Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Review: The Book of Snobs by William Makepeace Thackeray

It's hard to go wrong with a solid Victorian Era satire. While Oscar Wilde claimed much of the spotlight where that genre is concerned, there are many other satiric writers from that period who are worth reading. Thackeray is absolutely one of them, and I am very pleased that I took a chance on him (this is the first of his works I've ever read).

The Book of Snobs reads like an amateur naturalist's field guide to the various species of Snob that plagued England during the Victorian Era. In detailing his interactions with various Snobs, Thackeray's narrator (who happens to self-identify as one of the club-going, wine-drinking, country-house-hopping Snobs he derides) highlights the various social anxieties that plagued the up-and-coming merchant and educated classes as well as the cash-poor, overgrown-land-rich aristocracy as well as a series of social problems and difficulties that resulted from these tensions. It's a very real and interesting look into what life in England was like back then, and it was funny. It's a shame it's been largely overshadowed by Thackeray's other work.

Interesting fact: this book popularized the modern use of the term "snob."  It originally referred to uppity social climbers or students of poor origins; Thackeray graciously extended it to the wounded aristocracy, which resulted in the definition morphing into a description of someone who puts on airs and looks down on others, regardless of their class of origin.

All told, I give it a 4.5 out of 5 because there were so many unexplored genres of snobs!

I'm actually looking forward to reading Vanity Fair now. I hope it's as good as this one.

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