R.S.RINTOUL, from a review, Spectator, 22 July 1848
The completion of Mr. Thackeray’s novel of Vanity Fair enables us to take a more entire view of the production, and to form a more complete judgment of it as a work of art, than was possible in the course of piecemeal publication in monthly numbers. Our impression from that review is, that the novel is distinguished by the more remarkable qualities which have created the reputation of the author,—his keen perception of the weaknesses, vanities, and humbug of society, the felicitous point with which he displays or the pungent though goodnatured satire with which he exposes them, and the easy, close, and pregnant diction in which he clothes his perceptions; though, possibly, happier specimens of his peculiar excellencies may be found in some of his other works. Vanity Fair displays a depth and at times a pathos which we do not remember to have met with in Mr. Thackeray’s previous writings; but, considered as a whole, it is rather a succession of connected scenes and characters than a well-constructed story. Both incidents and persons belong more to the sketch than the
finished picture. Either from natural bias or long habits of composition, Mr. Thackeray seems to have looked at life by bits rather than as a whole. A half-length here, a whole-length there, a group in another place, a character or a clique with single actions or incidents belonging to them, have been studied, and transferred to paper with a humour, truth, and spirit, that have rarely been equalled. But something more than this is needed for a finished picture of human life. Such things, indeed, are scarcely its entire elements, for they are little more than parts; and so remain till very many such have been compared by the artist-their general laws evolved by this comparison, and the whole animated and fused by the imagination, so as to present the type of a class without loss of individuality. Mr. Thackeray has rarely accomplished this in Vanity Fair. There is, indeed, plenty of individuality; the work is full of it. However exceptional, outré, distasteful, or even farcical the characters may be, they have strong particular traits, well supported in the main, and their delineation is always capital: but this peculiar ity attaches to the pr incipal characters-that no useful deduction, no available rule of life, can be drawn from their conduct; except in that of the elder Osborne, who points the moral of sordid vanity and a grovelling love of distinction, and points it with effect, as his vices are made the means of his punishment.