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::: Vanity Fair (Thackeray)

In an attempt to balance the zombie books with classic literature, or something, I read Vanity Fair during our trip last week. Seventeen years, crammed with seven (or so) births, at least five deaths, bankruptcies, war, inheritances from temperamental ancient aunts, numerous implied infidelities, and one murder (no sizzling gypsies, alas!). Mostly it's about one good-hearted but not very bright woman (Amelia Sedley Osborne) who goes from riches to rags to riches, and one terrifyingly clever and manipulative woman (Becky Sharp) who goes rags to riches to rags. Actually, she never really leaves the rags; she just LOOKS rich for quite a while, strategically living on credit and money extorted by lies and tears from various men. The (much too long) introduction says we should like her better but I didn't; in fact I didn't much like any of the characters except Dobbin, and even that didn't come until he finally told off Amelia as to what a silly selfish bint she's being and walked away. Best quote is this, when Thackeray returns from a digression of several chapters to narrate what Becky Sharp has been up to in the meantime. A better description of That Sort of Woman would be hard to find.

"...it has been the wish of the present writer, all through this story, deferentially to submit to the fashion at present prevailing, and only to hint at the existence of wickedness in a light, easy, and agreeable manner, so that nobody’s fine feelings may be offended. I defy any one to say that our Becky, who has certainly some vices, has not been presented to the public in a perfectly genteel and inoffensive manner. In describing this syren, singing and smiling, coaxing and cajoling, the author, with modest pride, asks his readers all round, has he once forgotten the laws of politeness, and showed the monster’s hideous tail above water? No! Those who like may peep down under the waves that are pretty transparent, and see it writhing and twirling, diabolically hideous and slimy, flapping amongst bones, or curling around corpses; but above the water-line, I ask, has not everything been proper, agreeable, and decorous, and has any the most squeamish immoralist in Vanity Fair a right to cry fie? When, however, the syren disappears and dives below, down among the dead men, the water of course grows turbid over her, and it is labour lost to look into it ever so curiously. They look pretty enough when they sit upon a rock, twanging their harps and combing their hair, and sing, and beckon to you to come and hold the looking-glass; but when they sink into their native element, depend on it those mermaids are about no good, and we had best not examine the fiendish marine cannibals, revelling and feasting on their wretched pickled victims. And so, when Becky is out of the way, be sure that she is not particularly well employed, and that the less that is said about her doings is in fact the better."

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