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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Book Review
Vanity Fair
by William Makepeace Thackeray
published in 20 part serial form 1847-1848
read on an Amazon Kindle

   Vanity Fair was a  huge hit for William Makepeace Thackeray.  Over a twenty year period of producitivity as a working Novelist, he could produce only one work that makes its way into the 2006 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, which was also his most popular work during his lifetime.  Calling William Makepeace Thackeray an "English" Novelist without adding the word "Victorian" into the mix rather misses the point of reading Vanity Fair: To get an example of a good, early Victorian satire.  Vanity Fair also possesses a convoluted narrative that seems to derive partially from the requirements of serial publication and partially incipient literally modernism.  

  The two elements blend together in his use of the third person narrator together with letters, digressive stories and passages of physical description to create an impact that is more powerful then most of the work of his greatest peer, Charles Dickens.   Of course, Charles Dickens has 10 works on the 101 Books To Read Before You Die list, and William Makepeace Thackeray only has one, so.... that's a win for Charles Dickens.  It's not like Thackeray was unpublished.  By the count of Wikipedia he published 13 plus Novels (in addition to other, non-fiction works) over the 20 years between 1845 and 1865.

  One of his works, Barry Lyndon, an early picaresque novel, also written by William Makepeace Thackeray, is more famous in its film incarnation where an adaptation was filmed by a young Stanley Kubrick in 1975.   Certainly more people know the phrase "Vanity Fair" through the American magazine of the same name then know the phrase via this Novel.   Arguably more people have seen the 2004 Mira Nair directed, Reese Witherspoon starring film adaptation by Focus Features (Cost 23 million, grossed 18 million.)

  Vanity Fair, the novel, is savagely, brutally funny in a way that directly appeals to a modern sensibility.  You get the sense that Thackeray was a man ahead of his time, too clever for his own good, like he would have been better off doing Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes in 2009 then writing serial novels in the 1840s and 1850s.   Vanity Fair, the novel, goes on and on like any self-respecting serialized Novel from the late 1840s (see Charles Dickens)  these guys had pages to fill, and it shows, with long digressive passages and superfluous dialogue and scenery. 

  Thackeray is certainly a minor player in mid century English literature, with one major work to his credit.  It's a shame the movie was a bomb- but what about the costumes????

Reese Witherspoon playing Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (2004)

This is Reese Witherspoon playing Becky Sharp in Mira Nair's 2004 movie.  This is a good example of Reese Witherspoon giving the mid century Victorian equivalent of Ben Stiller's BLUE STEEL in Zoolander.

  Here is Gwyneth Paltrow giving the same look in Emma, in the 1996 film adaptation.

Ben Stiller, Zoolander, giving "Blue Steel" Look

  Ok so the juxtaposition of these three images is supposed to be funny.

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