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“The Exhibition Stair Case” – Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1810)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It’s a niche taste these days to be sure, but Ol’ Robbo loves Georgian satirical cartoons and etchings. (One need look no farther than my masthead for proof of this.) Indeed, I have several Rowlandsons (no, not the naughty ones) hanging in the Port Swiller Manor front hall, and additionally love to peruse my volumes of William Hogarth and James Gillray.

I put up this one in particular, however, because a detail from it illustrates the cover of my Penguin Classicks edition of William Makepeace Thackery’s Vanity Fair, which I am currently reading for maybe the third or fourth time and enjoying hugely. The editor states boldly that this work can stake a claim to be the greatest novel ever written in the English language. I dunno how one goes about turning all those other oranges, bananas, strawberries, and kumquats into apples for comparison, and I’ve never yet made myself read his introduction to find out his math, but nonetheless I won’t argue against this assertion.

Nor will I attempt to explain in depth why, because this isn’t that kind of blog. Suffice to summarize: 1.) Regency England is one of my favorite historickal periods; 2.) Satire is my very favorite literary genre;*** 3.) Thackery is marvelously adept at spooling out a very long and intricate story that leaves one constantly eager for more; and 4.) Becky Sharpe is one of the most fascinating villainesses-you-can’t-help-liking, while Amelia Sedley easily wins the crown of heroines-one-wants-to-hit-over-the-back-of-the-head-with-a-sock-full-of-sand. It’s quite the juxtaposition.

A note or two about the title. First, Plum Wodehouse, in his preface to Summer Lightning (the very best of the Blandings Castle cycle, in my humble opinion) writes: “It is related of Thackery that, hitting upon Vanity Fair after retiring to rest one night, he leaped out of bed and ran seven times around the room, shouting at the top of his voice. Oddly enough, I behaved in exactly the same way when I thought of Summer Lightning.” Heh.

Second, by a process of obvious association, the name of Vanity Fair magazine comes to mind. A little innerwebz digging indicates there have been at least five magazines of this title, the first coming out in 1859, ten or a dozen years after Thackery’s novel and no doubt influenced by it. The current iteration surfaced in 1983. Ol’ Robbo is going to go out on a (not very long) limb and wager that nobody now on the staff there has ever heard of John Bunyan or Pilgrim’s Progress, or else otherwise has the slightest knowledge of the name’s Christian allegorical roots. They say it like it’s a good thing.

All is vanity, indeed.

Completely Off-Topic UPDATE: Ol’ Robbo just wanted to raise a congratulatory glass of wine to the Georgia Bulldogs on their college football national championship victory last evening (which I stayed up way too late watching). It was a mighty close game, and I thought Alabama was going to put it away more than once. Well done, indeed. (I have a niece at Georgia this year, so had a personal interest in the game.)

***”He used……sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.  He was vicious!


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January 2022