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Thread: Thoughts on Vanity Fair

  1. #1
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Thoughts on Vanity Fair

    A third thread to fill this forum up a little. It's a shame that no-one actually posts on here, because you could have so many nice discussions.

    First, I enjoyed it, although I was pretty slow in finishing it. Thackeray obviously observed quite a lot, because his portrayal of the Belgians and the Germans is very accurate. They still have the same traits. I loved the episode where they all went to Brussels for Waterloo and where Jos had found a Belgian servant called Isidoor, who 'didn't speak any language' (we should conclude he spoke Flemish, then, shouldn't we), but made himself indispensible because he bustled about doing everything and nothing. That's Belgians for you! And the great food and beer. Indeed, you cannot go to Belgium and not have good food. It's unheard of. In fact, for a Belgian, a holiday is always valued by the food. The first thing people answer when asked 'How was your holiday?' is 'Well, the food was good.'

    I liked the description of Pumpernickel too. So true to today's Germany. Germans can be so local and so private (we have found out to our utter frustration).

    I think the set-up was a quite satirical Les Misérables style of book. It's fragmentary and it jumps form character to character, from life to life, as the author sees fit and all characters somehow have their influence on each other, although they may not realise it. They also all come together in Waterloo which will determine how the whole thing carries on. Thus, the novel has no real clear protagonist as more or less all characters are pretty well sketched, including Miss Briggs and the landlord of Curzon Street.
    I found the cosmopolitanness of it quite refreshing. As Thackeray says, English people establish a little England wherever they go, and so they do in books too: everything is always very English and focussed on English issues, even if it plays somewhere else, but this one was maybe focussed on English issues like reputation and things, but it was slightly more open.
    There was a theme of travel, emphasised in Dobbin's docking scene where he finally arrives in the harbour of Ostend to carry Amelia off (frustrating character, Dobbin, but so sweet). He's paced up and down the Boompjes in Rotterdam, a quay lined with lime trees (the trees of lovers) and willows (treacherous trees who can put travellers off their track), then considers marrying Glorvina O'Dowd anyway (her pink satin and singing at him did their work in the end!), but then is summoned back to the right track by Amelia. Indeed, all through the novel there is a lot of travel Notably, Becky can't stay where she is. Whether that's because the people force her out or because she just hasn't found her purpose, is the question. Had Jos asked to marry her at Vauxhal, maybe she would have stayed where she was and he too...

    On the whole very nice novel.

    Any thoughts anyone?
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  2. #2
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Good review, Kiki!

    I liked Vanity Fair very much, but don't remember it enough to discuss. Read it twice actually...
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  3. #3
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have not read it yet, but I will get around to it. I need to find out what this Becky Sharp is like. It is quite a chunky book though.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Becky Sharp is interesting, but so are all the major characters.

    I won't let slip too much (otherwise I'll put a big fat spoiler mark ), but the major characters have their good sides and their bad sides. The peripheral characters are a bit one-sided: they're either villainous or good and sketched accordingly (I would have Miss Crawley down for a manipulative *****, really, who terrorises everyone because she's got £30,000 and she enjoys it too; the dowager Sheepshanks is just a pious evangelical dragon), but the major characters are realer and have their immensely good sides and their frustrating bad sides.

    Particularly Becky is understandable in her motives behind everything she does, but sometimes she just goes too far SLIGHT SPOILER (I think she may be accused of murder in the end) SLIGHT SPOILER OVER, but she does have some grain of good in her, only she's never really given the chance, maybe because she spoils the very start of everything by acting by a certain motive. She doesn't understand that some people may just act out of feeling. That's maybe because of her youth. As she does later, she gambles, but she bets on the wrong colour, so to say. Maybe in the scenes in Pumpernickel where people play the betting game rouge et noir, that refers to Stendhal's novel Le Rouge et le Noir, a Bildungsroman about social climbing during the Bourbon period in France.

    Dobbin is sweet, but he's frustrating because he pines after Amelia, but somehow waits for her to signal to him, 'I'm available.' Had he spoken sooner, maybe things would have sped up. Still, he is too nice and good a man to reproach for that, but he's a bit of a wet flannel sometimes, although in the army he seems to have done well. Somehow you can see why old Osborne said about him that he thought Dobbin 'wouldn't say bo to a goose.' Indeed, you can't really see him kill a fly either. The scene where he plays in the park with Georgy is great though. Just the thought of him, a ripe man of in his late thirties, in an Indian jacket, bending over at Georgy's will to jump over him just makes me laugh. At some point Thackeray writes that if Amelia would have told him to jump into the water, he would have done so, merely to please her.

    Thackeray also makes a point of emphasising how education can shape a person(ality). Young George Osborne's arrogance and imperiousness was never checked and it turned him into (by the end) a nasty man whose end you could almost be glad for. Georgy gets some bad influence of his grandfather, but the time he spent in his early youth with his loving mother and grandparents has rubbed off well. His grandfather's bad influence disappears quickly too, and he is left to live in a household with more modest means with his uncle Jos and his mother, and modest Major Dobbin, who has got some means, but who doesn't throw his cash around. Georgy is more generous than his father and grandfather and will make far better use of the money he eventually inherits. Not least down to the knowledgeable and modest influence of Dobbin who deftly leads him away from the gambling table and scolds his attendant for allowing him in the playroom in the first place. Dobbin is a very dutiful modest and knowledgeable man, but his fault is that, like a good soldier, he would forget his own needs because he considers it his duty to do so. That's also what he does somewhere in the beginning (but that's a spoiler).

