Sparrow's Reviews > Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1302775
's review
Apr 29, 11

bookshelves: classic-or-cannonical, do-not-judge-by-the-cover, girls-rule, hilarious, reviewed, motherless-daughters
Recommended for: Michaele Salahi
Read in January, 2005

You should probably read this book because it is pretty hilarious. If you don’t want to, though – if you’re a wuss about page length and the words Waterloo and Wellington aren’t enough to overcome it – there are some acceptable alternatives about which I will gladly tell you now. While the feature film was TERRIBLE, COMPLETELY SPOILED THE STORY, and didn’t pay attention to ANY of the jokes (shaking my fist at that ruiner, Mira Nair!), the A&E miniseries is really good. Like, really, really good. I could watch it over and over - and have. The other, perhaps even better alternative, however, is the modern retelling of Vanity Fair, The Real Housewives of D.C., starring Michaele Salahi as Becky Sharp.

I mean, really all the Real Housewives are retellings of Vanity Fair – they all tell the same basic story – but D.C. is the only one that implicates all the grandeur of aristocracy and national security, so I think it’s the one that’s so similar it makes me pause for a moment at its awesomeness. I was horrified to hear that there is talk D.C. will be canceled, so I invite you to prevent this tragic wrong and start catching up on all the D.C. Housewives you can get your hands on. Or, you know, write a letter to your local Bravo TV rep, or whatever you do to save a show.

Anyway, for those of you who want substantive information, the story of Vanity Fair, the story of the Housewives of D.C. (and all the Housewives, for that matter), is that somebody throws a party and doesn’t invite one of the girls, and then that girl crashes the party anyway. Then, people fight. The cool thing about the D.C. Housewives is that the crashed party is at the White House, and the people-fighting part involves a congressional hearing. Vanity Fair is the same, but the people fighting are at the Battle of Waterloo at one point. In VF and D.C., the uninvited girl is the truth-challenged social climber, and both have pretty poignant commentaries on wealth and credit, imo.

It's been quite some time since I read this book, to be honest, but I remember vividly that once, while reading this book, I had to put it down and sit for a minute because I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t see the page anymore at this situationally hilarious joke. I still remember the joke, and I still think it is so funny. The Housewives are pretty much like that too. It is tragic that probably the traditional Vanity Fair crowd and the traditional Housewives crowd don’t mix more often. Stories about social climbing are so fun! Even if they are both really long taken in one sitting. They are serials! Don’t try to cram them if you don’t want to. But if you like to hear stories about people who, like, really like to party, these two are the same, but both worth checking out. I guess it depends on whether you feel like picking up a “classic” or saving a show from extinction. Or, if you don’t have a lot of other things going on, or a lot of parties of your own to crash, you could do both! You won’t regret it.
20 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Vanity Fair.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

Sparrow Really? I think it is pretty common. I looked through a few reviews. Kristi posted a bunch of quotes and most of them are pretty funny. I think even the book blurb says something about it. I don't think I'm being too creative.


message 2: by Kelly (last edited Apr 30, 2011 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly VF being funny is definitely the major line on(and major point of) the book, and also why its survived so long with such a big fan club, imo. I def don't think Meredith and I are alone on that one!

Meredith, your Housewives metaphor is so perfect. Becky Sharp would have her own Bravo TV empire. And her party crashing PR shitstorm would have been much better handled than the Salahis. Or at least with better wit.


message 3: by Sparrow (last edited Apr 30, 2011 10:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow Thanks, Kelly! Don't you think she would own reality TV? I think it's one of those books where you have to read it and say people are just the same as they've ever been.

I was reading some of the quotes on Kristi's review, and LOLing last night. Especially the ones where Thackery breaks through the fourth wall, like you were talking about in your review. So funny! There was one where Becky said something like, "I'm no angel." And then the narrator voice goes, "And truly, reader, she wasn't." Such a smartass. I think they kind of create the same effect with the music in Housewives a lot of times. Sometimes the music is so great on that show.

Unfortunately, I think the title kind of makes it seem like it will be a horrible Henry James novel. Uck.


message 4: by Kelly (last edited Apr 30, 2011 10:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly I think it's one of those books where you have to read it and say people are just the same as they've ever been.

YES. I feel like I hear so often that WWI changed the world (or at least the Euro-American world) so thoroughly that we'll never really understand what came before. Vanity Fair is a pretty strong argument that not everything changed.

