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Vanity Fair (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

William Makepeace Thackeray
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Descriptions du produit


Chiswick Mall

While the present century was in its teens, and on one sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour. A black servant, who reposed on the box beside the fat coachman, uncurled his bandy legs as soon as the equipage drew up opposite Miss Pinkerton's shining brass plate, and as he pulled the bell at least a score of young heads were seen peering out of the narrow windows of the stately old brick house. Nay, the acute observer might have recognized the little red nose of good-natured Miss Jemima Pinkerton herself, rising over some geranium pots in the window of that lady's own drawing-room.

"It is Mrs. Sedley's coach, sister," said Miss Jemima. "Sambo, the black servant, has just rung the bell; and the coachman has a new red waistcoat."

"Have you completed all the necessary preparations incident to Miss Sedley's departure, Miss Jemima?" asked Miss Pinkerton herself, that majestic lady; the Semiramis of Hammersmith, the friend of Doctor Johnson, the correspondent of Mrs. Chapone herself.

"The girls were up at four this morning, packing her trunks, sister," replied Miss Jemima; "we have made her a bow-pot."

"Say a bouquet, sister Jemima, 'tis more genteel."

"Well, a booky as big almost as a haystack; I have put up two bottles of the gillyflower water for Mrs. Sedley, and the receipt for making it, in Amelia's box."

"And I trust, Miss Jemima, you have made a copy of Miss Sedley's account. This is it, is it? Very good--ninety-three pounds, four shillings. Be kind enough to address it to John Sedley, Esquire, and to seal this billet which I have written to his lady."

In Miss Jemima's eyes an autograph letter of her sister, Miss Pinkerton, was an object of as deep veneration as would have been a letter from a sovereign. Only when her pupils quitted the establishment, or when they were about to be married, and once, when poor Miss Birch died of the scarlet fever, was Miss Pinkerton known to write personally to the parents of her pupils; and it was Jemima's opinion that if anything could console Mrs. Birch for her daughter's loss, it would be that pious and eloquent composition in which Miss Pinkerton announced the event.

In the present instance Miss Pinkerton's "billet" was to the following effect:

-The Mall, Chiswick, June 15, 18-


After her six years' residence at the Mall, I have the honour and happiness of presenting Miss Amelia Sedley to her parents, as a young lady not unworthy to occupy a fitting position in their polished and refined circle. Those virtues which characterize the young English gentlewoman, those accomplishments which become her birth and station, will not be found wanting in the amiable Miss Sedley, whose industry and obedience have endeared her to her instructors, and whose delightful sweetness of temper has charmed her aged and her youthful companions.

In music, in dancing, in orthography, in every variety of embroidery and needlework, she will be found to have realized her friends' fondest wishes. In geography there is still much to be desired; and a careful and undeviating use of the backboard, for four hours daily during the next three years, is recommended as necessary to the acquirement of that dignified deportment and carriage, so requisite for every young lady of fashion.

In the principles of religion and morality, Miss Sedley will be found worthy of an establishment which has been honoured by the presence of The Great Lexicographer, and the patronage of the admirable Mrs. Chapone. In leaving the Mall, Miss Amelia carries with her the hearts of her companions, and the affectionate regards of her mistress, who has the honour to subscribe herself, Madam,

Your most obliged humble servant,
Barbara Pinkerton

P.S.--Miss Sharp accompanies Miss Sedley. It is particularly requested that Miss Sharp's stay in Russell Square may not exceed ten days. The family of distinction with whom she is engaged, desire to avail themselves of her services as soon as possible.

This letter completed, Miss Pinkerton proceeded to write her own name, and Miss Sedley's, in the fly-leaf of a Johnson's Dictionary--the interesting work which she invariably presented to her scholars, on their departure from the Mall. On the cover was inserted a copy of "Lines addressed to a young lady on quitting Miss Pinkerton's school, at the Mall; by the late revered Doctor Samuel Johnson." In fact, the Lexicographer's name was always on the lips of this majestic woman, and a visit he had paid to her was the cause of her reputation and her fortune.

