Adventures in Reading

Fiction: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1847-8 (Pt. 1)

“We are Turks with the affections of our women; and have made them subscribe to our doctrine too. We let their bodies go abroad liberally enough, with smiles and ringlets and pink bonnets to disguise them instead of veils and yakmaks. But their souls must be seen by only one man, and they obey not unwillingly, and consent to remain at home as our slaves—ministering to us and doing drudgery for us.”

The other evening I was in the mood to just read a big, thick book – seriously, these were the only qualities I was looking for. I scanned over Anna Karenina and An American Tragedy, and finally tucked away on the bottom of my shelf I found a dusty copy of William Makepeace Thackeray’s serial tale Vanity Fair. I purchased the book at least a year ago and have given no thought to reading it until now.

Vanity Fair (“A Novel Without a Hero,” but instead two heroines) is primarily the story of Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley and their adventures and relations from finishing school through marriage through the Battle of Waterloo, etc. Thackeray has a robust cast of characters that he parades through Vanity Fair with delightful and witty insights and descriptions. The book is satiric, the book is critical, and (best of all) the book is enjoyable.

I was somewhat surprised by how readable the book is; I often find myself needing time to acclimate myself to period writing styles (such as Laurence Sterne or Jane Austen), but not with Vanity Fair. From chapter to chapter, Thackeray moves between different characters

Conclusion: Keeper.



I read this a number of years ago, right after I graduated from high school. Still one of my all-time favorites!

Comment by Katherine

One of my favorites, too. For an entertaining anticlimax, I recommend following it up with Bonfire of the Vanities. I’ve forgotten the author’s name, but it’s about 1980’s NYC.

Comment by Jeanne

Um, I looked it up and I think I was conflating Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City with Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Both good in terms of re-examination of recent history…what better time to think about the monetary excess of the 80’s than this winter of fiscal discontent?

Comment by Jeanne

I haven’t read this book because of the daunting size! I have a fair share of meaty thick novels with Russian literature and when it comes to another time and geography I’m a bit reluctant. The readability of this book would be a good sign to me. I’ll look forward to reading your Pt. 2. :)

Comment by Matt

When I first read this, I was similarly surprised by how immediately readable it is. I think it’s time for a re-read soon.

Comment by Sarah

2 years ago I read about 50 pages of this one before life got too crazy and I had to abandon it. I was really surprised at how readable it was as well, but I just haven’t found the courage to pick it back up. Glad you’re enjoying it so far–are you planning on finishing part 2 soon?

Comment by Trish

I just found you via biblioaddict. thanks for this review of Vanity Fair, I think I’ll give it a try later this year. I just finished Middlemarch, which I found surprisingly readable and very enjoyable.

Comment by Susan

I was crazy about this book, too, but I always interpreted “A Novel Without a Hero” to mean that there is no real sympathetic character, rather than it being a book of two heroines! But that might just be me – I was NOT a fan of either of the women, but still somehow loved the book.

Comment by elitist

Sounds great – I have never read this bur probably should! I love your rating system… very neat and to the point.

Comment by Sheila DeChantal

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