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)!

Currently reading

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

“If the Doctor, with a large birch, had appeared bodily to him, even at the age of threescore and eight, and had said in awful voice, ‘Boy, take down your pant — ‘? Well, well, Miss Sedley was exceedingly alarmed at this act of insubordination.”

Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho

“I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It’s all a question of how I view my life.”





My Bookshelf (Part 2)


These are the difficult ones: Bleak House, The Diary of a Provincial Lady, Vanity Fair, and Wolf Hall, and I haven’t even started reading any of them. They have been on my shelf  for a long time – 2010, 2012, 2011, and 2013 respectively.

One of the reasons for me not to finish Bleak House is not because of its thick volume but the intricacy of the language. It consists of too many complex sentences and vocabularies that my abilities of  English language is unable to handle. Another reason is that I am too absorbed in the complication of the court case that I often dissuade myself from finishing it. Actually it has a lot of cultural and social criticism and satire that are interesting to study, for example, the idea of devotion of one’s philanthropy towards foreign countries on paper terms but in ignorance of the care for his/her home, family and the local communities; the gluttonous and disciplined life of the clergyman (similar to drunken Mr. Stiggins in The Pickwick Papers that the wives often show dominance on their husbands in playing favourite of the leader)…these concept of description is interesting. Without understanding the court case, it would be much more enjoyable reading the novel. Perhaps I should give my fourth attempt to the book, but first I must get a new edition. This one has not notes/appendix to explain the connotation bits. Please give me some encouragement to start reading Bleak House again for the fourth time!!!

As regards The Diary of a Provincial Lady, like what I have said before, too much moaning in French, and I don’t understand some jokes. However I will look into it soon.

As to the other two, it’s not that I can’t be bothered with them, it’s just that I have put other books as my priorities, so that I don’t have chance to read them yet. 🙂

My Bookshelf (Part 1)


This is the only bookshelf I’ve got. There are 3 books I haven’t read with potentiality, and what I mean by it is that these are the ones I definitely will read in the near future. However, I am not easy with The Diary of the Provincial Lady; so much moaning in French is going on and I don’t understand French. The other 2 are fine with me.

I usually borrow books from the library including Wilkie Collins’s ones. These three novels by Wilkie Collins with the biography are  not available in this case, so I own them instead. Not bad results these three are all brilliant and turn out as my favourites. I haven’t read the biography though; it’d be better to read more of his works first (on condition that I have to finish The Frozen Deep and The Moonstone). Great!

Next time I’d post some other books that I find much harder dealing with.