Being commanded by her elder sister to get "the Dictionary" from the cupboard, Miss Jemima had extracted two copies of the book from the receptacle in question. When Miss Pinkerton had finished the inscription in the first, Jemima, with rather a dubious and timid air, handed her the second.

"For whom is this, Miss Jemima?" said Miss Pinkerton, with awful coldness.

"For Becky Sharp," answered Jemima, trembling very much, and blushing over her withered face and neck, as she turned her back on her sister. "For Becky Sharp: she's going too."

"MISS JEMIMA!" exclaimed Miss Pinkerton, in the largest capitals. "Are you in your senses? Replace the Dixonary in the closet, and never venture to take such a liberty in future."

"Well, sister, it's only two-and-ninepence, and poor Becky will be miserable if she don't get one."

"Send Miss Sedley instantly to me," said Miss Pinkerton. And so venturing not to say another word, poor Jemima trotted off, exceedingly flurried and nervous.

Miss Sedley's papa was a merchant in London, and a man of some wealth; whereas Miss Sharp was an articled pupil, for whom Miss Pinkerton had done, as she thought, quite enough, without conferring upon her at parting the high honour of the Dixonary.
Although schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no more nor less than churchyard epitaphs; yet, as it sometimes happens that a person departs this life who is really deserving of all the praises the stone-cutter carves over his bones; who is a good Christian, a good parent, child, wife, or husband; who actually does leave a disconsolate family to mourn his loss; so in academies of the male and female sex it occurs every now and then that the pupil is fully worthy of the praises bestowed by the disinterested instructor. Now, Miss Amelia Sedley was a young lady of this singular species; and deserved not only all that Miss Pinkerton said in her praise, but had many charming qualities which that pompous old Minerva of a woman could not see, from the differences of rank and age between her pupil and herself.

For she could not only sing like a lark, or a Mrs. Billington, and dance like Hillisberg or Parisot; and embroider beautifully; and spell as well as a Dixonary itself; but she had such a kindly, smiling, tender, gentle, generous heart of her own, as won the love of everybody who came near her, from Minerva herself down to the poor girl in the scullery, and the one-eyed tart-woman's daughter, who was permitted to vend her wares once a week to the young ladies in the Mall. She had twelve intimate and bosom friends out of the twenty-four young ladies. Even envious Miss Briggs never spoke ill of her; high and mighty Miss Saltire (Lord Dexter's granddaughter) allowed that her figure was genteel; and as for Miss Swartz, the rich woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt's, on the day Amelia went away, she was in such a passion of tears that they were obliged to send for Dr. Floss, and half tipsify her with salvolatile. Miss Pinkerton's attachment was, as may be supposed from the high position and eminent virtues of that lady, calm and dignified; but Miss Jemima had already whimpered several times at the idea of Amelia's departure; and, but for fear of her sister, would have gone off in downright hysterics, like the heiress (who paid double) of St. Kitt's. Such luxury of grief, however, is only allowed to parlour-boarders. Honest Jemima had all the bills, and the washing, and the mending, and the puddings, and the plate and crockery, and the servants to superintend. But why speak about her? It is probable that we shall not hear of her again from this moment to the end of time, and that when the great filigree iron gates are once closed on her, she and her awful sister will never issue therefrom into this little world of history.

