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.


Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
November 23, 2007, 7:14 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , ,

“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

I had never noticed that the front of my cover of Lolita (the one pictured here) has a quote from Vanity Fair, which says: “The only convincing love story of our century.” I admit it sounds quite odd and disconcerting considering this is a “love story” of a rapist who abducts a child and sexually, physically, emotionally, and mentally tortures her for two years. If this is the “love story of our century” I am frankly scared. However, there is something deeply moving in Nabokov’s prose as he describes a man’s obsession (and dare I say love?) with a pre-adolescent Lolita and his final realization of how he “broke [her] life” (279).

Nabokov is one of my favorite authors and my love for Lolita has little to do with Humbert Humbert’s (the narrator, the abductor, the rapist, the poet) “love” for Lolita as much as the impressive story Nabokov weaves to allow the reader to become so mesmerized with H.H. Granted, I do think Vanity Fair is missing a great deal of the story in their bite-size surmation. In “On A Book Entitled Lolita,” Nabokov writes: “As far as I can recall, the initially shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes, who, after months of coaxing by by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.”

If you have read Lolita, Lolita is very much that ape, but H.H. cannot even be compared to the scientist as he only realizes after he”loses” her that she had capabilities beyond an object. I also found it interesting that the two Vintage covers both depict body parts of a young woman. The edition I have shows two bare legs topped with a pleated skirt and shod with Oxfords, while a more recent version shows partial lips. Without digging into my dust collecting text books, there are one or two (yes, I am being a bit facetious) feminist criticisms that address the objectification of the female body when displaying it in a butchered form: a mouth, a pair of breasts, a navel, an ankle – but not the entire woman.

For those of you who are not familiar with Lolita, it is generically the plot of a man who rapes a girl while criss-crossing the landscape of the U.S.A. The actual sexual violence of the book is almost entirely implied as H.H. uses veiled poetry to refer to most anything of a sexual nature. H.H. quickly becomes a sympathetic character despite his actions. In addition, the actual text is established as “truth” as a result of a fictional foreward that says the book is fact. While the reader knows the novel is a fictional work, the foreward does allow for great suspension of disbelief.

Despite the nature of the book the characters become endearing. As a reader you can easily become lost in analyzing H.H.’s narrative and attempting to piece together what shreds of Lolita exists. I also confess that I find something comforting in the novel. I suppose I can best explain it as being one of my own clean, well-lighted places, which harbors the familiar despite existential crisis existing at the edges.

Other opinions: Melody’s Reading Corner, book-a-rama, Rhinoa’s Ramblings, things mean a lot