Once again this week (another busy one for me), I’m sharing an old review of a Classic, Vanity Fair, from 2018 when I reread it with a Goodreads group. The story of two young girls, Amelia Sedley and Becky Sharp from very different stations in life, who leave school together to start their lives. Both also have very different personalities–the angelic Amelia is unable to stand up for herself while Becky is ready to manipulate others and climb the social ladder at any cost. The review was posted on Goodreads but not this blog.
Vanity Fair, the novel ‘without a hero’ aptly opens with our two very different heroines leaving Miss Pinkerton’s school/establishment heading to very different destinations, and perhaps destinies. Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a well-off merchant, well-liked by all her fellow students and teachers is heading home to a comfortable life, and marriage to the son of a family friend, the very handsome George Osborne, while Rebecca ‘Becky’ Sharp who has been an articled pupil, teaching other students in exchange for her own board and keep, is to be governess in a family after spending a few days of rest in Amelia’s home. But fortune has other things in store for them both. Not only are their circumstances different but the two girls themselves are as different as chalk and cheese―Amelia is simple, straightforward, good-hearted, but just a little bland, while Becky, who has had to and must continue to make her own way in the world, has a grudge against the world at large, is manipulative, and looks at nothing but her own advantage in everything she does, and needless to say, as a result is the more interesting of the two, even if not the most likeable. Fate of course has something different in store for Amelia whose father loses his money, which leads to George’s father literally disowning their family and breaking off the match with Amelia. Becky on the other side takes up her new appointment and begins to use her brains, charm, and manipulation to work her way up the social ladder. Things aren’t that easy for her either for there as many miscalculations along the way and her plans too backfire. But while Vanity Fair is the story of these two young women and the people in their lives, it is really the story of Vanity Fair itself, representative of society at any point in time where money, power, position, and status are valued but not the human person for himself or herself, where social success is, for most, the ultimate measure of achievement, where greed, hypocrisy or opportunism are part of daily life, and where life is certainly not ‘fair’ not does everyone necessarily get their just desserts.
I read this book in instalments over two months (March–April) with the Victorians group on Goodreads. While thinking back over the characters for this (long overdue) review, I realised that there wasn’t one whom I really liked, though they were all quite human (even the angelic Victorian heroine Amelia finds her voice once in a way), and there were times when I felt sorry for one or the other characters. There are times one is cheering on Becky, others when one disapproves of her actions, times (much of the time for me) when Amelia’s ostrich-like attitude to some things, and one-track mind got on my nerves, yet there were moments when I cheered for her too; Dobbin too gave me cause for both annoyance and cheer; and so did Rawdon Crawley, who I found myself feeling sorry for at one point, as well as Old Sir Pitt, who was otherwise despicable at most moments. The story has plenty of twists and turns, with unexpected incidents in some ways happening even up to the end and was in itself interesting to follow, but more than that I think, the value of the book lies in its look at Vanity Fair itself, for while the times may have changed and many other facets and aspects about society, human nature with respect to it remains the same, the same ‘false gods’ (money and power) continue to be worshipped and sort, and the same wiles and machinations employed to get them. It sees life and people as it is and they are, not always in black and white, and not always fair. While I can’t say as such that I loved this book, I certainly did appreciate it and the picture that it was trying to paint (rather than a message being given of any sort), and the discussions with the group made it a far more enjoyable experience than it would otherwise have been.
Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts!