battles to be of great entertainment as they followed them and could not get there quickly enough. Amazing more civilians did not die at the front than did.Miss Amelia is quickly turning to milk toast. Funny, I thought she had more spunk than that and perchance by book's end it will show it's face again.Well, well, well, our Miss Becky is beginning to show her true colors and her adeptness at using people very much to her advantage. Not that she has not all the way through the book done this, but she does it now with a different attitude and heart.Jos is off somewhere, most likely in India again doing whatever he does there. Miss Amelia has begun to grow a backbone which I am so glad to see.Thackeray writes this entire work with his tongue in his cheek and I quite enjoy the result of his efforts. This third part is a bit slow going up until the last chapter. Then things begin to pick up.My, my, my. Such happenings and carryings on as we should ever see. Things coming together to the benefit of "some". Becky getting her comeuppance and then getting her life back to the order in which she enjoys. Miss Amelia waking up to see the real order of the world, getting rid of her rose colored glasses, coming to her senses and doing what she most likely has wanted to do all along. Poor Jos; such an unknowingly sad life and such a sad demise. Do we dare to think he was poisoned? And William; William finally growing some big kahunas at last and standing up for himself.Thackeray has written a very enjoyable tete-a tete here and I find I quite liked it. I think it could have been compiled into perhaps 480 pages instead of 680. I loved all the little sketches throughout the book.I am very happy to have been a part of this group read as I was not familiar with Thackeray in the least. I still don't know that I am but I am interested enough to try something else of his. I do know that without the group read, I would never have picked up this particular book, so thank you all for having chosen it as one of this years reads.
Vanity Fair is a thought provoking novel that highlights hypocrisy in high-class society. The story follows the lives of main characters, Amelia Sedley, and Rebecca Sharp, as they battle real troubles that plagued most women of the time. The novel highlights how these troubles change the perception of characters, as well as the changes in the characters themselves. Each character seems to face a different conflict; however, most of these problems are either character vs. society or character vs. character. Amelia is a fortunate, woman who has never had to work much for anything. Her kind disposition makes her seem very naïve and child-like. She is a compassionate character with a delicate heart. The youthful girl finds a sister in Becky, an attachment that she later grows to regret. Ultimately, Amelia learns that life can be cruel and unjust, but the people who truly care for her will always be by her side. Although the author states that the novel has no hero, Rebecca is often referred to by the author as the heroine of the story. She starts off as the poor orphaned daughter of an unrecognized artist, and must do anything she can to gain respect in high-class society. Becky can make friends and enemies quite easily. She will do what ever it takes to make a name for herself; however, some of her methods may seem unconventional. Becky's merciless grab for power is first noted in her attempt to find a husband. Of course, in Vanity Fair, a woman is only as respected as the man she marries. Becky spends a lapse of time with Amelia's family while waiting to be transported to Queen's Crawley. Here, she is introduced to Amelia's wealthy brother, Joseph. Becky commanded his attention, and nearly had his proposal for marriage, sadly, she had to take leave for her job as a governess. This is the first event that makes up the rising action of Vanity Fair. Later, Becky's employer, Sir Pitt Crawley, makes astonishing revelations to Becky. It is at the time of these announcements that she reveals shocking news of her own. Her announcement marks the second rising action of Vanity Fair. The climax, however, does not occur until long after this important point of the story. I found Vanity Fair to be very entertaining novel that gives a very strong statement about all of society. Thackeray captures the bitter betrayal of trust that exists between friends. His account of Becky's manipulating nature is stunning. This is shown when the author tells of how Becky knowingly controlled the heart of Amelia's husband. He truly poisons the mind with the idea that women- often thought to be delicate and genteel- are not only vain and manipulative, but also have the capacity to be brutally cruel to each other. The author often leaves it up to the reader to make conclusions and inferences. For example, towards the end of the novel, a certain death leaves the reader questioning the cause. The holes in his story are made up by his occasional commentary on certain events that have occurred. I also enjoyed that Thackeray uses historical events in his text. His account of the battle of Waterloo and the following years gives the reader a better sense of time elapsing. This novel may not be for everybody. I found it to be very entertaining, but the Thackeray's cynical satire and irony may not appeal to everyone. Overall, Vanity Fair is an enjoyable, stimulating novel.
