Every now and again I leave the world of modern writers and revert to the classics I feel I should read. So it was with Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery the book that tells the story of two women whose characters are completely different, but whose lives intertwine.
The first of the women, Becky Sharp, is an orphan whose only resources are her vast ambitions, her native wit, and her loose morals. The other, is her schoolmate Amelia Sedley, a typically naive Victorian heroine, the pampered daughter of a wealthy family.
The term “Vanity Fair” is adopted from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, suggesting a never-ending fair along the pilgrim’s route, loosely a playground of the idle and undeserving rich: a microcosm of several nineteenth century lives while Vanity Fair is sub-titled is ‘A novel without a hero’. However, despite all her faults, our heroine is definitely Becky.
Becky Sharp is penniless, cunning and attractivebut she is also ‘a hardened little reprobate’. To begin with, she is determined to make her way in society and when she leaves school, under a cloud, Becky joins her friend Emmy’s family in London.
Emmy is good-natured but naïve. Her brother Jos is visiting and is attracted to Becky, but the potentially fruitful courtship is stymied by George Osborne, the suitor of Emmy, after an outing at Vauxhall. George’s best friend William is secretly in love with Emmy, but appreciates that she does not consider him in any kind of romantic light; he seems doomed to sustain unrequited love.
To me, the narrator’s voice in the novel was a bit irritating, at first. It seemed that at every opportune moment, the narrator took a step back and informed us, the reader, of some nugget, some little moral, that placed the actions of the participants in the Fair in context. Vanity Fair is with us, all around us; and many times we never fully understand the roles that the players play. However as time went on, I grew to find it useful: this voice of reason grounds us; makes us understand the joy, the pain, the happiness, and the sorrow that accompanies each of us in our journey through life. If we care to, we can learn to become better parents, better husbands, better wives, and better friends.
Vanity Fair is a wonderfully complex, varied tale of loves, lives, conflict and, sometimes resolution. It would make an excellent book group read. I enjoyed the story very much. far more than I expected.
William had been sent to England earlier, at the age of five, with a short stopover at St. Helena where the imprisoned Napoleon was pointed out to him. He was educated at schools in Southampton and Chiswick and then at Charterhouse School.
Thackeray, an only child, was born in Calcutta, India, where his father, Richmond Thackeray (1 September 1781 – 13 September 1815), held the high rank of secretary to the board of revenue in the British East India Company. His mother, Anne Becher (1792–1864) was the second daughter of Harriet and John Harman Becher and was also a secretary (writer) for the East India Company.