This is an undertaking. A book not for the weak-minded.
Vanity Fair touches on every virtue through the speculative eye of intention. Vanity being the question, and ‘proper’ being the answer, ‘wise’ is never suggested.
I picture the author a keen observer commentator writing feverishly, the words coming all too easily since reading what he’s written is like being pelted with accurately observed innuendo. To read his writing is like arguing your own position on cleverly dispensed vocabulary. He is utter sarcasm in absolute certainty, (p. 227), « upon my word, she’s playing her hand rather too openly, » [she] thought, but this observation is merely parenthetic, and was not heard through the crevice of the door at which the governess uttered it. » He hands out obvious answers, but questions the outcome, (p. 191) « Perhaps in Vanity Fair there are no better satires than letters, » making his case by involving legal expertise of words having been written in the hand of hypocrisy, « … vows, love, promises, confidences, gratitude, how queerly they read after a while. »
He doesn’t seem a writer, he delivers. His breadth overtakes the reader, imposing conflict. The reader is accountable, or the reader is lost. In this book, one is guided. This writer saves the intellectual disciple of his words with the benefit of recognition. He places literary tools, asking readers to choose a path – reading this book, as for myself, is simply comprehending more than you think yourself capable. Imposing is the word that best describes this book. Imposing and long.
One who writes is relieved of burden, a writer writes for relief. This novelist (as Thackeray is willing to admit throughout this work), may simply write because he can. Where a writer writes because he must, Thackeray writes because he should.
This work is a textbook of vagaries, accusing one to learn how to become a man, and convincing the impressionable female to take heed. It suggests that a man will rise to the occasion and aspire to prosper, and a lady shall become him. Thusly he teaches through interpersonal irony. You can be the hero/heroine, the absolved, if you notice the nuance and apply the inference. He infers genteel acquaintances would engender certain confidences which inspired social boundaries. Though we follow Miss Rebecca Sharp’s position with the family Crawley, Chapter XVII beseeches interested girl-hood to acknowledge the original Miss Amelia as interesting, or to ‘set aside’ this heroine. This chapter describes female condescension.
Themes which recur – gambling, war, aristocratic homage, money where money may or may not be (appearances being what they are). The satire is in tribute to aristocracy, or rather to those in compliance with it and those in position to displace it. The men gamble, the women position themselves freely, and sometimes poorly. Military regard is a theme, though war encompasses only three of the sixty-ish chapters in the book. Clearly, this is not a book about war, it’s a book including one. He writes that war is only another milestone, one that is concluded, then set aside and recounted, again and again.
The novelist doth project – he has more ‘serious’ episodes in which his writing is contemplative and a reader will worry as to why he is suddenly grave. Then, he has moments of absolute mirth, where the reader fears for his own sobriety. The writer is fairly giddy with indulgence and attitude.
The last chapters of the book include deadly sins – vanity being just one, surprisingly. Pride as opposed to privilege, indifference, these were noted. Family guidance, honor, disgrace, sanctity, gluttony, frailty (weaknesses of flesh and distress), are all left to question. This world never ventures to engender nobility or acts of profound Christian charity, if those acts are not warranted with expectation. This being the definition of vanity.
Vanity Fair is the stage which exists in guilt, « … where all the Vanity Fair booths were laid out with the most tempting liveliness and splendour… ».