Vanity Fair is a thoroughly Victorian novel. You’d think that was obvious, I mean, I picked it for the Victorian Literature challenge. But what I mean is, that it’s Victorian unlike the other books of the same period I’ve read. It’s got the same obtruding author like Charlotte Bronte and Anthony Trollope; the same reference to everyday life as in Charles Dickens; and of course the same reference to morality and the fake society – you can tell that just by the title. And yet it felt so much more than the others. The story was the period. It’s a novel without a hero, so we’re told, but I think that’s because it’s mostly a story of the time. Becky, the protagonist if there is one, lives the life and Thackeray tells the tale of a governess who tries progressing in the world. A hypocritical world.
I’m not being very clear am I? That’s because the book left all my thoughts in a jumble. I didn’t like the way the story was told. The characters were introduced one by one, not as they entered the story but all together. The story had two threads and Thackeray picked them up whenever he liked going back and forth in time. Not really tangling them up, but making a somewhat haphazard pattern. I didn’t enjoy jolting in and out of one story line to pursue the other. Some parts were brilliant and I waited breathlessly for the outcome, only to be jerked out of the suspense and dropped into a stale story that Thackeray had left cold a couple of chapters behind. I mean WTH?!
The story was good, I just didn’t enjoy the way he presented it. And style matters a lot.
The novel has some interesting characters each lending something to the atmosphere of Vanity Fair. Leading, we have the protagonist Rebecca Sharp. She is sharp as her name suggests which is how she is able to survive in the harsh world of Vanity Fair. Here hypocrisy is the only truth worth knowing. People who know how to please are the ones who get on. Rebecca, or Becky as she is called, has learned the ways of the rich early and she knows exactly how to wheedle up to an old spinster, or charm an old reprobate to her simplicity and youth. She is poor, but clever and the little governess soon rises up in the world.
With such an unscrupulous character, the novel would be incomplete if we didn’t have a suitable foil. Thackeray didn’t disappoint and we have the perfect angel in the form of Amelia Sedley. Gentle, caring and loved by all, she is the one who first befriends Rebecca Sharp. They have both just recently quitted Miss Pinkerton’s academy for young ladies and are starting out in the world. Amelia’s path is assured to success and happiness. She is rich and has a handsome fiance. But things in Vanity Fair aren’t what they seem and she soon finds herself in a different situation…