Friday, March 27, 2020

48. Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair. William Makepeace Thackery. 1847. 867 pages. [Source: Bought] [Classic]

First sentence: While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.

 Premise/plot: Becky Sharp is the 'heroine' of Thackery's Vanity Fair. She is an ambitious, selfish soul--a bit like Scarlett O'Hara. (Both hate children. Both marry for the wrong reasons. Both can manipulate men for their own gain.) In contrast to Becky Sharp there is Amelia Sedley, a trusting, kind, loyal soul--a bit like Melanie Hamilton. Vanity Fair follows both young women through many, many, many dramas. Both Amelia and Becky attended Miss Pinkerton's school--that's where they met and became friendly, and that's where our story properly begins.

Becky has one ambition. That's a lie. She has many ambitions but all share a central theme. She wants to get to the tippy-top of society. She wants money, money, money and a place in society. The society that currently snubs her and looks down upon her as a nobody. She wants it ALL: an excellent place to call home, all the materialistic goods she can get her hands on, the admiration of all the men within driving distance.

Amelia has a dream too--to marry the love of her life, George Osborne, and live happily ever after surrounded by adorable children.

Both women face obstacles. 800 pages worth of obstacles I'd say!

Amelia's family suffers a devastating financial loss. The Osborne family who had always pushed the match suddenly withdraws their approval. George is forbidden to marry Amelia. Will George obey his domineering father? Will he marry someone else? Would Amelia be better off finding someone else too? Or will George marry Amelia in spite of his father's threats?

Becky's obstacles are different. She marries--not for love, not really--a man who could potentially be very wealthy. He has a dying aunt, I believe it is an aunt. He could be HEIR to a fortune. And he's a dashing soldier. She could do worse. Much worse. So a secret marriage occurs. But did Becky choose wisely? Or was she too hasty? Should she held out a little longer for a better offer? A richer offer?
Will Rawdon Crawley help her achieve her ambitions?! Will she be the making of him or the breaking of him? Will he come to regret his marriage?

My thoughts: I enjoyed Vanity Fair. It is a long book. It has a few dull chapters here and there. I won't lie. But. Overall I found it a good read. I found the main characters at least easy to keep up with and understand. Becky Sharp is an interesting heroine--far from boring. Amelia isn't exactly boring, it's just that I wanted to yell at her now and then.

Of the men in the book, I really only loved Dobbin. I didn't dislike Rawdon Crawley exactly. But it's hard to actually love a fool. Is he a fool? Perhaps not in all areas of his life. But certainly he's a fool when it comes to love and giving his heart a way. I do, for the record, admire him as a father and brother. So perhaps if he'd not married Becky, if he'd married someone more worthy...then he wouldn't be a fool at all. As for George, I didn't like him even a little bit. It would be like if Elizabeth Bennet ended up marrying George Wickham instead of Darcy!!!!