But as we are to see a great deal of Amelia, there is no harm in saying, at the outset of our acquaintance, that she was a dear little creature; and a great mercy it is, both in life and in novels, which (and the latter especially) abound in villains of the most sombre sort, that we are to have for a constant companion so guileless and good-natured a person. As she is not a heroine, there is no need to describe her person; indeed I am afraid that her nose was rather short than otherwise, and her cheeks a great deal too round and red for a heroine; but her face blushed with rosy health, and her lips with the freshest of smiles, and she had a pair of eyes which sparkled with the brightest and honestest good-humour, except indeed when they filled with tears, and that was a great deal too often; for the silly thing would cry over a dead canary-bird; or over a mouse, that the cat haply had seized upon; or over the end of a novel, were it ever so stupid; and as for saying an unkind word to her, were any persons hard-hearted enough to do so--why, so much the worse for them. Even Miss Pinkerton, that austere and godlike woman, ceased scolding her after the first time, and though she no more comprehended sensibility than she did Algebra, gave all masters and teachers particular orders to treat Miss Sedley with the utmost gentleness, as harsh treatment was injurious to her.So that when the day of departure came, between her two customs of laughing and crying, Miss Sedley was greatly puzzled how to act. She was glad to go home, and yet most woefully sad at leaving school. For three days before, little Laura Martin, the orphan, followed her about like a little dog. She had to make and receive at least fourteen presents--to make fourteen solemn promises of writing every week: "Send my letters under cover to my grandpapa, the Earl of Dexter," said Miss Saltire (who, by the way, was rather shabby). "Never mind the postage, but write every day, you dear darling," said the impetuous and woolly-headed, but generous and affectionate Miss Swartz; and the orphan little Laura Martin (who was just in round-hand), took her friend's hand and said, looking up in her face wistfully, "Amelia, when I write to you I shall call you Mamma." All which details, I have no doubt, Jones, who reads this book at his Club, will pronounce to be excessively foolish, trivial, twaddling, and ultra-sentimental. Yes; I can see Jones at this minute (rather flushed with his joint of mutton and half pint of wine), taking out his pencil and scoring under the words "foolish, twaddling," &c., and adding to them his own remark of "quite true." Well, he is a lofty man of genius, and admires the great and heroic in life and novels; and so had better take warning and go elsewhere.

Well, then. The flowers, and the presents, and the trunks, and bonnet-boxes of Miss Sedley having been arranged by Mr. Sambo in the carriage, together with a very small and weather-beaten old cow's-skin trunk with Miss Sharp's card neatly nailed upon it, which was delivered by Sambo with a grin, and packed by the coachman with a corresponding sneer--the hour for parting came; and the grief of that moment was considerably lessened by the admirable discourse which Miss Pinkerton addressed to her pupil. Not that the parting speech caused Amelia to philosophise, or that it armed her in any way with a calmness, the result of argument; but it was intolerably dull, pompous, and tedious; and having the fear of her schoolmistress greatly before her eyes, Miss Sedley did not venture, in her presence, to give way to any ebullitions of private grief. A seed-cake and a bottle of wine were produced in the drawing-room, as on the solemn occasions of the visits of parents, and these refreshments being partaken of, Miss Sedley was at liberty to depart.

