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Vanity Fair A Novel without a Hero, William Makepeace ThackerayVanity Fair is an English novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, which follows the lives of Becky Sharp and Emmy Sedley amid their friends and families during and after the Napoleonic Wars A novel that chronicles the lives of two women who could not be different Becky Sharp, an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals and her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family 1990 1368 868 9644481046 1396 19 1386 320 9789648935455 1394 172 9786009485321 1341 148 1351 146 1847 1848 1811 1830 265 261 The author makes his presence known towards the end of the book It was both eerie and uncanny He kept breaking the fourth wall, then he conjured that apparition of his in one of the last chapters.Vanity Fair contains no real heroes That was a fact that Thackeray himself stated, and who am I to dispute that This book of his is quite droll in its stitching together There is a threat of a continuum, then everything is put back into question.Classics are a strange beast With them, I feel attachment like it s the result of Stockholm Syndrome My delight at finishing these Mesozoic beasts is unique to the genre Long may it continue. A Novel That Chronicles The Lives Of Two Women Who Could Not Be Different Becky Sharp, An Orphan Whose Only Resources Are Her Vast Ambitions, Her Native Wit, And Her Loose Morals And Her Schoolmate Amelia Sedley, A Typically Naive Victorian Heroine, The Pampered Daughter Of A Wealthy Family 1 I liked the company of Thackeray who is breezy, ebullient and cynical about everyone s motives And he s very confident too He thinks he knows everything, although there s not a word about how the poor live here, that s not his subject So he s like the mid 19th century version of Tom Wolfe or Jonathan Franzen, two authors among many others who also think they know everything I don t mind them thinking that It s a good quality in a writer who s trying to depict all of society.2 An example of his cynical sermonizing here he waxes forth about our yours, mine postmortem fate Which of the dead are most tenderly and passionately deplored Those who love the survivors the least, I believe The death of a child occasions a passion of grief and frantic tears, such as your end, brother reader, will never inspire The death of an infant which scarce knew you, which a week s absence from you would have caused to forget you, will strike you down than the loss of your closest friend and if you are old, as some reader of this may be or shall be old and rich or old and poor you may one day be thinking for yourself These people are very good round about me but they won t grieve too much when I am gone I am very rich, and they want my inheritance or very poor and they are tired of supporting me 3 I can t believe everyone who has read this has read every page For instance the eight pages of satire about the small German Duchy of Pumpernickel p 726 732 Or the detailed descriptions of charades at upper class parties p 594 601 Mother of God, these sections are unreadable This is what drags the rating down to 4.5 stars 4 Why is this book 800 pages long Many passages like this The house was dismantled the rich furniture and effects, the awful chandeliers and dreary blank mirrors packed away and hidden, the rich rosewood drawing room suite was muffled in straw, the carpets were rolled up and corded, the small select library of well bound books was stowed into two wine chests, and the whole paraphernalia rolled away in several enormous vans to the Pantechnicon, where they were to lie until Georgy s majority 5 The author breaks the fourth wall all the time, as they liked to do in the early ish days of novelling, before such stuff was frowned upon as being uncouth and inartistic So on p 296 we get In the course of the evening Rawdon got a little family note from his wife, which although he crumpled it up and burnt it instantly in the candle, we had the good luck to read over Rebecca s shoulderWe here means the author and the reader And later on page 721 whilst talking about his main characters holidaying in Germany he suddenly announces It was on this very tour that I, the present writer of a history of which every word is true, had the pleasure to see them first, and to make their acquaintance 6 The author is not embarrassed to jump in and comment directly on his characters, like this I like to dwell upon this period of her life, and to think that she was cheerful and happy You see she has not had too much of that sort of existence as yet, and has not fallen in the way of means to educate her tastes or her intelligence She has been domineered over hitherto by vulgar intellects It is the lot of many a woman You wouldn t get a modern novelist doing any such thing but it s kind of fun 7 He has a brilliant section called How to Live Well on Nothing a Year Essentially, you could maintain