21. Vanity Fair, William Thackeray (1848)

Sometimes I fantasise about living in 1848 – the year of European revolutions, Dombey and Son, La Dame aux Camellias, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and this, the ‘novel without a hero’ which is probably the greatest of the lot. Everything about Vanity Fair appeals to me – the London settings, the gossipy narrative tone, and above all the moral ambiguity personified by Becky Sharp, the sexy, wicked protagonist. It’s a Victorian rarity in that the good don’t end happily and the bad unhappily (‘that is what fiction means’ according to Wilde), and while I don’t buy all that creative writing claptrap about ‘subverting the reader’s expectations’ there’s something very gratifying about a book that cheerfully tramples all over a little Goody Two-Shoes like the long-suffering Amelia Sedley. There are other Thackeray novels that I love, particularly Pendennis, but this towers over them.


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Filed under My top 100 novels

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