From AudioFile

The incomparable Miriam Margolyes applies her story-telling and histrionic gifts to this classic satire of two young English women, one bad but clever and the other good but stupid, who come to no good during the Napoleonic Wars. The abridgers have cut a bit too much at the expense of the characterizations. Although sounding somewhat forced, Margolyes, as always, gives an excellent performance. Y.R. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1123 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 566 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 1449528279
  • Utilisation simultanée de l'appareil : Illimité
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B0084ANCBC
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12 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 épique 9 juillet 2009
De son vivant, Thackeray était le grand rival de Dickens, mais la plupart de ses livres ont peu à peu disparu des librairies et des bibliothèques. Si malgré tout on se souvient encore de lui aujourd'hui, c'est essentiellement pour deux raisons. D'une part, pour avoir inspiré Barry Lyndon de Kubrick. D'autre part, pour avoir écrit cette énorme chronique de la vie et des moeurs en Angleterre à l'époque napoléonienne qu'est "Vanity Fair". Considéré à juste titre comme le "Guerre et Paix" de la littérature anglo-saxonne, ce roman-monde est indiscutablement un "pavé". Pour autant, il n'a rien d'indigeste. Son ton est enjoué, son style virtuose, l'humour y est omniprésent et la critique sociale acérée. De plus, ayant d'abord paru sous la forme de livraisons mensuelles, il bénéficie d'une structure feuilletonesque qui fait sans cesse rebondir l'intrigue et renaître l'intérêt. Personnellement, je ne suis pas très fervente des bouquins qui dépassent les 500 pages, et à plus forte raison les 1000, mais croyez-moi, en l'occurence, la longueur de ce livre n'est aucunement un obstacle. Au contraire, sa lecture est si addictive qu'une fois commencée, on aimerait qu'elle ne s'arrête plus!
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3.0 étoiles sur 5 Pas Tolstoï, quand même! 28 août 2014
Format:Format Kindle
Pour reprendre un commentaire de lecteur, chronique de la vie dans une certaine société anglaise du temps de Napoléon, certes, mais difficilement comparable à "La Guerre et la Paix". Intéressant certes, mais beaucoup de clichés et de stéréotypes. Pas beaucoup d'analyses psychologiques, très peu de profondeur, aucune mystique. Des personnages drôles et parfois émouvants, mais assez superficiels. Tout est un peu convenu, "predictable". Il faut certes l'avoir lu, mais Thackeray n'est pas Tolstoï!
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Amazon.com: 4.2 étoiles sur 5  251 commentaires
180 internautes sur 183 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Vanitas Vanitatum 28 février 2003
Par Jeffrey Leach - Publié sur Amazon.com
Many consider William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) a minor novelist who wrote in a time when George Eliot, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope ruled the roost of British literature. Out of all of his works, "Vanity Fair" is the most recognizable in literary circles, although Stanley Kubrick immortalized Thackeray's "Barry Lyndon" in a film of the same name. "Vanity Fair" appeared in serial form in 1847-48, a process of publishing used to great success by Charles Dickens. The introduction to this Everyman's Library edition, written by Catherine Peters, says that the title of the book came from John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress," an immensely popular work in circulation at the time.
"Vanity Fair" centers on the exploits of two British women, Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley, beginning roughly at the time of the Battle of Waterloo and ending at some time in the 1830's. The two women are polar opposites: Becky is a conniving, domineering, sometimes insensate woman who constantly attempts to secure a position in high society. Amelia is a rather plain, simple girl who trusts people too often and ends up getting her heart stomped on repeatedly. The two women are ostensibly friends, spending their youth together at a finishing school and occasionally running into each other throughout their lives. Thackeray often likes to place the two in opposition to one another: when Amelia falls into a crisis, Becky is moving in the highest circles of society. When Amelia comes into luck, Becky's fortunes plummet. This see-sawing action helps move the novel through a series of intricately detailed scenes showing off Thackeray's sense of humor, his caustic critiques of English society, and his insightful commentary into the human condition.
Arrayed around these two figures is a veritable constellation of major and minor characters, all with their own foibles that Thackeray exposes in minute detail. There is Joseph Sedley, Amelia's obese and selfish brother who nearly marries Becky in the beginning of the book. George Osborne appears through part of the book as Amelia's fiancée and eventual husband, a vain man with an eye for the ladies and a spendthrift attitude. George's friend William Dobbin also figures prominently in the story. Dobbin is an admirable man, marred by his inability to come to terms with the feelings he has for Amelia. Other characters appear and disappear rapidly, too many to outline here. It is sufficient to say that Thackeray does not worry about overburdening the reader with too many cast members, and with nearly 900 pages in the book, he definitely has the time to adequately describe numerous scenes and people.
I do not know much about literary tags, but I will say that Thackeray must certainly fall into the category of a realist writer. His goal with "Vanity Fair" was to write a story that went against the romantic hero/heroine novels of his day. The subtitle to this book, "A Novel Without a Hero," clearly outlines the author's intentions to oppose unrealistic, feel good literature that failed to properly reflect genuine life. In this respect, Thackeray succeeds admirably by creating characters that exhibit both good and bad traits during their lives. For example, Becky steals and schemes her way through life but performs an amazingly beautiful service for Amelia at the end of the book. Does this make Becky a heroine? Hardly, as Becky does not change her ways after this event. Thackeray constantly sets us up to see a heroic act, only to dash our hopes a few pages later.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the novel is Thackeray's acidulous wit. Everyone comes in for a drubbing here, from the aristocracy to the common man. Names often reflect the author's scorn: nobles carry such embarrassing monikers as Lord Binkie, Lady Bareacres, and Lord Steyne. Sharp is an effective name for Becky, exposing her character and incisive wit. "Vanity Fair" is full of backstabbing, lying, adultery, stealing, pride and general rowdiness, and no one is above these base behaviors.
A slight problem with the story concerns the numerous narrative digressions that wax philosophic about relationships, women and their roles in society, and bad behavior. These insertions do become taxing at times even though they often help move the story along. Thackeray wants to make sure you know what he is trying to accomplish; he wants you to see yourself and your friends and family in these character sketches.
A bigger problem for me concerned this particular edition of the story. There were no footnotes or endnotes in the Everyman's Library version to help explain the jargon or place names of Thackeray's England. While the author's use of language never approaches the level of Walter Scott's Scottish vernacular, to cite an extreme example, it is still a problem at times. I recommend picking up the Penguin Classics version of "Vanity Fair," since Penguin editions usually employ explanatory notes.
"Vanity Fair" is a long yet worthwhile read. The book is hardly unreadable, an unfair label often attached to this agreeable story. If you enjoy reading 18th century English literature, you must read "Vanity Fair."
99 internautes sur 100 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This Is My Favorite Book (but that was not always the case) 26 janvier 2000
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
This book is not for everyone (as the next two reviews clearly demonstrate). I first read Vanity Fair in junior high, and at the time I probably would have agreed with the comments of the next two reviews: Vanity Fair seemed slow and plodding, confusing and contradictory. When I recently reread Vanity Fair, I could scarcely believe that this brilliant, ironic, hilarious, and incisive romp was the same book as the dull tome I had remembered. In retrospect I realized why my perspective had changed: in junior high I had read the book superficially and found the plot and characters lacking enough excitement to hold my interest; now I realized that the most captivating action was taking place outside the plot in the interaction between the reader and the most important person in the novel: the narrator. I, like many readers, completely missed this deeper level of meaning the first time around. Thus, to recommend this novel to the unsophiscated, inexperienced reader (such as I had been) would be futile. It takes a keen sense of irony and certain degree of insight into the workings of life and literature to recognize the narrator's vital role and to appreciate this novel in its fullest sense. This book is not an easy read: it forces the reader to confront many difficult moral questions and provides no easy answers. But for those who can handle ambiguity and can detect subtle, yet "laugh out loud" funny humor Vanity Fair is not only a necessary read, but an enjoyable one.
(Note: Buy this edition of Vanity Fair. The illustrations which Thackery drew for this novel greatly enhance the text, and the Norton edition reproduces all of them. In addition, the criticisms which are included make for a thought-provoking read and may help clarify your opinion of the novel).
148 internautes sur 159 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 greed and more... 22 juillet 2004
Par marzipan - Publié sur Amazon.com
I first read this novel twenty-five years ago, and while I found it funny and excellent entertainment at that time, I didn't realize that it is also a very great book. Now I do.