your place in well to do society by racking up credit extended to you by umpteen tradesmen and servants who would do it because you had a place in well to do society and robbing Peter to pay Paul continually plus, the wife would inveigle loans out of rich old guys who thought they might have a chance to get something going with her and the husband would contribute with winnings from cards and billiards It s a precarious way of life but if you have strong nerves it can be done.8 Which leads us to the issue of Becky and her husband Rawdon Becky is the best, most interesting character by far Lots of commentators describe her as in some way morally questionable, even bad At first this seems quite unjust She has no family, she s as poor as a mouse, so she schemes and ducks and dives to land a husband with money This goes awry she gets the husband but he doesn t get the expected inheritance so she dodges and weaves and figures out how to live well on nothing a year see above In the time honoured way of plots in novels, all her maneuvering and manipulating and cajoling and flattering and flashing of bosoms is just about to pay off handsomely when it all goes tits up Not her fault She s a woman trying to get by in a world where money and position is everything Then she disappears from the novel for a hundred pages or so When we meet her again she s a fully fledged demimondaine and now you can say her moral bankruptcy has blossomed Thackeray makes a song and dance about not being able to set down exactly what she s been up to because this is a family show, so he drops hint after hint, ending in the possibility of murder All the ambiguity is I suppose understandable but after it all she s still the only character with a zest for life in the whole mutton shop.9 Meanwhile her husband Rawdon is a military gentleman until he resigns from the Army and then does nothing Continues with his cardsharping and pool sharking but as for gainful employment, raises not one hand And Thackeray who likes to describe most other aspects of these people s lives ignores this as not worth commenting on Rawdon writes a pitiful letter from debtor s prison at one point I wasn t brought up like a younger brother, but was always encouraged to be extravagant and kep idle And that s all the explanation you get 10 The subtitle of Vanity Fair is A Novel without a Hero meaning that we are not following one particular character and we do not see the story through any one person s eyes Nor yet, really, is it that much of a story A couple of women make rash marriages After which there are some ups and downs There was a song in the 1920s called After You Get What You Want you Don t Want It and Thackeray believes people are exactly like that so happy endings and neat bows are not his thing He leaves us with the image of Vanity Fair itself, that whirligig of human foolishness, rocketing on like a perpetual switchback ride Best thing to do is not get on in the first place, the ride is not worth the admission fee, but if you re on, then don t fall off, because the drop will be considerable hard on your feelings. Vanity Fair is a big surprise for me I was expecting a story about the trial and tribulations of a couple of plucky lady friends what I discovered was a witty, satirical novel that made me laugh several times, engaged my attention always and even moving at times.On the surface Vanity Fair is a story of the two main characters Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, two childhood friends from the opposite ends of the moral and intellectual spectrum Becky is ambitious, conniving and smart, Amelia is humble, kind, simple, and rather dim.The novel concurrently charts Becky s rise from her humble station in life to the rank of the fashionable high society, while Amelia meets with several misfortunes and becomes penniless It is quite a lengthy novel of than 800 pages with a large cast of characters who revolve around the lives of the two protagonists.The most interesting feature of Vanity Fair is how meta it is Thackeray often breaks the fourth wall to address the reader directly with sly and humorous asides, making light of the novelist s omnipotence Thackeray s satirical self portraitThe characters are very well drawn in ways than one , particularly Becky who is basically a femme fatale but still manages to show the odd flashes of conscience Amelia is too virtuous for her own good yet unintentionally takes advantage of a man who has an unrequited love for her Nice but dim AmeliaIt is an interesting trope of a lot of fiction that the nicest, kindest man is immediately friend zoned by the love of his life This is very much the case for William Dobbin the man who longs for his dead best friend s girl Amilia like a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the fjord My only minor criticism of the book is that some of the characters are just a little too stupid to be realistic Amelia is well aware of Dobbin s love for her but feels unable