Monday, July 28, 2008

Rereading Vanity Fair

I've been rereading _Vanity Fair_, and getting a lot more out of it this time. In part I've become a better reader over the last maybe fifteen years (including immersion in Austen), in part I read the introduction by Joseph Warren Beach in my ancient Modern Library edition. In _Tom Jones_ or _Tristram Shandy_ the constant presence of the author didn't bother me, perhaps because the writers were more sympathetic characters than Thackeray, with his moralizing and heavy-handed disdains. But Beach points out that the readers of the day were unable to read _Barry Lyndon_ with sophistication and Thackeray had to bear that in mind. It's not simple but there's a way of reading _VF_ that takes that into account and picks up irony in the very heavy-handedness noted above. How to clearly distinguish the layers of intention, though? It's probably not possible for the casual even close reader without knowing the literary and social environment of the time, but I'm seeing a richness of levels I don't recall in Dickens.

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