Readers who've found the novel too long are, I suspect, not regular readers of Victorian novels, which were traditionally published in newspapers, bit by bit. They're always long--that's their distinction from modern novels. More than most however, Vanity Fair opens with a bang, and from the first page on through more than 800, I found it hard to put down.

Through the cast of characters we see for ourselves the pervasive greed and hypocrisy of the 19th century British Empire. Jos Sedley, the Ex-collecter of Bogley Walla, the unfortunate Rawdon Crawley, George Osborne and the immoral, resourceful Becky Sharpe are some of the most vivid characters in English writing. The narrator's voice is perfect--though hardly appealing. It's not sentimental. The "objectivity" of a journalist's timidly expressed irony feeds into the reader's need to feel smug -- so that when shocking moments come (and they sure do) we are stunned. The narrator's voice here is much more inventive than one realizes immediately. In this and many other ways Thackeray's story-telling isn't typical of Victorian novelists--Eliot or Dickens for example. In the works of those authors we always know just what moral position the narrator has. (I should mention that I also finished re-reading Middlemarch before re-reading Vanity Fair.) Comparing the grand stateliness of George Eliot with Thackeray's voice made me see just what a tricky work of art Vanity Fair is. But Thackeray, too, makes his story come to life. The description of the Battle of Waterloo is one of the most brilliant things I've ever read. It's hard to believe that he wasn't there.