to return his love because she feels that she would be betraying the memory of her dead husband Although Amelia is na ve, dimwitted and does not care for him Dobbin an intelligent fellow cannot get over his obsession with her Amelia s brother Jos is even worse, he has seen with his own eyes that Becky is dishonest, mercenary and cannot be trusted but he still falls for her entrapment His stupidity is surprising because he is described as talented and singlehandedly recues his father and his sister from extreme poverty.Thackeray s writing is wonderful, excessive usage of the word prodigious notwithstanding I don t think I have read anything this witty since The Picture of Dorian Gray Like all long novels it is something to sink into and live with rather than just passively reading.The book makes me reflect that being virtuous is not enough to be of much use to the world if the virtue is not supported by intelligence and wisdom On the other hand being clever like Becky and achieving wealth and fame is a hollow accomplishment if you are left with no genuine friends and family and viewed with disdain everywhere you go.Becky being SharpOne of my favorite Victorian novels, if you like reading the classics Vanity Fair is a must.NotesFor a change the free audiobook does not come from Librivox.org, they have their own edition but it is read by multiple readers several of them are very bad The edition I listened to is from Lit2Go, beautifully read by Amanda Elan My favorite quotes are not included on GR s quotes page for this book so I ll drop them here LOLThough he was familiar with all languages, Mr Kirsch was not acquainted with a single one, and spoke all with indifferent volubility and incorrectness MetaIf, a few pages back, the present writer claimed the privilege of peeping into Miss Amelia Sedley s bedroom, and understanding with the omniscience of the novelist all the gentle pains and passions which were tossing upon that innocent pillow, why should he not declare himself to be Rebecca s confidante too, master of her secrets, and seal keeper of that young woman s conscienceHi Cecily I realize that I m not making friends here by only giving what is considered a masterful piece of literature what amounts to a meh review but that s really how I felt about this book On a small scale, I thought the writing was too long winded This is not a fancy story and it could have been told concisely I was mostly bored reading it.On a bigger scale, I had serious issues with the heroine Rebecca is the type of woman who has always made my stomach churn in anger and to ask me to sympathize, even for a brief moment was just too much for me I ended up despising every single character in the book Which, if you want to get all literatti about it might be a good thing having a visceral reaction to the written word is often seen as a power few can manage but it didn t make me like the author, the characters or the plot any better. I finish the book and wonder how to best convert the muddy puddle of my impressions into some kind of a coherent rich picture of a review.Well what is is, imagine an exhibition of of George Cruikshank s drawings or of those of Gilray perhaps, there is wit and fun, but after a while , maybe they are a little wearisome In this it reminds me of when I was a student and sometimes, not knowing any better I d read The Economist, eventually I noticed whatever country or problem was discussed the analysis was the same slash public spending, liberalise markets and open them to foreign trade as you open a person s chest for open heart surgery, and be smug Then I moved on to Private Eye for a while here the message was aside from the staff and readers of that journal that everybody is stupid and stupidly commits stupid acts, everything always has been stupid, everything always will be This I felt was worse, because it was also depressing About that time I suppose I also read Vanity Fair for the first time view spoiler unless I didn t, its hard to tie these things down sometimes, it was before I had a computer let alone be introduced to Goodreads hide spoiler C mo me sorprendi y divirti este libro en el que el narrador mantiene un continuo di logo con el lector y en el que disecciona en una mordaz caricatura a la sociedad de su tiempo, donde el tanto tienes tanto vales es ley y donde la mujer solo tiene una salida airosa el matrimonio Un libro que llega a provocar carcajadas y que se lee siempre con una sonrisa, aunque no sea siempre alegre No hay piedad por nadie, ni por los hombres ni por las mujeres, cuya situaci n parece denunciar aunque sin quitarles a ellas ni un gramo de su responsabilidad y con un cierto grado de misoginia Por su parte, los hombres, que pueden ser ambiciosos, rid culos, vengativos, pat ticos, antip ticos, vanidosos, son, en el fondo, nobles Fant stica la mala leche, la forma en que el narrador dice las cosas sin decirlas e incluso diciendo las contrarias como juega con el lector, en ocasiones levantando el velo solo un poquito, en otras desvel ndolo completamente, algunas m s dej ndonos todo a la imaginaci n Sus continuos comentarios al margen dirigidos al lector son tan interesantes como la propia historia Una delicia de libro. 