Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)

Some works of 19th Century literature endure, while others are forgotten. Sometimes, it's hard to see why one rises and one falls. Other times, it's clear why a work remains popular; such is the case with Vanity Fair. Some 160 years after it was written, it is still an enjoyable read.

The plot is a sprawling affair, as is often the case in these novels, concerning essentially the fortunes of two women: Rebecca Sharpe and Amelia Sedley. Opening with their departure from a school for young women, it concludes seventeen years or so later, after travel, marriages, wars, misfortunes and sundry such activities. Becky Sharpe, relying on her wits and amoral character has made some kind of a success of her life. Emmy Sedley has buried one husband, found another and found a sort of happiness. Whether Becky is happy and how much success Emmy has are questions left very much to the reader.

As the novel, some eight hundred pages in my edition, careens around the place, a plethora of other characters are introduced, play their part and then, in most cases, vanish, often with a quick paragraph to explain, as Thackeray might say, "how they conclude their trip to Vanity Fair."

Some of the wry social commentary makes little sense to a reader not steeped in 19th Century life, but a surprising amount of it still plays beautifully. Thackeray has managed to capture some essential humanity in most of his characters, and when that has been done, the clothes and the setting may change, but we recognize the traits which are eternal.

Despite it's length, the book gallops along at a good pace and it does not read as a daunting monument, but rather as a series of headlong events that draw one in. Whether or not one is a fan of the time and the genre, Vanity Fair is worth taking the time to attack. You may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly it goes.

Overall Grade: A-

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