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Good morning and welcome!  This week's guest diarist, Sally Foster, had a little trouble with her computer so she asked me to upload this diary for her.  Everything that follows this introduction is Sally's authorship.  So take another sip of coffee, wander past the squiggle, and enjoy!

William Makepeace Thackeray wrote Vanity Fair almost two hundred years ago.  I first read it when I was in my twenties.  I've always loved books and reading and often find a book that I read over and over.  Vanity Fair was that book for a long time.  In fact, my friends were so impressed by my devotion to it that they bought me a fancy leather copy with gold-rimmed edges and satin endpapers (this book suffered some damage at the hands of my two-year-old years later, but I still have it).  As a result of said damage, one of my favorite quotes is missing, but I remember most of it:

[Paraphrasing]..."and so I say to you, young people just starting out in the world, 'Compliment everyone, and if you can't compliment them in person, compliment them to those who will repeat your words.'  As (a great man) never walked his estate without pushing acorns in the earth with his stick:  An acorn costs nothing, but it may grow into a prodigious bit of timber."

These are indeed words to live by.  And how about this:

"By humbly and frankly acknowledging yourself to be in the wrong, there is no knowing, son, what good you may do.  I knew once a gentleman and very worthy practitioner in Vanity Fair (that is, society), who used to do little wrongs to his neighbors on purpose, and in order to apologise for them in an open and manly way afterwards--and what ensued?  My friend Crocky Doyle was liked everywhere, and deemed to be rather impetuous--but the honestest fellow."

And,  "Who was the blundering idiot who said that 'fine words butter no parsnips?' Half the parsnips of society are served and rendered palatable with no other sauce...Nay, we know that substantial benefits often sicken some stomachs; whereas, most will digest any amount of fine words, and be always eager for more of the same food."

While Thackeray is often cynical, sending up the hypocrisies of "polite society" or "vanity fair" (which is, I believe, a reference to The Pilgrim's Progress), his advice is very good and worth adhering to.  

So, as a young person starting out, I tried to exercise these habits (not always successfully), but it was very helpful to me.

Vanity Fair
follows the progress of two young ladies, one blonde and one dark.  This was a common plot in the fiction of the times, and the blonde was always the "good" one.  Thackeray made his blonde the "bad" one, the scheming Becky Sharp, later Crawley, who rises and falls in the book.  Her counterpart, Amelia Sedley, later Osborne, is dark and a little tragic.  Neither is of a piece, however, and their stories are compelling.  For those who like stories (and all you "Downton Abbey" freaks), I recommend Mira Nair's excellent and beautiful movie version.  Somehow, she manages to get in nearly all the characters (and there are a bunch) and the clothes and locations are magnificent. It's even pretty sexy for a nineteenth-century story.

But, you ask, how did this book change my life?  Well, Becky and her husband are returning from Europe, where he lately fought at Waterloo and, in order to return to England, they have to settle their debts.  Becky offers them ready cash at $.50 on the dollar.  At twenty-five, this was a stratagem that I had never heard of and it served me well in my lean years (and when I practiced law.)  Ready cash at $.50 on the dollar will settle nearly any debt.

Try it.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Really enjoyed reading this diary, Sally! (7+ / 0-)

    It makes me feel good to know that a classic work such as Vanity Fair has changed someone's life!

    Also like the quotes you chose. They're just as true today as when they were written 200 years ago.

    Thank you very much for this contribution, and I hope you'll write more for us one day. :)

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 05:10:44 AM PST

  •  If any technically adept person knows how to (4+ / 0-)

    change this diary over to Sally's account, given the fact that she's been having trouble with her computer, please let me know.  She should receive the credit for this excellent diary and gather the tips and comments.

    I don't know how to do this without help.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 05:13:10 AM PST

  •  Sally, great job & thanks! (6+ / 0-)

    Your closing paragraph, explaining the $.50 on a dollar rule, is a hoot.