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 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 too short than otherwise and her cheeks a good deal too round and red for a heroine I just chose this passage randomly out of the first few pages of the novel to illustrate how much I love Thackeray s voice He himself is the best character in the novel To use theatre terminology, he definitely breaks the 4th wall into the story quite frequently Reading it is rather like watching the play, but with periodic pauses for the playwright to jump up on stage and offer his commentary upon the action, and also upon his perceptions of the feelings of those watching his creation Thackeray himself terms the Vanity Fair his comment on society in general a sort of play This might sound annoying to some, but, really, it isn t If you re already reading the book critically I suppose it could also be compared to reading a chunk of a book for class and then stopping to discuss your reactions with a professor determined to make you see things beyond the surface and expose whatever prejudices you might have against the book I loved debating with Thackeray in interpreting scenes and actions The margins are filled with my disagreements or indulgence of his point of view And I almost never write in books It was irresistable in this case It is as interesting trying to draw a portrait of Thackeray s character as it is the rest of them He is sometimes defensive, sometimes judgemental of his audience, at times quietly insightful, at times ironic, at times as gleeful as a child at some trick he believes he s played upon us You can just see him cackling over his writing, clapping his hands when he thinks of something good and scribbling away furiously into the night He makes the tale seem brightly, urgently alive just in the sheer immediacy of his feeling and force of personality.Right As to the story itself Very solid, old fashioned tale of love, war, betrayal, money, family All the standards for an epic But in the way it is executed, it is anything but standard Particularly for its time It was subtitled, the novel without a hero, by Thackeray It is a book filled with, as the best are, very grey characters with motivations and actions sometimes very hard to fathom The epitome of this is of course Becky Sharp, the main character if not the heroine, of the piece Capable of both acts of great kindness and selflessness, and sheer, naked cruelty when it suits her, it is hard to either condemn or praise the woman in the end I grew to root for her anyway, though She s awful, she really is, but she does seem to learn by the end of the book She changes, progresses, and all while getting everything she s ever really seemed to want She s ambitious and cutthroat, but manages to do well in a world that tries to slap her down at every turn Not that she doesn t deserve it sometimes, I will admit There is also a standard, sweeping love story for those of you in it for the conventional aspects The above described Amelia is involved in that plotline.Also This book has the best, the longest, the most throughly researched and detailed description of the battle of Waterloo that you are likely to find A huge chunk of the book is devoted to that day and the reaction to that day, and it is as epic a war novel as one could hope to find for that space of time.In some ways, I feel like Thackeray was trying to encompass his century as a whole, not just the very specific time of the Napoleonic wars He deals with class, money, ambition, war, roles and rights of women, questions of morality, and times that inevitably change and change again, pushing the old world and the old ways into ever faster irrelevance Just as the 19th century did I think Becky Sharp might well be a fitting symbol of the whole century she wants to rise high in society, she wants as much money as she can get her hands on, she wants the appearance of morality but doesn t much care for the actuality , she is from the lower class and spends the book working her way up the ladder tooth and nail through representatives of the old guard, at any cost to herself or others And yet, she still holds sentimental feelings for Amelia, for her husband, she does what she thinks is best for her son however controversial that might be and at whatever cost in pride , and she cannot quite bear to be completely alone I don t know I m really just remembering things I wrote down when I read this over two years ago, re piecing together theories, so I hope you ll forgive me if they re a wee incoherent.There is to it than that, but I do not think that any review of reasonable length can encompass everything in this book, particularly when I ve already rambled about my favorite things for so