Reading Notes: “Vanity Fair”

Well, it’s been a marathon and after several stop-start attempts last year (and sadly languishing by my bedside for most of the year), I finally dived right into Vanity Fair and I’m on the home stretch. It’s a mammoth of a book so here are some of my impressions:

  • It’s epic. I don’t mean the size of the book but the story. We follow the two lead characters, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, from the moment of their graduation from Miss Pinkerton’s finishing school and their rise and fall through life and society.
  • William Thackeray really meant it when he subtitled the novel with “a novel without a hero”. There really isn’t one, no matter how virtuous a character may seem. While this doesn’t mean that every character is a villain, it means that no character merits the label of ‘hero’ (or ‘heroine’, I suppose). Well, not yet. That might change yet at the end of the novel.
  • Vanity Fair resides in us all – we blind ourselves with our own pain, troubles, trial and tribulations. That is not a bad thing – it is simply human nature, our means of survival, which are all exaggerated (slightly) in the novel.
  • The soldiers featured in the novel actually do have to go and fight! I’ve read some regency novels where soldiers feature (such as Pride and Prejudice), having purchased their places by their rich fathers, but who then simply lie around chasing girls. Imagine my surprise when they are called to arms and commanded to go off to Waterloo for battle.
  • I adore Becky Sharp.


  1. I remember buying Vanity Fair ages and ages ago, and not being able to get past the first couple of pages. I really should give it another try.

    “A novel without a hero” does sound intriguing, and going to Waterloo to fight only reminds me of one of my favourite lessons in history. I repeat, I really should give it another go. What with being older and wiser and all that. Well, maybe only older…

  2. I love Becky Sharp. I love the play of words on the last name, “Sharp” and boy oh boy is she sharp or what? Some of my favourite of her quotes are:

    Revenge may be wicked, but its perfectly natural.

    Becky Sharp: Are you trying to steer me towards an indiscretion?
    Rawdon Crawley: Would you like me to?
    Becky Sharp: No man has managed it yet.

    Amelia Sedley: This is all just a blessing in disguise
    Becky Sharp: Well, the disguise is convincing

  3. uncertainprinciples – You must give it another go. It’s a delicious read. I tried reading it when I was younger too, and while I’m not necessarily wiser, I do have time on my side!

    Nicola – Becky Sharp is one of those characters that you’ll love to hate. She is so witty and yet so dangerous.

    thehungryreader – I love how Becky changed her surname to Crawley too. That’s another fantastic play. I love those quotes. Becky’s dialogue is like a snake and always double-edged.

  4. I have never read Vanity Fair, despite taking two English Lit courses in college. After the Austen-mania I will definitely read this one because it’s a landmark work on humanity.

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