Vanity Fair: Victorian Literature Challenge

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…

 

The Woman in White: Victorian Literature Challenge

My view
What can I say about this book? It totally took me by surprise. Initially, I expected to be bored by it and the only reason I picked it up was for the challenge that I was determined to take part in. But I was hooked the moment I started. The Woman in White intrigued me, claimed my attention, and caused me to doubt as much as the protagonist Walter Hartright himself.

The Woman in White is said to be ‘one of the greatest mystery thrillers in the English language’ (back cover) and this is no understatement. I have always been a lover of all things mysterious (read all of Agatha Christie’s detective novels!), but this type of mystery thriller was new to me. The Victorian idea of mystery was theatrical and gothic. Just look at Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights; but The Woman in White lacks the gothic element (thank God!) and is more realistic. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and would recommend it to all who love mystery with romance.

Summary
The story is written by a series of narrators, with the narrator most directly involved in the story chosen at each point. Walter Hartright, a drawing master, has been engaged to instruct two young ladies in the art of sketching and painting at Limmeridge House. On the eve of his departure, he meets a strange young woman, all in white. Who is she? where is she from? what is she doing out alone so late at night? are the natural questions which occur to Walter. But it is her odd manner and her mention of Limmeridge House that strikes him as curious. She obviously knows the place and its occupants. But the mystery is to remain unsolved for the present as he is able to get no answer out of her.  She leaves him in a state of perplexity and curiosity.

The woman in white does not make her exit here; she is the impetus that guides the whole story. To discover her identity, her odd resemblance to Laura Fairlie, her mysterious messages, and her connections to the people he loves, leads Walter on. At Limmeridge House he meets Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe, his two students. A strong bond develops between them all.

Soon, a grievous mischance happens that tears everybody apart. Now it is up to Walter to bring them together and with that to bring about the fall of the Count and Sir Percival. Will he be successful is something you have to find out by reading! I’ve already told you the WHOLE story!

Behind a Mask or A Woman’s Power

In Behind a Mask Louisa May Alcott takes a turn from her usual style. Known for writing the light family drama Little Women, Behind a Mask glimpses towards the darker side. The characters all seem charming in the beginning but we are left wondering how an author who can create such good characters as Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy March can create a Jean Muir.

Louisa May Alcott, in her novels, focused a lot on morals. Her heroines are strong-minded young woman who, at the same time are feminine. Jean Muir, a governess, is at first shown as a meek, misunderstood girl of 18 – but she is not what she seems. She quickly instigates herself into the family, worming her way into the hearts of all the occupants. Even the most mistrusting soon succumb to her unique charm. Is she what she seems? Or does she have a dark purpose behind all that she does? What is behind the sweet, misunderstood mask of Jean Muir? Lucia, the fiance of the master of the house, has enough womanly instincts to see past Jean Muir’s feminine wiles, but she lacks the scrutiny and cleverness of Jean Muir. She knows something is wrong but does not have enough insight into the matter, or quickness to do anything about it. Instead, she plays right into Jean’s hands and becomes a catalyst for the inevitable reaction.

I really enjoyed reading Behind a Mask. I have always loved Louisa May Alcott’s writing style and after reading this novel, I like her character portrayal even more. It was refreshing to see another side of human nature and to see how the less fortunate members of society may act. Set in England, the book appeals to me even more; especially since I love books set during the Victorian Era!