I loved this book. Being immersed in 19th century society in and around London was a real treat. Of course there were some tedious parts - the naming of all the people at an event, etc., but the story was wonderful and the characters rich and fulfilling. A wonderful summer read
As characteristic for novels written in that period of time, or at least ABOUT that era (19th century England), Vanity Fair is an extremely wordy book. It pushes the boundaries of rambling, in my opinion, but still, the story is always a good one. What I love about it is, the theme is one that is timeless, true for every generation probably since the history of man, and most likely in every country. If every country in the world made it mandatory for their schools to direct a play based on this novel, edited according the cultural norms of their society (e.g. in the Arab world Rebecca - Becky - Sharp would be Reem Shalabya, perhaps, in Argentina she might be Renata Salvas, etc), it would make total sense, and I'm pretty sure everyone would be able to relate to it. It's social climbing at it's ugliest, hidden behind the beautiful setting of England in the 1800s. The main character, Becky Sharp, is extremely unlikeable because of her selfishness and utter cruelty to people around her, beloved or not. I take some issue with the rather misogynistic view that if a woman knows what she wants then the author has to portray her as cruel and conniving, whereas the kind and good-hearted Amanda Sedley is always vulnerable and weak, as if that's the way woman should always be. But, if Becky Sharp was a charitable and warm-hearted person, I doubt this classic would be as interesting as it is to so many people.
O, the satisfaction in finishing this book! Thackeray is a cynical genius - more pessimistic and critical than Dickens - and the characters in 'Vanity Fair' are captivating, but this is a heavy book padded with much social commentary and subjective griping from the author. The trick, I think, to persevering, is to read a copy with type of a legible size.This 'novel without a hero' - although the dependable and earnest Dobbin is more than worthy of that honour - is about the proud, arrogant, pompous, grasping, sly, hypocritical and vain men and women of Vanity Fair, Thackeray's name for society, and those who aspire to be accepted amongst its ranks. The anti-heroine of the story is Becky Sharp, who claws her way up from charity case to governess to army wife, at the expense of friends and lovers, but without finding satisfaction or happiness. Her tenacity and ambition are admirable, but Becky is rarely likeable - her exploits are amusing, talented and charming, but she is not a sympathetic character by any means. For all that she hurts others - her devoted husband and neglected son - there is an appropriate sense of justice in Thackeray's novel that keeps knocking Becky down at the height of her success. The odious Lord Steyne is more than a match for her scheming, and watching her come undone is refreshing. Of course, she is rarely down for long, and never defeated. The rest of the cast are also vividly human in their faults and the choices they make - pathetic Emmy and her poor father, conceited George, ridiculous Jos, proud Mr Osbourne. These characters are the strength of the novel, carrying the reader through the social and historical lectures which fill the rest of the tome. That said, Thackeray's sharp observations on the beahviour of men and women are still relevant today, and very droll in the telling. Backbiting amongst female friends, the plain companion of the vivacious beauty, English travellers herding together abroad and recreating a 'little England' in foreign countries - not much has changed!I heartily recommend this sizeable novel, but if the footnotes and meandering narrative are intimidating, then the BBC miniseries with Natasha Little as Becky, Philip Glenister as the wonderful Dobbin and Nathaniel Parker as Rawdon, is an excellent introduction, faithful in spirit to the text.
When Becky is the subject, the book sings. Some much to love/so much to hate about her. (Mother of the year she isn't!) When Thackeray is making general observations on life, the book doesn't exactly sing, but it certainly holds one's attention. Much is very insightful and original, and even when what he says isn't particularly original, his ability with words makes well-worn ground seem new. When Amelia is the subject, yawn, yawn, yawn. So, four stars, but I'm glad I read it.
I found this book to be truly wonderful, perhaps my new favorite. Thackeray makes his characters come alive, and the story is just so well told with its twists and turns. It's also interesting to have a central character--especially a leading woman in a 19th Century novel--who is so rotten. Becky is a sociopath but, as a friend also reading the book pointed out, she is the product of a sociopathic culture. Amelia and Dobbin I cared about deeply, although, again, Amelia isn't an Elizabeth Bennet who the reader can get behind wholeheartedly--she's too weak-willed for that. These fascinating, flawed, characters will stay with me for a long time. Despite Thackeray's 900 pages, I still long to know more!I will add, however, that there was at least one passage where I just wanted to get past the description and back to the characters I was so fascinated by. I suspect, however, that Thackeray's long description of Germany in the last 10% of the book is meant to build the reader's anticipation for the denouement of the book.