Author: William Makepeace Thackeray
First Published: 1847
Page Count: 680
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Using wit and his humorously accurate observations about humanity in the 1800s, William Thackeray captures the essence of vanity and the harm it does to those in the human race that succumb to it.
*Amusing writing style *Interesting plot
“Vanity Fair is a very vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions.” The day Becky Sharp leaves Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies is the day that her games of deception truly take flight. She may have started as a governess for the grumpy Sir Pitt, but she soon manages to climb in society using her charms, wit, and beauty. However, no matter how many stylish gowns she wears or sparkling jewels she acquires, she cannot escape her lack of breeding or the debts that she incurs at every turn. Will Becky be able to finally reach a station in society that satisfies her, or will her constant scheming and lies eventually catch up with her?
If I could capture Jane Austen’s knack for witty social commentary with the drama of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina I would have something very close to the story of Vanity Fair. However, William Thackeray adds a voice to the story that is all his own, which is what really sets this book apart from all the classics I’ve read. The book plays out almost like a mini series on TV with each chapter having its own drama.From the very beginning of the story it is as if Thackeray has taken you in as his confidant as he lets the drama of Vanity Fair unfold. He laughs alongside you at the foolishness of his characters, and chides them for the errors of their ways just as he assumes we, the readers, are doing. This version of the book also included sketches by the author on nearly every other page that illustrated the scenes. The illustrations and the addition of our jovial narrator really elevate this work because you can feel his fondness for the characters and the story he wrote.
Though I loved this book for a lot of reasons, it is also very depressing. Thackeray is right when he warns the reader that there is no hero/ heroine to this story. Every single character acts either selfishly or with extreme stupidity that by the end you really don’t wish happy endings for any of them. And if that’s the case, well, your wish is granted; there really isn’t a nice, neat, happily ever after for any of them. The book also really dragged in the middle. Thackeray seems to get off track describing the lives of other members of the upper class in order to better define the world that Becky aspires to join, but it’s unnecessary and I hoped we could just hurry along to see how the story would close and what would become of the characters.
While this is one of those thick works of classic literature that might seem daunting to take on, I think it’s the most approachable because of Thackeray’s humorous and personable writing style. In some instances, I think Thackeray does a better job then Jane Austen at satirizing British society in the 1800s. It’s not exactly a very uplifting book since it’s message seems to be that humans are a very hopeless race that can’t help being very vain creatures. However, it’s wit and well written plot deserve a once over if you’re a lover of classic literature.
*Film Adaptations: (Starring Reese Witherspoon 2004), (Starring Miriam Hopkins 1935), (Starring Myrna Loy 1932), (Starring Minnie Maddern Fiske 1915), TV Adaptations: (Starring Natasha Little 1998), (Starring Eve Matheson 1987), (Starring Susan Hampshire 1967), (Starring Diane Cilento 1961)