Although schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no more nor less than churchyard epitaphs; yet, as it sometimes happens that a person departs this life who is really deserving of all the praises the stone cutter carves over his bones; who IS a good Christian, a good parent, child, wife, or husband; who actually DOES leave a disconsolate family to mourn his loss; so in academies of the male and female sex it occurs every now and then that the pupil is fully worthy of the praises bestowed by the disinterested instructor. Now, Miss Amelia Sedley was a young lady of this singular species; and deserved not only all that Miss Pinkerton said in her praise, but had many charming qualities which that pompous old Minerva of a woman could not see, from the differences of rank and age between her pupil and herself.
"Revenge may be wicked, but it's natural," answered Miss Rebecca. "I'm no angel." And, to say the truth, she certainly was not. 
All the world used her ill, said this young misanthropist, and we may be pretty certain that persons whom all the world treats ill, deserve entirely the treatment they get.
The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.
Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.
If Miss Rebecca Sharp had determined in her heart upon making the conquest of this big beau, I don't think, ladies, we have any right to blame her; for though the task of husband-hunting is generally, and with becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange these delicate matters for her, and that if she did not get a husband for herself, there was no one else in the wide world who would take the trouble off her hands.
Joseph much anxious thought and alarm; now and then he would make a desperate attempt to get rid of his superabundant fat; but his indolence and love of good living speedily got the better of these endeavours at reform, and he found himself again at his three meals a day. He never was well dressed; but he took the hugest pains to adorn his big person, and passed many hours daily in that occupation. Like most fat men, he would have his clothes made too tight, and took care they should be of the most brilliant colours and youthful cut.
A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry WHOM SHE LIKES. Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don't know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.
Are not there little chapters in everybody's life, that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of the history?
A tempest in a slop-basin is absurd. We will reserve that sort of thing for the mighty ocean and the lonely midnight. The present Chapter is very mild. Others—But we will not anticipate THOSE.
She did not pester their young brains with too much learning, but, on the contrary, let them have their own way in regard to educating themselves; for what instruction is more effectual than self-instruction?
Some are made to scheme, and some to love; and I wish any respected bachelor that reads this may take the sort that best likes him.
Some cynical Frenchman has said that there are two parties to a love-transaction: the one who loves and the other who condescends to be so treated. Perhaps the love is occasionally on the man's side; perhaps on the lady's...But this is certain, that Amelia believed her lover to be one of the most gallant and brilliant men in the empire: and it is possible Lieutenant Osborne thought so too.
"If he had but a little more brains," she thought to herself, "I might make something of him"; but she never let him perceive the opinion she had of him; listened with indefatigable complacency to his stories of the stable and the mess; laughed at all his jokes; When he came home she was alert and happy: when he went out she pressed him to go: when he stayed at home, she played and sang for him, made him good drinks, superintended his dinner, warmed his slippers, and steeped his soul in comfort.
If success is rare and slow, everybody knows how quick and easy ruin is. 
One of the great conditions of anger and hatred is, that you must tell and believe lies against the hated object, in order, as we said, to be consistent.
At any rate, never have any feelings which may make you uncomfortable, or make any promises which you cannot at any required moment command and withdraw. That is the way to get on, and be respected, and have a virtuous character in Vanity Fair.
Praise everybody, I say to such: never be squeamish, but speak out your compliment both point-blank in a man's face, and behind his back, when you know there is a reasonable chance of his hearing it again. Never lose a chance of saying a kind word.
By humbly and frankly acknowledging yourself to be in the wrong, there is no knowing, my son, what good you may do.
Those who like to lay down the History-book, and to speculate upon what MIGHT have happened in the world, but for the fatal occurrence of what actually did take place (a most puzzling, amusing, ingenious, and profitable kind of meditation), have no doubt often thought to themselves what a specially bad time Napoleon took to come back from Elba, and to let loose his eagle from Gulf San Juan to Notre Dame.
Did we know what our intimates and dear relations thought of us, we should live in a world that we should be glad to quit, and in a frame of mind and a constant terror, that would be perfectly unbearable.
When attacked sometimes, Becky had a knack of adopting a demure ingenue air, under which she was most dangerous. She said the wickedest things with the most simple unaffected air when in this mood, and would take care artlessly to apologize for her blunders, so that all the world should know that she had made them.
Becky's contempt for her husband grew greater every day. "Do what you like—dine where you please—go and have ginger-beer and sawdust at Astley's, or psalm-singing with Lady Jane—only don't expect me to busy myself with the boy. I have your interests to attend to, as you can't attend to them yourself. I should like to know where you would have been now, and in what sort of a position in society, if I had not looked after you."
On Selfishness—Of all the vices which degrade the human character, Selfishness is the most odious and contemptible. An undue love of Self leads to the most monstrous crimes and occasions the greatest misfortunes both in States and Families.
There are things we do and know perfectly well in Vanity Fair, though we never speak of them: as the Ahrimanians worship the devil, but don't mention him: and a polite public will no more bear to read an authentic description of vice than a truly refined English or American female will permit the word breeches to be pronounced in her chaste hearing.
Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?—come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Lark said...

I agree with you that parts of this book were kind of slow-moving and a bit of a slog, but Becky Sharp was never dull. What a memorable character she is. Not always likable. But certainly memorable. :)

Paula Vince said...

This is currently my social isolation read, and I'm not far from the end. Becky and Amelia sure are unconventional heroines, in opposite ways. I wanted to yell at them both :) I agree with you regarding the men too. Dobbin is so long-suffering in love, Rawdon the book's best dad hands down, and George, what a rotter!