My second big bad classic that I’ll be audio-reading on my hellish commute is Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray. I attempted to read this book once before, when I was a junior in high school, and I’ve seen the movie half a dozen times, so I know the rough sketches of the characters, and I know (vaguely, since the movie changed bits) how it ends. So this book was sort of the perfect choice for my next audiobook, because despite the size of the book and the language, I can pay attention to it easily. Yay for multitasking!
In case you don’t know much about Vanity Fair, it was written in the 1860s and set in the Regency period. It’s a funny, sarcastic, critical, and scathing look at social norms and social politics at the time. At the center of the story are two women: the angelic and generous Amelia Sedley from a merchant’s family, and the shrewd and calculating Becky Sharp, a governess and social climber. Thackeray named this book the “novel without a hero” because every single one of his characters is ridiculous in some way, and their flaws are expounded upon and laughed at for chapters at a time.
But the thing I’ve found most striking about this novel so far is that even though Becky can be deplorable, he treats her with understanding and a sort of grudging respect. The narrator explains that Becky has had to be an adult since she was eight years old, and as an orphan, has to break societal norms in order to build the life she wants.
When she is too familiar with a man, the narrator explains it’s because she has to fend for herself; she doesn’t have a mother to be her chaperone or go-between. If she doesn’t risk being a flirt and a social climber, she’ll be stuck as a governess, which is equivalent to hell for her. Becky is self-sufficient, and even though she’s deeply flawed and generally not a good person, she’s also not completely demonized, either. Personally, I tend to root for her, cause she’s got such strength and pluck. I like a good anti-hero.
Here’s a passage I love from Vanity Fair:
“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
Other than the treatment of Becky, the ultimate female anti-hero, Vanity Fair is so freaking funny. I’m a huge dork and I love that wry, dry British wit, and so I find myself chuckling in the car when the narrator pokes sly fun at one of his absurd characters.
I’m a couple hundred pages in right now, and loving every minute of it. I would totally recommend this book if you want to be like me and “cheat-read” (i.e. listen to) the classics on your commute. Sometimes it’s easier to follow along but sometimes I find myself going back to a chapter to clarify what happened, but in general, audio-reading is a great way to get some of those more difficult classics off your tottering TBR pile.
In my downtime, I’m also reading Nightmares!, the children’s book by Jason Segel. It’s so fun to read when I’m exhausted from work and don’t want to read a 19th century tome. Review pending!