Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Published by Book-of-the-Month Club on 1991 (orig. 1847-48)
Genres: Classic, Fiction
Source: my shelves
Buy on Amazon
This is not going to be a formal review. I spent an entire month reading Vanity Fair, and it fought me the whole time. I know I had a lot of things to say about it when I finally turned the last page, but I have waited too long to put those thoughts into words, so my thoughts here may be a bit scattered. Why did I wait so long? Because honestly, I was downright tired of thinking about it or talking about it. I’ll do my best to put everything I’m going to say here in some kind of order, but I promise nothing. I think typing this out in a question/answer format will be best in terms of keeping things straight and not letting it get out of hand. If you haven’t read Vanity Fair, I won’t be hurt if you decide not to read this post; I wouldn’t want to talk someone out of reading it since I seem to be the only one in the history of humankind that didn’t love it, and you probably won’t understand what I’m talking about anyway. If you decide to stay and read about my struggles, thank you. I appreciate it, and I’ll try not to bore you. Heh heh.
Why did it take me a whole month to read a book that should have taken a week at the most?
I know that a billion of you love this book. I had gotten so many “Oh, that’s my favorite book!” comments when I talked/tweeted/blogged about wanting to read it that I was all ready to fall in love with it. Sigh. Didn’t happen. And when I tweeted about struggling with Vanity Fair, I got a response that would have ticked me off, if being easily offended were something I’m guilty of (but I’m not): “You don’t like Vanity Fair? Oh.” No, no–if I’m going to be completely honest here, I really didn’t like Vanity Fair. Since I’ve already gotten that comment once, the rest of you can save it for someone else who struggled with it like I did. *smooches*
Parts of it were interesting enough to keep my attention and keep me turning the pages, but just when I would get to one of those parts and think, ‘Oh! Here we go! It finally got interesting! Woooo! I’m going to love this!’, it would laugh in my face and get boring again ten pages later. It would be easier for me to count how many pages I found interesting, than to try to count how many pages made me (literally) fall asleep. Listen, Thackeray, I don’t care how so-and-so made it into high society, who they know, who they screwed (ok, I don’t think he actually ever wrote about that), or whatever–especially if that person has no real bearing on the story, at all. Within the first hundred pages, it is made perfectly clear that Thackeray is making fun of high society and how ridiculous it all is, so to keep giving example, after example, after example (and sometimes really boring examples) was just not needed. The main story was great, and I was quite interested in finding out what was going to happen to all of the main characters, but the story was scattered throughout pages and pages of unnecessary stuff. Just stick to the main story and the main characters and tell me what happens already.
The answer to this question in one sentence (now that I’ve written two paragraphs): It took me a month to read Vanity Fair because I (literally) kept falling asleep every time I picked it up.
Ok, so I didn’t like the book overall, but I must have liked Becky Sharp, right? RIGHT?
Um, yes and no. I really liked her when she first appeared in the story at the very beginning of the book. When she tossed that dictionary out the window of the coach? Go, Becky! You show them who scoffs at conventions! Yeah!
I even felt sympathy for her for a little while after that–she had no family, no friends aside from Amelia (and I’m not sure they were ever really friends), no money, and no place to go (except into someone else’s home as a governess/nanny). Who in the prime of their life wants to go take care of someone else’s kids? Nah. I felt horrible for her.
Then she decided to prove that she could make it into high society even though she didn’t meet any of the qualifications. Her cunning was all she needed. Again, I say, ‘Go, Becky!’ I was ready to laugh with her about infiltrating a group of such hypocritical, sanctimonious jackasses. I really was. Except, Becky turned into someone whom I just couldn’t like. I tried. I did my best to put myself in her shoes, but I couldn’t stand the person she ended up becoming, and I couldn’t stand the way she treated the people who really cared about her. She used people and tossed them away like wet paper towels. I ended up feeling so bad for Rawden, that poor guy.
As the saying goes, “you reap what you sow,” and boy did Becky eventually do a lot of reaping. And I say, ‘Oh well,’ because she deserved every bit of it. Man, she was a rotten bitch. Honestly, I’d rather be poor and have good friends, than be rich, lonely, and miserable.
What about Amelia? She was the complete opposite of Becky, so I must have liked her much more. Yes?
Again, yes and no. Sure, Amelia was sweet and I liked that about her. She was sincere, I believe, and although I might have found her a bit condescending sometimes if I were Becky, I know she didn’t mean it. Amelia was genuinely trying to be Becky’s friend and help her out. Amelia was a genuinely sweet person. I did like her much more for the majority of the book.
But oh my goodness, when it came to her mostly one sided romance with George, I just wanted to kick her in the pants (skirt?) and tell her to get over him already. Sheesh. I know how it is. I’ve been there and done that. She fell in love with a man who she thought she couldn’t live without. She’d never love another, no matter what happened between them. She was smitten. Head over heals. Common sense left her as soon as he walked into a room. I get it. But he treated her like total crap…often. I’m not going to turn this into an essay about bad relationships, their symptoms, and their consequences, but good god. When her family fell out of high society, and George’s father didn’t want George to have anything to do with her and her family anymore, she should have just walked away. She would have been better off. And I know, I know, it doesn’t work that way. Again, I’ve gone back to someone (in stupidity) that I should have just stayed away from. But then George did a bunch of other awful crap and she really should have just kicked him to the curb. Hey, Amelia–toughen up, love yourself, drop that zero and get yourself a hero. LIKE WILLIAM DOBBIN. And darn it, don’t screw it up and don’t wait until you’re old and grey to do it. You’ll be happier, really. Trust me.
Amelia frustrated me as much as Becky pissed me off.
Hey Heather, has anyone told you that you can be verbose sometimes? Could you somehow be related to William ‘Verbosity’ Thackeray himself? Let’s wrap it up.
Yes, yes, I’ve been told that since I learned to talk.
Wrapping it up because I’ve really forgotten much that I wanted to say: I didn’t dislike this book completely. I really liked some parts, and I really disliked others. Unfortunately, the dislikes outweighed the likes. I enjoyed the message and the underhanded snark about high society and all of those ridiculous people, but it just took too long for Thackeray to make his point (or rather, he made the point over and over and over and over). So much could have been edited out of this book that wouldn’t have affected the story or the feeling of the book at all. I don’t know–maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read it. Maybe I’ll pick it back up in a few years (read: no less than twenty) and try again. But for now, I’m putting it on my never-recommend-this-to-anyone-for-fear-of-making-lots-of-enemies list. If you loved it, and if I’ve disappointed you, I’m sorry. I’ll tell you what–I won’t hold your love of this book against you, if you don’t hold my dislike against me. Deal? Deal.
(Please don’t hesitate to leave comments if you have them, even if you comment just to say how much you loved Vanity Fair. Really. But I’d absolutely love to hear from some people who didn’t like it. All joking aside–and contrary to the Highlander creed–I cannot be the only one.)