‘Vanity Fair,’ the novel without a hero…or heroine

Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? — Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.

vanity fairThus ends William Makepeace Thackeray’s saucy, sarcastic, insightful novel about the citizens of Vanity Fair, a place of appearances, wealth, social status, and hypocrisy. The denizens of this part of Vanity Fair are the incorrigible Becky Sharp, the naive and kind Amelia Sedley, the steadfast and honorable William Dobbin, the vain Joseph Sedley, scoundrel George Osborne, and the dim-witted gambler Rawdon Crawley—among a host of others, a whole cast of vivid characters that the narrator, himself a character in the novel, eviscerates at every turn. I’ve written briefly before about my first impressions starting this novel, and now that I’ve finished, I have to say my biggest takeaway is my varying loyalties and sympathies to the two female characters in the book, who are extreme opposites: Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley.

Rebecca Sharp is the ultimate female anti-hero: a social climber, manipulative, dishonest by default, a terrible mother, a gambler, and a cheat. Her most famous description/line is:

…Though Miss Rebecca Sharp has twice had occasion to thank Heaven, it has been, in the first place, for ridding her of some person whom she hated, and secondly, for enabling her to bring her enemies to some sort of perplexity or confusion; neither of which are very amiable motives for religious gratitude…Miss Rebecca was not, then, in the least kind or placable. All the world used her ill, said this young misanthropist…This is certain, that if the world neglected Miss Sharp, she never was known to have done a good action in behalf of anybody…”

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Thoughts on the first few chapters of ‘Vanity Fair’

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!

5797In 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.

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Current Classics TBR

A long time ago, I spent a lot of money on Barnes & Noble classics—those pretty, multicolored paperback editions that tend to be dirt cheap and last forever. But as everyone knows, classics are hard to get into. Enter my recent audiobook obsession!

I’ve started listening to audiobooks on my absurdly long commute, and since it’s a lot easier than I’d thought to pay attention to a book while driving, I’m really excited to finally get around to some classics I’ve been wanting to read for a while:

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Fashion // To Love and Win

Red and lace are my two favorite things. I love this dreamy, romantic outfit, complete with my favorite Paris purse and my new wear-with-everything booties. You’ll be seeing a lot of them on this site in the future! IMG_7553 IMG_7568 IMG_7539IMG_7577 IMG_7541IMG_7597

 

shoes from Nasty Gal, top and skirt from Forever 21, bag from Weezie D.

To love and win is the best thing.
To love and lose, the next best.

–William Makepeace Thackeray

#WCW: Romola Garai

I don’t know what it is with Romola Garai, but she has managed to play the main character in the film adaptations of six of my favorite books. And in her other movies she’s equally as fantastic. She’s just ugh–amazing.

I Capture the Castle

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A young Romola Garai plays Cassandra Mortmain, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in a refurbished castle in the 1930s in England. She writes about her quirky family and about falling in love for the first time. This book reminds me of a meadow of flowers, in the best way. It’s Austenesque. And Cassandra is an insightful narrator and wonderful character.

Angel

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A dark-haired, vampy, ridiculous Romola Garai brings a new level of sympathy and childishness to one of my favorite literary antiheroes. Read the full review of one of my favorite books here.

The Crimson Petal and the White

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NEED I SAY MORE. She plays the dry-lipped, brilliant young prostitute I fell in love with many years ago. The Crimson Petal and the White is probably my favorite book of all time, and when I learned Romola Garai would be playing Sugar, I screamed a lot. It was an emotional day.

Atonement

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Okay okay, she’s the supporting actress to Keira Knightley’s top billing but still, Briony Tallis is equally as important in this novel, and much more complicated. She resurrects her bob in this movie, to my delight.

Vanity Fair

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Also a supporting actress in this one but again, she brings a level of complexity to a frankly annoying character. She plays the motherly Amelia Sedley, a kind of clueless companion to the devilish Becky Sharp, who is one of the best and worst characters in literature, and an amazing antihero.

Emma

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Yes, she played the handsome, clever, rich Emma. Romola Garai is truly the best blessing of existence. She’s also a dab hand at Shakespeare adaptations.

Check her out. I think I’ve seen 90% of her movies, and that’s modest considering how much I love her.

Shopping with Fictional Characters

This post is exactly what it sounds like: My top five choices for a shopping companion, literary edition. Welcome to my wildest fantasies.

