Book Review: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Preview… Lately, I have been reminiscing about novels whose stories, for whatever reason, have replayed in my mind time and again. Today, my mind is drifting back into the world so expertly portrayed byWilliam Makepeace Thackeray in his timeless classic, “Vanity Fair.”

Subtitled “A Novel without a Hero,” one does not have to do much digging to validate this claim. Our two primary anti-heroines are each desperately flawed in dramatically different ways.

Becky Sharp, perhaps one of the most intriguing literary characters of all time, is a cunning and selfish vamp who will do almost anything to break into the upper crust of society.

Amelia Sedley provides a sharp contrast to Becky. While Becky’s social scheming proves that she is strong-headed and independent, Ameila, though honest and kind to the utmost, holds in her heart an undying love for her undeserving husband, showing the reader the human embodiment of blind trust and absolute naïveté.

Without a doubt, it is the strength of these two diametrically opposed characters that carries the novel along. “Vanity Fair” is a novel that will make you angry. You will be disgusted at how cruel Becky can be, even to those who would do her well; you will clench your firsts in frustration as Amelia continues to be strung along by her dead husband’s lies and rejects the love of a noble man who truly cherishes her.

Just mention the name ‘Becky Sharp’ and watch my face turn red as slanderous epithets escape my pursed lips — ask my book group. It is entirely accurate to say that no other character, living or literary, has had quite the same affect on my temperament.

Other readers may identify with Becky’s destitute circumstances and admire her ambition; they may even forgive her for greedily stepping up the social ladder on the heads of anyone who had ever shown her kindness. While I can never forgive Ms. Sharp her faults, I will always revere “Vanity Fair” as one of the best books ever written. A true must-read!

You may like this book if… you appreciate characters who are strongly developed and unmistakable in their actions (even if they are quite frustrating at times), you enjoy novels that explore the themes of social climbing or take place in the era of governess-managed estates, you find social satire to be highly amusing, you enjoy an omnipresent outside narrator (who occasionally dips into the story), you find sarcasm and wit to be the absolute best forms of humor, you have enjoyed other novels of the picaresque sub-genre, your heart melts for a pure love story, you are intrigued by the British involvement in India, you’d like to meet some mid-nineteenth century metrosexuals, you can’t take my word for it—you must be the one to decide if Becky Sharp is forgivable.

You may not like this book if… you think novels needs heroes to drive them forward, you need to like a character if you are to read about her for 600-some pages, you get bored when a novel goes into lots of detail regarding a particular historical event, you require a happy ending, you would like all events in a book to take place over a brief period of time (as opposed to many years), you enthusiastically enjoyed the 2004 film adaptation and don’t want to learn how the story really goes (the two are quite different, you see).

Mrs. Storm

Writing everything from Sweet Romance to Children's Books to Nonfiction, Melissa loves books, birds, and bonbons--in that order. She has an advanced degree that she never uses.