El's Reviews > Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
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Jan 22, 12

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bookshelves: 1001-books-list, big-effing-books, 19th-centurylit-early
Read from January 08 to 22, 2012

There was a girl I knew in school that made my formative years (for this purpose I'm considering the "formative years" to be 11-14) a bloody hell. She was a nasty, manipulative, cruel girl who, unfortunately for me, also had the luck of being beautiful and popular. She was wretched to the little people, and I was a little person. She was mean to me but I so wanted her to be my friend because I thought if I was her friend and a part of her circle, then everything would be okay. Life would be perfect.

I remember one day in class as we were down to the last few minutes before the bell, our teacher just let us all sit around and talk. There was a school dance that evening and it was all anyone wanted to talk about. The teacher happened to ask this popular girl if she was looking forward the dance. This girl made a comment that has stayed with me all these years: "Yeah, but I still haven't decided how I'm going to act tonight." The teacher asked what she meant by that and this girl went on to explain, "Well, if I act sad I can get a lot more attention from people, like the boys." She said it so nonchalantly, as if this was something she did every day, like waking up and brushing her hair; looking back I realize she probably did. She probably did think about what sort of attention she would get based on how she behaved. I was sort of scared of her in that moment - someone my age who knew more about human nature than I thought I ever could, someone who knew how to manipulate everyone around her. It was freakish and sort of awesome all at once.

I thought of that girl a lot while reading Vanity Fair. Becky Sharp is just as dangerous a character as that girl I knew was in real life. The concept of "being nice" was foreign to both of them; why bother being nice to people who couldn't get you anywhere in life? Why bother being nice to someone who is, for all intents and purposes, below you? It's a crazy thought process but that's what Becky (and this other girl) were all about.

What's interesting to me is that Becky is not really the main character of the story. Just like that girl I knew in school. As far as I was concerned at the time, the sun rose and set because of her. Everyone knew who she was, everyone wanted to be her friend, even the teachers. Looking back as an adult I realize everyone was really just afraid of her as I was, but I thought there was something more to the power she held. But no, she (and Becky Sharp) were just that insidious. There were other people in the school - myself included - but none of those other people mattered when she was around. Same holds true with Vanity Fair. There are other characters, like Amelia, but they're almost completely overshadowed by this really insignificant person - even during the parts that didn't include Becky, the reader is just waiting for her to step her precious little foot back into the story.

I hear that this girl from my school days is married and has some kids and has found religion. I'm told she's not as bad as she used to be. But I'm not going to lie - that girl messed me up, and now I can't imagine her being a good mother to her kids; I sort of think she probably treats them the same way Becky Sharp treated her own child in the story: as a nuisance, serving only the purpose of gaining attention for herself when necessary. Perhaps that's being unfair to that girl from school to imagine that's how she is; everyone can change. Hell, I'm not the same kid I was back when I knew her, so chances are she's just as capable of change as well. But a part of me needs her to still be that nasty little bitch I knew then because it makes me feel better about me - which, funnily enough, isn't that different from Becky Sharp at all.

The truth of the matter is that we all have a little Becky Sharp in us somewhere. It may be larger piece in some than in others, and maybe we all have a little bit of Amelia as well (who isn't quite as interesting but worthy of a little disgust thrown her way too, just for different reasons). We all love having someone to hate on - for some it's the Kardashians, for some it's Lady Gaga. It contributes to the way society works, and no one is free of it. We love to hate, and Thackeray wrote some characters in Vanity Fair that are absolutely delicious to hate - it's just Becky Sharp is the strongest of them all.

'Cause she's a bitch, through and through.
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Reading Progress

01/09/2012 page 77
10.0%
01/18/2012 page 413
54.0% "This book almost won my heart over by a character suggesting Rebecca get a pug that could fit in a snuff-box."
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by TK421 (new) - added it

TK421 Becky Sharp is one of the best characters in literature. Great review.


Sketchbook I usually dont like personal-bloggy "reviews." But this one is terrific and I salute you.


message 3: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Gavin wrote: "Becky Sharp is one of the best characters in literature. Great review."

Thanks, Gavin! I really did love to hate her.


message 4: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Sketchbook wrote: "I usually dont like personal-bloggy "reviews." But this one is terrific and I salute you."

Wow, thank you very much, Sketchbook. I appreciate that!


Amber Great, reflective review. Your story was *argh* painful and familiar! I just finished the book for the second time after a long time. From where I am now, I disagree with your idea that we all need someone to hate on. Maybe I am old now, or have had too much counseling, or too much yoga, but even as I was reading the most painful scenes, I still had a little compassion for Rebecca. She was doing the best she could, as she understood it. Granted her best was infrequent and not much, but she did do a kind thing in the end, telling Amelia about George... Kind, in that it helped Amelia move the fuck on... Cruel too and she got pleasure from that, but kind. Maybe that is what makes this such a great book. No easy answers here.


message 6: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Thanks for your comment, Amber. Definitely no easy answers here. I actually agree that we don't necessarily need someone to hate on; but as a whole I feel people do love having someone to hate on - for most people it makes them feel better about themselves. This doesn't make it right, of course. I think it's just there and it's good to be aware of it. I do believe, still though, that people have redeeming feature(s) as well, which can lead to compassion. I also think it's easier to interpret that in literature because all the facts are laid out for the reader, whereas in day-to-day interactions, we only get what we're presented - making it easier sometimes to hate on rather than to find compassion.

Almost more importantly, though - good gravy, is that a flying pug in your picture?? That is adorable.


Petra X Great review. I love personal stories.


message 8: by El (new) - rated it 3 stars

El Thanks, Petra. It's sometimes difficult for me to NOT include personal stories, just because that is how literature effects me. :)


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