In the edition I read I found that C.L.R. James, the left-wing Trinidadian author and historian--an author I admire and enjoy reading, began reading Vanity Fair at the age of eight, and re-read it regularly throughout his long life. He claims to have learned more about the minds of white colonial empire-builders from this original and epic work than any history he read. Interesting...
63 internautes sur 66 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 All's fair in love and "Vanity" 10 février 2005
Par EA Solinas - Publié sur Amazon.com
Greed, gold-digging and deception sit at the heart of "Vanity Fair." It's no joke that it's subtitled "a novel without a hero" -- William Makepeace Thackeray mercilessly skewered the pretentions and flaws of the upper class all throughout it. The result is a gloriously witty social satire.

It opens with two young women departing from a ladies' academy: dull, sweet Amelia (rich) and fiery sharp-witted Rebecca (poor). Becky Sharp is a relentless social climber, and her first effort to rise "above her station" is by trying to get Amelia's brother to marry her -- an effort thwarted by Amelia's fiancee. So instead she gets married to another family's second son, Rawdon Crawley.

Unfortunately, both young couples quickly get disinherited and George is killed. But Becky is determined to live the good life she has worked and married for -- she obtains jewels and money from admiring gentlemen, disrupting her marriage. But a little thing like a tarnished reputation isn't enough to keep Becky down...

"Vanity Fair" is actually a lot more complex than that, with dozens of little subplots and complicated character relationships. Reading it a few times is necessary to really absorb all of it, since it is not just a look at the two women in the middle of the book, but at the upper (and sometimes lower) social strata of the nineteenth century.

The main flaw of the book is perhaps that it sprawls too much -- there's always a lot of stuff going on, not to mention a huge cast of characters, and Thackeray sometimes drops the ball when it comes to the supporting characters and their little plots. It takes a lot of patience to absorb all of this. However... it's worth it.

Like most nineteenth-century writers, Thackeray had a very dense, formal writing style -- but once you get used to it, his writing becomes insanely funny. Witticisms and quips litter the pages, even if you don't pick them all up at once. At first Thackeray seems incredibly cynical (Becky's little schemes almost always pay off), but taken as a social satire, it's easier to understand why he was so cynical about the society of the time.

Becky Sharp is the quintessential anti-heroine -- she's very greedy and cold, yet she's also so smart and determined that it's hard not to have a grudging liking for her. Certainly life hasn't been fair for her. Next to Becky, a goody-goody character like Amelia is pretty boring, and even the unsubtle George can't measure up to Becky.

To sum up "Vanity Fair": think a period soap opera with a heavy dose of social commentary. In other words, it doesn't get much better than this, Thackeray's masterpiece.
35 internautes sur 37 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "I Could be Good, if I had the Money..." 26 octobre 2005
Par R. M. Fisher - Publié sur Amazon.com
At Miss Pinkerton's Academy for Young Ladies, two girls are leaving the security of the school for the marital opportunities of the world; one is all heart and no head, the other all head and no heart. Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley are girls from two very different backgrounds; Amelia has been raised in wealth and privilege, whilst Becky is an orphan whose late parents were a painter and an opera singer. Their prospects for the future are looking very different indeed, but Becky in particular is determined to make a way for herself in the world, to claw her way up the social ladder, to integrate herself fully into Vanity Fair and establish a place for herself in the world...no matter what the cost.

So what is "Vanity Fair"? The title originated in John Bunyan's allegorical "Pilgrim's Progress", which describes the Christian's journey to the Celestial City, passing though the dangers and temptations that await them in life, represented by several metaphorical destinations. Vanity Fair is one such place, filled with "whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not" - a list of commodities where the lives of men and women are ranked alongside gold and jewels.