I'll have to check out Kristi's review, I don't know how I've missed it! Thackeray himself is definitely the reason to read the novel. I've never noticed the Housewives music effect, but the people they keep around to stare in dumb shock to remind us how we should be reacting to these paragons of awfulness I think also kind of does the same thing you're talking about. (However, I think that you're totally right about music's commentary qualities. Beethoven's verdict on music from this movie has always struck me as correct- starts at 1:36 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7LmeL... )

I blame the magazine and its neverending elegy for the Kennedy administration for ruining the title!


Sparrow Ah! That's so great about the music. Definitely true. Yeah, the music in the Housewives is a little different with each show. I think New Jersey does it the best, but they all have some really great shot-reaction-shot sound effects. So funny! Also made more hilarious by the earnestness of the people saying the insane lines.

Agreed about the WWI comment. I mean, I do think there has to be something true to that, but at the same time, I don't think the majority of the leisure class have their lives much affected by war. And maybe there is just something about most humans that is trivial and silly, and nice, when untainted by machine warfare and holocausts.

I didn't read all of Kristi's review because it's basically all the best quotes from the book, and there are a lot, but the first few that I did read are really awesome.

Mariel's review is pretty great, too. I'm just over here pimpin' out the girls' reviews.


Sparrow Oh, and agreed about the magazine. I hadn't thought about that.


message 7: by Kelly (last edited Apr 30, 2011 11:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly I mean, I do think there has to be something true to that, but at the same time, I don't think the majority of the leisure class have their lives much affected by war. And maybe there is just something about most humans that is trivial and silly, and nice, when untainted by machine warfare and holocausts.

Totally. That's one of the things I've noticed when reading diaries and letters from the period amongst at least the English upper classes. It's mostly, "When will this horrid war be over so we can visit the Riviera again?" And if its mentioned that someone lost something due to the war, it's very sort of peeking in from the side: "Oh, and don't mention the children in front of Lady so and so at dinner, she lost her son in France, you know, and she'll be upset and the evening will be quite spoilt.." But in the end, it is nice to see people carrying on and getting through the day in spite of it all, agreed. However horrible and social climbery that might be.

Um, NJ is clearly the best of the Housewives shows from the little I've seen. The "prostitute whore!" table flip remains a classic.

I can't find Kristi's! Weird! But Mariel's is indeed hilarious. Yay more smart people liking this book! (Or er, perhaps not in Mariel's case, I can't tell. :))


message 8: by Sparrow (last edited Apr 30, 2011 11:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sparrow Ha! No, Mariel's probably the smartest of all of us, at least one of the smartest. I think she was just contributing a TEEN-ALL-CAPS review to the mix.

Here is Kristi's: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Yeah, NJ is probably the best. But, I don't know. DC and Beverly Hills were SO GOOD. The medium in Beverly Hills? Almost as good as the table throw. Almost. And the new Mob Wives one might beat them all. I'm obviously obsessed.

That's just it with the leisure-class thing. I love that kind of thing. Like, who are we if we can't be civilized and pretty? ;) So great. But, I guess kind of true, too. There's some kind of hope in it that I like, even if it's fake enough to make me uneasy. But, I don't know. I still like it. I ultimately usually like the Housewives as people, even though a lot of times I still have that nice feeling of superiority at not being so shallow as them. I'm probably exactly as shallow as them, in reality, and I'm just not as rich.


Sparrow Ohhhh, it was someone else. It's Kirsti. I don't know her, but I am friends with her, I guess. I was thinking it was Kristi. Oops.


message 10: by Kelly (last edited Apr 30, 2011 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly I didn't mean to imply that Mariel wasn't smart, oh no! Clearly smart! Just that perhaps she might not have liked it- that wasn't as clear. Damn my incoherent internet way of expressing myself. I apologize in advance to mariel if she reads this and reads that wrong!

OMG, the Kirsti review is great reading! I am reconfirmed in loving this book all over again.

Like, who are we if we can't be civilized and pretty? ;)

This is so true, and a great observation. Though I feel like the Housewives people have shrunk this to "pretty". Not being civilized is almost like a mark of honor- to show they are one of the "real people". I clearly have not watched enough of them to analyze which one is best, so I will leave it to your judgment. Um, also, Mob Wives sounds hilarious. My favorite moment of the NJ franchise is still when one of them whipped out 100,000 in cash to pay for furniture and then was like.. "My husband works in waste management." *frozen face, camera beat*. "Really."


Mariel It was the teen parody thing. I'm definitely not smart. I read Vf as a teen and thought it was tragic because she was born at the wrong time.