I know a lot of people have a list of historical figures that they’d love to have lunch with; for example, I would love to chat with Jane Austen, Genghis Khan, Queen Elizabeth I, Shah Jahan and Anne Boleyn over a glass of Malbec or two. But I would also love to meet some entirely fictional people. More, I would love to go shopping with them.

Shopping with someone is a unique bonding experience, and choosing the right companion marks the difference between a new, glitzy, flattering wardrobe achieved spectacularly on budget, and leaving the strip mall empty-handed and with the mean reds. You need someone who will offer sound advice: honest, but tactful. The ideal companion must be patient and funny, frugal yet spontaneous, and will never tell you that the dress you’re wearing makes you look fat. Without further ado, here are my top five picks for a fictional shopping companion, in no particular order:

Holly GolightlyBreakfast at Tiffany’s

One of my lifelong dreams is to go shopping with Miss Holiday Golightly, Traveling. Holly is an excellent shopping companion because she’s perpetually on-budget. She also understands the therapeutic power of a well-stocked jewelry store like no other. Shopping with Holly, with her sparkling personality and irresistibly skewed logic, can never get boring. Also, Holly will most likely shoplift something amazing for you, or she may surprise you and buy it outright, saving it for a gift later. Just remember to repay her with something illegal, or better yet, something sparkly from Tiffany’s.

Spoken by Holly: “I don’t want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together.”

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Lily BartThe House of Mirth 

Lily Bart will take you around to all the best stores. Be prepared to put on your highest knockoff Louboutins and walk daintily through Chanel and Saks, eyeing merchandise askance and making salespeople show you their best wares. She’ll buy you a cafe au lait and a macaron from a French cafe on Fifth and gently remind you to never buy anything on a whim. Lily takes her time with purchases and is accustomed to a certain standard of living. She never settles for anything less than perfect luxury. Hopefully she buys you something, because you can’t afford that sh*t. Lily Bart will also nurture you and make sure you look like a million New York bucks.

Spoken by Lily: “Don’t you ever mind not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?” Yes. Yes I do mind, Lily.

Rebecca SharpVanity Fair

Becky Sharp understands the power of a truly eye-catching wardrobe. Okay, so you may spend all your money on garish finery and end up homeless, but shopping with Becky Sharp is worth the risk. She has a unique and provocative fashion sense, and will challenge you to try on clothes you’d never have given a second glance. She won’t lie to you to pretend something looks good, but she may lie to you about the price. Be prepared for her blunt honesty but also for her venomous instinct for self-preservation. If you pick up something she wants, give it to her. It probably looks better on her anyway.

Spoken by Becky: “Revenge may be wicked, but it’s natural.”

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Emma Woodhouse, Emma

Shopping with Emma may test your patience, but the girl does have taste. She’ll tell you what to buy and why to buy it, but when her back is turned, you can return it to the shelf without her noticing. But if her choices do strike your fancy, you’ll know you’re leaving with clothes that will undoubtedly cement your social standing. And if you’re vacillating between buying a dress and not, she’ll just rip out of your hands and leave the store, taking your dignity with her. But then she’ll treat you to a Jamba Juice and a fresh helping of the latest gossip.

Spoken by Emma: “A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter.”

SugarThe Crimson Petal and the White

I would just faint dead away if given the opportunity to shop with the protagonist of my favorite novel. Sugar is a self-sufficient, intelligent young prostitute in Victorian London, taking every opportunity to improve her lot in life. Shopping with Sugar means making informed choices about what you need rather than what you want. Luckily for you, what you need is a brand-new bespoke wardrobe in order to convince high society that you belong. While you shop you can discuss the latest literary effort by Mr. Charles Dickens, and debate the finer points of wealth disparity in England. Shopping with Sugar is also an economic experience, given that her rich lover William Rackham will be footing the bill. You’ll leave with plenty of beribboned boots and your savings intact.

Spoken by Sugar: “Put a black dress on, take a deep breath, puff your cheeks out and they’ll mistake you for the Queen.” Wise Sugar, extolling the undying power of the LBD.

Who I would NOT want to shop with:

Emma Bovary, Madame Bovary

I would literally drain my savings account if I went shopping with Madame. Or worse, tumble headfirst into a chasm of debt, and I really don’t fancy arsenic.

Bella Swan, Twilight

Woefully devoid of fashion sense, I feel like Bella wouldn’t be the ideal shopping companion. Maybe I’d take her sister Alice along for a second opinion, or stash a head of garlic for protection.

Who would you want to shop with?