Over the four-day holiday weekend I was so blessed to have, one of the things I did was, of course, read. One of the books I read, and finally finished, was Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I began this hefty tome back in June, or there abouts, when I first heard about the movie version coming out in September. I wanted to read the book before I saw the movie so my imagination got to decide what the characters looked like. I also wanted to be able to knowingly complain about what those darn movie people did to wreck a fine piece of fiction yet again. Well, September came and went and it looks like I’m done with the book just in time for the DVD. It turns out the book wasn’t that easy to just sit down and read. A few chapters at a time was about all I could muster.
What I had the most difficulty with was Thackeray’s didacticism, flowery style and verbosity. Glowing descriptions of carriages and dresses and the names of personages attending a party that went on for pages drove me nuts. I also ended up not liking any of the characters. I liked Becky Sharp at first but then she went from likable go-getter to bitch. Amelia Sedley, who the reader is supposed to like, was dull and meek and uninteresting, pining away for her scoundrel of a dead husband and refusing to notice the good man, William Dobbin, who was always there and had loved her all along. But even Dobbin grated on me, following Amelia around like a puppy, neither asserting himself in regards to her nor breaking off his attachment. But there was a happy ending for Amelia and Dobbin thanks to Becky who did an uncharacteristically nice deed that brought the two together. But Becky’s acting out of character was so far out that it seemed contrived, like Thackeray realized, “Oh my goodness! I’ve written 674 pages and need some way to end this thing.”
The book wasn’t all that bad though. There were some funny parts that made me laugh or smile. Thackeray has a facility for making up fun names that describe the character. Take this bit for example: “The night before, Mr. Clump and Dr. Squills had had a consultation (over a bottle of wine at the house of Sir Lapin Warren, whose lady was about to present him with a thirteenth blessing), regarding Miss Crawley and her case.”
There was also the occasional funny scene. Take for instance after social climbing Becky has been ruined and her husband has left her and she is searching around for rich men who will take care of her, she is found in a dirty and cheap hotel room by Jos, Amelia’s rich brother. Prior to Jos’ arrival Becky had been eating a breakfast of sausages and drinking brandy. She hid the evidence beneath the bedsheets, settled Jos in her only chair and herself on the edge of the bed. Then she sobbed out her story, “a tale so neat, simple and artless, that it was quite evident, from hearing her, that if ever there was a white-robed angel escaped from heaven to be subject to the infernal machinations and villainy of fiends here below, that spotless being–that miserable, unsullied martyr–was present on the bed before Jos–on the bed, sitting on the brandy-bottle.”
I could go on and write an English term paper for you about Vanity Fair and all that it means, but I am no longer in school and you, I am sure, do not wish to be bored by such a thing. From a general reader standpoint, overall I’d say the book was just okay. Thackeray was a contemporary and friendly rival of Charles Dickens. If you are standing in a bookstore with Vanity Fair in one hand and Great Expectations in the other, trying to decide which one to buy, go with Dickens. He can be flowery and didactic too, but he tells a much better and more interesting story than Thackeray ever could.