by William Makepeace Thackeray
**There are SPOILERS in my review**
We have reached the end! These characters, the conniving Becky, Amelia the martyr, the ever-loyal Dobbin and Jos, the fool, have all played their final parts. From Miss Pinkerton's Academy to the Battle of Waterloo, from the rising success of one to the bankruptcy and downfall of another, we have watched the drama unfold. No one gets a perfect happy ending, but no one really gets the life they deserve either.
Thackeray tells us that this is a story with no hero, but really I think Dobbin is our hero; though it is hard to respect him when he wastes his whole life longing for a woman that sees him as little more than a servant for most of the book. The section that talks about Amelia turning him into her dog, always at her beck and call, is particularly horrid. She takes advantage of his love for her, even if it is unconsciously. I could have cheered aloud when he finally says he won’t put up with it anymore and leaves. It was the equivalent of Rhett Butler famous final line at the end of Gone with the Wind and I was so proud of him. Amelia isn’t manipulative like Becky, but she’s cruel in her own way. In my opinion, if she had gotten what she really deserved she would have ended up alone.
“Are not there little chapters in everybody’s life that seem to be nothing, and yet affect all the rest of their history.”
I must say that for me the ending was incredibly satisfying. I loved Becky’s speech to Amelia about what an idiot she’s been. Through all of her faults, at least Becky finally did something good for someone, even if it was done in an incredibly harsh way. I loved that Amelia had to humble herself and ask forgiveness from Dobbin before they could finally find happiness together. Becky wormed her way back into the Sedley’s good graces. Poor Jos is completely under her thumb by the end of the book and spends his final days wasting away under her “care.”
I think the most tragic character in the book is Becky’s son. He reminder me of Madame Bovary’s daughter; both are casualties of their parent’s neglect. At least he is raised by a loving aunt and uncle, but he knows how little his mother cares for him and that must be painful. Amelia’s son George is spoiled rotten by both his mother and grandfather. I’m grateful that Dobbin provided a little much needed balance and guidance in his upbringing.
Quite a bit of the novel reminded me of War & Peace. There are two major families that make up the cast of characters: the Sedleys and the Crawleys. There is a major war which separates the characters. But unlike War & Peace, which is more about redemption and maturity, Vanity Fair focuses on the selfishness and downfall of its characters.
“If people only made prudent marriages what a stop to population there would be.”
The book was surprisingly funny. Thackeray’s style embraced the humor in even the darkest situations, which made it a fun read. I think he did well to give us two main characters with such polar opposite personalities. It would have been easy to paint one or the other as the “correct” way to live, but instead, he showed us how dangerous either extreme is. Poor Amelia pines after her unfaithful dead husband, glossing over his failures in her memory and creating the “perfect man.” Because of this she spends years missing out on true happiness with a good man.
Becky on the other hand, takes the man she has for granted in an effort to hoist herself farther up the social ladder. She treats everyone around her as a pawn, leaving her friendless and alone when her deeds are exposed. Her only salvation comes in the form of Amelia’s kindness (aka gullibility).
The book has a strange narrative style. The fourth wall is constantly broken and the reader is spoken to directly. Then near the end of the book we learn that the person telling us this “true” story learned it first hand when he met the individuals involved. Thackeray also didn't give us a specific person to root for like most authors do, instead he tells the story of two very different women trying to survive the peaks and valleys of life. It’s one hell of a tale.
BOTTOM LINE: I really enjoyed it. It’s not one I can say I really loved, but I can see myself returning to it in 20 years to see if my opinion of the characters changes with experience. I think it’s a great cautionary tale about reevaluating the priorities in your life.
So a few questions:
Did you like the ending and did you think everyone got what they deserved?
Did you like the way Thackeray spoke directly to the reader?
Your final verdict of Becky: Tragic figure or conniving bitch?
Do you think she killed Jos? *
* This bit from Wikipedia makes me think she did…
“He eventually dies of a suspicious ailment after signing a portion of his money to Becky as life insurance. In the original illustrations, which were done by Thackeray, Becky is shown behind a curtain with a vial in her hand; the picture is labeled "Becky's second appearance in the character of Clytemnestra."
Thanks to all of you who joined in the #YoureSoVain Readalong and thanks to Trish for co-hosting with me! Check out her midway post here if you missed them! I know that my reading experience was deepened by hearing all of your thoughts and comments via twitter and your blogs. Leave the link to your review/comments below and make sure to visit each other!
**I love that there were multiple references to Greek mythology in the book. I’ve been reading a bunch of Greek stuff lately and the overlap (like Becky playing Clytemnestra) was fun. I love it when that randomly happens!
***Side Note: I just watched the 1998 version of Vanity Fair starring Natasha Little (because of Selah's recommendation!) It was really well done and faithful to the book. The characters weren't exactly how I pictured them, but I thought Becky was particularly good.