Russell's Reviews > Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
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May 10, 12

Read in February, 2007

Thackeray's opus is a wonder. Long, yes, but so very good in so many ways.

He's part Oscar Wilde, part Jonathan Swift, with a dash of Dickens, but all his own voice.

Since the story is so long and sprawling, I only jotted down a few notes on my impressions.

* He breaks the 4th wall, some times with savage glee, yanking it down making you look at yourself and the characters in a new light. Other times he does it with delicacy, sliding back the wall and making you feel like it's just him and you in the same room, both of you enjoying the wit and banter of this story, you his equal and friend.

* It's long. He wrote it in installments, and got paid by the pound. Okay, maybe not by the pound, but it was in his best interest to keep the story going. And so it goes on for a long time. However, I was never bored, never wanting to skip this chapter and get it over.

* Becky Sharp? Wicked, resourceful, likable and detestable. All too human, which is why I liked her, and deplored her. Brilliant dance of vagueness and ambiguity about how rotten she was, fantastic ending of her partial rise and questions of her motives. She is an archetype, some times playing the saint, other times playing Clytemnestra.

* The title. It's from "Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan. Vanity Fair sits out side the town Vanity on the path to heaven. Thackeray uses this motif to expose humanity's frailties and foibles.

* All of humanities weaknesses gently mocked, virtues decried as so much humbug and hypocrisy, upper class skewered under his pen and he kept going all the way down to the lower class now and then.

* Sometimes it feels like a morality play. Just a touch.

There is so much more to say, but I would never be able to do this book justice.

I strongly recommend this book. Yes, it's long, but you might just find a wonderful adventure among humanity in Vanity Fair.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Chris Gager Do you mean Dickens?


Russell I do indeed! Thank you for catching that!


message 3: by T (last edited Jul 17, 2014 12:55PM) (new)

T Moore Russel: Excellent review.

By the pound comes through over and over.

Same-same as much of Dicken's stuff or the The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman ( As the laboriously written (and to read) was less than a century before - I have never been able to finish even Vol. 1)

I like to see much of VF as runaway wordsmith filigreeing. Joyce sure had it.

We must remember, these Brit writers of the mid 19th century writers didn't have the influences of the writers who would follow them - beyond Walter Scott - a forerunner in the brevity style movement (this would be debated by some). And remember, these early writers were a reflection of their time's, culture's and reader's expectations .

Read and compare, *Twain - coming less than a generation after or *Crane - super clear style in The Red Badge of Courage less than 50 years later - a clear departure in style or *Hesse - in the 1920s Siddhartha or *Pearl Buck - super sparse style in the 1920s or Steinbeck - new clean style in the 1930s.

That said, wordsmith filigree still exists - Pynchon certainly had it. Try reading his Mason & Dixon (I have been working on that for months - with a one page forward and two pages back assault on it. It has become my literary Mount Everest with its dangerous and near impossible dialect and anarchic style to climb upwards through - I know, I will need oxygen tanks before I summit it)


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