Saturday, July 16, 2005

Vanity Fair by W. M. Thackeray

I will say one thing about this book.
It is vile.
Oh, the writing is superb and vastly entertaining, fresh and interesting, and everything begins wonderfully...
But it is vile.
I suppose the title of the book should have warned me. It's bad news when a book has a subtitle of "A Novel Without Heroes." Naturally, I scoffed at it, clinging to my belief that all stories must and will have heroes, even if it is an anti-hero with some wonderful redeeming trait... After all, what kind of plot can it be with only villains? What kind of climax would it be, what suspense would there be if there were no hero?
I thought: it's just not done. There has to be a hero.
I have been Proven Wrong.
There are no heroes.
Within the first sixty pages, I loathed every single one of the characters.
I don't know how I finished the rest of the book (and there were plenty of pages left...)
I think, perhaps, it was just a morbid curiousity to see how everything resolved out.
To see if everyone suffered as they ought.
To see if they had all gone to Hell and were burning in the fires of eternal damnation...
That was how hate-able the characters were.
But what are you to expect with a title like Vanity Fair?
The story is about two starkly contrasting girls, one orphaned and poor, but ingenious and iron-willed--Becky Sharp. The other is the daughter of a rich, city merchant--Amelia Sedley, who is kind and sweet and soft-hearted...and lacking both a brain and a backbone.
Becky Sharp, plenty smart and utterly charming when she wants to be, probably could have been even likeable if she were not so completely selfish and driven by social ambition and if she cared even the slightest bit for others. She charms the entire Crawley household, is proposed to by the father (Sir Pitt) and secretly marries the son (Rawdon of the giant mustachio.) Rawdon is a boorish, lazy soldier (a dragoon) who hasn't a farthing to his name but lives entirely off credits--and whatever his father tosses his way. His father, who was quite fond of Becky and good-humoredly took her refusal to his proposal when she admits that she has already married "another man", is furious to find that this other man is his own son. Perhaps Rawdon's sole redeeming quality is that he does, in fact, care for Becky--perhaps loves her, even, which says something about his heart, even if it does nothing for his judgment.
Amelia, meanwhile, spineless, frail Amelia, has married her childhood friend, Osborne, who is quite a little toady, gambles shamelessly, and, after a while, tires of Amelia and finds that Becky (who he had condemned quite scathingly before as inferior society) quite...fascinating.
Amelia is boring. Moral but dull.
That is all I have to say on that.
And so, the story revolves on the separate, but intertwined, adventures of these two girls, and as it all progresses, we wonder: What has the world come to?
It is what one would call, I suppose, a depressing book, one that totally lowers a person's outlook on life and the world and humanity in general....
I'd go with the movie.
That, at least, has some humor.

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