Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
I've been reading Vanity Fair on my Kindle. This is the second Kindle book where I've done the bulk of my reading on the treadmill at the gym. This makes it easier to stick with a book. I go regularly and so find that there aren't big breaks in the flow of a book. I had stalled about 10 percent of the way in the book, but picked it up again and have gotten past the halfway point since I began reading it at the gym.
I chose the book because I wanted to read another older English novel. I have loved many Dickens books, and Wuthering Heights drew me in even in high school. But I had more recently sampled The Mayor of Casterbridge and Middlemarch and Barchester Towers, but not gotten hooked. Vanity Fair hooked me very quickly, between Becky Sharp's spunky disdain for her girl's school and the narrator's satirical voice. The narrator's voice is something quite unusual. There is the dry wit of H.L. Mencken, but delivered with a more detached Alistair Cooke delivery. At other times I picture someone like Mr. Dick in the 1935 David Copperfield movie, only with a genius IQ. I don't know how many times I've made a quick note of "haha" after a comment by the narrator.
Among other funny passages, there is one where the narrator is describing the state of mind of a character, "and certainly (for novelists have the privilege of knowing everything) he thought a great deal about the girl upstairs." This is a kind of self-referencing that we are often told is a sign of postmodern work. Even more self-conscious is where we are told, "We have only now advanced in time so far beyond Chapter XXII as to have got our various characters up into their dressing-rooms before the dinner..."
I also like where a scheming woman gives herself away, "letting the cat of selfishness out of the bag of secrecy." Even better was where an account was given of an argument between two friends which ends with one "forgiving [the other] very generously after abusing him without cause."
Then there is a description of a man pursuing a match with a woman with some odd ideas. "He never left her house without carrying respectfully away with him piles of her quack theology and medicine" with pages of hilarious description.
A couple of places offered lines reminiscent of those I had read in C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. A young officer sees Amelia riding by and says, "A dem fine gal, egad!" Reminds me of Uncle Andrew in The Magician's Nephew referring to Queen Jadis. And "Gentlemen of the Guard, fire first," is echoed in Chesterton's "Gentlemen of the Secular Guard, fire first" from The Blatchford Controversies.
The times portrayed, the Napoleonic Era, are the same as Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin books.
All in all, this has been a fun read so far.
6:20 am Pacific Standard Time