Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fairly Slow Going


The corner convenience store at the end of my block closed its doors today. Apparently the landlord wants to put in an art gallery or something, so the store where I buy my newspapers, saltines, and beer got the boot. Yesterday I saw a sign in their window that announced a closing sale with 50% off on all their remaining liquor stock. Naturally, that caught my eye. But when I went in and looked at the shelf, I saw that all they had left were a few bottles of blackberry brandy, butterscotch schnapps, and Hennessy. Not being able to resist a good deal, but not wanting to make myself sick either, I sprung for a bottle of the Hennessy. At 50% off of the usual corner store inflated prices, I figure I probably got the equivalent of a 10% discount off the regular price at any discount liquor store. Nonetheless, as I blog tonight, I'm in a mellow mood, sipping on some fine cognac. Of course, I know nothing at all about cognac, and I don't know if Hennessy is actually considered a fine one or not. I mean, the ads look convincing, and all the hip hop artists drink it, so it has to be pretty good, right? Back me up here, because I really have no idea.

"What's the point of all this rambling?", you may be asking. "Why doesn't he stop this blathering on about store closings and booze and get back to the discussion of "Vanity Fair". He's distracting us from the issue at hand!"

Well, that's correct, and that seems to be my problem at the moment. You see, I've been reading "Vanity Fair" for like what, a month now? And I'm only 250 pages into this 678 page book. Why is that? Well, partly because I've been busy scouring the neighborhood like a vulture looking for boozy bargains at businesses that are going belly up. But partly because I seem to find myself getting distracted when I read this book. I'll sit down to read, and get 2-3 pages into it, and then my mind begins to wander. The next thing I know I'm leaping up off the couch to check on the latest election polls, or to google the name of that song that's running through my head to see who wrote it. And I'm not sure why this is happening, although as a scientist I have several possible hypotheses: (1) I'm losing it, probably due to early onset Alzheimer's, (2) I've got a lot going on in my life, and finding it hard to focus at the moment so just GET OFF MY BACK DAMMIT, (3) the book is boring me silly, or (4) something else. Upon reflection, aided by the Hennessy VS, a cognac which may or may cause cognac connoisseurs everywhere to laugh when they hear that I'm drinking it, I have to say that none of these hypotheses seem accurate except for #4, "something else". I like the novel, and I don't find it boring...not at all, in fact. I think it's more that the language that the book is written in, and by that I mean the sentence structure and the vocabulary, as well as the subtlety and sophistication of the thought, makes this the type of writing that has to be read slowly, and rolled around on the tongue and enjoyed like a fine cognac, in order to be appreciated. This book needs to be savored as well as read, and that takes time. It also tends to make my mind wander, though that's my fault and not Thackeray's. Anyway, it's slow going.

And what about the story? Well, just a couple of notes. First, the humor has changed since the first few pages. It's become more subtle, and frankly more biting. I have to wonder if Thackeray really likes any of his characters. They're all conniving, or money-grubbing, or just silly and oblivious. The only one who's close to being a good and admirable character is Captain Dobbin, who's secretly in love with his best friend George's girl, and convinces George to marry her when he sees that the girl is pining away for him. So he's noble, but he's also somewhat of a milquetoast. I find it interesting to think about the contrast between Thackeray's characters in "Vanity Fair" and Dickens' characters in "Bleak House". Dickens certainly lampooned some of his characters, and made some of them almost cartoon-like, which Thackeray does not do...Thackeray's humor towards his characters has more bite to it...to say his humor is meaner is too strong, but it is more cutting...it feels to me like there's a hint of darkness to it. Also, in "Bleak House" you have a sentimentality that is lacking, at least so far, in "Vanity Fair" (I'm particularly thinking of Jo's death scene...I can't imagine Thackeray writing that).

Having said all that, none of the characters in "Vanity Fair" are really evil, or anything like that. They're just more like buffoons. Except Becky, who is very cunning. But I can't even say she is evil, because she's merely opportunistic. She's smart and attractive, and she knows it, so she goes about using what she has to better her lot in life. Seems fair to me. Anyway, I seem to be rambling and distracted, so I might as well go back to my reading.

2 comments:

Enrico Hale said...

Senator, I knew Caspar Milquetoast. I worked with Caspar Milquetoast. Caspar Milquetoast was a friend of mine. Senator, Captain Dobbin is no Milquetoast!

Kristin said...

Thackeray didn't like those characters. I don't remember where he said it...something that most people are foolish and selfish, and I think that he created the characters to reflect that.