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Thackeray's Vanity Fair appeared in serial form between 1847 and 1848. It came out in yellow wrappers every month, the book version appearing in 1848. It is by far Thackeray's finest and most popular work, although Henry Esmond has been an A-level text and Barry Lyndon was made into a successful film. But Vanity Fair has stood the test of time, being continually shown on both small and large screens. This is undoubtedly due to the nature of his picara heroine Becky Sharp, a girl who rises from being an artist's daughter to a companion for peers and princes.

 

Becky is unlike other Victorian heroines in being a 'bad' girl who makes good, although WMT, The Manager of the Fair, teases the reader by censuring her from time to time, only later to delight in her sheer effrontery.

 

For those who love Victorian fiction Vanity Faiir is a must-read. It takes time to get through, but is strangely enough, despite WMT's intrusions, never dull. How Thackeray got away with presenting his middle-class readership with a heroine who is nothing less than a high-class whore is a miracle.

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Hello nonsuch. You may have missed Bill's comments in your thread on The Horse's Mouth but it would be helpful if you could enter author's names with the necessary capitals - it's a grammmatical rule we like to follow. It's not easy to change author details once entered.

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I must confess my abiding memory of Vanity Fair is of not liking it nearly as much as most other Victorian novels I've read. I rate it far below Middlemarch, notably. Compared with the brilliant and complex plot of Middlemarch, I found VF distinctly ramshackle. Unlike a number of Victorian novels, I can't imagine ever wanting to reread VF.

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Thanks jpf for your comment. Surely Middlemarch is such a different kind of book to Vanity Fair! Middlemarch is a great novel but not a very good stick to beat Thackeray with. The trouble with George Eliot - and don't get me wrong there's some trouble with every author - is that she's so damned monolithic. WMT, by contrast, is a novelist in motley, one who plays games with the reader - surely, an ungodly sin for the wise woman GE. WMT has more in common with Sterne; he enjoys provocation and is only obliquely the moralist on the yellow covers, who wears, you'll no doubt recall, both clown's hat and shovel hat. All this is usually missed in the many serialisations and movies based on the book. VF is no book for schoolboys; it has in abundance the one thing that GE lacks - a wicked sense of the ridiculous.

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You're right, nonsuch, other than being very broadly speaking Victorian novels, Vanity Fair and Middlemarch are not really to be judged by the same criteria.

I remember being told once that George Eliot had a very snooty and scornful attitude to the frivolities of Byron, and wouldn't be surprised if she'd felt the same, or similar, about Thackeray.

Off-topic here, but I'm reminded of the mention, in the Penguin Classics series, of

Herbert Spencer (whom [George Eliot] nearly married, only he found her too 'morbidly intellectual')
She quite probably had a slight Casaubon :geek: streak in her...

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Certainly Middlemarch and Vanity Fair are chalk and cheese in literary terms, though interesting in the way they represent opposite ends of the spectrum in Victorian society: Eliot the stern intellectual moralist passing on her sage lessons whilst Thackeray roguishly holds up the dazzling reprobate Becky for our guilty delight. It's odd, therefore, given what we tend to think of the contrasting moral stances of Victorian society and our own that Eliot tends to be more celebrated today whilst in his own time Thackeray was generally held up as second only to Dickens.

 

I love Vanity Fair. It is full of biting wit and has all the satirical strength of Dickens. It is not so well constructed, of course (another of Henry James' loose, baggy monsters) and in technical terms it is distinctly inferior to Middlemarch, but as a glorious, dazzling gallop through Victorian pretensions it's nigh on impossible to beat.

 

That Thackeray hasn't endured so well is probably because he did not maintain a consistent and satisfying line of development as an author. The satirical edge of work like Vanity Fair was dulled over the years and he ultimately became a bit tedious. I was rather bored by The History of Henry Esmond, which, ironically, is that much closer to Middlemarch in its promotion of noble values. I prefer him when he's poking fun at them. Eliot does intellectual moralising, not satire. She stuck to her strengths and it's a shame Thackeray didn't do the same.

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Hi all,

I'm about 3/4 of the way through Vanity Fair at the moment, and becoming not a little irritated by the constant authorial intrusion. Most distracting. I'm enjoying the satirial aspects and the humour, but structurally it is, frankly, a bit of a mess.

 

I think I'll read The Moonstone next....

 

Best wishes,

Sam

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Vanity Fair is and will remain a triumph of Victorian satire. It is Thackeray's greatest and only Great novel. Yes, Sam Peeps. I know the narrator can get tedious at times with his potted wisdom and ridiculous addiction to that sweet little heroine Amelia, but he can also see himself as a fake and Amelia as a silly little doll. He's actually a very tricky customer, playing roles and smirking at himself and the reader. The trouble with the many screen adaptations is that they are totally unable to convey this; they flatten out the narrative, simplify it and, of course, lose all of the author's masterly cadences.