    I read the book many years ago and remember thinking (given the contemporary criticism of Thackeray's lack of even one truly appealing character) that his approach to characters was much the same as Flannery O'Connor's. When asked how she could conjure up such fantastical characters, she replied something along the lines of, "Well, most of them just show up at my back door ...."

    The subtitle of Vanity Fair--A Novel Without a Hero--perhaps tells us something about Thackeray's intent; but I will admit that there is much about 19th satirical writing that goes right over my head. Don't you think he would have been quite pleased that you took away from his book those life's lessons you pointed out?

    One image that has stuck with me from the novel is this charming, anachronistic structure of Miss Pinkerton's Academy--there to prepare young ladies for their roles in society. I wonder, since Thackeray had two daughters and little money, whether his work can been seen as at least a casual indictment of the position women were expected to play in proper English society?

    I haven't thought about this book in a long time, and am happy to have done so this morning. Thanks again for taking the time to share with us.

    •  I really should read it again. I liked it a lot (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa, Limelite

      When I was going through my Trollope and dickens phase...

      A standing army is like a standing member. It's an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure. Elbridge Gerry - Constitutional Convention (1787)

      by No Exit on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 08:46:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa

      Thackeray is bemoaning the hypocrisy and manipulation that seems to be the mainstay of society; however, the advice is good advice.  Just don't take it too far.

      I believe that Thackeray's sympathies lie with the individuals who are powerless without these strategems, the women, and, especially, the poor women.  They have no choice.

  •  Spoiler alert (5+ / 0-)

    Vanity Fair is my favorite novel as well.  I find it interesting that no movie or miniseries ever depicts Becky’s murder of Jos Sedley.  It is true that his murder is not made explicit, just as her having sex with the Prince Regent and Lord Steyne are only suggested as possibilities.  But the movie versions do not even come close, for Jos Sedley is always shown as still being alive at the end.

    I think the reason is this.  Thackeray lets Becky seduce us the way she seduces her victims.  He makes us like her, and then when she does something evil, we end up forgiving her, or making excuses for her.  Like us, the producers of the movie versions turn their eyes from Becky’s evil side.  They make her out to be a sympathetic character, someone we all like.  Fine.  But when it comes to showing us how we have been taken in by her charms, as the novel does, there is a failure of nerve.  And so, instead of having Becky poison Jos for the insurance money, the movies typically show her and Jos living happily ever after, even though the last lines of the novel doubt that any happiness is possible for those in Vanity Fair.

    •  Wow, that's interesting, disinterested! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Powered Grace, Aunt Pat, Limelite

      I blush to admit that I myself have not read Vanity Fair, despite the fact that it stood on my late father's bookshelf for nigh on 30 years.  I was so busy with Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Pamela that I just didn't get around to reading it.  

      I really must read it, now that Sally, P Carey, and you have offered these different insights.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:52:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The plot thickens... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa, Aunt Pat, Limelite

      I haven't seen the movies, but I would find it very disconcerting that Jos is alive and doing well at the end of any film version. He is vanity itself, isn't he?

      I agree that the "murder" is not explicit, but the reader can't help but think that Becky is certainly capable of doing away with Jos (who is not, let's face it, a likable character) for a little extra money.

      Then again, Giantheart (from Pilgrim's Progress) slays giants and helps to rid the city of Vanity of a terrorizing monster; the connections and allusions stack up so high they tend to teeter and fall in upon themselves in my less-than-facile memory of these works.

      And doggoneit--I really didn't want to add another book to my reread list, but I think I am going to breakdown and collect a copy of VF from the library on my way home tonight.

      Thanks Disinterested!

    •  Interesting -- Never Occrured to Me (0+ / 0-)

      Seems beyond the realm of possibility for how I read her.

      However, this kind of speculation is what makes sharing reading experiences so much fun.

      Will have to re-think my assessment of Miss Sharp. . .

      Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

      by Limelite on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 09:22:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I disagree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa

      that Becky murdered anyone.  Nor did she have an affair.  

