Vanity Fair (Review)

Labels: Great Works


Vanity Fair
William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848
912 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May 2009

Becky Sharpe is the heroine you love to hate. She so dominates this novel—like Satan in Paradise Lost—that Thackeray must have been, as William Blake said about Milton, of the "devil's party and didn't know it." His Becky is mesmerizingly awful!

Yet maybe she isn't. Placed in the early 1800's, in a cultural mileau that values only lineage and wealth, Becky Sharpe has neither. And so she makes use of the only assets in her possession—beauty, intelligence, and a sturdy will—to gain entry into the good life. If people are foolish enough to be taken in ... then so be it.

If you love Jane Austen with her keen social eye and devastating wit, you'll love Thackeray. He lampoons it all—the hollow pomp, the self-regard, hypocrisy, and false morality. Here's a lovely sample:

My Lord George Gaunt could not only read, but write pretty correctly. He spoke French with considerable fluency; and was on of the finests waltzers in Europe. With these talents...there was little doubt that his lordhip would rise to the highest dignities in his profession.

Even Amelia Sedley, Becky's angelic opposite, remains stubbornly deluded in her love for the wrong man and blind to the only man who offers her selfless devotion. And all is played out against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, whose skirmishes on the battle field mirror those on the domestic front.

Ah, vanity of vanities. It's great fun! Long...but fun.

See our Reading Guide for Vanity Fair.

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