Maybe I’ve matured as a reader now but I think I haven’t enjoyed any classic as much as I did this one. It was thicker and longer than many a novel, but I enjoyed it the better for it. By the end, I understood why it was so long, the ending justified it. I was so daunted by its iconic title to read it before, but it was easier to read than most classics. The experience was complete, there wasn’t anything missing, it had everything and so so much more.
Published in 1847-1848, Vanity Fair is a Victorian satire and covers the English era during and after the Napoleonic Wars. The novel is about two women, totally opposite to each other, who after completing their education set out into the world. One an orphan, alone and friendless in the world except for her companion who is charming, witty, satirical, poised, manipulative, and striving to make her way into the world while the other, good-natured but passive and naïve, engaged from early childhood and belonging to a prosperous family. Thus the adventure begins, of love and loss, death and tragedy, trickery and deceit, innocence and naiveté, war and conflict.
Thackeray talks about British Raj of those times and the Battle of Waterloo which changes the course of the lives of the protagonists. The writing is rich with historical, Biblical, and literary allusions and references. The omniscient narration is most endearing.
The title of the novel, Vanity Fair, has been iconic to this day. Turns out it comes from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a Christian allegory published in 1678. The author explains his title again and again in the novel bringing its significance to light.
The author declares the heroine of the novel in the very beginning but subtitled his novel “A novel without a hero” which I don’t agree with, by the way. I recognized a hero in William Dobbin by the latter part of the novel.
Thackeray’s writing portrayed a realism unfound among the writers of his time. Thackeray discusses the human nature, explores the hypocrisy of society, and takes the curtain off the mysteries of life for a moment and lets us take a peek in.
The novel is about sticking to the idols we make, ourselves, of people we think we love but which are nothing like the reality, our need to believe in our ideals no matter how false they may be, the egotism and of course the vanity of the innocent and the cunning, the rich and the poor alike, the human infidelity, the brutal reality of being poor, human greed, of closing our eyes to what is right in front of us, the truth, the frailty of relations, of friendship and opportunism.
Thackeray shows us and believes that love triumphs in the end, but so does villainy, it doesn’t get retribution enough, but I had the underlying sense that depravity is a punishment in itself.
“All is vanity”. Ecclesiastes 1.2.