Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Vanity Fair Discussion: Chapters 60 – 67

We reach the end of the book, and the end of many characters. While many resolutions are happy, not everything may be satisfying. Post your thoughts on these chapters in the comments.

I’ll have a general Vanity Fair post soon that provides links to the previous posts, which I hope will be the place for posts on the book after we have moved on to something else. Next week I'll post some thoughts on the recent movie version--even if you didn't read the book, I'll encourage your thoughts on the movie.


Dwight said...

A few quick thoughts:

There are many deaths in this section, which covers quite a few years: Mr. Sedley, Mr. Osborne, Jos, Rawdon, Pitt. The one that interested me the most was Jos’ death and his comments when Dobbin last saw him. His need to be involved with Becky outweighed his realization of “what a terrible woman she is.” You realize early on in the book what a fool Jos is, who seems to prove it every time he appears. By the end he is also sad and pathetic.

I’ve mentioned a few of the numerous comparisons and contrasts that Thackeray holds up for the reader, but one that gets to the heart of the book is the view of love that Dobbin and Amelia practice. They hold idealized, impossible views on how they should act toward the object of their affection. I like Amelia less and less as she clings to her self-torment for George (in addition it is painful to see their son being raised to be just as vain and self-centered as the father—Georgy’s essay on selfishness was one of the most ironic pieces in a book full of ironies). And I only find full respect for Dobbin when he refuses to be Amelia’s doormat (cue The Offspring’s “Self Esteem”). While other characters in the book pervert love due to their worship of money, these two perverted love due to idealizing the objects of their affection.

Illusion vs. reality: another major theme throughout the book in many guises. One manner of this conflict is in promoting the character’s self-interest, misrepresenting themselves to others (and ultimately themselves). And as I’ve mentioned several times in other comments, this extends to the narrator as well. In Chapter 64 you finally find out how second-hand the information for the book truly is, as well as the narrator revealing he has colored the facts. Given the dubious quality of much second-hand facts given by characters throughout the book, how can you be certain the narrator is correct? I did like the touch of having the narrator meet some of the characters (in Chapter 62, where he asserts “every word is true”).

Three last (quick) comments before I end.
First: Thackeray’s satire of society is pretty heavy-handed but still fun to read for the most part. Where he is quick, sharp, and moves on, the satire works the best. Where he preaches for an extended period, he loses me.
Second: The book, or at least Becky and Amelia, are made-for-daytime TV characters. I can easily see either one of them on Oprah, especially Becky playing the victim card for all it’s worth.
Third: In a world where intention is satisfactory and results beside the point (gee, not much has changed in over 150 years since it was written), the book is remarkably fresh today despite reflecting a society structure that is long gone.

Tiredbuthappy said...

I finished it! I actually finished it several days ago, but have been so busy enjoying reading other things without Vanity Fair staring at me from the bedside table that I haven't posted about it.

Well, I am a sucker for a happy romantic ending. The book was (almost) redeemed by two things: 1. That Dobbin told Amelia to shove it finally, and 2. That they ended up together after all. And they even had a little daughter. My low-brow appetite for romance is satisfied.

I still feel that the book was more of a chore than an enjoyable read. I did enjoy Thackeray's sense of humor, etc. But I am looking forward very much to Northanger Abbey.