Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

According to the description on the back of my copy, this book is “deliciously satirical.” If that means the book is supposed to be taken as a joke, then I definitely read it the wrong way. Maybe I should try rereading it while repeating under my breath, “It’s Oscar Wilde, it’s Oscar Wilde, it’s Oscar Wilde” until I see that it’s funny, but frankly I’d rather not.

Here, presented in simple list form, are the reasons I disliked this book:

-William Makepeace Thackeray is a condescending ass. Maybe this was all part of the satire, but a danger of writing a satirical book is that people might accidentally take it seriously. I am one of those idiots, and because of this I just rolled my eyes at the book while reading quotes like this: “What do men know about women’s martyrdoms? We should go mad had we to endure the hundreth part of those daily pains which are meekly born by many women. Ceaseless slavery meeting with no reward; constant gentleness and kindness met by cruelty as constant; love, labour, patience, watchfullness, without even so much as the acknowledgement of a good word; all this, how many of them have to bear in quiet, and appear abroad with cheerful faces as if they felt nothing. Tender slaves that they are, they must needs be hypocrites and weak.”

Hear that? It’s the sound of me bringing my Angry Feminist Hat out of storage.

Also, if I had a nickel for every time Thackeray refers to either Becky or Amelia as “the little woman” I would have at least three dollars. Probably. I didn’t keep track. But he does it a lot, and it is rage-inducing.

-The whole book is at least 200 pages too long, bogged down with pointless anecdotes and background information that has no effect on the plot. Several times I found myself reading a long description of the random Army captain’s wife’s sister’s marriage arrangements, and would mutter at the pages, “Why does this matter?” Seriously, Thackeray needs a good editor more than anything else.

-Almost all the characters irritated me beyond measure. Rawdon was an idiot, George was an asshole, Dobbin basically had “Hello, I’m a Tool” written on his forehead, and Amelia was so spineless I’m amazed she could walk upright. Becky was the only exception to this – she was evil, conniving, smart, charming, and totally awesome. But she was only present for about a third of the book. Which leads me to my next point…

Why is Becky only present for one third of the story? I had to sit through pages and pages of pointless chatter about minor characters and The Trials of Amelia the Adorable Martyr, and all I wanted to know was what Becky was up to. Towards the end of the book, once I had stopped even remotely caring about the latest evidence for Amelia’s sainthood, Becky finally makes a reappearance. This is several years after her husband discovered that she had been hoarding money and may have been cheating on him, and left her to go be a mayor in Wherever-The-Hell Island. What, the readers wonder, could Becky have gotten up to in that time? Whatever it is, it’s probably a lot more interesting than anything Amelia the Spineless Wonder has been doing.

Here’s what Thackeray has to say about Becky while she wasn’t in the story: “…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.”

Yeah. God forbid you should write about your most interesting character. Let’s find out how Amelia is doing instead. I’m sure it’s something sweet and selfless.

The worst part is that right after Thackeray tells us that he’s not going to write about what Becky did after her husband left her, he spends the next eighteen pages telling us what Becky did after her husband left her. What. The hell.

Verdict: two out of five stars


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