1 November 2020 Susannah

William Makepeace Thackeray & ‘Barry Lyndon’

William Makepeace Thackeray is best known for his masterpiece Vanity Fair though even that great novel is rarely read in schools or universities and is familiar to many today only through film versions. He seems to have gone rather out of fashion as an author, which is a pity, as he is a wonderfully satirical sharp-eyed observer of human nature, and his books are well worth reading.

Barry Lyndon is also better known to most people now as a Stanley Kubrick movie, but the book is fast-paced and an intriguing story of a rogue, and the novel is surprisingly modern and relevant to the 21st century.

Barry Lyndon is a liar, confidence man, abuser of women, a braggart and he is totally self-deluded. For me, the book raises the interesting question of how important it is to like the hero or heroine of the novel you are reading? Do you need to feel sympathy for a hero, do you need to admire him? If he behaves atrociously, does that put you off the novel? Think about that, as you watch Barry Lyndon destroy his life and alienate those who care about him.

Barry Lyndon also raises interesting questions about nature versus nurture. Barry is born with many gifts, yet he squanders them. Is it because he is fatherless, or because his mother places too strong an emphasis on his noble name and heritage? Or is it the fault of a society which over-values ‘blue blood’ and ‘old money’? This is a book which raises many questions and makes you think. Barry’s adventures are extraordinary – I hope you join him for the ride.

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Featured image credit- William Makepeace Thackeray, Barry Lyndon. Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon (1975), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072684/

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