Although it gets a bit baggy for about 150 pages in the middle (which is not much when you consider the overall length of this novel), Vanity Fair is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time. What I find so remarkable about this is that the characters in and of themselves are not especially funny. In fact, most of them are pathetic or cantankerous or pious or frail. The story isn’t all that funny either, a bit too much of a silly marathon to be truly funny. But the narrator, the wonderful narrator is downright, laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Reading Vanity Fair feels like having a snarky conversation over a delicious glass of wine with a most amusing, most dashing friend with an incredible gift for dramatic representation. The kind of person who has so much fun relating the particulars of a given event that it is impossible not to laugh and snigger at the poor fools who were in this person’s vicinity when he or she chose to pay attention.
The narrator is what makes the book complete. Without this snide voice describing the events and making up detailed portraits of each character’s foibles, the story would actually be quite sad. Nice people get taken advantage of and made into pathetic jokes while clever, naughty people have all the fun. Well, at least until page 631 where I’m wondering if the tide is about to change.
Don’t tell me, any of you who have read this already, but I’m incredibly curious whether the narrator will be able to skewer his beloved Rebecca in the end. Until now, she’s gotten off each and every time for her dastardly behavior and it’s clear he loves her more than any of his other inventions. (I’m now freely taking the narrator for Thackeray himself. And if this is the case, if Thackeray was as wonderfully sarcastic and funny as the narrator of Vanity Fair, I’m very sad not to have had the chance to meet him or hear him speak in person).
I can just picture Thackeray laughing over his manuscript, chuckling proudly at each scene and line of dialogue. Becky Sharpe is a fantastic heroine. Thackeray makes her so quick and witty, such a bald-faced liar and opportunist; it’s hard not to want to see her get away with it all. If only to keep the narrator in such jovial spirits:
It is all vanity to be sure: but who will not own to liking a little of it? I should like to know what well-constituted mind, merely because it is transitory, dislikes roast beef? That is a vanity; but may every man who reads this have a wholesome portion of it through life, I beg: aye, though my readers were five hundred thousand. Sit down, gentlemen, and fall to, with a good hearty appetite; the fat, the lean, the gravy, the horse-radish as you like it – don’t spare it. Another glass of wine, Jones, my boy – a little bit of the Sunday side. Yet, let us eat our fill of the vain thing, and be thankful therefor. And let us make the best of Becky’s aristocratic pleasures likewise – for these too, like all other mortal delights, were but transitory.