How I fared with Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp and Jos Sedley

Becky Sharp beginning her con job on Jos Sedley. Image drawn by William Makepeace Thackeray and courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Okay, people, will somebody do me a favor? The next time I read a book that is THIS long (754 pages! Arrrgh!), would somebody PLEASE give me a virtual Gibbs tap on the back of my head? (Watch the TV show “NCIS”  with Mark Harmon to understand the reference.)

I just finished Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, so that I could cross another book off my literary bucket list. Reading this book is like consuming a plateful of calamari: It’s good, but boy, does it take a lot of chewing! It was necessary to take a break and read something a bit lighter now and then.

Vanity Fair is the story of anti-heroine Becky Sharp, a poor woman who wants to enter society and isn’t afraid to use any wiles necessary to achieve that goal. This woman is an unforgettable character and such a player. She uses false charm and flattery to ingratiate herself with anyone who she believes could help her. Some people see through her right away, while others who are more innocent take a little longer.

In some ways, you have to respect the scheming little minx. Becky is quick at sizing up people’s characters and playing to them in whatever way is most effective. She’s an orphan in an era where matchmaking mothers and fathers sought to marry off their daughters in arranged marriages to the richest and most titled gentlemen possible, so that all of them could enjoy status and wealth. However, Becky plays the “poor little orphan me” card once too often to suit me and neglects anyone who isn’t of use to her (like her son).

Becky does redeem herself a bit near the end of the book, where she gets her naive friend Amelia Sedley Osborne to face reality so that Amelia falls in love with William Dobbin, the guy who’s been in love with Amelia for over a decade. I rather liked Becky for doing that.

By writing Vanity Fair, Thackeray was mocking his own society and how they behaved. Some characters are pompous fools; others are simpletons. Some gentlemen don’t act like gentlemen (such as Amelia’s brother Jos Sedley) and others (like William Dobbin) act like true gentlemen even though they aren’t.

I rooted for Dobbin; he’s the only one who seems to have true class in the book. (I would have cheered out loud, but my neighbors would have given me odd looks.) For some of the book, he’s a doormat for Amelia, but then he rallies and tells off Amelia when she needs it most. Attaboy!

I also like how Thackeray chose some hilarious names for his characters, such as Sir Huddleston Fuddleston and Princess of Humbourg-Schlippenschloppen. And the surname “Sharp” suits Becky, since she’s so astute in conning so many people. After Becky’s marriage to Rawdon Crawley, she’s crawling her way to the top of society.

Overall, it’s a good read and I recommend it. Just take a few breaks now and then if you find it hard going. Or if you want a quicker version, watch the 2004 movie with Reese Witherspoon playing Becky Sharp.




Filed under Writing

17 responses to “How I fared with Vanity Fair

  1. Interesting — I’ll have to consider adding this to my “to read” list – which is unfortunately longer than my probable remaining life.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sounds like Moby Dick–good, but hard to wade through. Loved your review of it though! I’ll watch out for the Beckys in my life.

  3. I’ve been wanting to read VANITY FAIR for ages. I did like the movie, but the book is definitely on my bucket list… along with so many others… sigh.

  4. I read half of Vanity Fair a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I think the length probably defeated me, as I have a tendency to be distracted. I liked how Thackeray showed the Crawleys living the large life on credit that shopkeepers gave them because they seemed to be rich aristocrats.

  5. Sometimes I take breaks while making my way through heavy literature too, and other times I just swallow the books whole. I’ve been on a bit of a Henry James kick, but I took a recent detour to Dickens. Vanity Fair is on my internal “to read” list — I might get to it after I knock off one more from James.

  6. Impressive!! I love the name Huddleston Fuddleston!!!!

  7. I love Vanity Fair and Becky Sharp is one of my favourite literary characters. 🙂

  8. I re-read it a couple of years ago (after a lapse of some 20 years) and though long, it does not drag. And Thackeray uses a pretty light touch to make his point, rather like Dickens and unlike Hardy, who lets the poet in him come out a little too often in his novels.

    I like your posts. I will drop by more often. It is hard to find good, solid sentence constructions in the blogosphere.


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