Vanity Fair: Thackeray’s classic novel may be too modern for audiences today



File 20180913 177956 1gzm7hy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Olivia Cooke as Becky Sharpe in ITV’s Vanity Fair.
Mammoth Screen for ITV

Jonathan Potter, Coventry University

The latest TV adaptation of Thackeray’s 1848 novel Vanity Fair has polarised audiences expecting a traditional period drama. The first two episodes of Vanity Fair, co-produced by ITV and Amazon, received a mixed response on Twitter where viewers commented using the hashtag #VanityFair.

Comments seemed to broadly fall into two camps: those who admired the adaptation for its “fresh, modern take” on a period drama, and those who didn’t like what they saw as the needless modernisation of a period drama.

Interestingly, some of the features most identified as modernisations were actually from the original 1848 text: elements such as Becky Sharp throwing from her coach a dictionary she’d been given by her hated headmistress as she rode away from the school. Others took offence at Becky Sharp’s description of herself as a “secretary” – women were not secretaries at that time, one tweet protested. Meanwhile the frequent breaking of the fourth wall (Olivia Cooke, playing Becky Sharp, looks knowingly at the camera for dramatic effect) also caused a fair bit of angst.

These were not features that viewers associated with the genre of “period drama” and unfavourable comparisons were made with the popular BBC period drama Poldark (based on Winston Graham’s novels from the mid-20th century). That some viewers should so easily confuse historical accuracy with genre conventions is a striking example of the power of those genre conventions.

It is ironic, too, given that Thackeray subverted and satirised the conventions and tropes of his own time. This was true across his writing. In Pendennis, for example, a novel about the titular young gentleman making his way in London, Thackeray writes in his preface:

Perhaps the lovers of “excitement” may care to know, that this book began with a very precise plan, which was entirely put aside. Ladies and gentlemen, you were to have been treated, and the writer’s and the publisher’s pocket benefited, by the recital of the most active horrors.

In Vanity Fair, such subversions are frequent. In the first episode of the new adaptation, Becky Sharp – attempting to charm the wealthy and credulous Jos Sedley into proposing marriage – attends the Vauxhall pleasure gardens. This takes place in chapter six of the book, which Thackeray introduces satirically:

We might have treated this subject in the genteel, or in the romantic, or in the facetious manner … Or if, on the contrary, we had taken a fancy for the terrible … we should easily have constructed a tale of thrilling interest, through the fiery chapters of which the reader should hurry, panting. But my readers must hope for no such romance, only a homely story, and must be content with a chapter about Vauxhall, which is so short that it scarce deserves to be called a chapter at all.

Within the full version of that quoted passage, Thackeray offers suggestions of how the story might have been written in these different “manners”. He plays with these kinds of conventions to set up readers’ expectations, only to subvert and parody them. One of the century’s other great novelists, Anthony Trollope, wrote that Vanity Fair raised the fundamental question of “what a novel should be.” Trollope takes issue with some of the same things as modern viewers:

There are absurdities in it which would not be admitted to anyone who had not a peculiar gift of making even his absurdities delightful. No schoolgirl who ever lived would have thrown back her gift-book, as Rebecca did the ‘dixonary’, out of the carriage window as she was taken away from school. But who does not love that scene with which the novel commences? How could such a girl as Amelia Osborne have got herself into such society as that in which we see her at Vauxhall? But we forgive it all because of the telling.

Same story, different flavours

Like Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, the Victorian author of Alice in Wonderland, was also highly attuned to the way stories become categorised via genre, satirising this in an 1855 short story entitled Photography Extraordinary. Carroll’s story, presented like a newspaper article, reports an invention which literally transcribes narrative fiction directly from the human brain. Not only can Carroll’s machine “develop” a story onto paper directly from the brain, but the story can then be redeveloped into different genres. Story writing, Carroll seems to suggest, was a question of mechanically adjusting language to fit the conventions of distinct genres and meet readers’ expectations.

Becky Sharpe at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.
Mammoth Screen for ITV

As 21st-century readers and viewers, we still consume media in this way. Our genres have changed – we are not likely to talk about “silver fork” novels, for instance – but our use of genres has not. If anything, we have only become more reliant on them as we create more and more sophisticated algorithms for organising our digital media.

We also risk letting our expectations shape our understanding of the past. One of the big divergences between Thackeray’s book and the ongoing adaptation is that the series’ producers have elected to depict the Battle of Waterloo. When his military characters depart for the battlefield, Thackeray lets them drift out of view, writing: “We do not claim to rank among the military novelists. Our place is with the non-combatants.”

Thackeray, in other words, is willing to disappoint and frustrate readers’ expectations – he does not feel the need to conform to expectations. It is – as the book’s subtitle warns us – a “novel without a hero” (and in its serial form, not even a novel, simply “pen and pencil sketches of English society). But, of course, to adapt for television is to adjust the story to meet a different set of expectations. In that sense, adapting Vanity Fair is a bit like churning it through Carroll’s fiction machine one more time.The Conversation

Jonathan Potter, Lecturer/Tutor, Coventry University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Interactive Game of Thrones Map with Spoilers Control


Interactive Game of Thrones Map

‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ by George R. R. Martin has been a massive success, as has the television show based on the book. This link is to an interactive map for ‘A Game of Thrones’ fans.

