Sunday, November 16, 2008

Still Here!

I am a bad, bad book blogger. I mean, the whole point of this blog is to plow through the greatest literature EVER, with occasional sips of whiskey and a full report of my activities. But unfortunately, my life lately has been mostly work and little literature, albeit still with the occasional sips of whiskey. I'm now a little over 2/3 of the way through "Vanity Fair". Reading a book this slowly is not as great an experience as reading a book quickly. The continuity of the book gets a bit lost; when I pick up the book after not reading for a few days it can take me a few pages to remember what the heck is going on. And this is a long book, so it's getting stretched out even longer. Ah well. I'm hoping my current slow progress through the canon will pick up its pace in the coming weeks, but we'll see.

Anyway, enough self-pitying and whining! Let's talk f$&king literature! Here are a few random thoughts I'm having while continuing my way through "Vanity Fair":

1. What kind of a guy was Thackeray anyway, I wonder? Did people like hanging out with him? Was he ripped off by a bunch of grifters at an early age? I mean, from this book it's clear he's a brilliant writer, and a sharp observer of human nature, and he's got a wicked sense of humor, but he's also got a way cynical view of humankind. It reminds me of the line from an Elvis Costello song: "I used to be disgusted, but now I'm just amused".

2. Finally in Chapter 50, we had an incident that I would describe as poignant. Amelia and her beloved son are living at her parents' house. Actually it's not her parents' house because the parents, since her father's bankruptcy, are living in someone else's house as renters, although they can't make their rent payments since their father is continually losing money through failed business schemes. Amelia realizes her son is not going to get ahead in life by living in poverty. Her dead husband's wealthy father, who hates Amelia's father, has suggested that he should raise the son in order to give him an advantage in life. Amelia is initially repelled by this idea, because her son is all she has left in the world to love since her beloved husband's death. (The husband was kind of a dick, by the way, who never really appreciated her). But as finances get tighter and tighter, she finally decides she has to do what is best for the son, and she lets him go live with his paternal grandfather. This is very touching, because not only is she completely devastated over her sacrifice, but her little boy is pretty psyched about it. He goes away happily, and is looking forward to living as a rich person. The child still has some good nature...he gives away money to a poor begging child who the adults tried to shoo away...but he's also part greedy money-grubber, just like many of the adults in the book. Vanity Fair starts at a young age, I suppose. Perhaps it's even genetic. I'll look into that.

3. Are we supposed to hate Becky Sharp? She cracks me up. There are two full chapters dedicated to explaining how she and her husband can live on no income. You go girl! Currently she's hanging out with Lord Steyne, who is helping her climb the social rungs into the highest levels of society. Becky has her faults, to say the least...she's manipulative, cold, doesn't seem to care at all for her son...but you also have to admire her spunk, her social intelligence, her wits. Her climb in society depends a lot on her natural beauty and talents. She would do quite well in contemporary America, where the class of one's birth matters far less than in Victorian England. If she were alive today I could see her being a major player in Hollywood.

4. This is a great book, and fun to read, so I hate to complain...and maybe it's just me taking way too long to read this book...but there are times I think Thackeray seems to ramble a bit. Of course, it was a serialized novel, so maybe he was just padding it out to fill each installment.

5. Some of the characters in the book drink alcohol mixed with water, as in gin-and-water and rum-and-water. I can't quite figure that out. It reminds me of General Jack Ripper in "Dr. Strangelove" who would only drink grain alcohol and rainwater. Are the characters drinking alcohol diluted with tap water? Or is it carbonated water like club soda, or tonic water, both of which would seem like more tasty options, at least to the modern palate? And did they have ice in the household in England in the very early 1800s? Or were the drinks all at room temperature? I need to look into this.


Kristin said...

>Some of the characters in the book drink alcohol mixed with water, as in gin-and-water and rum-and-water. I can't quite figure that out.

I recently heard that putting water in alcohol liked whisky can enhance the flavor. Also, I don't know if they had ice cubes for maybe adding water was the only way to turn it into a "drink" as opposed to a shot? I will be very interested to hear what you turn up about it. The history of alcohol consumption is so interesting!

And I don't think that Thackeray liked people very much.

Charles Minus said...

No, they didn't have ice and the water probably came out of the nearest river, so no wonder they put alcohol in it.

I too think that Thackerey runs on some times, but it's okay with me because it's usually interesting and always beautifully written. This is one of the few authors whose prose is so beautiful that I go back and read some sentences three or four times.

Also, remember that this was a time when the only entertainment available was the printed word and people had plenty of time to read.

When, you finish Vanity Fair, you have _The Newcomes_ to look forward to.

I just ran across your blog. good stuff here.

Robby Virus said...

Kristin: Yes, water is used by some whiskey drinkers to bring out the flavor. Adding a bit of water dilutes the alcohol, and allows subtler flavors to come through that were previously masked by the alcohol burn. I don't think that's the case in Thackeray, though, because you wouldn't cut gin or rum with water for this same purpose.

Charles: Ugh, I hope they weren't using Thames water to drink! And good point about the extra reading time 150 years ago...what seems like rambling in today's MTV/short attention span world may have seemed like a heavenly distraction back then. And yes, Thackeray's writing is great...this is a big reason why it's taking me so long to get through "Vanity Fair"...the prose is so rich and dense that a fast read just doesn't work.