Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray. 1848

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray first was added to my to be read list in the long ago when I read Clifton Fadiman's description of it in his Lifetime Reading List.  He praised it for its panoramic view of British society and the creation of perhaps the original literary bad girl, Rebecca Sharp.  In November of last year I read a book described by the publisher as "The Vanity Fair of the Weimer Republic, Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada.  I decided the time had at last come to read Vanity Fair.

I am not inclined to retell the plot, Wikepedia has a good summery those trying to avoid reading the book can utilize. I will just talk a bit about my reactions and what I liked   about the work.  

Becky and her life time friend and cocenter of the novel, Amelia Smedley are both just graduating from a finishing school.  Becky was a charity student, her mother was a second rate opera singer and her father a gambler, her best friend Amelia was from a wealthy family.  Upon graduation the school owner was in the habit of giving girls copies of Doctor Johnson's dictionary.  I was totally flabbergasted when Becky   threw her copy out of the window of the coach taking her away.  I saw this as Thackeray's  first salvo fired at the pretensions of English society.  I laughed out loud, something I rarely do reading a book written over 150 years ago.  

Becky is looking to raise her status in life through the proper employment of her considerable charms.  There are more twists and turns in the plot than in a road through the mountains of Baguio.  Everybody but Amelia has a bad side, in some characters that is their only side.   Lots of exciting, tragic, and some pleasant things happen.  The book was first published serially so Thackeray had to end chapters leaving the readers waiting eagerly  for the next episode.

One thing I really liked about the novel was the treatment of the impact of the wars against Napolean as seen from the perspective of the English upper class where officer ranks were purchased.  Additionally I really enjoyed and was not expecting the accounts of British life in India.  

Vanity Fair is long at close to 1000 pages but I think Thackeray needed this length for  his portrait of British society.  He also makes frequent remarks about the characters which exhibited great insight.  He speaks directly to the reader and I liked his remarks a lot. Fadiman described Thackeray as "a worldly wise clubman" and this seems accurate to me. I found the book got more interesting as I read in and learned more about the world of Becky and Amelia.  The longer I read on the more I liked the novel. 

Vanity Fair belongs on the life time list of all serious literary autodidacts.  It is often listed as one of the hundred best novels in the world.  I am very happy to have at last read this classic.

I hope those more experienced in Thackeray might suggest others of his novels I might read or should I just stop with Vanity Fair?

How is the movie, I hoped to find it on Netflix but did not. 

 Mel u


Jonathan said...

I keep meaning to read Vanity Fair....and Barry Lyndon as well. But I have seen the 6-part BBC series from 1998 which I'd thoroughly recommend. I have the 2004 film but haven't watched it yet; having watched the five hour series I wonder if a two-hour film will be long enough.

Lisbeth Ekelof said...

I just loved this book. This was my first encounter with Thackeray and I am a fan ever since. Recently read 'Pendennis' which I can recommend. I also read a biography of him which helps in understanding his writing. His books are such a wonderful irony of the world in his time.
I also find that he creates these wonderful, strong female characters. They are not always 'good' but such characters. There are a few also in Pendennis.
After reading 'Vanity Fair' I watched the movie with Reese Witherspoon, and I quite liked it. As Jonathan says it seems difficult to get everything in during a two hour movie. However, I think there are a lot of 'side tracks' that not necessarily have to come out in a movie.
Barry Lyndon I want to read as well. I never saw the movie at the time, and now I don't want to see it before I read the book.

Mel u said...

Jonathan. I have memories of the movie of Barry Lyndon, a gorgeous movie. I downloaded the book today and hope to read it soon