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Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

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Trivia: This has nothing to do with Vanity Fair. HOWEVER did you know, when she published the second edition of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë (who was still publishing under the androgynous pseudonym Curer Bell) dedicated the novel to Thackeray. What she did not realize at the time was that it was common knowledge that Thackeray had an insane wife who he cared for to the best of his abilities, but eventually, after she attempted suicide on numerous occasions and became permanently detached from reality, had to commit into private care. There were many theories about Mrs. Thackeray being the inspiration for Bertha, and a whole maelstrom of rumor and awkwardness. The moral of the story is, be careful with dedications!

Summary: Vanity Fair is a novel that charts the lives of two women - Becky and Amelia. Amelia is a sensitive, innocent, good-hearted girl born to a wealthy family, raised with the understanding that she would marry George Osborne, the son of a rich merchant. Becky is her friend and companion, the orphan child of a painter and a French opera-dancer, who is ruthless, cunning, and ambitious.

After failing to snare Amelia's fat, inspid brother Jos into marriage, Becky is employed as a governess by the Crawley family, a degenerated - but noble - family, amongst whom there is a bitter contest over who can best flatter Miss Crawley, a rich widow, into leaving them her fortune. Meanwhile George is a vain, empty-headed, self-absorbed dandy who is bored with Amelia's devotion. His best friend, Dobbin, a plain, stuttering, low-born man, is enchanted by Amelia. After Amelia's father loses his fortune, George's father breaks the engagement and Amelia deteriorates, thinking her whole purpose in life is lost. Dobbin takes it upon himself to arrange the wedding, whether or not the parents involved approve.

Becky spins her webs around Rawdon Crawley, the favorite to win the inheritance game, who is a gambler and known libertine. The two couples are married, and, just days into their honeymoons, the men are all called off to join the English army at a place called Waterloo...

Review: That summary did not even begin to cover HALF of what happens in the book. Which is to be expected, considering the prodigious length. Vanity Fair is an undertaking. It is long, it is detailed, and it is draining. The portrait of humanity that Thackeray presents is not a cheery one. That being said, it never descends to the level of being bleak. The satire is genuinely funny most of the time. We love to despise everyone. Amelia is weak and self-centered, Becky pitiless and self-centered, George disloyal and self-centered... are you sensing a pattern? Thackeray slowly, carefully brings us to an understanding and loathing of every single character. Even Dobbin, with his generosity and self-effacing love, is not free from fault.

This is a novel, ultimately, about vanity. Every action in the novel is driven by vanity - the hysteria over money and titles, the so-called love, the marriages, the births, the deaths. The characters of Vanity Fair lack any and all introspection. They do not KNOW themselves, and thus do not recognize themselves as monsters and parodies. Everyone plunges headlong into games of self-flattery and charade, like children, ignoring the looming presence of death just in the next room.

Therare glimpses of human goodness which shine out in the novel seem to do so all the more because they are surrounded by so much frivolity and negligent evil.

I would recommend this novel, but it should be read slowly. I know a lot of people love Becky and think she's a fantastic heroine, despite being a wicked little snake. I personally detested her, but to each their own. I detested everyone in the novel, so... that isn't saying too much.

Quotations: "He had placed himself at her feet so long that the poor little woman had been accustomed to trample upon him. She didn't wish to marry him, but she wished to keep him. She wished to give him nothing, but that he should give her all. It is a bargain not unfrequently levied in love."
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