From My Armchair: 28 July 2012


I am doing a little experimenting here, just trying to get a good format together for a new post I’ll be doing here on a regular basis (I hope). I thought I might start to do a regular reading progress type post, or something like that. It will probably be a weekly summary of what I’m reading and other book news ‘From My Armchair.’ There you go, that can be the title of the regular post. That is, book news from my own reading experience and exposure to books on a personal level, including updates from my personal library – that sort of thing.

Now to work out just what I’ll include in the post – it could be something like a newsletter I suppose. So straight up, there can be this sort of preamble blurb thing going on. Just a bit of a ramble about book stuff from a personal perspective. Then I can put down a few sub-headings with some structured content, relevant information and comments. Sounds like a plan I think. It will probably take a couple of weeks to come together and look presentable, at least to me anyhow. So it will be a work in progress for a while.

Something else I’m going to do is clear my reading list at Goodreads and have a new start there also. That way I can tie everything together and have a continuous and consistent story as far as my experience with books is concerned. That way, when I do this weekly post, ‘From My Armchair,’ I’ll be able to pass on a summary of my reading activity as recorded at Goodreads.

 

Social Networks, Web Applications & Other Tools

Under this head I think I can provide a summary of what I’m involved in as far as social networks and web applications are concerned. I use quite a number of social networks, web applications and tools in the area of books and reading, with a variety of applications and functions. All useful in their own way I believe. I think they provide a good means to not only glean useful information, but to also maximise the benefits of my books and reading for a whole range of activities that I am involved in. I like to see my books not only as entertainment and an escape from the world for a while, but also as tools for accomplishing many things within the world.

I currently use Goodreads as my social network for books/ebooks. I once also used Shelfari, being torn between the two, but now that Shelfari has closed the better of the two networks has continued as far as I am concerned. I am trying to use Goodreads as my online catalogue for books, so slowly I am adding them all to it. I also use a database on my own PC, which I am trying to sync with Goodreads, though I enter the information to both manually. It will take some time to get all of that done as I do have a large number of books.

 

Currently Reading:

I like to read and prefer reading to television viewing. I don’t like to waste my time and prefer to use my time in worthwhile pursuits. I do watch a small amount of television, but that is usually to further my intellectual development, so I watch documentaries, news programs and the like. I do watch the occasional program to wind down from time to time, but prefer to watch a DVD for that purpose as most of the stuff on the Idiot Box is just a lot of rubbish lol.

I usually have several books on the go at one time, but have found in recent years that I tend to not finish a lot of books also. That hasn’t always been the case, but it seems increasingly so now. I’ll be cutting down on the number of books I’m reading at any one time in the future, to try and ensure I finish what I start more often than not.

Currently, I am reading two books – well one actually, but about to start another. These are listed below:

– The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum
– Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside, by Greg Dutcher

 

Finished Reading:

The Hunt for Red October, by Tom ClancyI did have a few books underway and these were all listed at Goodreads, but I cleared these a little while ago and gave myself a fresh start. One book I completed recently was ‘The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy. I read the Jack Ryan series of books by Clancy some time ago and recently decided I’d read them again. I also watched the film again to see how close to each other they were – there was quite a difference between the book and the film. I have a post about this which I’ll link to below.

For more visit:
https://atthebookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/1614/

 

Purchased & Added to Library:

I have recently acquired a large number of ebooks, many for free from Amazon, including the following books:

– Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside, by Greg Dutcher
– The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges
– Beyond Belief – The Real Life of Daniel Defoe, by John Martin

 

Book Review: Currently Reading – Print is Dead, by Jeff Gomez


I have been reading ‘Print is Dead – Books in our Digital Age,’ by Jeff Gomez. I have now completed the fourth chapter ‘Generation Download.’ In this chapter, Gomez begins by comparing what has happened with the music industry with what has begun to happen with books and reading. A generation that has embraced a digital way of life, along with the gadgets that go with it, is out-growing the traditional book and craving digital technology and digital forms of entertainment. Music itself did not die with the coming of the digital world, only the form in which it was presented. The same resistance that the music industry applied to digital technology before it embraced it, is now being witnessed in the book industry – though I would argue that ebooks are taking a little longer to take off. Gomez argues that it is only a matter of time before an acceptable digital format is found that will have ebooks off and running, along with some form or forms of digital devices on which ebooks will be accessed. Perhaps the growing boom in Tablets and Ebook Readers is an indication that that time is now upon us.

Certainly I am a convert, having been previously a doubter of ebooks and the way they were accessed. More mobile forms of accessing ebooks, such as the Kindle, iPad and even Notebooks, have enabled me to transform my thinking, from one in opposition to being one who has fully embraced the technology. Being able to carry vast libraries on mobile devices is simply breathtaking to me and incredibly appealing. Not having to have huge spaces devoted to a large library and actually having the space to store a huge library is simply brilliant – I had long ago ran out of room for my books and needed to cull quite a number, which I did reluctantly. Now I am able to recall those dismissed books via the digital medium and not loose them again. Old friends are again welcome.

