By Martha Reed
I managed to discombobulate my MAC over the weekend so out of sheer restlessness I went to my bookcase and picked out the thickest book I could find to keep my mind busy: Vanity Fair by WM Thackeray. I’ve been reading my way through English Literature (Literature with a capital “L”) and I expected a slow slog. What I discovered instead was an engaging read full of well-drawn characters plus some unexpectedly funny editorializing by the narrator in a fully developed modern novel.
Having somehow missed reading Thackeray before, I went online to find out more about him. First off, he epitomized British culture at the time having been born in Calcutta. I tend to think of English authors all living in drafty Vickerages or out on some lonely moor like the Bronte sisters. I forget that these people, especially the active middle-class that gave rise to so many Victorian authors, were international.
The other thing I tend to forget is that these writers wrote for a living. They serialized their novels for popular magazines. (Hey, where did the capital “L” go? What happened to LITERATURE? Grubbing for living?) And it wasn’t just Thackeray; Dickens used to do this, too. He invented the cliffhanger to keep his magazine readers panting for more. Of course, he needed to; he had a wife and 10 children to support.
All of this served as a reminder that the publishing world has been adaptive from the very beginning and that there is nothing wrong with striving to earn a living by writing popular fiction that may occasionally transcend to ART. Now, if I can just get my MAC back up and running, I’ll get back to it!