Set during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, this classic gives a satirical picture of a worldly society. The novel revolves around the exploits of the impoverished but beautiful and devious Becky Sharp.
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The characters who populate Thackery???s Vanity Fair (1848), set in England and Europe during and after the Napoleonic Wars, are a cast of decadent lords, pious snobs, pedantic teachers, sycophantic schemers, hedonistic spinsters, tyrannical fathers, imperious brats, philandering generals, gambling rakes, gossiping servants, false friends, faithful toadies, and many more. Unlike in Dickens, there is no perfect person. Thackery plays his ???puppets??? through scenes that are comical, appalling, suspenseful, moving, or revelatory. He keeps us alert, peering through layers of irony. And he has such empathy for humanity that he makes most of his characters, even the feckless or false or cruel ones, at least sometimes sympathetic.
Becky Sharp, the ???poor little friendless orphan??? who becomes a bohemian adventuress, who remains throughout her life selfish, scheming, heartless, and ???artful,??? who abominably neglects her son, alarmingly attracts the husbands, brothers, and sons of her friends, and comically mimics everyone behind their backs, and yet who is capable of genuine feeling, is one of the most fascinating anti-heroines in literature. Is she a plucky survivor or a wicked siren? Her foil, the seemingly pure, simple, loving, and good Amelia Sedley, is also compelling, for with selfish selflessness she indulges in her Angel in the House, submissive and dependent feminine saintliness to such a degree that she harms herself and her true lover.
The reader John Castle is great! With perfect pauses, emphases, wit, and emotion, he engagingly reads all the characters??? voices with their different accents, personalities, genders, and moods, whether a stingy hyena-faced old country baron, a drunken cockney footman, a boastful Irish officer???s wife, a mercenary French maid, or a foppish German diplomat--everyone.
Thackery???s ???historian??? narrator, who???s telling a ???true??? story based on the accounts of the principle characters he has met, satirizes early 19th century British and European culture (class, religion, education, business, war, tourism, etc.) so as to expose human vanity in general. We are all driven by vain desires and feel unfulfilled after getting what we want. We are all selfish, artful, and self- and other-deluding. The novel may seem misanthropic. But Thackery is so good at making us laugh, groan, cry, or think, that if the novel (???without a hero???) is not uplifting, it is entertaining, stimulating, and often moving.