long, and things are already this disorganized Fitting, I suppose, in such a merrily chaotic book So I ll just leave you with the quote that I think explains and drives much of the action and is one of the major points of the novelVanitas Vanitatium Which of us is happy in this world Which of us has his desire Or having it, is satisfied Written in 1848, Vanity Fair is an excellent satire of English society in the early 19th Century Thackeray states several times that it is a novelwithout a hero , and at a couple of points tries to claim that Amelia, a good person but who inevitably comes across as rather wishy washy, is the heroine But we all know that a bad girl or boy is infinitely interesting than a good girl or boy, so I suspect Thackeray of dissembling even here Becky Sharp is out and out the anti hero ine in this book, which could well have been named,The Rise and Fall of Rebecca Sharp.Thackeray apparently saw people asabominably selfish and foolish , and this negative view comes across loud and clear with his use of vicious vocabulary, and his unremittingly dark portrayal of human nature The author s voice is continually present, and his wry observations do contribute to making the novel vastly entertaining They were also intended to make it instructive to his readers.Interestingly the author makes a habit of commenting on particular instances of female behaviour, and drawing from this to make a general observation of all women At first the reader is inclined to think how astute this is how well Thackeray knows women and how unusual and refreshing it is to find this in a male writer of his day However, these observations are invariably judgemental, whereas he tends not to apply the same maxims to his male characters The men are seen much as individuals A modern reader becomes uneasy with this after a while it begins to seem less witty and apt, and in fact rather tiresome.Here is an example of Thackeray s views on womenWhat do men know about women s martyrdoms We should go mad had we to endure the hundredth part of those daily pains which are meekly borne by many women Ceaseless slavery meeting with no reward constant gentleness and kindness met by cruelty as constant love, labour, patience, watchfulness without even so much as the acknowlegement of a good word all this, how many of them have to bear in quiet, and appear abroad with cheerful faces as if they felt nothing Tender slaves that they are, they must needs be hypocrites and weakThackeray s perceived audience will have been male readers, of course, and this is clear when he addresses the reader personally referring toyour wife , your sisteroryour servants And the audience will have been educated, land owning white males at that Some of the witty observations about an heiress from St Kitts, or a black manservant calledSambomake the modern reader cringe The author is scathing about all his characters partialities and weaknesses, yet because he is a man of his time, culture and class, he cannot see his own prejudices, complacently considering that this is the only correct stance.Vanity Fair was serialised in 20 monthly parts As with other novels which were originally issued in this way, the structure is not as tight as the reader would wish There are great swathes of writing about charades, or a play, or a battle, which are rather flabby Some parts seem very ponderous, or lead nowhere, whereas others are extremely witty and or exciting Authors such as Thackeray and Dickens to whom this applied for nearly all of his novels would surely have wished to edit their work, or even rewritten scenes or altered characters, had they had the opportunity It is incredible to a modern reader that they fared as well as they did under this draconian regime And it is therefore unfair to compare this with the structured later novels, as it is not a level playing fieldVanity Fair is a wicked foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions, states the author This theme ofVanity Fairis reiterated over and over again, and throughout the reader will be thinking that nothing has changed over a century later Thackeray s observations of human behaviour are so apposite, the descriptions of situations, personalities, expressed motives and hidden motives which are inevitably very different are timeless And this of course, coupled with the deliciously droll manner of Thackeray s writing, is what makes this novel a classic It is hugely entertaining in parts, and would have been a 5 star novel had Thackeray s voice and attitudes not been quite so dominant throughout EDIT Interestingly each monthly installment of Vanity Fair only ever sold 5000 copies at the most At the same time, the hugely popular figure Charles Dickens was publishing his novelDombey and Son , which was also being serialised by the same publisher Before long the episodes ofDombey and Sonwere selling 40,000 copies per month eight times as many Yet of the two, nowadays, probably Vanity Fair is the popular.