      As Lord Steyne muses:  "getting the money was nothing.  But getting twice as much and paying no one... that was genius."

      The whole point of imprisoning Crawley for the night was to afford Steyne the opportunity to collect on his investment in Becky.

      They are interrupted.  And the author makes clear that she never gets near the Prince Regent for all her striving.

      Becky already has Jos' money.  And he is fat and a smoker and a drinker and likely to have died on his own.

      Besides, she lived with him and nursed him for years.

      She gets no points for recognizing the value of Dobbin and engineering that match?

      Women have one currency:  youth and beauty and the fact that women want to get the most for that currency seems reasonable to me.  

      Becky is head and shoulders above the rest of the characters:  more culture, more talent, more inteligence and wit.  Her circumstances make her what she is.  In other ciccumstances, born to wealth, she would have been a Pompodour or Catherine the Great.

      Go, Becky

      Thanks for reading.

      •  I beg you to reconsider (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        P Carey, Diana in NoVa

        The line you quote is in chapter LII, which occurs before Steyne arranges for Rawdon to be put in jail.  But after Rawdon gets out and surprises Becky and Steyne, Thackeray says:

        What had happened?  Was she guilty or not?  She said not; but who could tell what was truth which came from those lips; or if that corrupt heart was in this case pure?
        As for the Prince Regent, consider the passage in chapter XLVIII, which describes the meeting between Becky and the prince:
        What were the circumstances of the interview between Rebecca Crawley, née Sharp, and her Imperial Master, it does not become such a feeble and inexperienced pen as mine to attempt to relate.  The dazzled eyes close before that Magnificent Idea.  Loyal respect and decency tell even the imagination not to look to keenly and audaciously about the sacred audience-chamber, but to back away rapidly, silently, and respectfully, making profound bows out of the August Presence.
        What can that paragraph possibly mean, if not to imply that some kind of sexual encounter had taken place?

        Finally, does your copy of Vanity Fair have Thackeray’s illustrations in it?  Some books do not, which leave out the incriminating illustration entitled “Becky’s second appearance in the character of Clytemnestra” in chapter LXVII.  In any event, I call your attention to the laudanum Becky had, that she thought of using to commit suicide, Thackeray’s way of suggesting in advance her possession of an instrument of death.  Then there is the insurance company’s solicitor who “swore that it was the blackest case that ever had come before him.”  Finally, Becky’s lawyers have the same names as two murderers and a body snatcher.

        But I know how you feel.  I too am enchanted by Becky, and do not wish to look below the water’s surface at her mermaid’s tail, and the corpses that lie there in her midst.

  •  P. Carey, thanks for the great comment! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat

    Well said.  Thanks for stopping by!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 06:49:26 AM PST

  •  One of My Favorite Re-Reads, Too (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    P Carey, Diana in NoVa

    Loved the selected quotes.  How true they all are.  Every banker lives by the $0.50 on the dollar maxim.

    Thackery posessed an acid tongue to the nth degree and an incisive, almost clairvoyant, insight into humankind.  Is that why I love him so?

    Becky Sharp -- villain-ness?  Never!  She's intelligent, shrewd, ambitious, sharp (ha!), unfailingly loving, knows her own true nature and the true natures of everyone else, protective, and honest when it counts. . .to a fault.  What she's not is maternal.  One of the most modern women in Victorian fiction, IMO.

    That's probably why I read Vanity Fair again.

    Loved the diary!

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 09:17:44 AM PST

  •  Wow! I have got to re-read VF! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa

    Read it many years ago in my misspent youth and don't remember getting half of what everyone has written.

    (departs shame faced with ignorance) ;)

    Thanks, Sally.  

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Feb 01, 2013 at 12:04:47 PM PST

  •  Years ago (0+ / 0-)

    one of my college English literature professors suggested to the class that we reread Vanity Fair at least once every year. Sage advice, I suspect, though it has been awhile for me. Thanks Sally.

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