In the following chapter, ‘Generation Upload,’ the focus is on the savvy Internet user (which is generally most connected folk these days) who not only downloads material but also uploads modified material, uniquely created material and so on. This has been so with music and video, with the various play lists, mash ups, parodies and the like, as well as comments, contributions, etc. Will the same happen with books is the question raised by Gomez and predicted. Just how far consumer interaction will be with ebooks is yet to be seen, as also the form it will take. There are opportunities already existing for commenting and reviewing, with developments being made in the way of sharing quotes (Pinterest interaction, Quotista, etc), and likely many more ways yet to be invented or passed on convincingly to the masses.

‘On Demand Everything,’ the next chapter in the book, brings the attention of the reader to what we already know – we expect to be able to get pretty much everything whenever we want it and that better be soon. No longer do we need to wait for our media to arrive at given timeslots on the television, our CD music to arrive in the mail, etc. We now have the ability to access it all as soon as we want it and then to keep it in mobile gadgets that we can take with us and access whenever we wish. This then is surely the future of books. Gomez believes we will want to be able to divide large books into bits and pieces that we can access and use in whatever way we like – which would certainly be true of some forms of literature. However, it is unlikely that we would want to divide up novels for example, into little pieces. The ability to bookmark, highlight and clip pieces of text (among other possibilities) for various uses, is certainly increasing the appeal of ebooks and bringing them a more familiar feel, which will I think increase their usefulness considerably. Being able to find quotes, parcels of text and the like via search capabilities, cataloguing, etc, will all be very valuable tools that will bring ebooks into the realm of what is now possible with music, videos, etc.

In the next chapter, ‘Ebooks and the Revolution that Didn’t Happen,’ Gomez examines the reasons why Ebooks didn’t take off when they first appeared – which doesn’t mean they won’t take off at some point (which I do believe will happen at some point). His arguments certainly capture some of my own thoughts at the time of their first appearance, so if I was typical of people (at least of my age) at that time he may very well have hit the nail on the head. Some of the original issues still exist, such as the number of file types and matching them with the various readers and access to the files across a variety of devices. Perhaps when these issues are thought through with a bit more commonsense ebooks will become more popular sooner rather than later.

See also:
http://www.dontcallhome.com/books.html (Website of Jeff Gomez)
Podcast (Excerpts from the Book)
Google Books
Amazon

Ebooks: Not There Yet?


The following article Wired lists five reasons as to why ebooks are not there yet. I would say that ebooks will never be the same as traditional books and they probably are never meant to be the same. I would also say you should probably never expect them to be the same. Television is not the same as going to the movies and never will be. I think waiting for ebooks to be the same as traditional books is to ensure you never use ebooks all that much. Just my opinion.

There are some useful considerations in the five points raised in the article – but there are also some fairly ordinary ones also, which suggest to me a bias against ebooks from the start. Being concerned that ebooks don’t allow you to use them in home design – I mean, really??? If that is a major concern with ebooks – you have to be kidding.

Some years ago I never thought I would ever like ebooks – I love them now and I don’t even have an ebook reader (I use by laptop) at this stage. I can see myself buying one in the near future – that would make ebooks so much more convenient to me. I could read one on a bus or ferry, I could read at work without too many difficulties (in my breaks of course), etc.

How many books can I now own? For a bibliophile like me ebooks are a dream come true. I have well over 1000 traditional books and I will soon eclipse that number in ebooks – many of which are old and out of print works which are very precious to me. These brilliant old books are now so accessible to me and I can store them all in such a small place. Fantastic I say.

See the article mentioned above at:
http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/06/ebooks-not-there-yet/all/1

 

Changing the World: November 21 – Turning Off the Box


Now this is a great suggestion – turn off the box!!!

Yes, this one is all about turning the TV off and doing something else, something better with the time you claw back from the idiot box. That might sound strange to people today – but I enjoy the fact that I don’t watch much television anymore. So much time is wasted in front of the television and there is plenty of other things to do.

To quote a television ad which I believe advertises the virtue of getting out in the world and fishing, etc, ‘that ain’t living.’

Reclaiming time from the box is a great idea.

See also:

www.tvturnoff.org

 

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton

Changing the World: November 18 – Combat Terrorism


OK – this is a suggestion I’m all for. Wouldn’t the world be a so much better place with no terrorism? Certainly – now what can I do. I can be ‘alert, but not alarmed,’ as the Australian television add of a couple of years ago told me. But what more? Can terrorism be eliminated?

I doubt terrorism will ever be completely eliminated – but it would be great if it could be. We can certainly reduce it greatly and that too would be good.

The suggestion in the book ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton is a little disappointing here. Sure, I don’t agree with torture and unlawful detention, etc. However, the suggestion is a little too ‘polite’ toward terrorists for my liking. I have no time for terrorists and they need to be rooted out and, well, they will probably get hurt during the process – I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them I must admit.

The suggestion is for combating terrorism without the erosion of human rights while doing so. As I said – I don’t want to see human rights eroded. I also don’t want to see terrorists given soft treatment – they chose to forego that when they became terrorists in my book.