In most stories, there are some elements that you can’t do without. A protagonist, an antagonist, lots of supporting characters and of course, a story line. However, in William M. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, you’ll find that all these tend to be a little mixed up!
The title Vanity Fair refers to a fair in John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, which focuses on man’s endless pursuit of unnecessary or material things. As a result Thackeray’s novel is also about how the various characters’ life choices are defined by this pursuit of vanity and what they think are important things when they really may not be.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, Vanity Fair is not your average 19th century novel. For starters, it’s not narrated by any of the characters in the story. The narrator is someone outside the circle, and the entire story is told as if describing a rather long-drawn out puppet show. Unfortunately, the narrator’s source of information appears to be gossip handed down by others, which may not be a 100% true! Another point is that this is a ‘novel without a hero’, there really is no one person who is ‘good’ – every single character has his or her own faults. Yet, Thackeray’s writing ensures that you don’t end up loving or hating anyone – you just sort of understand them. And that seems to be the author’s aim – to let us know that we’re all human and that vanity is ingrained in human nature!
The main characters are two women, and the men seemed to occupy a secondary position. The characterization is well done, and you can’t help feeling that you’ve known or at least heard of someone like Becky or Rawdon Crawley. The result is a classic that’s one of UK’s best loved books, loved by other literary stalwarts and adapted into several plays and movies!
Thackeray attempted a satire on English society in the 19th century, but as we all know too well, gossip, vanity and the lure of material things are all too present in today’s world as well! The novel is rather long with some difficult-to-understand literary references, but give it a shot – you might enjoy it!