A few months ago I felt a sudden urge to read a classic. (My taste for them was quelled for a while, but apparently it does return some two years or so after completing one’s English degree.) Fortunately, my love for books and my very well-read grandfather have supplied me with a decent collection (see below) so I only needed to take the two steps to my book cupboard and pick a volume off the shelf. Having heard it praised quite often throughout my studies, decided to read Vanity Fair by W.M. Thackeray.
I’ve read and enjoyed nearly half of the book so far —to page 316 of 730 to be exact. It’s prose and astute awareness of its genre are wonderful. My favourite passages are when the narrator addresses the reader and comments metanarratively on the characters or storytelling in general.
Time out of mind strength and courage have been the theme of bards and romances; and from the story of Troy down to to-day, poetry has always chosen a soldier for a hero. I wonder is it because men are cowards in heart that they admire bravery so much, and place military valour so far beyond every other quality for reward and worship?
However, for a few weeks now there has been a lull in my reading. It started as start-of-term business, but since then I just haven’t felt motivated to pick the book up again.
Becky Sharp is both intriguing and alienating. I adore her sharp wit and clever manipulation of the people around her, but as I got to know the other characters better I was put off by her cold selfishness. When she joins Amelia at her house after leaving boarding school it is amusing to read how she weasels her way into everyone’s good graces and makes them part with their possessions. However, when, later on in the novel, the roles are reversed and Amelia lives in a small house with a neglecting, disinherited husband while Becky flaunts about in high society, the latter’s selfishness is much more unbecoming. It tires me to keep reading about how everything in the book conspires to make Amelia miserable. She definitely has her faults (like this IDIOT she’s so devoted to) but is altogether quite sweet.
Another reason why I find it hard to keep reading this book at a steady pace is that its serialisation (it was originally released in 20 volumes) becomes apparent not through frequent use of suspense, but by the length of it. I often feel like the story is quietly bubbling on without really going anywhere. I may have to eat these words in shame further on in the story, but for the moment it’s quite hard to keep reading for the wonderful prose alone.
So, dear reader, please answer me this: how do you usually deal with books of this calibre? I really do want to continue reading Vanity Fair but since I’ve taken a small break from it I’ve seen myself pick up book after book without returning to this one. Perhaps I should simply sit down with it one rainy evening to read for an hour, and then another, and accept that it moves slowly.
I’ll return to this post when I’ve finished the book and write a full review. I’m curious to see whether my feelings about it will change.
See you soon! (Or —you know— in five years, whatever seems more realistic.)
4 thoughts on “Book | Halfway Into Vanity Fair (And A Bit Stuck)”
Dear Emmie, Greetings from Cornwall! I was intrigued by your reaction to reading “Vanity Fair” and indeed to reading the classics in various circumstances. You have passed the two years after degree test, but you have not made allowances for the fact that teaching literature can be an even worse case of blunting one’s enjoyment of reading. Be that as it may, I can understand your impatience with Thackeray. Notice his title, which is taken from an important episode of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” which is a very moral allegory, the very antithesis of VF. The title shows you what is coming and there is such a large dose of unmitigated vanity that it is difficult to swallow. And yet why is this? Becky has a great many reasons to be cynical, having grown up poor amongst all the rich kids and realising that she can only survive by her looks and her wits. Once she has been thrown out on the street and reduced to the humiliating position of governess in an almost crazy household she vows to get even by fair means or foul. Her play acting smothers her real persona and she develops an ever harder thick skin. All sympathy and tenderness fall away and she is flattered when Amelia’s husband lusts after her. This process of vainly pursuing success and fortune gathers momentum right up to the point where she ignores her own child, but we have seen all this coming and however much we resent her wickedness, we become aware of the vain, greedy, stupid and duplicitous people who surround her and aid and abet her – but only for their own selfish ends. Thackeray surely wants us to judge her. She is an anti-hero, but he also wants to amuse and entertain us and that becomes harder as we feel a nasty taste in our mouths. We turn to Amelia in the hope of something more wholesome but then find woe upon woe as fortune treats her with unremitting cruelty. People can be that unlucky in life – and you have not reached the ending yet, so you suspend judgment.
Don’t feel you have to read the rest, but I think you will be rewarded for your efforts if you do!
Love to you and George, Tony.
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I do get what you mean about getting a bit stuck sometimes- especially with a particularly long book. But I do think it’s a good idea to just take your time with it and see how it goes.
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Thanks! I’m slowly working my way though it again and I’m only a hundred pages from the end now :).
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