I tried to read William Makepeace Thackeray
’s Vanity Fair
and just could not. It’s subtitle, A Novel Without a Hero
, may as well read A Novel Without a Human
. I got through the Battle of Waterloo
and the following round of let's get Miss Crawley's money
and could take no more of Thackeray’s insufferable characters. The occasional noble gesture from the lovesick Capt. Dobbin aside, do any of the residents of Vanity Fair give farthing for anyone other than themselves? I suppose this is Thackeray’s point and that he, too, finds his people insufferable. Unfortunately he doesn't make their insufferability interesting enough or his commentary trenchant enough to keep me engaged. I hate to stop half way home, but I must.
As for our heroine (anti-heroine?), Becky Sharp
, I've yet to see any redeeming qualities in the little bitch whatsoever. I suppose the fact she asserts herself and looks out for her own interest in a world that rejects her for all the wrong reasons is, per se, a good thing, but means count, I think. How a character deals with her dreadful lot matters and I can’t really take heart when a resourceful poor person uses her skills to relentlessly exploit those around her, essentially imitating their behavior toward her. Maybe in life this works. In fiction, I think not. Ultimately, of course, I doesn’t work for Becky either, which may be the much-labored moral of our story.
The glorious nineteenth century novel has many more worthy candidates to offer for our reading pleasure. I may finish this one, but only after I’ve finished all of Hardy, Eliot and Dickens.