 

Just as we forgive Dickens his atrocious sentimentality and preaching, so perhaps we have to forgive T his so-called 'intrusions' which, though they may bore us from time to time, add the necessary distance and are frequently pure gems of English prose.

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Vanity fair was my first ever classic. I really enjoyed it. I can't think of one character that I disliked and I found the waterloo scenes particularly moving. I was incredibly dissapointed with the film adaptation.

 

Very clear and vivid writing. A long book that feels too short.

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I was incredibly dissapointed with the film adaptation.

 

There have been so many screen adaptations, none wholly satisfactory, for reasons I suggested in the post before last. Natasha Little was exceptional as Becky in the TV adaptation a couple of years or so ago, but the whole thing with its dirge-like theme music and the ridiculous cartoon introductory threads doomed it.

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I found the book too long by far. It needed serious editing in my opinion, but I was highly amused by the satire. How Thackeray could call Becky a reprobate in one sentence and praise her ingenuity in the next was great, as was the way he called Amelia a little fool and simpleton, and yet admired her gentleness and humility. He doesn't take too much seriously, here, apart from Dobbin perhaps, who probably should have given up on Amelia sooner.

 

I admired Dobbin and poor Rawdon Crawley, who wanted to change for the better. I liked that he loved his son. I thought perhaps Jane should have married him instead of the pompous brother.

 

On the subject of the film, it's not bad. Of course it can't fit the entirety of such a ramshackle book as this into a two-hour film, but it does some interesting things with the story. Steyne was very interesting, as was the fact that Natasha Little (Becky from the 1998 BBC adaptation) plays Lady Jane here - support for Becky's claim that she could have been a good woman if she'd had five thousand pounds. Naturally Hollywood makes Becky a more sympathetic character. It also removes the sexuality of old Sir Pitt, which is very strong in the 1998 version.

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Vanity Fair is a perfect example of how biased we are while looking for faults in others and hiding our own. For Becky, Amelia was an emotional fool who deserved none of the comforts she had been enjoying since childhood, even less a loyal lover. While, she herself was the hapless victim of cruel destiny and deserved much higher status. I found this line of thought recurrent throughout the novel, in case of Dobbin, Sir Crawley, Rawdon. Each one of them was flawed and yet refused to accept so.

 

But, the best thing I liked was the entry of characters, almost each of them described in detail by some other character, pointing out their physical attributes and affectations. I felt it quite theatrical and life like at the same time. Isn't thats how we tend to look at people in our routjne life.

 

Last but not the least, WMT did become quite harsh on Becky in the last pages of novel. I wonder if Becky could not be painted in a better hue, an ambitious woman who tries to change her fate by her ingenuity.

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I suggest the reason he became 'harsh on Becky' was due to his capitulation to reader demands that bad girls were to be punished. Moral anarchists were not admitted into the Pantheon of polite literature.  On this note, you may be interested in my sequel to VF published in T's Bicentennial year, The Confessions of Becky Sharp.

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My grandmother loved this book precisely because Becky was an ambitious woman who did what she needed to do to improve her lot in life, even if not all of it was "good."  I've always thought that showed a side of my grandmother that she didn't always show to the world.  I have to admit I haven't read it, but this discussion has made me think I should.

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My grandmother loved this book precisely because Becky was an ambitious woman who did what she needed to do to improve her lot in life, even if not all of it was "good."  I've always thought that showed a side of my grandmother that she didn't always show to the world.  I have to admit I haven't read it, but this discussion has made me think I should.

Oh do give it a try, Binker. I don't think you'll be disappointed. I've read it three times!

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I suggest the reason he became 'harsh on Becky' was due to his capitulation to reader demands that bad girls were to be punished. Moral anarchists were not admitted into the Pantheon of polite literature. On this note, you may be interested in my sequel to VF published in T's Bicentennial year, The Confessions of Becky Sharp.

Guess you are right. It was definitely towards the end that Becky is portrayed as an out and out immoral and selfish woman. While beforehand, a sinister pleasure was delivered to the reader by her indulging in the forbidden acts.I often wondered whether she could be reinvented as an over ambitious woman, who did not let the usual sentiments of good and bad deter her from her goals, kinda ideal in our present times. But, then the best part is VF is not just about Becky, WMT treated almost every character harshly or should I say in a perfect satirical tone, bashing out on excess of innocence, trust, gluttony and devilry.

 

Binker, I think your grandmother actually voiced what we all secretly wish for, a perfect life despite our flaws. Often we overlook our mistakes and wonder aloud why others are being unjust to us, easily discounting our own ill treatments. And, thats why VF is perhaps still popular, it appeals to our silent selves.

Edited by anu

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Anu, I am sure you are right.  We all think we want everyone to get what they deserve, but what that really means is that we think we should get everything we want and other people should be punished for their flaws.  Although I try to be better than that, I'm not sure I always succeed.

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Yes, Binker it is one of those little anomalies of life we all have accepted without a second thought. Do read Vanity Fair and I am sure you would agree with WMT that excess of every folly is laughable provided it is not directed at ourselves :)

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