Many years later, William Makepeace Thackeray borrowed the conceit for the novel he was publishing serially in "Punch" magazine, which was in fact the perfect title for the story he was creating. Set in Napoleonic England, Vanity Fair is the country, society and state of mind in which his characters dwell, wrapped up in affairs of greed, materialism, warfare, society and intrigue. Such is the world that innocent Amelia and conniving Becky are sent out into, both to walk their very different - but often interconnecting - paths. Amelia is betrothed to her childhood sweetheart and family friend George Osborne, a handsome but spoilt young man - not that she is aware of that, being utterly blinded by her love and devotion to her young soldier. She's too blind to even notice the adoration of the clumsy and nervous Captain Dobbin, traits which keep him from being a hero in her (and everyone else's) eyes.

On the other hand, Becky (after failing to secure a match with Amelia's brother Joseph Sedley) finds employment as a governess in the household of Sir Pitt Crawley, a lecherous and sinful old man whose estate has long since fallen into disrepair. However Becky is determined to make the most of it, especially when it comes to winning the favour of the rich Miss Crawley, the family's "maiden aunt" - which may furthermore throw her into the path of the rakish Rawdon Crawley.

Though the subtitle is "A Novel Without a Hero" (apt, since all of the male characters subvert the idea of what we would deem "heroic"), Amelia and Becky can perhaps be considered the novel's heroines, as it is their stories that make up the narrative drive of the book. Amelia certainly fits the bill of a beautiful, romantic, helpless little Victorian heroine, but even more so is the character of Becky, of whom Thackeray himself said: "I like Becky in that book. Sometimes I think I have myself some of her tastes." Utterly ruthless, heartless, witty, charming and determined, Becky is still as much of an enigma today as she was in Thackeray's day. Though by contemporary standards it is rather easy to admire Becky for her intelligence and survival tactics (as the recent "Vanity Fair" movie adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon certainly did), there is a definite darkness to her that makes you rather uneasy.

Take for example the early scene of Becky throwing back the gift of a dictionary in the faces of her school-mistresses Miss Pinkerton and Miss Jemima: an act of defiance and rejection. But though we like and admire her for thumbing her nose at the snotty Miss Pinkerton, we are equally aware that she has done the same to Miss Jemima, who has gone out of her way to ensure Becky receives the parting gift of a dictionary like the other girls. Such is Becky's dilemma, that she not only rejects scorn and snide remarks; but also acts of kindness and charity toward her - life for her has long since ceased to be anything but a competition. As it stands, we can neither completely sympathise with Amelia nor completely condemn Becky - both are women struggling to survive in a world where their welfare is completely reliant on men.

Also of interest is the narrator's voice within the text; presumably representing Thackeray himself rather than some omnipresent being, who treats and describes his characters as puppets that he's manipulating in the setting of Vanity Fair. As well as this, he is a character in his own right, who recounts meetings and discussions with the characters, documenting the notes and letters they send to each other, and incorporating historical events and figures (most obviously the Napoleonic War) into his text. Due also to the fact that he's often contradicting himself, the narration itself comes across as one of the more fascinating aspects of the novel, and to my knowledge has never been attempted to such a degree before or since in literature.

"Vanity Fair" is not for the faint-of-heart reader; it is long, complicated and sometimes tedious (I found the pace slowed down considerably after the Battle of Waterloo). However, there are rewards for those that stick with it - it is frequently hilarious, often fascinating, and leaves you with a distinct feeling of melancholy unease, especially if you yourself are living in Vanity Fair. Thackeray's characters you see, are doomed to live out their lives in that hollow and ultimately meaningless place - and their lives stand as a testiment and a warning as to going there yourself.

As the only novel of the time that gave Charles Dickens a run for his money, and penned by an author of whom Charlotte Bronte (author of "Jane Eyre") said: "stands alone in his sagacity, alone in his truth, alone in his feeling...Thackeray is a Titan," Vanity Fair remains one of the great pieces of Western literature. Start reading!
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