Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world?
I enjoyed this book, but it had to grow on me after 200 + pages. At first, the language seems archaic, stilted, and difficult to follow. The style of writing is totally vain and self-serving, the sort of celebrity of times past. The story takes place in London from 1809 until about 1830, but really in Europe. The story itself revolves around two families: Amelia Sedley, and Rebecca Sharp. Childhood friends from finishing schools with much different backgrounds. Amelia's from a respectable family, with a secure future. Rebecca has no pedigree, which is all-important. She survives by her wits, perpetually climbing the society ladder. At one time, she is the toast of London, and invited to Court. Rebecca is one of the most resourceful and interesting characters in English literature. At a time when respectable women could not work, Rebecca sets about making a name for herself and marrying into a wealthier respectable family, the Crawleys.
One truth of Vanity Fair: a place and a state of mind is this: fortunes change. The book follows the ups and downs of Amelia and Rebecca. Amelia and Rebecca's husbands, George Osborne and Rawdon Crawley serve in the British military at Waterloo. George Osborne never returns, and years later it is found out that he never loved his wife Amelia, but wanted Rebecca to run away with him. Eventually Rebecca has a son, whom she does not care for, and is left to the care of her in-laws. At last, she is shunned by society and ends up alone.
Although the wordy, descriptive style can be overbearing, the story is worth reading. It is thought that Thackeray himself is based on the character of Major Dobbins, who loves Amelia for years from afar. The story constantly holds up a mirror to society, the highs, the lows, debt and bankruptcy, love and marriage.