    Amelia and her brother Jos both have a slightly selfish streak. Not materialistic, but in terms of feeling. Maybe Amelia does it, though, because she thinks everyone expects from her what she does, but Jos does have a disturbing procrastinating and lazy attitude, although I'm sure we all know such people (I'm one). It's bitter sometimes how Jos treats his sister, certainly by the end. On the other hand, he's incredibly fat and insecure and he probably needs a lot of courage (and time consequently) to do something, so that pleads in his favour. The Sedley parents were also like that: after his SPOILER demise SPOILER OVER, father Sedley continues his little projects to the detriment of the household's finances, while Amelia has to sacrifice the money for her and her son (given to her by a generous benfactor), even his new clothes for Christmas, eventually having to give him up altogether, and she gets scolded for not caring for anyone. Although she cares well for them both in their old age, she's vastly under-appreciated by them both, although old Sedley clears that up later. Only Dobbin (again ) seems to realise what a treasure she really is (maybe because he is one himself too, treasures recognise each other). But all the Sedleys have vast amounts of feelings, which make them better than the Osbornes to some extent, but make them vulnerable for life's setbacks.

    Very well-rounded characters.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  5. #5
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have started reading this now. The heroine is a different sort to last one I read, Mrs Huntingdon of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I doubt Anne Bronte would have approved of Becky Sharp, not that she has committed any great sins, yet. I wonder if it takes a male author to write about a heroine like Becky Sharp. She is not entirely admirable, but she is likeable. She is not a PITA like Mrs Huntingdon. Vanity Fair reads like a comedy or a satire. The narrator is a bit unusual. He is not just omniscient, he actually talks about how the story might have been about these characters or those, but actually it's going to be about these. I wonder if it harks back to C18th books like Tom Jones. I do not know because I have not read them. It is a very long book. It looks thicker than Middlemarch. So far I am enjoying it.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    The same as below. Don't know how it got posted twice.
    Last edited by Carmilla; 04-19-2016 at 01:50 PM.

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    I read Vanity Fair some years ago and I remember I truly liked Amelia. The plot was great and the end matched up to it. I enjoyed it very much and probably will re-read it.

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I remember Miss Crawley and her nephew at Brighton !

    I'm afraid I'm resistant to Amelia. She is far too like the sentimental, too good to be true, suffering and characterless heroines of Dickens. But she is viewed critically and she needs Becky to put her straight. Thackeray is better at women than Dickens, generally. Becky and Miss Crawley in Dickens would both be grotesque baddies. Thackeray shows them a wry sympathy.
    Last edited by Jackson Richardson; 04-22-2016 at 01:17 PM.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    W.M. Thackery addresses Miss Sedley's sweetness at the start of chapter 12.

    "We must now take leave of Arcadia, and those amiable people practising the rural virtues there, and travel back to London, to enquire what has become of Miss Ameila. 'We don't care a fig about her,' writes some unknown correspondent with a pretty little handwriting and a pink seal to her note. 'She is fade and insipid,' and adds some more kind remarks of this strain, which I should never have repeated at all, but they are in truth prodigiously complimentary to the young lady whom they concern."

    I am still concerned for her. I hope she will not be hurt too much by that cad, George Osbourne.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I am a little surprised that Becky marries just a quarter of the way throught the book. It does not look like a miserable marriage neither. In British C19th books, couples either marry the wrong person in the first third of the book and then regret it (very much), or they marry at the end, after all the obstacles have been surmounted (or have conveniently died). Still, there are plenty of pages for things to go wrong. Becky has misplayed her hand. I have her husband marked for an early death and I don't think she will inherit much money. I could be wrong, but the Battle of Waterloo is looming.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  11. #11
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I've been surprised by Becky marrying so early in the book - having been presented as a cunning gold digger, why should she marry someone with no prospects. I suspect the reason is that she finds him sexually attractive but being a gold digger is not prepared to compromise her social position by risking sex without marriage.

    Let us know how you get on, kev.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    Just to lower tone a bit. Alan Clarke (the politician) - when asked to choose his favorite literary heroine said, "Becky Sharpe! She's a proper little minx, I'd like to give her a jolly good rogering." (it was the 1970's) I've always remembered it.
    ay up

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    There are two black characters in Vanity Fair. One was a footman called Sambo, and the other was a rich heiress called Miss Swartz, who Miss Sedley knew from school. I wondered about the name Sambo. It would be racist now, but was it then? Miss Swartz was described as a mulatto. I think she had a German Jewish father. Presumably her fortune was built on slavery. John Osbourne does not seem to care about her mixed heritage and is very keen his son marries her. However, the son, George Osbourne, is rather racist about her. He calls her a Hottentot.

    The other thing I have been wondering about is Mr Sedley's bankruptcy. He had to sell most of his goods, dismiss most his household staff, and move to a much smaller house. Yet he is not as destitute as many people in London at that time. Does he still have a small income from somewhere? His son earns a lot of money as a collector for the East India Company, but Jos Sedley is quite a selfish man. What were the rules of bankruptcy? Were bankrupts allowed to keep a small proportion of their income? I imagine creditors would be very keen to get their money back, but would not want to drive bankrupts to destitution, because it might happen to them.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I was reading ch 25 or 26 last night, while Jos Sedley, George Osbourne, Amelia Osbourne, Rawdon Crawley, Rebecca Crawley and Captain Dobbin are all in Brighton, that I really did not like many of them. Jos is ridiculous, George is a wastrel, Amelia is simpering, Rawdon is a parasite, and Rebecca is false. Even Captain Dobbin is starting to irritate me.

    The narrative voice is unusual. The narrator said that Amelia would later come to know Captain Dobbin better. Oh that's good. I was worried he would get killed at Waterloo.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I wondered how the Battle of Waterloo was going to be portrayed. The way the book was written up to that point, it could not just turn into some war story. I thought it was handled quite skilfully, concentrating on Jos and the wives left in Brussels, while wild reports filtered back from the front.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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