Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair is one of those books I've been meaning to get around to for a very long time. I finally did, much to my enjoyment.

In writing style, Thackeray feels most like Dickens, at least in the scope and detail of the picture he paints and general Victorian style. The colors are less intense, though; there is no broad comedy (though plenty of wit) and no dark images of despair. This can be something of a relief.

In plot, I was at first disturbed to find Vanity Fair very similar to Gone With the Wind: two women, one ruthlessly devoted to money and social position, the other so stupidly ignorant in her virtue that she becomes annoying, set against a backdrop of epic war. But Vanity Fair was a lot more fun.

Maybe it was because Becky Sharp is more consistent, coherent, and just all around villainous than Scarlett O'Hara. She knows exactly what she's after, she knows exactly what she's willing to sacrifice to get it, and she heads there with single-minded determination and unquenchable hypocrisy. It's wickedly fun to watch, and fortunately she doesn't take down nearly as many innocent people in her wake as Scarlett does. (It's a testimony to her nastiness that she makes her scapegrace husband look good by comparison.)

Or maybe the saving grace was that the see-no-evil woman, Amelia Sedley, finally does get thoroughly told off by the far too longsuffering Major Dobbin. Which gives somebody in the book a chance for happily-ever-after.

The Victorians were seldom subtle in their prose, and the theme of the book is right there in the title: the emptiness and deception of the big, glittering world. It gets hammered pretty thoroughly. But Vanity Fair is a fun place to visit, nonetheless.


Sherry said...

I read that Margaret Mitchell based Gone With the Wind on Vanity, so the similarities you saw are not coincidental.

Sarah Mehrens said...

I've always wanted to read this book too. I did watch a BBC version of the book last summer and though there were dull parts, overall I enjoyed the story. I figure I'll enjoy the book even more.

Surprisingly, I really really enjoyed Gone With the Wind, but not for the reasons I thought I would. I've liked the movie, but never been totally excited about it. I felt different about the book -- perhaps it was Mitchell's character developlment. Who knows.