Let me produce my smelling bottle…

dickens_3I am currently reading Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. It has been an absorbing and interesting journey along the way, and I am up to chapter 13 now. At this moment, I cannot tell you much of the plot but I am most glad to arouse more of my curiosity, eagerness; to sustain my determination and resolution (as I am only up to 1/6 of the novel) so as yours in knowing a bit of anecdotes regarding this book and the author.

First, Vanity Fair has been stuck on my to-be-read bookshelf for a long time; and you may know why I would dig up my interest in picking it up from the bookshelf which has long been ignored without my reach? One of the reasons would be traced to the time when I was reading the Preface of Summer Lightning by P. G. Wodehouse. I was on my bed finishing the story and thought no, it’s not how I ended with this book, I have to read the introduction; and it didn’t disappoint me. It is one of the most wonderful and beautiful prefaces I have ever read. It gives out so much insight; but most of all the captivating bit to me is Plum’s sudden whim on the title of this book:

A word about the title: It is related of Thackeray that, hitting upon Vanity Fair after retiring to rest one night, he leaped out of bed and ran seven times round the room, shouting at the top of his voice. Oddly enough, I behaved in exactly the same way when I thought of Summer Lightning. I recognized it immediately as the ideal title for a novel. My exuberance has been a little diminished since by the discovery that I am not the only one who thinks highly of it.

Well, you see then!

Secondly, another muse would be a biography concerning the secret affair of Dickens named The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin. In this non-fiction, Tomalin actually mentions Thackeray quite a number of times along the pages. She states that Nelly Ternan “expressed a particular dislike for this novel (Vanity Fair)” due to the profound knowledge and personalities on stage actresses portrayed by Thackeray. Oh Vanity Fair! Dancing, Singing and Mimicking are the talents of the little girl Becky Sharp does to perform in front of  her audience to win their hearts and to climb up the social ladder. Thackeray also emphasized the independence and enhancement of Miss Sharp that she had developed since a very small age to acquire the skills in order to impress the others. Thackeray described vividly of the countenance of Becky Sharp underlying her beauty, humor and sexual attractiveness, and that were often the personalities that the audience had at that time as the first impression from them on stage. In this case, it is clear that Nelly would not read aloud Vanity Fair to the public to rub herself in as well as the negative side of the theatrical world. (p.6-7)

Apart from that, The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin also describes the knowledge of Thackeray in the secret affair of Dickens, and his sympathy and friendship towards Catherine Dickens after the separation of both the married couple. When asked on his opinion of the affair as well as Dickens’ separation, Thackeray replied, “No says I no such thing – it’s with an actress.” (p.8) Provided that his reply and the argument of Garrick Club, he and Dickens fell out with each other quite a while. However, no matter how much difference and discrepancy the social classes they belonged to in childhood and other moral values as such; their 28-year of friendship was not undermined in the end. Dickens actually wrote an obituary on Cornhill Magazine in 1864 in remembrance of Thackeray:

when we fell upon these topics, it was never very gravely, and I have a lively image of him in my mind, twisting both his hands in his hair, and stamping about, laughing, to make an end of the discussion.

and that Thackeray could successfully produce such refined characters and having the ability to tackle the human nature in subtleness.

Moreover I find out that he did the illustration of Pickwick Papers as well as his own novel Vanity Fair, I am very impressed indeed.


So here you go, sustaining my mood of reading Vanity Fair (finger-crossed I can make it to the end)!

Published by

Wong Sarah

Making reading the essential part of my life

2 thoughts on “Let me produce my smelling bottle…”

  1. One little correction – hope that this doesn’t make me sound like a know-it-all – but although Thackeray applied for the job of illustrating The Pickwick Papers, he wasn’t actually hired. In my forthcoming novel, Death and Mr Pickwick, I briefly allude to this incident – I don’t actually mention Thackeray by name.but I have him going downstairs from Dickens’s residence as a rejected candidate. Best wishes Stephen Jarvis

    1. Dear Stephen, thank you for your kind comments and corrections. Noted that it was Phiz, a friend of Thackeray’s, who succeeded Seymour as the illustrator. Sometimes it is careless of me to post something hastily concerning my own interests without thorough research. I am also interested in your novel, and hope to catch a glimpse on the work very soon in future.

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