Sparrow hahahaha! So true about the civilized part.

Yeah, that was another Theresa moment on the NJ Housewives. She is probably the all-time best housewife, imo. Mob Wives just started this week and it was almost (dare I say it?) . . . gritty. It started out with a physical altercation between two of the ladies, so I'm pretty sure it'll end in hugs and puppies.

Ohhh! about Mariel! I was thinking, "Does Kelly not know Mariel?" That makes way more sense. Yeah, I guess you can't tell from the review if she likes it or not. She must, though, right? It's such a good book!


Sparrow Mariel wrote: "It was the teen parody thing. I'm definitely not smart. I read Vf as a teen and thought it was tragic because she was born at the wrong time."

WHATEVER! you are totally the smartest. We all agreed, so you don't get a say in the matter. Good job creeping on the review, too.


message 14: by Kelly (last edited Apr 30, 2011 11:48AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly WHATEVER! you are totally the smartest. We all agreed, so you don't get a say in the matter. Good job creeping on the review, too.

Seconded! And your teen self was not far wrong- after all, Meredith and I are talking about how she would've killed it on reality TV, so it is indeed tragic she missed on making her fortune. And also for being a generally kickass strong woman and being applauded for that. She's totally the best, "I'm not here to make friends" character to stay with the reality TV metaphor. :)

Mob Wives sounds like an excellent summer distraction. If nothing else, we can take bets on who will survive the season.


Sparrow Kelly wrote: "Mob Wives sounds like an excellent summer distraction. If nothing else, we can take bets on who will survive the season."

Oooo, good call! And, yes, teen-Mariel was totally right!

We discuss the housewives here if you ever care to join: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/4...


message 16: by Kelly (last edited Apr 30, 2011 11:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly Thanks, I'll keep that link around in case. :) I still can't manage to make it through full episodes of the Housewives without turning away or turning it off out of horror/disgust/awkwardness at least five times, but I do find myself wanting to turn back to it for some reason. Trainwreck fascinations endure!


Sparrow Yep! Good luck with the rest of your term!


Mariel I saw my name at the top of my update feed. :)


Sparrow Ha! Yeah, I figured. It was really good timing, though.


Mariel Karen always knows when someone mentions her name. Karen!


Sparrow I was thinking it was a twin power that you have. Maybe karen is secretly not telling us that she's a twin. hmmmmm. . . .


Mariel Who could her twin be?


Sparrow Mary Lou Retton, probably. Retton's probably claiming to be older just to throw us off the twin trail.


Mariel That makes a whole lotta sense. Is Greg secretly training her for the olympics for a mighty comeback?


Sparrow I would think . . . It's really the only logical explanation.


Mariel I hope the gold medal is made of chocolate.


Sparrow I hope, for her sake, it is.


Sparrow He's over at Ceridwen's review speculating about TEH PRON. I'm all abandoned. sigh.


message 29: by Alex (last edited May 01, 2011 07:50AM) (new)

Alex Ok ...

"In the play "Don Juan", the statue of a deceased commander appears from time to time to remind the amoral hero, Don Juan, about his duties and responsibilities. It is a forbidding figure and a harbinger of doom."

Who has called for me here ?
Must be Donna Anna, oops ... (typo again) - read it as Meredith - she loves men so much, she can not cope if just one of them dared to temporarily escape from her list.

Speaking of substance (as I appear to be the only self proclaimed man of substance, who is approved as such in these circles) - I only could speculate that
Thackeray had a lot of vision into the bright future (that is what we have right now) and that he wrote Vanity Fair merely in anticipation of much better and much more Modern piece of Art, called, as you know, "The Real Housewives of D.C."


message 30: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Isn't the statue of the murdered father of one of the women Don Giovanni has raped? Where is this comparison going, exactly?


Sparrow Miriam wrote: "Isn't the statue of the murdered father of one of the women Don Giovanni has raped? Where is this comparison going, exactly?"

I think he's saying he's coming back to haunt me.


message 32: by Alex (last edited May 01, 2011 04:30PM) (new)

Alex Miriam - Actually Commander was Donna Anna's (yes old) husband, whom Don Juan (or Don Giovanni as you like it) killed.
But I don't mind to be the daddy figure in here (it is safer that way).

Meredith - you are smart as always.


message 33: by Hollie (new)

Hollie This is on my to-read list, and the first paragraph of your review made me decide it's what's next. Haha! Thanks! Great review.


Sparrow Thank you! Yay! It is so good!


back to top