Monday, April 8

Vanity Fair, with Illustrations by Donald Urquhart

I have mentioned many-a-time that Vanity Fair is one of favourite books, I love it so much that I have five different copies, all of which are illustrated, but this particular copy is the newest and my most favourite of them all. This edition, published by Four Corners Books, includes illustrations by artist Donald Urquhart. I have wanted this edition for quite a long time, so I was excited to find the last two copies in my local Waterstones in clearance.

The main reason Vanity Fair is one of my favourite books is because of the leading character, Becky Sharp. Vanity Fair is known as 'the novel without a hero', but what it lacks in heroes it makes up for with an extremely strong-willed anti-heroine. Despite being a reasonably terrible person, who stops at barely anything to manipulate her way to the top, I think Becky Sharp is an incredibly determined, strong, modern female character, especially in comparison to other 19th Century female characters (particularly those written by Austen).
“A woman may possess the wisdom and chastity of Minerva, and we give no heed to her, if she has a plain face. What folly will not a pair of bright eyes make pardonable? What dullness may not red lips are sweet accents render pleasant? And so, with their usual sense of justice, ladies argue that because a woman is handsome, therefore she is a fool. O ladies, ladies! there are some of you who are neither handsome nor wise. ” - William Makepeace Thackery, Vanity Fair 

My other editions of Vanity Fair contain illustrations which are very much of the time the novel was written (I think one has illustrations by the author), but the reason I love this edition is Urquhart's approach to his drawings. Urqurhart was inspired by 1930's Hollywood and chose to 'cast' Bette Davis as Becky Sharp, and as any screen legend of Davis' ilk would expect, all the images focus on the leading lady.
‘I wanted to sideline all the secondary characters,’ says Urquhart. ‘The way that I’ve done it, the chapters she’s not in, there’s no pictures.’

(a little more after the jump)

"In contrast to artless, pathetic Amelia (who I have omitted to portray). Originally I intended to draw only the female characters in this "novel without a hero" as a homage to George Cukor's film The Women. Then I thought it would be much more in keeping with Thackeray's intent to have Amelia completely upstaged and eclipsed by Becky Sharp. So Emmy got the boot and Becky dominates the book"

More about this edition on Four Corners Books
Urquhart discusses his illustrations with The Guardian
Donald Urquhart's Official Site

(Images by Safiya, quotes via Four Corners Books and The Guardian)

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  1. I've never read this but I want to now!

    1. Obviously I'm a bit biased, with it being my favourite, but you definitely should. It's bit chunky, but if I do a re-read I like to do it in the summer, when it feels like you've got more time to be reading chunky books (obviously it's not your usual summer holiday book)!


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