Set in the early 1800s, Thackeray’s most famous work takes place in a period of lack morals and good cheer. This leisurely backdrop sets the stage for an occasionally hedonistic plot. The book follows many characters. However, Rebecca Sharp, also known as Becky, is regarded as the star, if not the hero, of the work.
Vanity Fair is toted as “a novel without a hero.” Becky is, in fact, highly flawed and often cruel. Yet, you cheer a little with her every triumph. All of the characters are flawed in fairly obviously ways. Her friend, the sweet, delicate Amelia is a little too sweet, delicate, and oblivious to compete with Becky. George Osbourne, Amelia’s husband, is conceited and handsome but overly self-assured and, yet, unconvincingly so. He seems fickle and trite. Major Dobbin, set up as Osbourne’s best friend and counterpoint, is too good and too cautious. Rawdon, Becky’s husband, is too love-struck and simple to be a truly interesting character.
The myriad of secondary characters give the impression of a Russian novel, however the names are much easier to keep straight. The personalities of each are so distinct that they cannot be confused. Over the course of the book, Becky scrapes her way up from a penniless orphan to a European socialite. She is clever and constantly manipulates those around her to ameliorate her lot. By the conclusion of the novel, Becky has secured enough funds to live out her life in leisure and seems to be oblivious to those she destroyed along the way.
Vanity Fair is a lengthy tome which some feel is overly preachy. However, if you choose to appreciate Becky’s effort and tricks, you will find yourself entertained and amused.
Available from Penguin Classics Hardcover, $18.56